Yes, I finally went insane.
Shakugan no Shana is a show I first watched in 2008 and followed all the way through to its finale, eagerly waiting on every episode that past. Because of the time I saw it, what was happening in my life at the time, and how much I enjoyed the characters and the story it left a profound impact one me; even to this day, I fondly recall the trials and tribulations of the flame haze, shana, yuji, wilhelmina, and margery. Sometimes I recall past motivations and battle that took place in the series. Even though 8 years have past, it has truly never left my mind.
For many years, pretty much ever since the 3rd season ended I’ve been meaning to rewatch the show and experience it, start to finish, all over again. My world is so different now than it was then that it might offer different perspective, right? Then I was 17, a high school student, in love for the first time, ready to enter a new stage of my life, with a job and old friends that are now nothing other than an old memory. Now I’m 25, I’m married, I live with my wife, I have a full time job – so much has changed.
Shakugan no Shana weaves a beautiful tale of love, war, and anxiety. Where do we fit in the world? How do we belong? Will our feelings mean anything after we pass on? Powerful stuff, no doubt.
Re-watching the show would be great, but what would bring me greater satisfaction is chronicling this journey here so that I can remember it for time to come. Let’s go down this path together, shall we?
Sakai Yuji, our protagonist, awakes in a state of confusion. Where is he? Why is his surroundings red? What is the giant doll about to eat him? Why has nobody noticed their presence?
And then she appears.
Sakai Yuji, in truth, is just a regular high school student. His friend, Ike Hayato, is his booksmart friend from childhood, joins him in his new adventure. After all, it’s high school – the place where you not only begin to explore but begin to truly define the person you will inevitably be for the rest of your life, and I’m not just talking about what you “learn from books”. After an abrupt bump in with two ruffians named Keisaku and Eita, Yuji sits next to a young girl named Hirai Yukari, who helps him out when he’s in a pinch. He ends up meeting her again at a record store after, and through a little investigation finds out she has a crush on Ike. Yuji wryly smiles at the thought of his good friend having such an attractive girl interested in him.
Without realizing it initially, time stops, and the sky turns red. What is going on? The dolls from our in medias res intro enter, devouring a pale light from inside the other nearby frozen humans. Get ready, because this is where Ootani Kou begins to show the strength of the Shakugan no Shana OST that continues all the way until the end.
This is not a foreign scenario – in fact, we’ve seen this scene before in several anime concepts. Boy lives normal life, and is suddenly thrust into a supernatural experience unexpectedly. But to that person I would say that they should be paying more attention to the execution rather than the elements themselves. While arguably no idea in Shana is groundbreaking and the pacing suffers from issues at times, the execution and attention to detail is spot on.
Enter our flame haze. She has no name, no background. She dispatches the Rinne, or servants, in an instant with no effort. In a failure to understand what’s going on, Yuji protects the rinne thinking that perhaps our flame haze is the aggressor. The rinne calls Yuji a “mystes” several times. What does it all mean? Before long, Yuji is cut, expecting to die, but the truth is plain: He is already dead.
Pay attention to the allusions to tenmoku ikko, as we will meet him later.
Who are the flame hazes? Protectors of balance in the world that fight against the Guze no Tomogara (Crimson denizens) who fulfill only their selfish desires with no regard to the world’s “balance”. This flame haze is among them, complete with a vessel called a cocytus around her neck that houses her contractor, Alastor, known as the flame of heaven. Alastor is also a tomogara himself – so why hunt down his own? More on that later.
After explaining that Yuji is dead, she explains that his existence has already been replaced with a “torch”, or temporary replacement in order to not disrupt the world, just like those around him in this closed space. A closed space is a spatial distortion opened up by a flame haze to ensure that no damage or disruption occurs to the world around them. Hirai unfortunately was caught in this chaos, and thus she becomes a torch. At this moment, she officially died. But what of Yuji?
To think at the time I had originally watched this I had only been dating the woman who is now my wife for about two months. Time flies…
The second episode remains to this day one of the most impactful I’ve ever seen. Hirai’s existence is fleeting, and Yuji is hoping he can help her hang on to any bit of life that she has. What happens to torches? Our flame haze explains – they eventually cease to exist, leaving behind any trace they ever existed. This is because the tomogara do not eat “the people” but rather their “power of existence”. Power of existence is a coveted resource in this tale.
Yuji refuses to let the youthful Hirai die out. Futilely he seeks out ways to make her remember who she is, but it is obvious her existence is fading – she has a zombie-like enthusiasm about everything. Ike draws out the most positive response from her – proof that she still feels love for him under her icy exterior. In a heartwrenching scene that haunts me to this day, Hirai sadly goes over to the bank at sunset, commenting that the view is nice. It’s over for her – the picture she took of her and Ike falls to the ground and she ceases to be. Perhaps it’s just me, but the thought of a young girl in high school with hopes, dreams, and love for another passing away without anyone even knowing she ever existed is just simply too sad.
This is where the show presents its brilliance. To tell you that a torch’s existence is cruel means nothing. To show you is something else entirely, and to not back out of consequences it set up on itself takes remarkable integrity. To this day I believe I would rank this episode itself in my top 10 anime scenes that I find moving or sad.
Pay close attention to our flame haze’s personality and demeanor, especially in this moment. Her development over the course of the series is beyond substantial. She coldly comments that this is the inevitable nature of a torch. Yuji, in an attempt to what I can only believe was to make this flame haze realize that they’re more than just objects, remarks that he has the feelings of Sakai Yuji, and that she has the feelings of a flame haze. They’re not just “tools”. But this flame haze does not have a name. She is known as the flaming haired, red eyed hunter, or the flame haze that wield Nietono no Shana. Yuji decides to give her a name in one of the series’s most iconic scenes and dubs her “Shana” after her own weapon.
Shana becomes frustrated at Yuji’s disposition. How can he calmly live on, knowing he is already dead? Why would he give her a name? Why has he not given up hope like all the others? Alastor, her contractor, muses that Yuji may fall victim to the same depression the other torches have in time.
Shana enters Yuji’s school and quickly takes Hirai’s existence over. Why? Because it’s most convenient. Yuji is a mystes, which means he is a type of torch that contains a treasure tool, or a magical item created by the tomogara. It is inevitable that the previous Rinne’s master will come after him, so she needs to keep a close eye on him. Yuji is surprised at Shana’s lack of empathy for the deceased Hirai.
Oh, and Shana essentially gets the upper hand of all her teachers. We’ve seen this scene hundreds of times in anime, but this is also my personal favorite instance.
It isn’t long before the rinne, Marianne, shows up to attempt to retrieve Yuji. Shana easily dispatches of her and meets her master, the hunter Friagne. Friagne is a tomogara no different that Alastor. Friagne sets his sights upon Yuji and retreats.
Several of the students in the closed space were gravely injured. Shana suggests using Ike’s power of existence to restore the room, but Yuji volunteers his own, not looking to sacrifice his friend. Shana is flabbergasted. Let’s face it: she doesn’t want to admit it, but this torch is definitely something else. Have you noticed yet?
Shana has already begun to change from the indifferent ice machine she was in the first episode. Her frustration only fuels this development later. All her life she had been raised with a single objective, and carried that objective out without thought. This is the first time she’s ever felt this way.
She notices that Yuji’s weak flame regenerates, restoring his life as a torch. Alastor appears to know why that is.
Why is that? Well, I know, but I won’t spoil the surprise. Let’s just say that Yuji has an extremely value treasure tool inside him, and you can probably guess as to the effects.
Humble beginnings, but flawless execution and musical tunes. Serieux, one of the best songs on the entire OST also makes its debut in episode 3. Make sure you’re paying close attention!