#1 So much lore
When stripped of every relevant detail, the story of Shakugan no Shana isn’t that complex. At its heart, the story is about a boy living a normal, everyday life until he one day meets a girl who fights monsters he never knew existed. They then join forces together because he has a special power that can help the girl in her battles. It’s not difficult stuff, but it’s given the illusion of complexity by overwriting every little detail.
The show is smothered in lore. Every person, faction, and sword has some fantastical-sounding name to it and none of these feel related to their purpose in the story, which makes for convoluted dialogue. It leads to lines like: “The Judge of Paradoxes is using an Unrestricted Method to harvest Power of Existence from the Mystes with the Midnight Lost Child”. Everything takes too much effort to memorize and this becomes an issue if you aren’t binging the show and may forget what all of it meant. The show also needs the first 3 episodes just to run viewers (and Yuuji) through the initial plot dump needed to understand the basics of the setting.
The height of my annoyance came in an arc where a foe is trying to steal main character Shana’s sword. It comes up in almost every line of dialogue this character has and almost every time he insists on using the full title of the sword when talking about it. It is hopelessly pretentious and infuriating to listen to.
#2 Uninteresting lead characters
Shana is actually an unnamed girl who is a member of the Flame Hazes, an order of magical warriors that fight against monsters that want to harvest the “Power of Existence”, a fundamental force present in people that keeps the world in check. She joins forces with a regular high schooler called Yuuji, after it turns out that he has a power which replenishes his existence at midnight, giving him an endless supply of it and making him a prime target for the enemy.
Neither Shana nor Yuuji did much for me. Shana is a bit of lone wolf tsundere that complains a lot about having to babysit Yuuji, but begins to slowly warm up to him as they face monsters and foil the plans of dastardly villains together. However, she struggles with showing empathy and this frequently causes friction between the two, such as when she takes on the appearance of a classmate who “vanished” so she can keep a better eye on Yuuji during school hours.
Yuuji, for his part, is just kind of boring. He is a cookie-cutter anime protagonist with a generic design, who acts as our layman in this fantasy story who needs the same explanations as the viewer. He is a basic nice guy who wants to do good and help everybody, which converts former rivals to “the good side” and helps Shana become a nicer person. He’s not a bad character, just one that feels unchallenging and uninspired.
#3 Mediocre visuals
Shakugan no Shana very much started airing in “my era” of animation and has an artstyle and approach to character design that I could appreciate. First impressions of the show were positive, only to go downhill quickly.
The show’s visuals and presentation are mediocre, barring the fantastic Kow Otani soundtrack. Action scenes end up looking stiff due to uninteresting battle choreography and monsters that lack animation or mouth flaps, and there is a distinct lack of impact to all the magic the characters are throwing around. Fire doesn’t singe anything, cutting off limbs or heads is all animated to be teen-friendly, and even the good, old practice of smashing characters through buildings ends up looking unimpressive.
This is a fun show to watch if you like spotting animation mistakes though.
For some bizarre reason, the show became very determined with keeping Yuuji in school, even as his life became dominated by magical battles and city-destroying villains. Yuuji and Shana may be saving the city from a doomsday robot at night, only to be back in the school benches like nothing happened the next day.
This is fine, yet the story became weird once it began involving his classmates in the magical shenanigans. A rival to Shana randomly decides to make two of Yuuji’s classmates into her side-kicks, revealing all the secrets of the magical world to them, after which they dedicate their lives to helping out this strange woman they only just met. This very same development is repeated again later, when another classmate is drafted into the side-kick role by another stranger keen on sharing secrets with underage civilians.
It bothers me that the show wants to have this serious story full of drama and difficult lore, but it also has to be lightweight enough that random kids can be shuffled into the story and play vital roles in it.
#5 These two
I am no prude and I can appreciate it when an anime challenges my views and sensibilities, but I took serious issue with the twins Sorath and Tiriel.
Introduced as the villains of one of the show’s arcs, these two are on the hunt for protagonist Shana. While they are supposedly monsters, they look and act like two posh kids who are all about that incest. Their make-out sessions feature the most detailed animation in the show and it keeps happening with alarming regularity. The issue is not that I am overly-disgusted by this, it’s that it’s used as a gimmick to prop up otherwise boring characters.
Sorath and Tiriel get several episodes dedicated to them, none of which develop their character beyond “clingy incest kids”. And, you know, that has been done before and it was done better. Hansel and Gretel from Black Lagoon‘s Bloodsport Fairytale arc have the same general idea; two European-looking twins in classical clothing appear in town and begin murdering their way towards a vague objective all while sharing romantic, incestual scenes. Shana puts effort into making these look arousing and uses it to frustrate Shana who is having romantic trouble herself, whereas Black Lagoon presents it as disturbing and uses it to add to the grim horror of its criminal underworld.
It might be unreasonable to make this much of a point out of the bad guys of just one of the show’s arcs, but it frustrates me when shows play controversial cards just to seem interesting. Don’t just sexualize kids and throw in incest if you don’t actually have a use for it. Sorath and Tiriel are boring characters and no amount of erotic eyecatchers or spit-heavy kissing scenes will change that.