I’m going to assume that if you’re watching Shana III – or even thinking about it – you’re probably seen most or all of the animation that came before, so I’ll dispense with the background and preliminaries. In the end there’s really one question that probably matters to you, and it’s the same one that matter to me – is this good Shana or not?
OP: “Light My Fire” by KOTOKO
It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since the first TV series came out, and three years since the second – time seriously flies by when you aren’t looking. It was a bit sentimental watching this first episode, and it hit me harder than I expected – largely, I think, because I was such a different person and vastly different anime viewer when I watched that first series. I never fell in love with Shana, but I did like it a lot. Unfortunately the second season didn’t grab me as much as the first, and the various OVA projects that have spanned the last five years have all been mediocre compared to that first season. So I came into this premiere feeling rather indifferent, but it had quite a transporting effect on me – I was wrapped back up into this universe almost immediately, and taken back to another time in my life. I’m not a fan of KugiRie’s tsundere persona, but this is about as good as that gets – so even hearing her in character had a pleasant nostalgia to it.
So to tie this back into the first question, yes – this was good Shana. Certainly as good as most of the second season, and maybe the first as well. It picks up more or less where the second season left off, with Yuji’s flame running out on Christmas Eve, as Shana and Yoshida await his decision on which girl he chooses. But before that can happen, Yuji has disappeared, seemingly like any other torch – his possessions gone, and his place in the memories of most of his friends and family too. But Shana and Yoshida remember, and the letters from that night still exist too – so Shana believes Yuji is still out there somewhere, his status as the Mystes separating him from other torches. And indeed he is – he’s actually now inhabiting another body and acting as the leader of Bal Masque, for reasons that aren’t quite clear yet.
The Shana universe is a very complicated one – maybe too complicated. There are lots of characters and lots of facts and figures and mythologies, and I find the series is usually better when it keeps it’s focus relatively narrow. It’s a show that can pack surprising emotional power when it deals with the core relationships that really matter, and my hope is that those are going to be a big part of what we see over the next six months. All of the major players are here, some – like Satou, off to Tokyo to train with Outlaw – in transition, and others very much running in place. This is a strong supporting cast – Margery, the Lords of the Crimson Realm, Shana and Yoshida’s classmates, and even Yuji’s mother are pretty solid characters with a bit of complexity. And that’s not even talking about the Wilhelmina, the killer maid and Shana’s fierce protector. It’s the strength of the characters that makes the series go when it might otherwise get too bogged down in it’s own heaviness and byzantine complexity.
I’m optimistic about this final season based on the premiere, and more invested than I frankly expected to me. Heck, Khamsin even shows up in the ED – I also look forward to his visits as the other Flame Haze scurry and hide like mice at the mere thought that he might actually fight. Hopefully, Shana will go out on a strong note that does the series justice.
ED: “I’ll believe” by ALTIMA