Shana has always been an uneasy mix of teenage relationship issues and fantasy battles, and those two aspects of the series have never been well integrated. We have had whole episodes that focus on school life, followed by whole episodes that showcase a lot of flying around and fighting. For the final series, that problem is solved by simply abandoning the human drama and giving us 24 episodes of a fantasy war. I realise I was probably in a minority of viewers who were struggling through the fantasy stuff to get to the love triangle drama, but this was a bitter disappointment. The only aspect of the series I was actually enjoying is almost completely abandoned for the entire final season.
Instead, a rather odd thing happens as the basis for the big story arc this season: Shana ends up enemies with Yuji. If you were a fan of their blossoming relationship, tough luck, because that’s all over (unless you count the unrealistic sop to the fans that the very last episode represents). If you liked the love triangle with Kazumi as well, even tougher luck, because she virtually drops out of the narrative completely.
So what happens here is that Yuji joins forces, apparently voluntarily, with an incredibly powerful Crimson Lord called the Snake of the Festival, who takes control of his body… sort of. That manifests itself mainly by causing him to speak in a deep voice and get long hair. As I’m typing this and remembering having to sit through this trash just because I didn’t want to give up on a show I had committed to for so long, my heart is sinking a little at having to explain this childish nonsense. Yuji’s / the Snake’s plans seem to involve creating a paradise for the Denizens (i.e. Shana’s enemies) so they will all leave the real world and stop fighting the Flame Hazes (i.e. Shana’s people). Sounds good, right? I don’t think I ever quite understood why Shana thought that was such a bad thing and her people decided to fight a war to prevent it. Then, when she basically loses and the Snake does create his paradise (if you feel spoilered, you’re welcome, because you don’t need to watch this dross now), for reasons that also escaped me Shana and Yuji decide to have a final battle anyway. It’s like the writers were stuck in the rut of going through all the usual dramatic beats of a fantasy war, without making sense of the characters’ motivations.
I have to admit that there was probably some kind of logic to all this that was lost on me, but I don’t think I can be blamed too much for that because it’s such a ridiculously convoluted season. Instead of keeping a focus on the main characters, more and more new characters keep getting added into the mix, until it reached a point where I literally had no clue who anyone was. There must have been a hundred different characters in this sorry mess, most of whom had stupid names like “the Braider of Trembling Might” or “Widened Eye of Incineration”. Give me a break. Meanwhile, even Shana herself virtually drops out of the narrative for a huge chunk of the season. There’s a simple reason for that: really, really bad writing. The writer has only one thing to do with Shana this season: a big battle with Yuji, and the only way to stop that from happening until episode 24 is a whole lot of delaying tactics and the occasional inconclusive spat between them, mainly involving a bit of talking and Shana shouting a lot. Meanwhile, there is a shift away from human characters to a bunch of animal-headed creatures and robots fighting each other. I was reduced to having to amuse myself pondering questions such as how this dude gets his jacket on in the morning:
This is one of the most damning articles I’ve ever had to write. While Shana was always far from being my favourite show, I was at least emotionally invested in the lives and loves of the main characters. The last thing I wanted to see was a show I was quite enjoying crumble into a convoluted mess of weird creatures flying around and shooting bolts of lightning at each other, or whatever was supposed to be going on. But all shows have redeeming features, right? Wrong. I might have assumed that until I had the misfortune to stick with Shana until the bitter end. A lesson learnt there, though. Sometimes you get so far into a series that it’s hard to walk away. You just want to know how it ends, but television viewing should never feel like a chore. I doubt I’ll ever have the misfortune to find a show this dreadful again, but if I do I’m skipping straight to the last episode. In the case of Shana, I really would have missed absolutely nothing worth watching. RP
Quite true that television viewing should never feel like a chore. It’s the main reason why I don’t watch as much television as I used to when I was younger. Consequently the rarity nowadays of shows and films that may still resonate with us makes them feel even more special. Thanks very much, RP, for helping to remind us all of that.
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