Shakugan no Shana: Season One (Blu-ray Review)

“From the studio behind Toradora! and Okami-san and Her Seven Companions comes the iconic series centered around the heated bond and supernatural battles of two friends from very different worlds.  Wielding a blazing sword, Shana is a fiery huntress whose sole purpose is to fight demon-like beings that consume human lives.  To reduce the impact on the human realm, Shana turns the slain into shadows of their former selves.  Once a flame that represents their remaining life goes out, they fade from existence.  This should be Yuji’s fate, but when he discovers he holds a special power that ignites a newfound strength in Shana, they join forces in her ongoing mission to maingain the balance between the ordinary world and the supernatural.”


A real grabber of a curtain-raiser carries this lengthy, manga-derived series, injecting a note of gravitas into the narrative before all the schoolgirls-with-swords cliches set in (yes, there is a swimsuit episode).  For one thing, the opener tells us that high-schooler hero Yuji…is dead.  He was one of various humans killed in a paranormal attack on his city perpetrated by supernatural predatory beings from some hell-dimension called the “Crimson World.”  When such life-devouring assaults take place, under the magical shield of an “unrestricted method,” everyday action freezes and nobody notices the incursion of ravenous extra-dimensional monsters.

Well, almost nobody, since mystic martial-arts sword-girl Shana seemingly rescues Yuji.  But she coldly informs the teen that that he’s already been lost to the Crimson World.  His shape and mind is just a “torch,” a temporary replacement to hide the absence of the real victim, and Yuji will fade gradually, like other secret human casualties of the life-sucking entities.  Yuji dedicates what he thinks is a death sentence to help Shana (her catchphrase: “I’m the flame-haired, blazing eyed hunter!” Now repeat about a million times) both fight and protect the bizarre Crimson World visitors – not all of whom are evil.  But if it were all that simple it would make for a short episode-cycle, so Yuji’s paranormally shortened lifespan turns out to be more the opposite.

As it seems reports of Yuji’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, the series descends into familiar anime stuff, with super-battlers-masquerading-as-schoolkids melodrama, demi-goddess bitch rivalry, teen love triangles and painful pasts hinted at.  Better parts build a pantheon of Olympian people-eaters, ill-defined superpowers, apprentice lackeys and duty-bound creatures who are neither alive nor dead.  But don’t put it past the creators exploiting the holes in the mythology as a cheap gambit to write Shana and Yuji out of more than one cliffhanger. Or into a swimsuit episode.


It is an index of Shakugan no Shana‘s high production values that Universal Picture’s anime division has chosen to distribute it in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack of seven discs in all.  The picture dimensions, as you have come to expect, are 16×9 on the DVD, and 16×9 1080p HD on the Blu-ray.  In usual anime style, things look crisp, clear and bright.


The Blu-ray comes packaged with Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround audio and coupled with dialogue options in English or Japanese.  The DVD version has Dolby Digital Surround available in both languages.  Subtitles are an option.


Extras include a set of clip-job shorts in which two of the show’s villains do a video FAQ about the series (each one meant to be watched after a certain episode, kind of like a post-game); four textless opening and closing songs; OVA short-shorts with Shana as a miniaturized “chibi” figure and repetitious cleavage and crotch shots (it’s a Japanese thing; we wouldn’t understand); and further Funimation trailers.


Shana’s character evolution (driven by a fundamental what-it-means-to-be-human question), imagery and conflicts holds up pretty well, even if the our-hero-is-dead pitch gets about as tiresome here as it was for Paul McCartney.


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