Shakugan no Shana: The Girl with Fire in Her Eyes review
Shakugan no Shana: The Girl with Fire In Her Eyes is the first in a series of light novels written by Yashichiro Takahashi. Light novels, as the name suggests, are designed not to be as text heavy as regular novels. Rather than being empty in content this aspect allows the book to be digested much more easily as the focus settles more on the actions and emotions and less on describing the wrinkles of random guy number three's shirt.
At first glance the setting seems to be all too similar to that of a generic magical girl story. Shana is the cute but powerful lead character who has a sort of semi-transformation who fights against evil monsters, much to the ignorance of most of the world. Yuji is the hapless male lead dragged into the wars without a clue as to what is happening at first. Add in a few character archetypes like the elder guiding figure and the caring motherly figure and leave to sit for thirty minutes before serving.
However, that's only looking at the surface. Once you delve into the inner workings of the plot there are some rather drastic changes that elevate this above your typical magical girl adventure. For a start, the whole concept is a lot more morbid than you might expect. It's not simply of matter of 'bad guys come, good guys beat bad guys'. The consequences of the actions of these monsters from the Crimson Realm are quite severe and the repercussions is an element played upon by the author.
This is achieved in no small part due to the role of Yuji. What could have resulted in nothing more than a clueless and boring individual is shifted due to the unique storyline trait that he is also a victim of those monsters, and the possibility of his own existence vanishing becomes the driving force behind him. As the story progresses, Yuji is forced to confront not just the idea that monsters come to his city and attack those he might know, but that his own life took a completely shift without his knowledge. With the events in the book quickly unfolding, Yuji is forced to adapt to his new found knowledge, but his struggles to accept the truth of reality makes Yuji's story interesting.
In stark contrast is Shana's role in the book. Unlike Yuji, she is not only well versed in the reality of the world but has long since accepted its truths. Her views and actions are often a lot more blunt and it is her matter-of-fact attitude that gives her such presence during her sequences. Going past that though is a whole extra layer of depth to her character. Early on in the book we see brief glimpses of Shana's other side. usually masked under her tough exterior, there are times where her expressions and actions reveal a more child-like personality more befitting of her age. It's a sign of a young girl forced to mature quickly to adapt to the current situation but still retaining traits of her more immature self.
Alastor acts as the father figure of the book. His is the voice of reason that sifts through the storm clouds. Unlike others, he has no physical body and resides within Shana. This setup results in some insightful conversations whenever Shana is away from other people as they discuss the current events or even when Shana is speaking aloud her frustrations and Alastor is attempting to make some worthwhile comments regarding them. Between Yuji's self doubting fears and Shana's frustration masked by her maturity, Alastor acts as the balance that keeps everything together.
Much of the book revolves around the central plot of Friagne, a powerful King of Guze, making the city of Misaki his own hunting ground. Oddly we're not actually introduced to him until a little under halfway through. Instead his presence is felt in the background as the scene is set by his servants during the initial encounter. Friagne himself doesn't exude the kind of feeling one might expect from the central bad guy of a story. Instead his demeanor and manner of speech is more self-absorbed and even gentle, which makes the actions he carries out all the more disturbing.
When it comes to the action sequences, Yashichiro does a wonderful job of creating descriptions that paint a rather vivid image in the mind of the reader of what is happening. Without going into unnecessary drawn-out rambling the text depicts the fierce battles set within the crimson setting of The Seal wonderfully. Although the driving force of the story may be the coming to terms with reality, these set pieces also help tremendously to highlight the harshness of what is happening unknown to most of the world.
The battles and confrontations with the harshness of reality are intermingled with a few more light-hearted sequences that reflect the 'normal' life Yuji once took for granted. For all the gloom cast by the overall plot, these scenes allow us to appreciate the youthful side of the characters, and even provide a little humour along the way. Shana's attitude during the classes clashing with the teachers is quite an entertaining diversion and helps to solidify her presence as a Flame Haze.
The overall pacing of the book is mostly well done. Yashichiro is wise enough not to linger on any single event for too long and presents a nice fluid story that gets in a lot of event details in its text. There is the odd moment where things move on a little too quickly but this is only a minor matter that rarely comes up.
As an added bonus to the story there are also several illustrations in the book. Noizi Ito is a wonderful artist whose sketchy style has a lot of appeal. The characters and scenes she creates are always full of presence. The beginning of the book features a number of full colour drawings that focus on the various main characters of the book, while there are greyscale illustrations scattered throughout the story pages that depict various scenes of the nearby text. The author does a fantastic job of setting the scene, but having these pictures solidify those images is a welcome addition.
Shakugan no Shana: The Girl with Fire In Her Eyes is a magnificent book that entertains with its darker than expected story without overwhelming the reader. For people looking for a light read this may well be an ideal book to go for. I have already read it several times and I have not gotten bored of it yet.
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