When I think of tsundere, the voice of Rie Kugimiya springs to mind. That lady has done some of the most famous bitchy girls in anime history, all within a relatively short span of time. One of the most popular of these girls is Shana, the titular character from Shakugan no Shana. Based off a series of light novels about a fiery little girl that fights demons with the help of a high school student, Shakugan no Shana spawned three popular shows and proved to be a merchandise juggernaut for a while.
The first season of Shana was originally licensed by Geneon back in 2006, so you can guess that it's been a bit difficult to get your hands on it for the last several years. When it seemed that we wouldn't be getting another crack at Shana here in the states, Funimation came in and rescued the license. Along with the recently completed third series, they also picked the movie, the OVAs, the second season and the original. So now that you can easily get your hands on the first season of Shana, how does it hold up? Well, hit the jump and find out!
Taking place in modern Japan, Shakugan no Shana's story swings between Yuji Sakai, a normal guy in high school, and Shana, a "Flame Haze" that hunts Denizens from the Crimson Realm. These Denizens consume the spiritual existence of humans in order to gain power and sustenance. The problem comes when the Denizens wantonly consume spirits and throw off the balance between this world and the Crimson Realm. In order to keep that balance, the Flame Hazes hunt down and kill the Denizens that overstep their bounds and try to upset the balance. In order to maintain the balance between the worlds, Flame Hazes can create degrading copies of consumed souls called Torches, which fade away instead of immediately ceasing to exist. At the start of the show, Yuji becomes involved in a battle between Shana and a Rinne, a vassal to a powerful Denizen. Due to injuries incurred in that battle, Yuji is made into a Torch and will not only fade away into nothing, all memory of his existence will disappear.
However, things get more complicated when Shana discovers that Yuji has inherited a special ability that allows him to regenerate his existence. Instead of fading away like other Torches, Yuji regenerates at midnight, making him into both a valuable ally and a target. Yuji decides to play a more active role and joins Shana in fighting off the Rinne and Denizen threat. Having always worked alone, Shana eventually learns to accept Yuji and gain a bit of the humanity that she's lost. She also eventually falls in love with Yuji, which makes things infinitely more complicated for the two of them. Several powerful Denizens, a rival Flame Haze and a rival in love insure that Yuji and Shana are kept on their toes.
While there are some pretty large scale action scenes through out the first season, the thing that makes Shana work so well are the relationships between several of the characters. First and foremost is the Shana/Yuji dynamic. Right from the start, Shana is a Denizen-killing machine with no concept of self. Yuji's introduction into her life fundamentally changed her, as she didn't even have a name before they met. As their relationship intensifies, so do her emotions as she learns to feel again. Rie Kugimiya does a great job channeling the confused feelings of a girl who's starting to feel normal emotions for the first time in a long time. There's also the Shana/Alastor dynamic, which resembles something like a father/daughter relationship. While Alastor is supposed to keep his distance and guide Shana in slaying the Denizens, you see that he cares about her. That theme continues with Yuji's mother, who helps Shana along with her budding human emotions. She's a rock of stability for both Yuji and Shana and she does a lot to help them both out when things get a bit wild.
When I first saw Shana in 2006, I found the show entertaining and the characters endearing. I thought the soundtrack was well done and the animation was pretty good to boot. Six years later…not so much. I'm not saying that the show is bad, it just hasn't held up as well as I thought it would have. After watching a ton of stuff in the interim, Shana's animation isn't that good. It might have been good for the time, but it's pretty limited and lacking in detail now. The music holds up a bit better, but not by much. One of things that has held up these last couple years are the Japanese performances. As mentioned earlier, the show runs on Yuji and Shana's relationship, so it's a good thing that the they have some good chemistry. While Shana's tsundere antics will annoy you after a while, there's a certain amount of fun in it that only somebody like Kugimiya can bring to the table. There's also the gravitas that … brings to Yuji's plight as a Torch. Unfortunately, the dub is fairly lackluster. It lacks the personality of the original performances and sounds wooden. Considering how the quality of dubs has drastically improved since Shana's original release, I shouldn't be surprised.
While it hasn't held up as well as I thought it would, I still feel that Shana is worth picking up. It's got some nice action scenes that, while not animated particularly well, are large in scope and certainly ambitious. More importantly, the relationships between these characters remain just as good as when I first saw it. The Japanese performers, Kugimiya in particular, bring these characters to life and humanize them in a way that a lot of other shows fail to do.
7.0 – Good. Films or shows that get this score are good, but not great. These could have been destined for greatness, but were held back by their flaws. While some may not enjoy them, fans of the genre will definitely love them.