(UPDATED 23 March 2013: Corrected the spelling of “Bal Masqué”.)
I can’t give a good reason it, but this has become one of my favorite anime series. It has a rather dark premise; it is full of bizarre over-the-top characters and the ending does not resolve the central problem.
Still I love it. It is dark-romantic rather than dark-realistic. The bizarre characters are fascinating; the episodes feel like an invigorating adrenaline rush and the ending resolves just enough to feel satisfactory.
Shakugan no Shana (Shana of the Blazing Eyes)
Fantasy, Horror, Adventure, Romance
24 episodes on 6 DVDs
Region 1 Publisher
The safe everyday world that we are familiar with is an illusion. In reality Earth is a war zone where dark forces battle for reasons that are difficult to comprehend. Innocent lives are wiped out in an instant without warning, yet no one notices.
A small group of high school students are gradually drawn into the war, but it seems at first that they can do nothing to affect the outcome.
Amidst the carnage two beautiful women, one strong and fierce, the other gentle and feminine, vie for the pure heart of a noble hero.
This show is too dark and disturbing for young children. Some ten-year-olds may be able to handle it, but parents would be well-advised to view it themselves before allowing a child under the age of 13 to watch it.
Teenagers will probably love it, for reasons that should be obvious from the synopsis.
The show includes partial nudity, some bad language and a couple of rather disturbing kissing scenes between two of the villains. There is a lot of violence, most of it mercifully bloodless. Innocent people get killed, including some sympathetic characters.
Adult themes include depression (depicted in an elaborate allegory in episode #2, and as a real problem that several of the major characters must deal with).
Note on the Language
This is a particularly good series to watch with subtitles and the Japanese sound track. The original Japanese text often has a certain poetic resonance that is totally lost in the translation (particularly in the fanciful titles used by the Guze characters).
The English dub seems about average for an anime translation, meaning it is not particularly good. Japan has some of the best voice actors in the world, and this cast is outstanding. The American voice actors are not at the same level.
Guze, or “The Crimson World” exists in a nearby parallel universe. It is separated from Earth by no distance at all, but is normally impossible to travel to. The inhabitants are powerful non-human magic users. Long ago they learned how to use sonzai no chikara (“Power of Existence”) to perform “Unrestricted Spells” that can cause impossible things to happen.
This was of limited value since there is apparently a shortage of Power of Existence in the Crimson World. As a result, some unscrupulous individuals began to travel to Earth to steal Power of Existence from humans. These nasty folks are called guze no tomogara, “Denizens of the Crimson World”, or just “Denizens” for short. They use the stolen POE to create magical servants called rinne and magical treasures called hougu.
This is a problem for humans. If your Power of Existence is stolen you will not only vanish, but all memories of you and all evidence of your existence will disappear. It will be as if you never existed.
This creates additional problems. If too many humans are “eaten” in this way too quickly then reality will not be able to adjust and will collapse, destroying both Earth and Guze.
Why would the Denizens take such a terrible risk? The reason, it become increasingly clear, is because they are insane. Totally raving wall-banging nuts. It is regrettable that such people have the power to destroy the universe.
Fortunately there are some people who object to having the universe destroyed and are in a position to do something about it. These are the guze no ou or “Lords of the Crimson World”. To avoid further upsetting the “balance of the worlds”, these extremely powerful wizards do not physically come to Earth to fight the Denizens. Instead they work through human agents call “Flame Hazes” (FUREIMUHEIZU), communicating with them through a magical device called a jinki.
A human who agrees to serve a Lord as a Flame Haze gains substantial powers, but the price is a lonely and dangerous life. Naturally they are feared and hated by the Denizens. The various Lords do not always get along, and their Flame Hazes often fight each other.
Battles between Denizens and Flame Hazes take place inside a fuuzetsu or “time stop seal”, a region in which the normal flow of time has been suspended. After the battle the Flame Haze will try to repair the damage. If everything can be cleaned up before the seal collapses then reality and history will not have to adjust to explain the damage and the balance of the worlds will be preserved.
Humans who have been “eaten” cannot be brought back to life, but they can be replaced by simulacra called “Torches” which contain a small amount of Power of Existence. When the POE is exhausted the Torches will vanish, but since they vanish at random intervals the strain on reality is much less than if a lot of humans vanished at once.
A “Mystes” is a Torch that contains a magical treasure. This can produce interesting synergistic effects. When the Torch vanishes the treasure will randomly teleport to another Torch.
Characters are listed in approximately the order in which they are introduced. No two translators seem to agree on the titles used by the Crimson World characters, which are written with obscure Kanji. I have given my own preferred translations, which do not always match the ones on the DVD.
Characters introduced in DVD 1
is the narrator, a teen-aged boy just starting his first year of high school (so in American terms he would be a 10th grader, or high school sophomore). It is not a particularly good high school, but it apparently is the best that Yuuji could get into. He is nervous but optimistic, noting hopefully that there are a number of pretty girls in the class.
Some fans complain that Yuuji is a rather dull hero. Actually he is an island of relative normalcy in a sea of bizarre characters. A fairly sensible young man with a strong moral sense, he finds himself in a totally unreasonable situation and handles it about as well as can be expected.
is Yuuji’s best friend from middle school. He is a better student than Yuuji and could probably have gotten into a better high school, but he chose to go to Yuuji’s school either out of friendship or laziness.
is a pretty girl who sits next to Yuuji. Unfortunately she seems more interested in Ike.
is another pretty classmate. She is sweet, gentle and shy. She is physically weak, but very strong-willed underneath.
is Kazumi’s best friend. She is in many ways the opposite of Kazumi: outspoken, energetic and athletic.
is something of a juvenile delinquent, constantly skipping school and getting into trouble. His wealthy parents are always out of town, leaving him unsupervised.
is Satou’s best friend and partner in crime. He is tall, handsome and athletic, and reputedly serves as a restraining influence on Satou.
is a Rinne who serves Friagne (see below). She usually appears as a rag doll, but the form shown here is more impressive.
Shana, the Slayer with Flame Hair and Blazing Eyes
(enpatsu shakugan no uchite SHANA
) is the Flame Haze of Alastor. She is very intelligent and inhumanly strong. Her social skills are pretty much non-existent. In battle her hair and eyes glow with orange fire and she wields a flaming sword. When she is not doing the blazing eyes bit she looks small and cute, but she is still not to be trifled with.
Though she appears very impressive to Yuuji and his classmates, she is actually the youngest Flame Haze and her inexperience sometimes causes her to make serious mistakes. She believes strongly in what she is doing, but she sometimes finds the lonely life of a Flame Haze hard to bear.
Alastor, the Conflagration Upon Heaven and Earth
(tenjou no gouka ARASUTORU
) is one of the greatest of the Lords of the Crimson World. He is a very rational being, so much so that he has trouble understanding humans. Like most Lords he is mostly concerned about preserving the balance of the worlds and does not give much thought to the welfare of humans. He does care about his Flame Haze, but he does not fully understand her.
Alastor communicates through the jewel Cocytus which Shana wears as a pendant. His true form is a great ball of cleansing fire, capable of burning away evil (and anything else in the vicinity).
Friagne the Hunter
) is a powerful Denizen of the Crimson World who likes to collect magical treasures. He is sometimes called “The Flame Haze Killer”, but generally not to his face. He loves Marianne and wants to grant her an independent existence.
is Yuuji’s mother, an ordinary housewife but very wise and subtle. She may not know that anything supernatural is going on, but she seems to understand everything that is really important. Though she is a traditional, conservative Japanese woman, she is capable of showing great kindness to a strange wild girl who appears to have been raised by wolves.
Margery Daw, the Composer of Elegies
(choushi no yomite
), the Flame Haze of Marchosias, is a loud, vulgar, quarrelsome and hard-drinking woman. Her trademark is to chant bad poetry while casting spells. (Most of the others just point their fingers.) In battle she takes the form of a giant blue wolf and hurls balls of blue-white fire. She is obsessed with hunting down and killing Denizens.
Marchosias, the Fang and Claw of Violation
(jyuurin no souga MARUKOSHIASU
) is a Lord whose own sanity is questionable. He does not care about preserving the balance of the worlds; he is just doing this because he loves fighting. If no Denizen is around he will happily fight a Flame Haze. He quarrels constantly with Margery, but he is actually devoted to her. Marchosias speaks through a large grimoire that Margery carries.
Characters introduced in DVD 2
Lamies the Corpse Gatherer
(shikabane hiroi RAMII
) is the only Denizen who does not appear to be insane. He is satisfied with slowly collecting small amounts of Power of Existence without upsetting the balance of the worlds. Eventually he hopes to have enough to perform a very significant spell. (This is not his real name or title.)
Characters introduced in DVD 3
Sorath, the One Who Loves Himself
) is a dangerous Denizen with the manners and morals of a two-year-old. He knows that his poor impulse control can get him into trouble, so he relies on the guidance of his sister. He carries the great sword Blutsauger which can reflect magical attacks.
Tiriel, the One Who Loves Another
) is Sorath’s sister. Clever and ruthless, she is dedicated to making sure that her dear brother gets whatever he wants as quickly as possible.
Sydonay the Thousand Changes
) is one of the three leaders of a gang of Denizens called the Bal Masqué. He can change his form to a variety of fantastic monsters.
Characters introduced in DVD 4
Bel Peol, the Judge of Paradoxes
(gyakuri no saisha BERUPEORU
) is another of the leaders of the Bal Masqué. She is ruthless, manipulative and power-mad.
Wilhelmina Carmel, the Controller of Ten Thousand Ribbons
(banjou no shite
) is the Flame Haze of Tiamat. She looks harmless, even comical in her old-fashioned maid’s outfit, but she is a deadly fighter. In battle she sends streams of ribbons to strangle, crush or impale her opponents. Her speech is very formal and old-fashioned, even archaic. Her face and voice show almost no emotion. She seems to be trying to suppress all human feelings and operate on the basis of pure rationality, but she does not always succeed. Once she was foolish enough to fall in love with a Denizen.
Tiamat, the Crown of Illusion
(mugen no kantai TEIAMATO
) is a female Lord. It is hard to judge her personality because she rarely speaks and never says more than a word or two. Her voice is calm and cold. She communicates through a jinki
called Persona, which can variously appear to be a maid’s headband, a mask or a simple gold tiara.
Vine the Glazed Eyes
) is a young, ambitious and gullible member of the Bal Masqué.
Orgon, the Commander of a Thousand Conquests
) is a more experienced and dangerous member of the Bal Masqué. He can summon armies of soulless soldiers to fight for him.
is a crazed samurai who chose to become a Mystes to further his quest to find a worthy owner for a magic sword. He is feared even by the Denizens.
Matilda Saint-Omer, the Slayer with Flame Hair and Blazing Eyes
was the previous Flame Haze of Alastor. She died centuries ago during a great battle between a group of Lords and an alliance of Denizens.
Merihim the Rainbow Wing
(niji no tsubasa MERIHIN
) is a Denizen who loved Matilda and dedicated himself to carrying out her dying wish. Being a Denizen (and thus insane) he decided to carry it out in a way that she might not have anticipated.
Characters introduced in DVD 5
Hecate, the Supreme Throne
(itadaki no kurai HEKATEE
) is the third leader of the Bal Masqué. She is a quiet, contemplative girl whose soul is a pit of existential emptiness. In Sydonay’s view this makes her “pure” and infinitely lovable.
Khamsin, the Mobilizer of Ceremonial Equipment
(gisou no karite KAMUSHIN
) is the Flame Haze of Behemoth. He looks like a small boy but he is actually the oldest Flame Haze by many centuries. Margery calls him jiji
(“geezer”). Instead of trying to hunt down and kill Denizens, he travels to places that have been damaged by their activities and repairs them by a process called “tuning”. If forced to fight he takes the form of a giant stone golem and hurls exploding boulders with great power but limited accuracy.
Behemoth, the Unconquerable Mountaintop
(fubatsu no senrei BEHEMOSHI
) seems to be a relatively friendly Lord with unusual concern for ordinary humans. He speaks through a bracelet worn by Khamsin. His voice sounds like that of a kindly old man.
Dantalion, the Search-Obsessed Ultimate Researcher
(tan tan kyuu kyuu DANTARION
) is a Denizen who is committed to expanding the Crimson World’s understanding of the universe through systematic controlled experiments. Or perhaps not; his experiments make no sense to anyone else and generally involve cataclysmic explosions. He makes the leaders of the Bal Masqué nervous, but they value his technical skills.
My review of the DVD/BD release for the second season.
Wikipedia Article (Spoilers!)
Anime News Network
Official Japanese web site
Episode summaries by Omni (Spoilers!)