Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 26th 2012
Shakugan no Shana III (Final)
Yuji's emergence from the Divine Gate with Snake of the Festival's full body, despite the best efforts of Shana and Sophie to stop it, emboldens the Denizens. In combination with the God of Creation's declaration of his Grand Order – that he will create a parallel world with unlimited Power of Existence as a paradise where Denizens can live, thus negating the need for Flame Hazes to fight against their depravities – his arrival utterly demoralizes the rank-and-file Flame Hazes, turning the battle at the Divine Gate into a rout which some prominent figures do not survive. The rout and the Snake's announced plans, along with some persuasion by Shana and Alastor, does succeed in convincing the four Gods of Earth to join the regrouping Flame Hazes, however, and participate in Shana's grand plan to thwart Yuji and the Snake of the Festival. Yuji, meanwhile, is resolutely going forward with a plan that he sees as the only way to protect his former world, and he needs Kazumi to help him do it. Everything comes to a head in Misaki City, where the mad scientist Dantalian has built the tower that will be used to help the God of Creation create Xanadu. There, in a pitched battle, the Flame Hazes strive to alter the plans of Bal Masque and the God of Creation – even if that means that Shana must fight Yuji in earnest.
The Shakugan no Shana franchise consists of 76 anime episodes (not counting the Shana-tan shorts and summary movie), so bringing an involved action story which has spanned three full TV seasons and nearly seven years to a sufficient conclusion naturally requires the grandest of all of its battle scenes. If that is your expectation then the second half of its supposedly-final TV season does deliver, as the climactic battle in Misaki City spans most of seven episodes, involves nearly every supernatural character who has ever appeared in the series (and is still alive), and includes the culmination of the grand scheming by Bal Masque, the plans of the Snake of the Festival, and even the resolution of the Yuji-Shana-Kazumi triangle, all while engaging in numerous large-scale and small-scale fights and throwing in numerous twists. Combine that with the dramatic revelations of the plans of both Yuji/Snake of the Festival and Shana/Alastor and you have a very ambitious project – one that's maybe too ambitious, as it falters on some fronts when it should be shining brightest.
One of the main problems here is a story element which first manifested in the first half of this series: the Yuji/Snake of the Festival dichotomy. Even though the ultimate goals that the two pursue do, in a way, suit Yuji's purpose to protect everyone he can from the depravations of the Denizens, and even though they support Yuji's desire to still be with Shana in a roundabout way, they run so dramatically contrary to the character of Yuji that was established in the first two series that Yuji is essentially a different character here. These later episodes give no better explanation on this issue than the first half of the series did, and indeed, create some maddening inconsistencies; for instance, Yuji claims to be doing all of this so that Denizens and Flame Hazes don't have to fight anymore, yet after his/Snake's big announcement he watches without batting an eye or lifting a finger as the Denizens slaughter the retreating Flame Hazes. He claims that he wants to create a situation where Shana doesn't have to fight anymore, yet never stops to consider Shana's feelings on the matter, either, and seems all too willing to beat Shana into submission if he has to. While chalking this up to typical male insensitivity is tempting, in this case Yuji was always the more sensitive and caring of the two. Late scenes suggest that he's taking a hard-core “the ends justify the means” logic and is fully aware that he's doing some very bad things to accomplish his goals, but that only makes his character all the more maddening.
The series' second half has other problems, too. A heavy load of prominent characters, some of whom don't appear at all before the final ten episodes, get thrown into the fray with little chance for any kind of establishment or development; revealing that one of the Flame Hazes is related to one of the Bal Masque members falls flat because that character hasn't had enough screen time at that point to give much of a sense about why viewers should care. Pheles shows up again to do some things which don't make a whole lot of sense, leading to a climax to her and Johan's story which doesn't make a whole lot of sense and brings in an entire new aspect to the setting's multiverse for a guest appearance, only to have it fade into irrelevance almost immediately as the combatants on both sides of the conflict get back to business. The final battle also drags out far too long as repetitive action sequences intermingle with frequent perspective shifts.
This finale does do some things right, however. Shana has always been something of a junior member amongst the ranks of Flame Hazes, with her adolescent predilections towards romance often getting the better of her, and her spending a few episodes as a veritable prisoner/doll in the first half of this series didn't help. Here, though, freed of normal high school relationship hijinks and forced to take a leadership role, she comes into her fully glory as an heroic figure (although the flaming wings are a bit counterproductively cutesy and she does revert to tsundere form on a couple of occasions), one who can inspire the good guys and whom even her foes must respect. The scheme that she and her fellows come up with to cover the retreat of the Flame Hazes is an ingeniously layered one, and while Yuji and the Snake of the Festival's true plan is stunning in its scope, no less so is the plan that Shana and Alastor come up with to counter it in the series' final few episodes. One major Flame Haze does fall near the end, but that death scene is about as idealized a “fallen hero” scene as one will find in anime. And, naturally, there's no shortage of super-powers being thrown around to juice up the battle scenes. One final twist near the end, which harkens back to the franchise's beginning (expect a surprise guest reappearance!), is a nice added touch.
The technical merits aren't much to speak of throughout most of this half, though. The artistry simply isn't up to the challenge of smoothly handling massed battle scenes, instead often relying on stills, and rendering quality suffers whenever masses of troops are in the scene. Major characters in their feature scenes are still (usually) drawn and animated well, resulting in some flashy and impressive displays of power, but earlier installments in the franchise have done better. The Snake of the Festival's big body is animated all in CG, creating a stark (and perhaps intentional?) visual contrast, while the Gods of Earth have the sharpest (if in some cases also most eccentric) appearances amongst newcomer characters.
The musical score, contrarily, is as solid as ever, although it does get a new opener and closer, both of which are done in the style of previous versions. Three episodes (15, 19, and 24) also get extra insert songs. The voice acting is as solid as always but unremarkable.
Perhaps the most important thing that these episodes do is give the franchise a proper (if not entirely satisfying) conclusion; the final episode even takes its time cleaning up loose details. This time the franchise will not leave its fans hanging, and that's the best kind of ending that the series could offer.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ A definitive ending this time, interesting twists, many flashy battles.
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