It's probably fair to say that my review of the first volume of Shakugan no Shana, or simply Shana as its Western release has been shortened to, didn't quite mesh with the general zeitgeist towards this series. In short, the opening batch of episodes really didn't grab my attention in any discernible fashion, with many aspects that felt just like the kind of thing I'd seen countless times before from other anime series.
Thankfully, I can heartily say that the second volume of Shana, which takes in episodes five through to eight of the series, are a definite improvement, and indeed do a better job of showcasing what the series as a whole is all about now that the initial leg work of scene-setting and character building is complete. After the last volume left us with Shana defeated at the hands of a 'rival' Flame Haze, so this volume is more broadly about her redemption from that loss, which far from coincidentally also matches the thawing of her relationship with Yuji. All of this occurs against a rather complex background, comprising a plot to devour the entire city in return for eternal life, a Denizen known as the Corpse Collector who is... well, collecting corpses in a sense, and of course that second Flame Haze, Margery Daw.
I imagine it goes without saying that this rather busy backdrop makes for plenty of action sequences and while these aren't particularly gripping they still manage to hold your attention, while the show clearly delights in the scale of the destruction that these battles cause. Despite all this fighting which takes up plenty of screen time, the star of the show is still Shana and Yuji's relationship, which hits rock bottom before they finally begin to understand one another a little better. Shana's rather impatient, short-tempered character is already pretty iconic in anime fan circles, and even though you might expect it to grate after a while it's actually strangely endearing while offering a perfect foil for Yuji's far more quiet and conscientious manner.
While the opening episodes of the series sometimes seemed to almost get bogged down in posing philosophical questions about the importance of living your life and being yourself, much of this vanishes in this batch of episodes, to an almost ridiculous degree at times. All of a sudden, the Yuji who agonised over seeing another Torch vanish before his eyes previously now thinks nothing of saving and all but befriending Lamies, that aforementioned Corpse Collector who goes around collecting the energy of almost extinguished torches - Perhaps I'm just thinking about it too much, but it rankled with me in its relative hypocrisy.
Of course, Shana isn't really here to play philosopher at the end of the day, so putting that gripe to one side you're left with what is a reasonably entertaining series with some equally entertaining characters... Well, character, as Shana herself is the only one really worthy of mention, with many of the other main players feeling either a little generic or just plain dull.
So, if you're looking for ground-breaking or thought-provoking (or a DVD packed with extras for that matter), then you won't find either of those words used in conjunction with Shana here. However, on the plus side, nobody can say that a cute girl with attitude and a sword that can burst into flames isn't worth spending at least some time watching.