Shana Vol. #4 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, February 26, 2007
Release Date: Tuesday, March 20, 2007
What They Say
The Denizens have begun their final plans and with Shana ensnared it appears that her end is imminent. Shana's history as a Flame Haze is now revealed as we see how her earlier life progressed, training to become the greatest Flame Haze to bond with the Flame of the Heavens and acquire the Nietono no Shana from the deadly Tennmokuikko...
Quickly finishing out another arc and then delving into Shana's past, the series takes an odd twist or two as it continues to build the mythology around it.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this show in its original language of Japanese. It and the English language track are done in a very good stereo mix that really works well with the dialogue and some of the music which really plays up the stereo channels well in how it balances things out. This is a very laid back series for the most part so the music fits in with it in that it's very mellow and doesn't overpower outside of a couple of scenes and the strong opening and closing sequences. Dialogue is treated much the same way and comes across great on both tracks. We didn't have any noticeable problems during regular playback with dropouts or distortions.
Originally airing in 2005, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. JC Staff has created a really slick looking show here with great looking animation and designs for both characters and layouts. The sense of composition is very strong throughout this as the show really takes advantage of the larger canvas to work with and they don't skimp on backgrounds or details in character designs. The colors look very strong here with a lot of vibrant moments across almost all shades. When it comes to the darker colors and the important purples here from sealed world moments, they maintain a very solid look. The transfer is free from just about all problems from what I can see here and simply looks gorgeous.
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, this volume doesn't come across quite as badly as the previous one. While it again has the young looking characters with the very attractive clothes, it doesn't feel as wrong as the previous one with the swimsuits. It's very detailed and wonderfully designed as it fits the way these two characters are presented. With the framed style and the less than distinct but spot on light background to it, this is a very striking cover. The back cover is a bit more subdued than this as it's mostly a flame background that's somewhat muted with darker reds and it has a decent summary of the premise but the font makes it a touch difficult to read. Episodes are broken down by title and a shot with each of them while the bottom has the production and technical information, which is again well placed inside a grid format. The keepcase for this is clear and the reverse side has an image on each side, with the left being the logo and a silhouette shot of Shana against flames while the right is a light purple image that has a close-up of the front cover. The insert has new character artwork on one side while the reverse lists the release months for the remaining volumes in the series.
The menu design for this volume is really nice as it uses presumably an illustration from the Japanese releases that has Shana with her sword and in the school uniform mixed with the logo and the navigation selections while the background uses imagery from the opening sequence and other spots with a dark red background. Mix in some floating flames and the moody music and this is something you don't mind have sitting on in the background for awhile and it looks great as well. Access times are nice and fast and the layout very easy to navigate, though I'm still not keen on setup/extra combination menus. The disc also correctly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.
The main extra that's included here are the mildly informative Naze Nani Shana videos, which are like little glossary pieces that have some of the cast talking about the terms. The latest one is included here and it's quite cute and adds a bit of levity to a dark show. Also included is a new production gallery that includes full color pieces and a clean version of the second ending sequence.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As Shana moves smoothly into the second half of the series it continues to be a show that plays by its own rules. The first three volumes had the storylines play out in surprisingly good arcs that were relatively self contained with only some basic character growth spreading across them. Along the way we got to get a better idea of what this particular setting is like with the mythology behind it all. With each arc completing in such a seemingly final way though, it gave the series an almost unconventional feel in comparison to so many shows based on ongoing manga.
This set of episodes is a bit awkward in its layout however as these kinds of structured arcs can be problematic. The new storyline that kicked off in the previous volume with the new Denizen's reaches its conclusion in the first episode which feels quite sudden and almost rushed, even if it is essentially the same length as previous arcs. Everything kicks off in a big crescendo as the characters race to deal with the problem as Shana is caught up in their trap while Margery and Yuji form an interesting alliance. Though Shana is the star, the end of this arc is one that works better for Margery I believe as well as showing how Yuji will be a key component to Shana's growth.
Where the bulk of this volume is made up, again in an essentially self contained arc that ends with the last episode here, is in dealing with Shana's origins as a Flame Haze. While a fair amount of mystery has been kept to her background and her lack of humanity and understanding of such things, it has not been a detriment to the series nor has it made her into a caricature that is used just to lighten the mood. The shows serious tone hasn't been overdone or too dramatic and the lack of high comedy to offset it hasn't been needed. Her origins however do need to be explored to help her grow more now that she's becoming fairly well tied to Yuji and this is where it comes into play. Of course, it also sets the potential for the next big arc as well so that doesn't hurt.
Touching on the present where Yuji wonders about Shana's past because of something as simple as her love of melon bread, she doesn't reveal her past to him but we see it through this multi episode flashback. Her arrival at the Palace of Heaven's Road is only hinted at as we're introduced to Wirhelmina. A quiet woman in a maid outfit, she had ended up bringing Shana back to this place during an incident where she had no choice but to do so. Since then, Shana has shown herself to be a surprising young girl, one who is adept at both combat and general knowledge. Her skills have grown as she's trained with a cloaked skeleton name Shiro but she still hasn't managed to land a blow against him. Her self confidence is strong and she's intent on building herself into something strong but she hasn't achieved it yet.
The Palace of Heaven's Road is a most curious place as we don't really see anyone else there except for Alastor in his brazier. His voice is a touch different here but he's still keeping to the role of a wise mentor in trying to urge both Wirhelmina and Shana along their paths. Like any good origin story, there must be some impetus for change and the arrival of a Denizen and another strange highly powered person brings ample destruction to the realm. Forcing Shana to grow and accept the reality of the situation outside of this place, she has to make the right deal in order to become a Flame Haze, including the acquisition of a most powerful weapon.
Since the outcome is essentially known, there isn't quite so much drama and uncertainty here. As intriguing as it is to see her origin, I'm fairly well let down by it because of how out of character it seems for the show itself. There have been some interesting and unusual characters inhabiting the show in the form of Denizen's, but once we get to the world of the Palace of Heaven's Road it seems like all bets are off. Shiro is an intriguing character and you want to know more about him but his design does feel out of place here. That's carried over into the others as well. So much of the series so far has been about taking reality as we know it and essentially looking sideways a bit to see a new sliver that's hidden. Shifting the story to this realm for several episodes takes us out of that and to me it doesn't feel like it fits in with what came in the previous three volumes.
Shana continues to be a show that I enjoy a lot and find engaging but this volume just feels off for a couple of reasons. With the arc from the previous volume ending so quickly on this volume and then going into a storyline that feels out of character for the show, the darker tones and serious nature don't feel quite so compelling. Part of this volume just made me uncomfortable with how they took what seems to be a slightly younger looking Shana and had her spend so much obvious fanservice time in nothing but bandages. Her origins aren't completely fleshed out here but we do learn more about the mythology in general, even if I don't think it fits in well with what's been established so far.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Production Art Gallery, Textless 2nd Ending Animation,Naze Nani Shana Video extra
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic DMP-BD10 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI set to 480p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2