If you’re reading the second season review without having watched the first Shakugan no Shana for some reason, be aware that there will be first season spoilers.
Starting with the second semester of school, Shakugan no Shana‘s second season picks up with the introduction of Fumina Konoe, a suspicious transfer student who seems utterly helpless. Shana and Yoshida continue their competition for Yuji’s affection. Throughout all the domestic drama, though, Bal Masque is up to something sinister again.
I like Shakugan no Shana Second more than the first season. I like a Shana that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. Although Shana Second is still as insipid as ever with a love triangle/quadrangle/pentangle that spins wildly out of control, at least it does so with conviction. By that I mean the series has gotten over the awkward question of whether Yuji’s existence will continue, and whether a Mystes like Yuji can really be a person. The answers to both, as the first season arrived at without much effort, are yes and yes. Therefore I can think of Shakugan no Shana Second as an entity split in two: a school romance/drama and a fantasy/action show.
The action segments involving Flame Hazes and Ball Masque are intriguing, as the series kicks off with a tone that’s almost like psychological horror. I enjoyed this reintroduction to the series, which cleverly catches the audience up with a quick rundown of what has happened so far. Unfortunately, the first two episodes are completely disposable, and the real story arc swings into motion when Fumina Konoe is introduced. Of Konoe, I can only say this: viewers tend to react negatively to a character who gets shoehorned into the series and then occupies most of the screen time. Her helpless, spoiled personality didn’t exactly warm me up to her. Here we see the major pacing problem with the series. The writers just fawn over Konoe for far longer than is necessary.
Konoe’s purpose is revealed mid-series, but you never feel as if the early parts with her actually have anything to do with it. The revelation is too obvious, too quick, and almost completely without consequence. The only real consequence is something you see at the end, and is not surprising in the slightest. The second half of the series is less structured, covering all sorts of events and developing characters. Ike is fleshed out more, and Keisaku and Eita get mini arcs that are rather interesting. The major storylines involve Pheles, a Crimson Lord in search of the Midnight Lost Child, Sabrac, another powerful Crimson Lord who had dealings with Wilhelmina in the past, and the return of Bal Masque.
For all the failings of the first season, at least it maintained a feeling that all the disparate plot threads were winding together. And they sort of did, although they were handled rather clumsily. The second season doesn’t have that feeling, but it does make a more earnest effort to make all the story arcs more compelling. The subplots are not interrupted as often in the second half by dumb school drama, the central cast becomes more of a focus, and in general the villains felt more interesting. Once again you get to see Yuji as someone who can reason his way through a battle, and once again this tactician side of him makes each fight more interesting. The show concludes with the Bal Masque subplot, which almost feels like a step back. It covers territory that was already covered in the first season, and the reasoning behind why they must be stopped is specious at best.
I really have to mark this season down for the way they crow-barred in Fumina Konoe, but all the stuff around her is presented in a more focused manner. The writers dropped any illusions of the script being high-concept fantasy, and as a result there are less ideas that tantalize but ultimately get muddled through. There’s more emphasis on what can be done well, as opposed to a feeling of continually biting off more than can be chewed. When I watch anime, I look for art but I do not expect art. Shakugan no Shana Second is not art, so I can’t recommend watching it for the experience it conveys. But, that said, if you do choose to buy into the experience, it’s very easy to become enveloped in it. It is pure escapism, and it’s a stronger experience for letting go of the bits from the first season that activated your brain.
Several new characters are introduced in this season, the most important of which is Fumina Konoe. She’s timid, lacks common sense, and is barely there in terms of consciousness. Konoe also has an inexplicable bond with Yuji. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like characters who are wedged into a show in progress, and then immediately becomes the central focus for much of the series. It’s annoying, because I have no reason to care about Konoe or her helplessness and airheaded antics.
Yuji’s character could have been taken in a cool direction as he continues to wrestle with the fact that he is a Mystes. Ultimately the resolution to this is… unsatisfying. But it’s a trend I’m beginning to notice more in anime – a step forward followed by a step back in character development. Shana and Yoshida stay more or less static. However, I’m impressed by the increased attention given to the supporting cast.
Wilhelmina was introduced in the middle of the first season. Though you know she cares about Shana and is an able Flame Haze, you don’t really know much else about her. In this season, we see more of her suspiciously powerful fighting style, but also get some background story. It brings an extra dimension to a character whose role is essentially to provide a polar opposite to Yuji. Normally Wilhelmina is on the extreme end of the Flame Haze spectrum, willing to do anything to accomplish her mission.
Strangely enough, the character writing I liked most revolves around Margery, Keisaku, Eita, and Ogata. Their subplots are the only real time you feel that the outcome may have consequences. All the other stories make such liberal use of deus ex machina endings that you never expect lasting effects. Yet with these four characters, the writers didn’t shy away from change. Eita and Ogata clearly have feelings for each other, and they way Eita acts on them makes him a more watchable character than the meathead he used to be. The same goes with Keisaku’s loyalty to Margery.
Shana Second carries over the art style and animation quality of the first season, and raises the bar in some areas. With few exceptions each battle looks more fully realized, using fancier animations and settings. The sound design and voice acting are both solid – not much more to say than that.