Shakugan no Shana Second
Bal Masqué have been temporarily subdued, leading to something of a quiet period for Shana and Yuji, but both continue to fight Tomogara, knowing all the while that they will have to again face their foes soon. Shana and Kazumi, meanwhile, continue to grapple over Yuji as the class prepares for the cultural festival. The stage for new conflict set by the arrival of a mysterious new student who strongly resembles Hecate, their former adversary, and by Wilhelmina's revelation that one of her former compatriots, Pheles, had created the Reiji Maigo to preserve her human lover, meaning that she will likely soon be coming after Yuji. And so, the battle between the Flame Haze and the Denizens rages on.
There's one fact that, I feel, must be understood before I express my displeasure with this series, which is that Shakugan no Shana Second might best be described as a "continuation" of the original Shana rather than as a sequel. The difference is crucial because when a sequel is inferior, the usual suspects are responsible: the staff and cast have changed for the worse, or the story is feebly trying to "recreate" the feel of the original, or perhaps the sequel is little besides a cash cow, the last of which can explain my disdain for the deluge of superhero movies that seem to appear every summer. None of these, however, explains my frustration with Shakugan no Shana Second, which was animated after the original series did well enough to justify adapting the remainder of a long-running light novel series. Rather, I like Second far less than the first season because it accomplishes so little over the course of twenty-four episodes and indulges in many of the first season's same failings, with no sign of abatement after all this time. Simply, with this franchise feeling so stuck in the mud and so bound to the same tiresome tropes after forty-nine episodes, I can no longer cut it slack.
Second, in regards to staff and composition, is still essentially the same series as the original Shana, having the same director, scriptwriter, and cast, and with the artistic quality of the original virtually intact, for better or for worse. If the character design has changed, I haven't noticed it, and the animation is still unimpressive for all besides the most key battle scenes (and fairly pedestrian there as well). Still, the only real complaint I have regarding the visuals is that after having my eyes be bombarded with the red glow of the "Fuzetsu" world enough times, I've come to the conclusion that the color scheme for those scenes was chosen poorly; it otherwise remains a technically competent but uninteresting show, with the same recycled piano-and-synth soundtrack of the original. I can't say I especially enjoyed the theme songs, especially compared to the first pair from the first season, but that isn't a major strike.
Now, Second desperately wants to please those who were happy to have more of the light novels animated, I feel, and there's a bit of a "just like old times" feel to much of it; the first episode even features the surprise return of Friagne and his minions, via another Tomogara's trick, in an awkward and unnecessary callback to that arc. We don't waste too much time with re-introductions, luckily, but we do waste an obscene amount of screentime on what amounts to the worst of high-school anime drama between our leads. After we dabble with the past for one episode, virtually nothing of consequence happens until episode twelve: in the meantime, we encounter a Hecate-lookalike whose existence essentially turns out to be a red herring, we watch Kazumi and Shana squabble over Yuji, and we spend a lot of time watching the cast prepare for a school cultural festival. To put it frankly, there is a lot of fluff this season, and at a point where I feel that the audience deserves answers rather than more scenes of Shana and Kazumi squabbling over whose bento Yuji should eat, this is a significant problem for the series. It doesn't help that the abundant comic relief leaves something to be desired.
That's not to say that all of these episodes are bad. Two episodes of backstory centered around Margery don't fit well into the scheme of the present-time episodes, but she was in desperate need of characterization beyond being Shana's haughty, inebriated, blonde-American rival, and said episodes deliver on that front. Shana's temper tantrums are less frequent and less ridiculous this season, and I also warmed significantly to Wilhelmina, given that her role develops beyond that of the overprotective third wheel she was during most of the first series. Finally, meanwhile, I genuinely enjoyed several episodes centered around Yuji's classmates, of which there were virtually none in the first season. During a "visit to the amusement park" episode that could have been horribly boring, for example, we switch to Hayato Ike's perspective and get a humorous montage of his carefully-concocted plans for their visit all going horribly wrong, and I enjoyed seeing what came of Satou and Tanaka's characters. Honestly, I might have enjoyed this show more if it had been centered around them instead of Yuji.
And that brings me to my issues with Yuji, who, as something of a milquetoast, was a minor liability for the first season but proves to be a major one here. While always bland, I appreciated that he expressed a genuine desire to help Shana and contribute to the fight against the Tomogara; Second, however, has him backpedal on this and become infuriatingly non-committal to Shana and the others, as well as (unforgivably) non-committal towards his mother during a short spell in which she falls ill. It's lazy writing, and it's criminal that we really don't go anyplace with his character at the end of twenty-four episodes that we haven't already tread upon.
While it's beyond obvious that he and Shana will eventually pair up, meanwhile, the show is still content to play the "will-he-or-won't he" game with the two of them, and to have Kazumi (among several others) continue to also be madly in love with him. It's frankly pretty tedious, and ultimately, Shakugan no Shana Second seems to be an experiment along the lines of "how many women can you have and still miserably fail the
What of the central plot, you might ask? We make surprisingly little progress on that front, dealing only with the primary villains, Bal Masqué, during the few final episodes, and not learning much more about them even then. Like Yuji's obliviousness, this, along with their somewhat one-dimensional evil temperament, goes from being a minor strike against the first season to a major strike against the second. And if the Hecate lookalike feels like a red herring, the other plot twists this season aren't much better: when we meet Pheles, there's a lot of fluff surrounding the small payoff of knowing what the Reiji Maigo actually is. Pheles, indeed, has virtually no personality beyond pining for her lost lover, exposing once again this series' "talent" for writing female characters. The new Tomogara we meet this season aren't much to look at, either.
I sound like I hate Shakugan no Shana Second, but I don't: I just expected a lot more progress than this, and my tolerance for shows that meander this much grows slimmer by the second. I hold out some hope that the ensuing OAV and final season might fix this, to some extent, but this installment is a let-down.
Diehard fans of the light novels or the first anime series might be more forgiving than I am, but my patience with this series was running on empty by the end. Here's hoping for a better third season. — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: There's some fanservice in the form of female-on-female boob-grabbing in one episode, and the show is fairly violent, though graphic scenes are few and far between. This series is, overall, pretty tame, but targeted at teenagers and adults and probably of little interest to kids.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (24/24)
Shakugan no Shana Second © 2007 WataruShichiro Takahashi / Noizi Ito / ASCII Media Works / Shana Production Committee
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