Shakugan no Shana Second
I reviewed the first season of Shana a couple of years ago. What I thought would end up being a horrible slice of life moe shitfest turned out to be a rather entertaining fantasy/action series. It had this unexpected dark side where Shana would mercilessly obliterate her enemies. The action was fun and the pacing was good. Plus, it had an incestuous brother and sister, and everyone knows incest improves everything by 10,000%.
So when I got around to watching season 2, I was fairly excited. It started out pretty good with a couple of action-packed episodes. After that, the series settled in to a long stretch of really annoying slice-of-life/love-triangle bullshit that was so badly written it was only tolerable to watch on fast-forward. Now, this kind of stuff was in the first season, too, but usually there would be one or two episodes intermingled with the other story/action episodes. Season 2 just gives a seemingly endless onslaught of these crappy episodes. Everything is so boring, so contrived, so inconsequential that it is impossible to give a fuck about any of it. Plus, we get to see Yuji training for about a thousand episodes, and that certainly could have been condensed into two or three.
Nothing even remotely interesting happens until episode 16. And then we get another lull until the writers finally decided they needed to have something happen so they could claim this season had some semblance of a plot. Episodes 19-24 feature a battle between the protagonists and Sabrac/Bal Masque. The fight drags on for several episodes and even though they “kill” Sabrac, he somehow manages to survive, which destroys the payoff and makes the entire thing seem like wasted time a la Dragonball Z.
Overall, this season was a huge clusterfuck. They should have rethought the pacing and story structure. If they didn’t have enough material to keep 24 episodes consistently entertaining, then they should have pared it down to 12 episodes. That would have at least been respectable. I’m not sure about the third and final season of Shana, hopefully it fares better.
I originally included this in my list of the 20 Awesomest Anime of the Decade (2000-2009), and since then I have given the series a rewatch. So, did it hold up to my original review? Yes it did. Wolf’s Rain remains a phenomenal series. There are very few TV shows and movies I would consider a work of art, but this would be one of them. The tone is far more subdued than in most anime. There are no annoying moe characters. There is no stupid love-triangle. There is no intent to sell merchandise. There is no pandering to the audience. The only agenda Wolf’s Rain has is to tell an incredible story, and it certainly does that.
The setting is a bit murky, we don’t know for sure if it takes place on Earth or just some unknown fantasy planet. Wolves are semi-mythological creatures that have super strength/speed, can speak, and have the ability to make themselves appear as human. And no, they aren’t werewolves, it’s more a trick of the mind that humans perceive them to look like other humans. In this world, wolves are foretold to open the door to Paradise, which may or may not bring about the ultimate destruction of the world.
The visual aesthetic of the series is amazing. There is attention paid to even the smallest detail. The animation is so intricate that you can see all the dirt and grime, the crushed out cigarettes, and the wasted plant life. The world looks realistic, and a lot of this is due to the high-quality work by Studio Bones. Just like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, a lot of work went into the details. The budget must have been relatively high, as there is rarely any recycled animation, there is minimal use of well-integrated CGI, and character movements are quick, fluid, and well animated. I can’t rave enough about how great everything looks. I imagine this is how a Final Fantasy anime series should look, if anyone could ever make a decent anime of Final Fantasy.
The voice acting is excellent in both the original Japanese and the English dub. You can’t go wrong listening to either one. The music was composed by the legendary Yoko Kanno, so expect to be listening to the soundtrack over and over again. The characters are all unique and have well-formed story arcs. The pacing is nearly perfect. There was a period of maybe 4 episodes in the middle that dragged a bit, but if anything they give more insight into the characters. There is a lot of humanity amongst everyone, the story is fascinating, and there is a healthy dose of action. Also, this is the only anime I’m aware of where the opening credits play a role in the story.
The story never verges into cliche territory. With most anime, you pretty much know how things are going to end. With Wolf’s Rain I was never quite sure. They always manage to give an unexpected plot twist or simply pull the rug right out from under you. The climax at the end is simply astounding. The first time I watched it I found the ending to be tragic. This time, well, it was still tragic, but I found much more hope than the first time around. Wolf’s Rain is such a wonderful, rare anime series, that it deserves to be seen by everyone. It really is a work of art.