There's nothing quite like a volume of anime where the end of each episode leaves you wanting to see the next episode right now dammit!, and I'm pleased to say that that's what we get from this instalment of Shakugan no Shana. Yuji's got two problems to deal with: first, his secret is out, and second, someone wants him destroyed – permanently…
What They Say
Enter the third Flame Haze
Kazumi Yoshida was just an ordinary girl in love and that was the extent of her trouble. That is until she meets Khamsin, the Flame Haze who shows her what the real world is like. Her relationship with Yuji is about to tackle new obstacles as Shana fights with her own growing sense of self and her feelings towards Yuji. Then when Wirhelmina re-appears, Shana's life begins to fall into place, however, there are some things that were never meant to be...
17 - A New Chapter
18 - Shattered Wish
19 - Within the Battle
20 - Heartless Wirhelmina
Audio is presented in both English and Japanese 2.0 version - I listened to the Japanese track for this review. If anything the soundtrack for Shana is quite understated - it doesn't go out its way to impress other that during action scenes - but it's clear, effects and dialogue are easy to pick out, and when it does make an effort there's full use made of the available channels. There were no obvious problems.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the video here is a visual treat, with plenty of use of vibrant colours and some good use of background detail & nice touches such as the shower of sparks that surrounds Shana when she's in her 'battle mode'. Animation quality is also good, and the transfer here does full justice to the materials. There were no encoding problems that I could spot on my setup.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
The main menu is a simple affair, typical of MVM's releases, with Kazumi and Khamsin standing together on the right-hand side of the main screen. The opening theme plays over the top. Options are provided for Play All, Episode Select, Setup and Extras, and with no transition animations to sit through it's quick and painless to use.
Another decent set of extras this volume, with a production artwork gallery presented as a 3-minute video slideshow and, bringing back happy memories of Nadesico for me, a Naze Nani Shana segment, where chibi-versions of Friagne and Marianne explain all you ever wanted to know about Khamsin. There's also a creditless version of the new opening animation.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review will contain spoilers)
Oh, what a tangled web love weaves, as Kazumi and Shana prepare to do battle over Yuji's affections. Having seen the way Yuji reacted to Kazumi's home cooking, Shana has decided to take the route to his heart that runs through his stomach, while Kazumi seems to be working up to a more direct approach. There are other battles brewing behind the scenes, though, as a new group of Crimson Denizens comes to the fore, and a new Flame Haze arrives in town - and quickly takes an interest in Kazumi, introducing her to the hidden world that Flame Hazes can see and that she never knew existed. Khamsin has asked Kazumi to do something that's going to be difficult for her to accept: to confirm for him that Yuji is a Torch. Just how will the young girl react to discovering that the object of her affections is already dead..?
Shana, meanwhile, has been reunited with her old mentor, Wirhelmina, who has arrived in the city on a quest to find the Midnight Lost Child. Not only is she about to discover that Shana is well acquainted with her target, she's also going to learn that Shana's contact with "real" humans - particularly Chigusa - has made her old charge far too interested in everyday life. That's a situation she can't allow to continue, but her method of solving the problem spells trouble for Yuji…
Two arcs here, with the Kazumi / Khamsin storyline playing out in full before the final episode on the disc kicks off the next arc with Wirhelmina's arrival. The Kazumi arc is what really grabbed me here, though, as it takes us back to the early dilemmas around how Yuji was going to handle being a dead man walking – an issue I feared had been forgotten about – as well as handling the love rivalry between Kazumi and Shana, which comes to a head in a way I really hadn't expected. Khamsin is the catalyst for this, and his intervention comes just at the moment that Kazumi's determination to win Yuji is reaching a peak – and as you'd expect, learning the truth of the hidden world around her and learning that Yuji is technically dead is something that takes her some time to accept. Add in another attack by the Crimson Denizens that must be dealt with (with Kazumi playing a key role in the resolution, thanks to her connection to Khamsin) and a few other revelations, and there's plenty in the arc to keep your interest – I found myself getting to the end of each episode in the arc and frantically skipping past the credits and preview to get to the next episode as quickly as possible, I was that eager to find out what happened next.
While the more action-based scenes in this segment are good, the real highlight comes from seeing Kazumi work through her emotions and decide where it leaves her as far as wanting to be with Yuji go. Shana is something of an observer to this, and with her emotional control being somewhat lacking her jealousy – and fear of losing Yuji to Kazumi – are clear to see, and ironically it's Shana (and the way she treats Yuji) that eventually helps Kazumi decide what to do. It's a segment of the story that just won't let you go, and is really top-class stuff.
It's hard to keep that standard up for long, though, so I was expecting Wirhelmina's arrival to slow the pace of the series down again for a while, to let the characters settle back into their lives. How wrong I was. Wirhelmina's temperament was well-established last volume: she's a dedicated Flame Haze, with very little in the way of emotion to cloud her judgement, and having met Chigusa, Yuji and the others she's very clear that Shana's contact with them is having a negative effect on her. Her solution places Yuji in mortal danger, although with the disc's final episode ending on a cliffhanger, finding out whether he gets to continue his undead existence will have to wait a while. The arc has been well set up, though, and I have high hopes of it turning out to be just as good as the Kazumi arc.
All this character development shouldn't completely overshadow the other parts of the story, as moves by this volume's Denizen, the Professor, threaten the entire city, while both Shana and Margery are beginning to look to life elsewhere, feeling that there roles here are more or less complete. This leads to some exploration of where Yuji, Keisaku and Eita are going to fit into their future plans, in terms of who will leave with them and who will stay behind. By rights, those decisions should be major plot point in themselves, but there's so much else going on here that it gets a little overshadowed. That's the only real fault with this volume, though, and it's one that easily forgiven.
I'm a sucker for more emotional storylines - that's certainly what we get here, and having most of the disc focus on one of my favourite characters in the show certainly didn't do its appeal any harm. Having the series take a few unexpected turns also just added to my enjoyment, with the end result being a disc that I just didn't want to end. Shakugan no Shana has been a good series right from the start, but this volume raises the bar significantly. A great way to start the new anime year.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 2.0, English Subtitles, Production Art Gallery, Naze Nani Shana Video, Textless Closing (version 2).
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37" widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-222 5.1 speaker system.