Pity poor Yuji Sakai. The high school student is just minding his own business when his surroundings turn all weird. Time stops. Everyone around him is frozen then burst into blue flames which is being consumed by a giant baby doll.
When this reject from a toy factory tries to go after Yuji, it is soon dispatched by a girl with flaming hair and red fiery eyes. And yeah, her sword is fiery too. When the girl finally spots our hero, she tells him something that turns his world upside down.
Yuji is already dead. He’s just a “torch”, a temporary replacement put in this world that will soon flicker out and be forgotten by everyone. As proof, he carries a small blue flame in his chest. When that goes out, so does he. She is dismissive of him.
The girl is a “Flame Haze” and has a contract with Alastor, one of the Lords of the Crimson Realm. The jargon of the show, “Shakugan No Shana”, sometimes gets in the way of things. To put it simply, think of Shana and other Flame Hazes as police and Alastor and the other Lords as their bosses. They’re the good guys. The bad guys are called “Denizens” and their sidekicks/servants are dubbed “Rinne”.
Shana’s job is to maintain the balance of this world which means she’ll kick the butt of Denizens who are killing people to steal their “powers of existence”. The Denizens prey on humans which to them are akin to walking batteries. So if a Denizen gets a bunch of “powers of existence”, he or she can use this mass of power to fuel whatever evil plan they hatched. Muwahahaha. You get the point.
Yuji resigns himself to fading out of existence and doesn’t blubber about it. He is even nice to the girl he later christens Shana after her sword. He also doesn’t blow her cover when she takes over the identity of a classmate who turned out to be a torch like him.
But how can you have a show where the hero is already dead and about to go bye bye in the first episode? Calm down. This is the world of anime where everything is possible from having blue hair to never gaining weight even if you eat like a pig.
Our hero is no ordinary torch. He turns out to be a “Mystes”, a special torch that carries a treasure inside him. And he carries what every Denizen would give their right eye and a limb for. Inside Yuji is the “Reiji Maigo” or “Midnight Lost Child” which restarts his blue flame at midnight. So he could technically live forever since the Reiji Maigo keeps recharging him at midnight.
A minor quibble I have about “Shakugan No Shana” is how the main characters look like they’re kids. They’re supposed to be high school students for Pete’s sake.
Shana, who was raised for battle by another Flame Haze, is blunt, rude sometimes and not that sociable. She is a terror to the teachers and a tough taskmaster to Yuji. She also doesn’t understand (but we do) that she is falling in love with him. It’s an emotion alien to her.
But she’s not the only one who likes Yuji. Another classmate, Kazumi Yoshida, is crushing madly on our hero but is too shy to confess. Yuji is kind and doesn’t turn down her invitations which annoys Shana to no end. Yoshida was useful in one episode but she primarily exists so Shana could have a rival. I could do without her presence in the show, to be honest. She bogs down the action so we could have angst and a teenage love triangle.
“Shakugan No Shana” is uber popular in Japan. It began as a series of light novels then became a manga and an anime show. A movie which retells the first season is supposed to be out this year. And a second season of the anime has been confirmed this fall. There’s a horrible OVA (original video animation) that I saw months ago and was more about the love interaction between Yuji’s other classmates. It was set during the class’ trip to a hot springs which is cliche in anime and a poor excuse to have the female characters show skin. Gag. Don’t bother with this OVA which came out last year.
The first season has been licensed in America and readily available on DVDs.