Things are quite different for Shana and Yuji in this, the final series of Shakugan no Shana (but not in a bad way). No longer is the action set exclusively in Misaki City. And gone is the slice-of-life, high school material that supplemented the series’ broader, battle-based narrative in which Shana, Yuji, and their allies battled denizens of the Crimson World bent on consuming human souls. But most of all, gone is the love triangle between Shana, Yuji, and Yoshida that dominated the previous seasons, in which both girls vied for the mistes’s affections. However, these changes surprisingly have nothing to do whatsoever with the decision forced on Yuji at the end of Shakugan no Shana II, a season which notably closed on a cliffhanger.
(At this point, I suppose a spoiler alert should be in order as I can move absolutely no further in this review without divulging the source of this massive overhaul of the series, but I should also note that this major plot point is revealed to us almost immediately upon the season’s opening. So I’m not sure how much of a spoiler it really is. Suffice it to say that you shouldn’t read this review without having seen the previous seasons at least.)
The season begins quite startlingly with Yuji making a contract with a Crimson Denizen, who we quickly learn is in fact the leader of Shana’s arch-enemies, the Denizen clan Bal Masqué. Yuji and the Snake of the Festival fuse into one being and together declare war on the Flame Hazes, Shana included lest she side with him. If this comes as quite a jarring revelation as related here, you’ll find the presentation of this material in Shakugan no Shana III to be no less jarring, I assure you. It really comes out of nowhere, without any setup whatsoever. The very first episode of the season opens with Yuji and the Snake of the Festival forging their contract, even though last we knew, Yuji was supposed to be rendezvousing with whichever girl he truly loved in downtown Misaki at Christmas.
So what the hell happened in between?! Well, it’s not as though the series doesn’t divulge that information, because it does. It just doesn’t do so until a bit later, and we find out what transpired in part through flashback and in part through dialogue, from which we are forced to infer perhaps a little too much about said events, I’d argue. Were those events to have been presented in a more conventional, linear manner than this, allowing us to ease into Shana III’s massive overhaul of the series’ narrative, my response to this season would no doubt have been unqualifiedly positive. It’s just that, things change so suddenly that it’s almost like watching an entirely different program at times, especially since the majority of the secondary characters, namely Yuji’s classmates, are noticeably absent for many, many episodes at a time. And I’d argue that it’s this community of characters that really defined the tone of Shana up to this point, not the conflict between the Flame Hazes and the Crimson Denizens. Ultimately, of course, the absence of those characters makes total sense given that they could honestly contribute little to the war efforts of either faction, but it alters the entire landscape of the series and in a way that even undermines some of the more dramatic moments of the season.
That said, if you can swallow the massive changes that Shakugan no Shana III forces on you in an incredibly short period of time, it proves to be every bit as exciting as previous seasons and to develop the relationship between Yuji and Shana in new and quite interesting ways. Now it may be too much of a departure from what came before it for some viewers, I surmise, but if nothing else, you have to appreciate that writer Yashichiro Takahashi refused to rely on the proven techniques of earlier storylines when other possibilities presented themselves. What’s more, the battles, which comprise like 90% of the season’s running time, exceed the expectations established by the previous seasons’ action and offer some truly heart-stopping moments of suspense as the war escalates. And in spite of any problems I may have had with Shana III (not like I thought the first two seasons were perfect or anything), it indeed provides a truly satisfying conclusion to a series that I have been enthusiastically viewing ever since FUNimation began distributing it back in August of 2012.
Shakugan no Shana III is currently available from FUNimation in two Blu-ray/DVD Combo Packs, each collecting 12 of the season’s 24 episodes. As with Shana II, the Limited Edition collection of Shakugan No Shana: Season 3, Part 1 comes with a collectible hardboard case designed to house both parts of FUNimation’s release of Shana III. Special features on Part 1 include Shana-tan Final Destruction, commentaries on select episodes, textless songs, and trailers. Part 2’s bonus content include Shana-tan Final Destruction 2, a promotional video, commentaries on select episodes, textless songs, and trailers.