Shakugan no Shana (灼眼のシャナ) is a 24-episode supernatural action series from 2005-06, with sequel series in 2007 and 2011, all based on a series of light novels.
Beings known as Denizens have crossed over from a parallel Crimson World in order to consume the power of existences from people, eating everything about them out of ever happening. Fighting against them are the Flame Haze, hunters who have made contracts with sympathetic Denizens to eliminate the problematic ones and prevent the complete collapse of reality by using ‘Torches’, fragments of people whove been consumed which keep the person around a bit longer while they slowly fade away as to not cause a sudden shock to everyone. When Yuji Sakai stumbles into a fight between a Flame Haze and a Denizen he finds out he’s actually just a torch, the real Yuji dying some time before, but he has an artifact inside of him which is keeping his soul around longer than normal. The Flame Haze Shana decides to stick around to keep an eye on the artifact lest other Denizens find it while dealing with the various supernatural beings who keep showing up in the city.
Whats up with it then?
Shana is not exactly a unique series, this kind of supernatural hidden world combat show is rather common even and stuff like Hunter: The Reckoning are probably more than a small influence on the story. What works for Shana is it manages to execute this plot very well, it keeps both its action and its existential dread about peoples existence being snuffed out front and center (for the most part), with that added hint of horror elevating things quite a bit. Sakaki works as a solid lead for this as he wrestles with his own existence and being unsure if his decisions are that of the original Yuji or him as he is now plus his uncertainty about how he should interact with others if hes destined to just fade away. Call me a sucker for existential dread but it at least adds more relatable drama to this than the usual “oh no, Im a chosen one, Im so sad” stuff thats all too common.
The setting is fairly strong to boot, all but demanding its own tabletop RPG ala Hunter which Im honestly a little surprised never happened. There’s minimal background lore really needed here, you just need to go hunt Denizens, with how much this series was merchandised to hell how did this get skipped? I digress, what is relevant is the setting allows for a number of different Flame Haze to show up over the course of the show who are all distinctly unique and dont usually get along with each other giving a wide variety of characters without having to track some intricate lore or relationship chart to understand how they all know each other. For the sheer size of its cast its far more streamlined than shows with half as many characters.
Shana’s biggest problems actually go back to it not really being unique, in fact its kind of cookie cutter to the extent it might be the ur-example of every possible early aughts trope there was. A female lead whos a short tsundere girl1 with a catchphrase (in this case “shut up! shut up! shut up!”) and a bizarre obsession with a single type of food? Check. Said female falls in love with the male lead essentially on first sight as shes jealous and distracted by him even before the end of the first book/arc? Check. Fanservice for no reason other than they can complete with a pointless swimming episode? Check. Plotting that screams “light novel origin” with story beats which could generously be described as ‘fluid’ from one novel to the next? Better believe thats a check. Watching this will give you one of two reactions- you’ll either remember when every show was rife with this tropes and be glad thats no longer the case, or you wont have been watching anime at this time and wonder why it can’t just focus on its monster fighting story instead of romantic hi-jinks.
At least the action looks good, its one of the earliest shows to really nail integrating CGI animation with the surroundings giving things a distinct glow in the pocket dimensions they fight in that works. As long as some kind of fighting is going on the series is really at its best.
Weeb Level: Its every early 2000’s anime trope there was. You dont need to know the tropes to watch the show, but you sure arent watching if your not a weeb.
Content: Most of the action is supernatural based and keeps the gore fairly non-existent. The fanservice is… ample. No outright nudity but youre not avoiding what its doing.
Worth Watching: Seek it out if you want an action show with a pseudo-magical girl as a lead. Worth watching if you want a bit of a throwback to 15 years ago kind of show that still has some strong production values. Skip it if you dont like tropes.
Where to watch: Funimation has all 3 seasons as well as the OVA which bridges season 2 and 3 (its mostly fluff stuff but there is like a 2 minute scene at the end of it which you need to see in order to make the start of season 3 make any sense). They also have the movie which is an alternate telling of the first arc and a much stronger one than what the anime did, so if youre even a bit curious Id say start with the movie and see if that clicks for you.