Anime Breakdown: Shana of the Burning Eyes (Shakugan no Shana) (2005 – 2006) Series Review

Admittedly when I sat down and viewed the first episode of Shana of the Burning Eyes my thoughts on it were mostly negative. Literally within the first minutes what hinted me that I might be in for a bad time were the blue flames in the opening intro. The other anime I saw that had blue flames was Blue Exorcist and inspite of my positive review for it (it was a decent show) it ended on a bad last note for me. Mostly because when it upgraded the material above it usual quality instead of sustaining the higher quality it reverted back to being underwhelming. In hindsight both series don’t have much in common, but my experience of them were similar. For starter both series shower themselves with tropes of their genre, both have a hero who are cover by flames trying to discover themselves, and me slowly embracing them for what they are. However, whereas Blue Exorcist reverted back to it usual self, Shana of the Burning Eyes did improve as it went on. Despite a poor start I ended up liking Shana of the Burning Eyes as every episode left me so much to talk about. Be it good or bad.

Basic Information

Episodes: 24 Main Series, 5 Specials

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Shakugan no shana, also called Shana of the Burning Eyes, tells the story of Yuji Sakai, a normal high school boy who discovers he is dead and that he is in fact a torch after being attacked by a monster and saved by Shana, a young girl of red hair and burning eyes who calls herself as Flame Haze. Due to the confusion and chaotic mess Yuji gotten into, he follows the girl with the flaming red hair and finds out the truth about everything around him. The two begin to develop a bond that will help them battle the impending forces of doom in the city and Shana will eventually require Yuji to help fuel her strength to continue doing battle.

Good: Balance of Action and Romance

It’s easy for a series to favor the romance over the other half of the genre it’s mixing with, but with Shana of the Burning Eyes that never becomes a problem. There’s a good amount of action in the series that never overshadowed the slice of life drama. Following a routine of villain causing trouble in the city and after villain is defeated life returns to normal. The formula is pretty basic and given how little it changes it routine story arcs are easy to follow. For most of the story it focuses on the everyday life of the characters which helps to add some weight to the action scenes. By taking time to build its world we become familiar with the city the show takes place in. Making it that more significant in seeing the importance of why it’s worth protecting so much for its characters.

The action side of the show is nothing impressive honestly. In a rough fight Shana can pull out a new power to turn the tide of battles in her favor. However, often as is the case she has to earn her victory as oppose to other animes where it’s common for a character to overcome his/her opponent quickly with their new powers. This prevents the repetition of the fights from becoming tedious. At times when Shana pulls out a new trick it doesn’t land her a victory within the same episode. Being force to overcome her opponents with the abilities she’s given. Before every fight creating good build up is necessary. The build up to action is reliable for properly setting the mood and stage for the ensuing spectacle to take place. Although, to be fair, the build up is generally allot better than the action itself. Thankfully it has a good supply of action to make up whenever it does not live up to its promise.

The slice of life side of things has a good sense of pacing. Slowly it introduces new characters, new conflicts, and takes some detour that might not serve to advance the main story. It also has a balance between the drama and comedic moments. So stuff does happen outside of saving the city from a new threat. It’s pretty good at depicting these characters, they have lives and purposes that go beyond what we simply see in the show. With varied situations like Yuji seeing the disappearance of a single person does affect not his world in the slightest, at home training so Yuji can fight, comedic relief at a character home or public place, and so forth.

Good: Character Relationships

Shana of the Burning Eyes does not offer a whole lot in memorable characters, but knowns how to make its cast interaction a saving grace. We’ll spend a huge amount of time with the same characters through season one and they keep things interesting. The characters interactions can vary from being comedic, touching, to downright leading to a potentially violent fights physically or verbally. How these scenes are done captures the spirit of its teenage characters who are growing up throughout the series. Like actual friends, the characters don’t always get along with each other, but always find a way to work out the issue with things going to back to normal. Characters are always shown what’s on their mind with monologue and make an effort to speak out their mind. Rather than simply endure an issue that clearly bugs them. Shana and Yuji’s relationship starts out one sidedly with Shana serving as his guard of sort. Progressing slowly in becoming more like friends with Yuji trying to learn to fight to help Shana and Shana slowly embracing Yuji as a person and not a object to protect. It’s done in a manner that allows its relationship to grow in the right time.

All of the characters interactions tend to contribute something to the show. Yuji’s interactions with his best friend Hayato Ike shows a tight bond between two friends. It’s evident by the way they speak to one another they have know each other for a long time. This makes the dynamic between the two interesting to see unfold when Ike contemplates he might have feelings for Yoshida (a girl who likes Yuji) while helping her win Yuji affection. By the end of the season the issue is not resolved which might sound like a complaint, but it’s actually not. By providing no solution to the conflict it goes to show that not every problem will require the same amount of time to resolve. Also, this conflict never tarnished Yuji and Ike friendship by turning it into an easy plot device. It becomes a part of both characters when this revelation is brought up and as good friends acknowledge the problem is not fixed, but not a serious issue that it’ll cause the other any harm.

Mixed: Characters, most notably the villains

This is a surprise for me too even after having seen season one in its entirety. While the interaction between characters is handled well those same characters aren’t interesting on their own. The title heroine of the series, Shana, has a personality disorder that goes back and forth making her grating on screen. When she starts she reasonably doesn’t take a liking to male lead Yuji Sakai whose stubborn to do things her way. Shana’s starts out as the girl with a rough exterior, but than upon meeting a guy learns to feel more emotions unable to control them. Her change is predictable. Unfortunately maintaining some annoying traits. The most common one is going back and forth between her feelings for Yuji Sakai. At first it’s not an issue since dead people in this world are basically floating blue flames, but repeat these struggles for more than ten episodes with no variation on the subject it becomes annoying. Then there’s Kazumi Yoshida who also suffers from the opposite problem of Shana. Virtually all of her dialogue is something like “I love Yuji Sakai. He’ll be mine forever. I won’t let you have him Shana”. Rarely does any of her scenes involve talking about anything other than boys. Sadly all of the young women tend to focus on talking about boys in their conversations and conflict revolving around boys. I get that they’re high schoolers, but make the conflict varied. Not every high school girl’s biggest ordeal is winning over a guy.

The male cast don’t get away from this issue either. Granted the male cast have allot more to talk about other than girls which is a relief. Our main leading man is Yuji Sakai who’s written nonsensically. Yuji is understanding when it comes to other people besides Shana. He could tell whenever something is bothering Yoshida making an attempt to help her. If she was Shana on the other hand Yuji is intolerant constantly fighting with her. This I might add is our male lead and Shana is his love interest so…yeah…not exactly a couple that will make your heart soar with the passion of love. Then comes Hayato Ike who is Yuji’s best friend. He’s more emotionally aware of the girls feelings around him. Ike doesn’t do allot in the show to be honest, but brings forth an interesting conflict of two friends possibly fighting over the same girl. Sadly it’s not utilized to its full potential, though thankfully it’s never taken to the extremes of the love rivalry between Shana and Yoshida or Yuji. Alastor is the wise talking amulet like object whose dialogue has a tendency to be filled with wisdom. Unlike Yuji where his reaction can be inconsistent with his character; Alastor thinks logically of what’s best. When he has a talk with Yuji’s mother he has to be convinced of another person’s view on how look after a child. He’s understanding to the point he can admit he is wrong about something through some convincing arguments if there is any. Than there are best friends Keisaku Satou and Eita Tanaka who are the series comedic reliefs. Surprisingly these two despite being the goofiest characters in the show have a surprising amount of growth. They come to face more complicated emotions than “what should we do today” to becoming people that desire to help others. If these two were the leading characters the show would have benefited because as oppose to the leading characters where the humor comes from the situations. Keisaku and Eita humor comes from who they are.

The adult women on the other hand are better handled. My favorite character in the show (who sadly doesn’t appear soon enough) is Wilhelmina Carmel who rights the wrong of Shana. Unlike Shana where her emotions become a nuisance instead of a trait, taking away from her tough image; Wilhelmina never suffers from those same issues because we’re shown there are more emotions to her than her exterior tend to tell. Wilhelmina always speaks in a monotonous, overly formal and polite manner and has nearly no expression. Because Wilhelmina action are readable there’s a lot more depth added to her without having her say it. We know Wilhelmina cares a lot for Shana and that comes across strongly in her scenes. Acting motherly with Shana and defensive when out in public. Even when she has to break away from her tough exterior to show some form of emotion it never feels out of character. Margery Daw is the other adult woman who while not as awesome is admittedly given a more likable personality. Early in the series Margery Daw starts out as a temporary villain who is still made likable with her easy going mood on duty and her chemistry with her loud mouth talking book that makes snappy comeback at her. Margery receives some development, but it being center on the high school leads she does not grow beyond the drunk and loud mouth woman she constantly portrayed in the series. Yuji’s mother, Chigusa Sakai, is also another terrifically written character. She’s wise, understanding, and goes out of her way to help Shana. She’s the most pleasant character to be around even when those she talking too are not.

Virtually every single villain in season one had it own intrigue since not a single villain is normal. The first villain of the series is Friagne the Hunter who doesn’t get much development. Friagne is the series first in the long line of lame villains. He hardly takes any action to reach his goals. Nearly half of the time he’s shown on screen he plans something than which immediately gets ruined and does not know how to fix the problem. In the show, he gets easily defeated and it doesn’t help that he has a underlying doll fetish. Out of all the traits Friagne has, doll fetish will be the one that sticks with you the most since his dolls (in the English dub) sound like little girls who refer to him as master. Doing whatever it takes to please her master which in wording that way gives it a double meaning. The doll’s intention is nice, but made off putting seeing Friagne often talking to himself and his tone of voice is sensual when speaking to the doll. Next up is minor villain Margery Daw who later becomes a permanent supporting character in the cast. She gives Shana a good beating early on, though her villain arc amounts to little impact in the long run.

Next up are the incestious siblings Tiriel/Aizenta who can be unpleasant. Literally the introduction of these siblings goes like this. After Tiriel and Aizenta eat some people in a alley they admit they’re brother and sister and kiss passionately on mouth in a close up. This kiss is also how a the episode they are introduced in ends, which doesn’t help matter when the ending theme has a choir singing. Then afterwards comes a biker and a Samurai that don’t amount to much. The biker baddie is very lame since none of his combat abilities come close to beating the heroes. The Samurai like villain is build up to this incredible fight only get defeated easily within minutes. Afterwards our group of heroes just faces a team of villains that stick it out for the remainder of season one without getting defeated. They’re not worth discussing since their plan and the final arc they are involved in resolves little in the matter.

Mixed: Storytelling

In the opening I said the series had a rough first episode. It’s so rough the series needs five episodes before it could recover and during the first six episodes it’s an onslaught of cliches and nonstop bad explanation of how its world functions. This become tedious very quickly as not only it makes it difficult to follow the working of this world, but also near impossible to comprehend the rules during combat. Making matters worse is the first major villain of the series is very lame. Remember that villain I said had a doll fetish…yeah he doesn’t appear much for that reason. It’s pretty rocky to have such a lame first advisory when tolerating bad explanations. Past these early six episodes it does eventually recover from its rocky start, though doesn’t go out with a bang like one would expect from gradual improvements.

There is a point in season 1 where out of nowhere there are three flashback episodes without a proper transition. The flashback episodes do their job in developing Shana and finally getting to see Wilhelmina. These episodes serve a point and also highlight the issues with some of its villains being interesting, but easily beaten. Through the first season there is never urgency that our heroes won’t succeed. Even in the season finale the extended climax outstays its welcome with the obvious conclusion. The finale doesn’t solve the current dilemma as so much serve to bridge the current season to season two. As a whole, characters grow up beginning at indifferent or becoming closer through the series of threats that can take away their existence. Seeing its characters face their issues together will have you sticking around, but leaving an impact on you from their journey is unlikely.

Mixed: Production Values

The animation is done by studio J.C. Staff and are also responsible for everything in the series. J.C. Staff is the studio you associate anime with both good and bad. Everything from the characters with big eyes, girls who only seem to favor wearing skirts, shortcuts in action sequences, and the occasional fan service (which is out of place in the final episode I might add). This particular studio is pretty much the middle ground of Japanese animation studios. Their animation is competent and versatile in styles, but don’t have an edge in any particular area. Characters design are simplistic with re usage of similar hairstyles and saving some money with incomplete background characters having no mouth. Line detail is okay, but not excessively sharp, but the entire enterprise just has that slightly soft and blurry look. It works for the flames to look blurry to it give it that effect of a burning wave. Not so much when there’s isn’t anything eventful occurring on screen.

The series does have an English dub which is pretty good. Much better than the material actually deserves. All the actors fit their roles well while their performances depends on the writing. Tabitha St. Germain who voices Shana in the English dub can be grating with her high pitches whenever in a verbal fight. Sounding a lot like a spoiled brat at times, but the writing is to blame since Shana’s personality is all over the place. It’s a miracle St. Germain manages to pull it making the emotionally scattered Shana come across as focus. However, I would recommend anyone who has an interest in seeing this to view it with subtitles. Now the English dub for season 1 is great with the voice cast fitting the characters, but season 2 replaces all the dub voice cast from the first season and having seen just one episode of season 2 with it new voice cast I’m already having second thoughts to continue seeing it in English. Season two’s dub is that bad.

Music is the only area that is left and it’s a give or take thing. Virtually all the opening and closing tracks are pop songs and about the same thing. A couple overcoming the burdens the world throws at them and yeah not varied is it. The first closing theme for season, “Toake Umarekuru Shojo” (The Girl Born At Dawn in English) starts out with a choir slowly raising their pitch. Then comes in the singer, Yoko Takashi, who begins to sing with her voice overshadowing the male choir who repeat some verses. It soons descends once a string is heard accompanied by techno sounds. Instruments are battling one another to be heard and it become a clutter mess of sounds that don’t blend. As for the original music it disappears into background. If it’s not from an famous singer than it won’t register in the slightest with you. The music in general are not tracks that you’re not going to picture listening to when not viewing the show. It’s not bad since the way the song talk about a couple struggle goes along with the series when it progresses, but it neither varied by genre or topics.

Random Thoughts: Nostalgia Crept In (no points taken to account)

My journey in viewing the series was not always welcoming, but I grew a fondness for it through season one. Every episode always left me with alot of thoughts that regardless the emotions left an impression on me. There never was a boring episode even if nothing extraordinary came out of the events. The writing had its fair share of downsides religiously following tropes, but also subverted from them to tell interesting stories. As the show characters grew up during the course of season one so did my feelings for the show. Ending up liking it despite a very poor start. Over time while watching it I grew rather nostalgic of it despite being my first time seeing it. The feeling was like returning to a series you loved, but finding out it hasn’t aged very well. Shana of the Burning Eyes is like that. While it’s not this great show many made it out to be there’s certain qualities about that keeps your feeling positive for them. The series’s first opening theme has stuck with me and helped it be on my good side. While I don’t know the exact way to word it. It’s exactly the song I would picture going with the series. Sure I don’t like the basic structure of the song, but is written that it feels like it was specifically for the series.

Final Thoughts:

I hit many road block during this series first season and many times I wondered if it would ever recover. I was eventually able to settle in and let it do it own thing without worrying too much. Like it characters, the first season was able to overcome an issue. Sure it never fixes any of its flaws to eliminate them, but the show’s heart to face them head on works in its favor. It doesn’t entirely succeed in everything it wanted to do. Where it does succeed it strikes and strikes it hard to pull itself back up whenever stuck in a rut. In the end, it’s broken in some areas, but comes out with a well earned damaged victory.

Genre Blending: 2/2

Character Interaction: 2/2

Characters: 1/2

Story: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Final Rating: 7/10 – Shana of the Burning Eyes has a rough start, but gradually improves the further it goes. However, the appeal of the series is limited with just about everything you associate with anime both good and bad being on constant display in every episode. It follows tropes religiously while at other times breaks away from them. Constantly rising and diving in quality it has a lot more high points when it ends than the low points from where it begins.

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