Shakugan no Shana S
Shakugan no Shana S consists of a number of side stories within the Shana canon. In "Reshuffle," Shana and Yuji, while sifting through Friagne's trove of Treasure Tools, uncover one that causes the two to switch bodies. In "Domicile," Yuji and Wilhelmina join up to determine why Shana is behaving so secretively. The final two episodes, "Overture (Parts I and II)" document a story from before Shana and Yuji met, in which Shana and Alastor search for a Tomogara who appears to be releasing Torches of missing persons years after their disappearance.
Note: This review assumes some basic familiarity with the first two seasons of Shana and may thus contain some mild spoilers regarding them.
As of the third millennium, C.E., the OAV was essentially dead as a format for anime. As I write this review, the days of OAV series like Tenchi Muyo! and Gunbuster being popular in their own right are long gone, and while internet-spawned series such as Time of Eve have filled their niche to some extent, an "OAV" is now commonly understood to be an extra episode for an already-established TV series. Such releases are usually pretty peripheral, to be kind; if it isn't a one-off side story whose progression won't affect that of the main plot, then it's an excuse for fanservice, and while these releases are designed as "gifts" for fans of the series, they're invariably skippable.
And yet, I find myself in the very funny position of having quite a few nice things to say about Shakugan no Shana S, which isn't essential to understand the main storyline of the franchise but nonetheless nicely fills in some gaps that the frankly underwhelming second season left in place. It isn't such a dramatic turnaround that, say, a person who hated the franchise as a whole would warm to it now, but its three stories accomplish some character development that was left aside in the endless love-triangles that comprised Second, and for that it's a worthwhile watch for any fans of the series.
As usual, there isn't much new to report on the technical front: Shana S has, by-and-large, the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessors, and given that the staff is essentially the same between them all, that isn't much of a surprise. Some noticeably off-model new characters in the last episode aside, it's a solid if none-too-exciting production courtesy of J.C. Staff, still. I do, however, have to commend Mami Kawada's opening and closing themes, which are a dramatic improvement over those used in the Second and closer in quality to the rather nice ones used for the first half of the first season.
In fact, my opinion of the theme music is a pretty good stand-in for how I feel about the series as a whole. Nothing much is explicitly accomplished over the course of these episodes, but at the same time, each dives into some character interaction that the series was desperately in need of. For example, the first episode makes one of the franchise's first attempts to explore Shana's romantic feelings for Yuji in some depth, with the Shana-Yuji-Kazumi love triangle blissfully set aside. I can't say that I expected much from a story centered around body-switching, but rather than playing this up for comic effect (or for fanservice), the episode instead focuses on the two being forced to understand each other's personalities and mannerisms better in order to not blow their cover. Sexism still plagues this story, manifesting itself most strongly when Shana only feels the capacity to make any sort of move on Yuji while she is in a male body, but still, it feels like progress. The second episode, centered on Wilhelmina, gives her and Yuji some time to talk, without fighting, as they try to figure out Shana's strange behavior; when it turns out that having the two work together was part of her plan, it's a nice bit of reconciliation given that the two never had seemed to completely get over their antagonism from the first season.
The last, two-part story is really the gem of this set, however. Now, Shakugan no Shana has, overall, said not very much about Shana's days as a Flame Haze before Yuji showed up, at least aside from some "formative years" flashbacks during the first season. I've found it a bit frustrating, honestly, that the franchise has outright said that Shana didn't exactly have much of a life before coming to Misaki City, but this story makes up for that somewhat. For one thing, it explores the implications of Shana's masquerading as another character after their "Torch" has been extinguished, which she has apparently done many times. It's an interesting aspect because it depicts her questioning her habit of leaving scot-free after doing so, and she instead considers the moral imperative of tying up some loose ends for a person who can no longer do so on their own. It's also a worthwhile story because it shows her gaining some experience in gauging Tomogara, a skill that otherwise seems to arrive ready-to-use when we meet her in the first season; it's also nice to dig slightly more into her relationship with Alastor without having other characters distract from that, for once, as we do here. The ending isn't as satisfying as I'd hoped, but it's still one of the better "arcs" within the franchise.
I don't think that Shana S will necessarily win skeptics over to the series, but unlike many side-story OAVs, it's well worth a watch, possibly even to the point of being essential viewing for fans. It's a nice improvement over the mess of the second season, certainly, and even if we don't get anywhere with the main plot, we do at least finally get somewhere with the characters. I have to say I'm grateful for that.
It's still Shana, for better or for worse, but the character development is enough for me to bump this a rating above Second — Nicoletta Christina Browne
Recommended Audience: Teenagers and up. There's a fair amount of violence and the images of "Torches" disappearing might be disturbing for some children. The sexual content in the first episode is mild but probably not appropriate for kids, also.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source (Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (4/4)
Shakugan no Shana S © 2009 WataruShichiro Takahashi / Noizi Ito / ASCII Media Works / Shana Production Committee.
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