Shana Vol. #1 - Mania.com



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Mania Grade: B+

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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: A
  • Packaging Rating: A-
  • Menus Rating: B+
  • Extras Rating: B-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
  • MSRP: 29.98
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Shana

Shana Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     September 05, 2006
Release Date: September 05, 2006


Shana Vol. #1
© Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.


What They Say
The Girl with Eyes of Fire...
Yuji Sakai is about to learn that there is more to the world than going to school and finding a girl friend when he meets a sword-wielding girl with fiery red eyes and flame colored hair. Denizens of the Crimson Realm are invading our world and its up to the Flame Haze, Shana to slay them. However, when Yuji gets in the way of her sword, he learns that death is much more different than he imagined it would be. Experience their story as Yuji and Shana work together to defeat the Denizens of the Crimson World and learn more about each other and the worlds they are from.

The Review!
Dark, moody and filled with death, Shana is a glossy high production value show that stands out above others in its first few episodes.

Audio:
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.

Video:
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.

Packaging:
Using the same artwork as the Japanese release, the cover is a great looking illustration that has Shana and Yuji together but with the focus on Shana as Yuji is in the background toying with his flame. With the framed style and the less than distinct but spot on light background to it, this is a very striking cover that really just looks great. I love Shana's outfit design and the mixture of the softer colors works very well here. The back cover is a bit more subdued than this as its 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. I'm very glad to see Geneon adopting the grid with more titles particularly since if they shift to either of the new formats that are coming out, there will be more to know about including things such as what codec is used for it. 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 Shana from the front cover. The insert replicates the front cover artwork on one side while the reverse lists the release months for the remaining volumes in the series.

Menu:
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.

Extras:
The extras are pretty mild and it looks like we're not getting the Japanese cast commentary track. What we do get this time is the clean version of the opening sequence and a round of production gallery images.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Originally titled Shakugan no Shana but solicited just as Shana, this series is the latest JC Staff show to hit over here and they continue their run of simply gorgeous looking productions. Dark and moody and starting off with a small cast of characters that have to grapple with a rather difficult issue, this isn't a faced past affair that throws you into something and hits the ground running. Rather it throws you into a chaotic situation and then lets it all unfold afterwards so that you see how they have to deal with it.

Taking place in the present, we're introduced to the story in a bit of a typical back and forth fashion as we meet new high school student Yuji Sakai as he talks about how he lives an ordinary life. Everything about him is what you'd expect from an average student, from just barely getting the right grades to get into a better school to interests in music and other things that kids do at that age. But for him, his life changed drastically when he simply walked home from school and made a stop by the music store. Everything around him suddenly froze in a purple hue and only he could move or do anything. It was then that a disturbing pair of creatures appeared, one a giant ball made up of human faces and another that looked like a twisted child's doll but was at least half a dozen stories tall. Both of them just began to suck out what seemed to be the life force from everyone there except for Yuji.

When they do realize Yuji is there and moving about instead of being frozen like he should, they move to eat him up but they're quickly stopped and eliminated by the arrival of a flame haired young woman. She's just as surprised that Yuji is able to move in the sealed area but writes him off for the most part and just gives him a casual reason for what happened. At the same time, she informs him that it doesn't matter that he's not like everyone else there who is newly dead because he actually died a little while ago in some other event. It turns out that when these life forces are sucked out from people, they are for all intents and purposes dead. But in order to make sure that the balance in the world doesn't get distorted, creatures like her intervene and afterwards repair the damage and create Torches in places of the dead. These are remnants of the life forces that were sucked out, scum as she calls it, and they slowly dwindle away as the people carry on with their lives. Once these flames go out, the person disappears as does all knowledge of them in the universe. It's as if they never existed. And Yuji can now see these flames within them.

And within himself.

The girl is tempted to simply ignore Yuji at this point but it turns out that he may be far more than they realize and his persistence with questions wears her down. It turns out that she is a Flame Haze and others like her work around the work to keep the balance. Inside her and communicating through a pendant on her chest is a Lord of the Crimson World named Alastor. In that "world next door" to ours in another dimension, there are some there who want to come over to ours in order to steal the life forces within us and there are others like Alastor who don't believe it's right and works through these Flame Hazes to deal with it. One of the other things that attracts these beings to our world is that within some people there are curious treasures that are worth a lot. And it turns out that there may be an incredibly rare one inside of Yuji and that's why he's called as Mystes. Powerful Lords could be intent on finding him now that they know about him and what's inside, so Alastor has little issue in keeping a closer eye on him until his flame diminishes.

The relationship between the three, which is really just between the Flame Haze and Yuji as they deal more directly with each other, is fascinating to watch. Yuji's reaction to his own apparent death and eventual disappearance is handled well as it's a thing of shock that doesn't even really register for awhile. But his concern for other Torches and those around him strike the others are really strange as other Torches seem to go into something of a mild depression and retreat from others. Yuji on the other hand actively tries to save Torches and gets closer to the Flame Haze, even naming her Shana after the sword that she uses to dispatch others. Shana finds herself unable to treat him like she does other Torches and as she inserts herself into the life of another Torch she gets a fresh sampling of what human life is.

There's a decent mixture of action into the show as we have Shana dealing with the initial Lord of the Crimson World we're introduced to and his pawns for acquiring life forces and more. There's also another Flame Haze that gets introduced towards the end and we see something of the adversarial nature of them as well as the different kinds of powers and abilities they have. As enjoyable as all this is, what's really fascinating about the show is how really morbid it is and how dark it gets. Yuji gets to do a fair bit of internal dialogue, especially at the beginning and end of each episode, and his perspective of being a dead person is well treated. We've seen this concept in other shows but it often gets pushed back quickly to move on to other things. Instead here we get this as something to examine since a Torch is essentially a shadow version of the original and a replacement. There's obviously more to it when it comes to Yuji but it's really intriguing place to start.

In Summary:
Shana starts off in a slightly chaotic fashion as it tells its tale in flashback and different perspectives at first but once it moves along and the concepts behind it begin to unfurl it really is fascinating. It was also a show that forced me to take in the first four episodes two at a time because the morbid nature of it made me feel uncomfortable. Few shows can really do that so it's intriguing from there and I'm looking forward to seeing more of it as explores what Yuji really is and the curious relationship that Shana seems to be growing with him. There is a lot of things brought into this show very early on but they layer it well and expand on it slowly in order to let it all sink it. It's got me very well hooked from the start and I can't wait to see more " just not all in one sitting.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Art Gallery

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player via HDMI -> DVI with upconversion set to 1080i, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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