Reviewby Theron Martin, Jan 7th 2007
Shakugan no Shana
Shana's sound defeat at the hands of a fellow Flame Haze has left her out of sorts, while Margery Daw and “Stupid Marco” recruit two of Yuji's classmates to help her track down the Corpse Collector, a Denizen who only claims dying Torches. In the process both Flame Hazes run into the Denizen Hunter Friagne and his beloved subordinate Marianne, who must be stopped from executing a plan that will allow him to consume the existence of the entire city. Although initially she and Alastor feel that Yuji is a major distraction, Shana gradually discovers that she actually feels stronger and fights better in Yuji's presence. Yuji's desire to help her in a fight leads him to request training, but it also draws him away from a potential love interest. A second confrontation with Magery Daw and “Stupid Marco” is inevitable when they insist on the potentially very destructive course of trying to take out the Corpse Collector, but along the way the nature of the Treasure Yuji contains, by virtue of being a Mystes, comes out.
As with its first volume, the second volume of Shakugan no Shana makes a habit of setting certain expectations for how its story is going to play out but always managing to at least slightly exceed those expectations. Its plot follows a predictable course, but its execution always squeezes out just a bit more depth here, just a wee bit more character development there. In total it amounts to a magical action/drama which doesn't reach the level of greatness of a Fullmetal Alchemist but is certainly better than the norm.
Despite a few light-hearted moments, Shana plays most scenes seriously. Situations normally worked for laughs often aren't taken in that direction here. Another difference can be seen in the character development. We'd expect that Yuji's classmates Ike and Sato would be overcome by Margery Daw's sexy figure and loyal to her because of that, but the relationship they strike up becomes a much more familial one instead. (And for the record, her name comes from an old see-saw nursery rhyme, whose relevance can be seen in the rhymes and folk tune references she uses.) We'd expect that Friagne would eventually reveal that he's just been exploiting Marianne for his own ends, but not only does he seem to truly love her but his villainous exploits are motivated by that self-same love. A warrior-hero who fights better with a love interest around is hardly a novel concept (think Inuyasha), but this time the roles are reversed, with the guy making the girl a stronger fighter by his presence.
Shana also has enough of her own little quirks to sell her as an interesting female lead. Though she has less chance to display the curt, caustic attitude she showed in the first volume, the “shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” refrain is still around, and it can be fun to watch her delight in something as simple as a bath without going all crazy. Her sullen attitude over being beaten feels right, as does the gradual pace of her developing feelings. Yuji's understated drive to be helpful and calm acceptance of his fate makes him a more mild and reserved character than one would normally see in that role, which is a refreshing change of pace. Margery Daw assumes the role of the bombastic boozing big-breasted babe, but her mad-on to kill Denizens, and the way she starts to connect with Ike and Sato, goes a little beyond the norm for the archetype. Her reckless behavior isn't taken to the zany extremes one would expect, either.
The artistic style uses classic big-eyed character designs for Yuji and most female characters other than Magery Daw, ones whose mouths tend to be barely visible unless the character is speaking. Other human (or human-looking) characters have more proportionate-sized eyes. Teen girls tend to have petite, girlish builds, with only Margery Daw, and to a lesser extent Yuji's mom, being shown with much of a figure. This greatly limits fan services opportunities, but the series isn't designed with that in mind anyway. Much more attention is instead paid to Shana's expressions, which speak volumes about her mood, and the flashy appearance she undertakes when her hair turns red and flaming for battle scenes. While sharper-looking series can be found, the digital coloring and rendering produces a pleasing look without being overly glossy, with flashy battle scenes as highlights. The animation, courtesy of J.C. Staff, is good enough to support such scenes, and is capably enhanced by assorted purely CG effects, most especially the cinder effect when Shana's hair is blazing. One can even see characters blinking at times.
An eclectic musical score does an excellent job of setting the mood and tone for given scenes, and few series do a better job of musically segueing into their closing numbers. The synth-heavy opener and closer remain unchanged from the first volume, with the closer still being the better of the two.
The English dub also does a superb job of capturing the tone and feel of the original dub, with the key performances this time being Trevor Devall's dual turns in the dramatically different roles of the gleefully half-crazed Stupid Marco and lovingly fawning Friagne. Every performance hits close enough to the mark, and is similar enough to the original Japanese performances, to be satisfying, however. The English script stays about as tight as is reasonable, even retaining the crucial “Shana-chan” address Yuji's mother uses towards Shana (whose cutesy implications probably couldn't have been satisfactorily reproduced in English). A reference to “Spiral Organ” in the subtitles becomes “Spiral Wind Harp” in the dub, but it's a reasonable substitution and one of the few true variances. Less impressive is a grammatical error or two in the subtitles. Granted, these aren't easy to notice and minor in the grand scheme of things, but a professional subtitling job from a well-established company like Geneon shouldn't be making mistakes with apostrophe use.
As with the first volume, the second volume includes bonus interior artwork and a production art gallery, with a clean closer replacing the clean opener. A new addition this time is “Naze Nani Shana,” an explanatory feature concerning issues in the show that is set up similar to the “Azmira's Extra Lessons” features on the Chrono Crusade DVDs, only in this case it is narrated by Friagne and Marianne. To make up for it not being included on the first volume, three installments are included here, which can be viewed subbed or dubbed depending on the setting used for the regular episodes.
The first volume got the series off to a strong start, and this second volume shows no signs of letting up. It continues to firmly-establish itself as a good-looking magical action series that includes more depth and character development than one would normally expect for such a series.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Effective English dub, consistently gives extra effort on character development.
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