Girls with fire in their eyes

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.

When your teacher packs a mean punch

I’ve noticed that several cable channels are now showing anime late at night and I’m not just talking about Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. Starz Action, Imaginasian and I think even the Independent Channel air anime.
Of course these are the versions dubbed in English.

Starz Action recently finished showing “Gokusen” or “Gokudo no Sensei” which is the tale of an heiress to a Yakuza family who teaches high school. A lot of folks have dismissed it as a lame rip off of “Great Teacher Onizuka.” “GTO” as it’s more commonly known, is about a former gangster who decides to be a teacher and gets handed a problem class.

I like “GTO” but Onizuka’s behavior and his unorthodox teaching methods will never fly in the real world. This is not to say that “Gokusen” is grounded in reality. It isn’t.

Consider that the Japanese mafia members in “Gokusen” are portrayed as rough characters who are really decent guys. Excuuuse me? The Yakuza? Anyway, you have to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when watching the show. It is anime after all not a documentary.

Kumiko Yamaguchi is the granddaughter of the current head of the Oedo clan, which is a Yakuza group. Her parents died and she was raised by her grandfather. Right now she is the acting head of the clan because her grandfather is ill. She also just started her new job at Shirokin High where she becomes the home room teacher to a classroom of punks. She hides her Yakuza connections because it would mean the end of her teaching career once it becomes known.

Most of her students look like they were beaten with an ugly stick as babies which I guess is a cliche in anime. The ugly boys are juvenile delinquents. The only exception is Shin Sawada, the red-headed leader of the class who is smart but ended up at this no nothing high school because he punched a teacher in middle school. Shin smells something fishy about the new teacher who the class nicknames, “Yankumi.”

Kumiko believes that every student deserves a chance and would not hesitate to pound someone who harms her students. Of course she does this on the sly since most of them don’t know she’s a good fighter.

At 13-episodes, “Gokusen” is a short series. I didn’t much like the ending and would have wanted to see more character development. But it’s worth a look.