Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions, Series Reviews > Shakugan no Shana Season 3 Episode 1 – Phoenix Rising

Shakugan no Shana Season 3 Episode 1 – Phoenix Rising

Shakugan no Shana is one of those shows which is constantly being mentioned here at antiotaku (four times if we count a reference in a caption). It’s one of the original light novel action romantic comedy series that got an anime adaption by J.C. Staff, and certain aspects of it have been enshrined in all the shows that followed it.

Shana has fantasy trappings, with a male protagonist who looks ordinary and powerless but is quickly revealed to have a special ability that makes him able to fight whatever monsters are plaguing the world. It pairs the male lead with a pint-sized, flat-chested action girl, typically voiced by Rie Kugimiya, who falls for the lead even while refusing to admit it. It has an underlying conspiracy and a slowly increasing cast of characters, mostly attractive women. You can see elements of the Shana formula in A Certain Magical Index, Yumekui Merry, and Dragon Crisis, to name just three shows that we’ve covered—with varying degrees of skepticism—on this site.

Given how we haven’t much liked any of Shana’s spiritual successors, one would expect that we wouldn’t like Shana either, but this isn’t the case. Much as most slice of life shows try and fail to redo the magic of Azumanga Daioh, the fantasy action genre owes so much to Shakugan no Shana because Shana became popular by doing it first and by doing it right. Its many imitators might be soulless or simply fail to catch the same spark, but what they are trying to copy is the real deal.

The show does a solid job of reminding returning watchers of the first two series of important plot events, like how last season ended, without getting bogging down in exposition. That said, newcomers are probably going to be lost without reading Wikipedia or an explanatory review (like this one)

Shakugan no Shana does several things right immediately, with the original series premiering with a genuinely disturbing concept.The show has creatures (Guze no Tomogara, or “Crimson Denizens”) from another reality come into our world to eat up the very existence of humans, making it so those devoured never existed. Other beings from the same dimension come to fight them and preserve the balance between the two worlds, teaming up with and empowering humans (called Flame Hazes) as their avatars. The catch is that Flame Hazes can’t save anyone whose power of existence has been devoured; they can replace the person with a copy, called a torch, with whatever energy remains, but this is only to ease the burden on reality. The torches eventually burn out, with the same effect.

The show sells its concept hard in the first plot arc, with the second episode being devoted to Yuuji, the protagonist, watching a classmate’s torch fade out of existence, slowly becoming more lifeless and ignored, despite Yuuji’s best efforts to save her. It’s a very personal issue for Yuuji, because he’s just learned that he, too, is a torch. Her fate is his own.

Yuuji spends most of this episode AWOL, but here’s a shot of what he used to look like. Emphasis on “used to”

Of course it’s not, really, as the show invents a reason for Yuuji not only to sustain his existence as a torch, but find ways to help the Flame Haze who saved him, whom he takes to calling Shana, fight more Guze no Tomogara. To be fair, the show manages to do it in a way that doesn’t feel like a total cop-out, and which doesn’t lessen the existential threat Yuuji’s hometown faces. In fact, the thing keeping Yuuji alive serves as a beacon to Guze no Tomogara around the globe.

Over two seasons, Shana and Yuuji pair up with some of Yuuji’s classmates and with other Flame Hazes, as Yuuji’s hometown (and Yuuji himself) is increasingly targeted by Guze no Tomogara. Eventually they come to the attention of Bal Masqué, three very powerful Guze no Tomogara and their underlings, whose schemes form the primary threat for our heroes.

Margery Daw is another Flame Haze who has been a valuable member of the team, whenever she isn’t passed out drunk and lounging around in sexy poses. I did say the show had a large number of attractive women in the cast

The show isn’t perfect by any means, and is occasionally a bit too free with its fanservice, but it manages to do many things right which its imitators never figured out. The series has a love triangle surrounding Yuuji, but it never falls into the harem trap, with at least two other romantic pairings going on, and the love triangle really being a love polygon. By the same token, the show allows for other male characters to have a presence (a big no no in harem shows) and generally has the secondary cast feel like real, developed individuals, rather than women whose only purpose is to fall for the male lead, and men whose only purpose is to be big enough losers to make the lead look good in comparison.

The plots, while a bit convoluted, never fall into the Index level of indecipherability (or stupidity). The second season dragged on considerably for the first half, but managed to come together with a decent conclusion by the end. It even seemed to promise a resolution to the ongoing love triangle, with Yuuji finally picking Shana over classmate Yoshida on a Christmas eve date.

Saitou and Tanaka are two examples of cast members with their own narrative purposes. Both were roped into helping Margery early on, but Saitou has become more deeply involved in the struggle while Tanaka quit. Both made their choice to protect their respective love interests, something a lesser show wouldn’t tolerate them having because every girl would be contractually obligated to fall for the lead

That’s where the second season ends, and where the third season begins, but it goes in a direction I couldn’t possibly have predicted. Shana sees Yuuji for only a moment before he disappears like a burnt out torch, and all the traces of his life seem to disappear with him. (Even his mother forgets him.) Only a few traces remain—enough to give hope that he isn’t gone completely. Much of the first episode, aside from refreshers, tracks the reaction of the rest of the cast to his disappearance.

The show doesn’t hide his fate from the audience, however. For some yet unexplained reason, Yuuji has decided to side with Bel Masqué, taking command of the organization. I’m guessing this shift has something to do with the fact that the artifact that keeps him alive is linked to another, very powerful Guze no Tomogara (who is also the nemesis of Margery Daw), so it’s possible that it tempted Yuuji to join the dark side.

The blue spark here represents Yuuji, and the silver one the Guze no Tomogara buried inside of him. Why and when Yuuji got to talking to “Silver,” and why he’d listen to anything the latter had to say, are the questions that really need answering

What it could tempt Yuuji with, though, is beyond me. Some of the dialogue Yuuji has with an unidentified source hints that Yuuji is worried about Shana being constantly embroiled in conflict, and wanting to see her find peace. Joining the other side to accomplish that is several different levels of stupid, however, particularly as the flashforward opening shows Shana and Yuuji is direct conflict, in what will likely be the show’s climactic final battle. (Yuuji talks about “changing Shana’s destiny” there too, but does he really think she’d be at all happy by how he’s doing it?)

Thus, Shakugan no Shana starts off its final season on a wrong note—horribly wrong, in my opinion. It requires Yuuji, who had one of the strongest moral centers of the cast, to make a remarkably dumb and frankly evil choice on behalf of a love who won’t be grateful for it. The show will have a terribly tough time justifying its latest plot development, which seems pulled more from the “cliche ways to have a tragic end to a series” list than from a natural outgrowth of the story.

Evil Yuuji manages to look at least a bit more distinctive than his nondescript human self. That’s about the only silver lining I can find from this situation

Can the show pull it off? Maybe. While not all the plots have been of stellar quality before, this is the first time where the show felt false with its characters, which is never a good sign. Or maybe it hasn’t messed up Yuuji’s development, and there is a convincing reason for all this that will get revealed in a later episode. The show has enough vested goodwill with me that I’m willing to give it a shot and find out; I certainly would have regretted it if I dropped the second season midway through.

But, by the same token, now I’m feeling like I would have been better off settling for the seemingly happy ending of the second season rather than moving on to this one. Shakugan no Shana has risen from the ashes of a weak opening before. I just hope that this time it will do the same.

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