Changed My Mind…

It’s amazing what one episode can do.

In a single episode, Shakugan no Shana II has managed to undo nearly all the good will it’s generated in my mind by building up the tension, drama, and yes, even the angst. You see, for characters to remain sympathetic to the viewer, they have to be believable. Some leeway is permissible, in that shows are rarely about “average” people in “average” situations (slice-of-life often being the exception). Sometimes they’re about heroes, sometimes they’re about goats, sometimes they’re about people who are normal except for that one little superpower/affinity/ability/thing that sets them apart.

But even then, the character has to be believable, or the show is just not any good. Yuuiji’s inability to let Yoshida down nicely has been stretching belief for some time now. In Episode 4 of SnS, he stepped over the line into unreality, thanks to the addition of Konoe/Hecate.

I’ve given Yuuiji every possible break.
“He’s waiting on Shana to admit she likes him.”
“He’s just not able to say no to a pretty face.”
“He’s genuinely conflicted, because of how supportive Yoshida was when she found out he’s dead.”

I said all those things.

I was an idiot.

Starting in ep. 3, Konoe’s odd attachment to Yuuiji became evident. Throughout ep. 4, his obvious empathy for the shy, withdrawn girl has gone into overdrive. Whether it’s trading lunches, escorting her to and from school, or searching for her when she wanders off, his actions seem designed to piss off Shana and even Yoshida. And then he wonders why they’re both angry with him? Excuse me? If Japanese men were all this clueless about women, the race would have died off thousands of years ago.

Then there’s the whole Hecate/Konoe issue, about which everyone (but especially him) seems to have gone brain-dead. No one has as much as asked her a question about her odd background, where she’s from, why she’s so clueless about everyday life, where she lives (other than it’s in the same direction as Yuuiji), who her parents are, etc. Now as it happens, I have a theory about who she is (see spoiler below), but you’d think the alarm bells would start ringing again when Konoe displays unusual abilities. Things like being able to understand and talk to wild birds, and having them come and land in her hand — and extend that power to others, since one came and landed on Yuuiji while they were standing so close. And that’s another thing, what the hell was Yuuiji doing? She actually does remind him of Hecate for a moment, and his reaction was to “get in her personal space,” so close to her, I thought they were about to kiss. Of course Yoshida just happens to show up and see them right then.

Please, give me a break.

Konoe Spoiler: Show ▼

I can only see three possibilities here. One is that Konoe is using some sort of magic on Yuuiji that nobody can detect, not even Yuuiji, despite Alastor and Shana saying how great his senses are. The other is that his senses are assuring him that she’s benign, and he unconsciously trusts that “feel” over common sense. In that case, he’s still an idiot where the other two girls are concerned. Come on, even at nine years old, I may have been stupid and weak enough to let an older sister of a girl I liked jerk me around, but I DID understand that I’d screwed up and that there was significant jealousy going on there. (Although, come to think of it, I didn’t display any more sense in later in high school….)

But Yuuiji seems to be totally clueless — he really wonders why Yoshida and Shana are angry to the point that neither will eat lunch with him (leaving him to Konoe) and Shana is now sending Wilhelmina to train him.

Dude, that’s denser than neutronium. And I don’t buy it — so the third possibility, the one I believe, is that the writers are seriously screwing up.

Edit: and I’m off to Jason’s to see if something else is worth it. This season is turning into crap, fast.

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9 Responses to Changed My Mind…

  1. baseball68 says:

    I dunno–I think you’re being a bit too, shall, I say, rational about this. I watched the sub properly, and I actually found the ep. charming in a lot of ways.

    I re-watched the episode, and am willing to defend it. First off, there is plot advancement, even with the angst. I personally think Konoe IS Hecate–just sealed and made unaware in some way–so that led to the weird “moment” between the two, an after-affect of their synchronization. There are clearly implications to what happened between Yuuji and Hecate, and some of those will be drawn out in future eps I think. Yuuji briefly considering using blutsauger against Hecate in ep. 24, and then thought better of it (but he clearly thought of striking her down, which shows how much he *did not* like the experience of synchronization). He was, however, brutally honest with Hecate, and that was the only time in the whole series when Yuuji could be described as ruthless (although he was clearly justified in being so). However, Hecate was never shown to be an “evil” character in any conventional sense of the term, and some kind of connection remains between the two, which is now being fleshed out through the device of Konoe. My own speculation is that Konoe is a trap–she’ll unwittingly draw Yuuji into being captured, and Shana won’t be there to protect him due to her avoiding him. Shana will then have to mount a rescue, or Hecate will become herself and sabotage the plan out of loyalty to Yuuji, or Yuuji himself will show off his new powers, or some combination of factors will save him.

    As for why no one is more suspicious–well, I think they *are* suspicious, hence the scene with Wilhemina. The Flame Hazes are still checking on things, but they have found *no* evidence of Konoe being anything other than human. And I disagree with your take on ep. 3–the test you suggest wouldn’t have been adequate (just cutting Konoe and seeing if she bled)–Shana wanted to put Konoe into a life-threatening situation to see what would happen, and for that, using the lame wheelie guy was necessary. Konoe passed the test; the cut was just a confirmation of the more important test of nearly being eaten. But for whatever reason, Bal Masque has been able to fool everyone. Yuuji now probably has the strongest suspicions, but he’s by nature too trusting to act on his instincts.

    As for Yuuji’s density, I think you citing experience from “normal” school life is inherently problematic, precisely because Shana, as you yourself have argued eloquently, is NOT normal. Any understanding of Yuuji’s interactions with Shana have to start with that irremediable fact–furthermore, that Yuuji’s *first* impressions of Shana were when she was either a “pure” flame haze indifferent to any sort of human emotion, or a completely confused and at times violently angry young woman at a loss of how to deal with him. I’ve always felt for a while that in some strange way, Yuuji is *less* self-aware than Shana as a consequence; while Shana at least has admitted to herself her feelings for Yuuji, Yuuji hasn’t done the same. I think that’s partly because he finds it so inconceivable that Shana would have any sort of romantic feelings for *anyone*, much less him (and really, considering all the abuse he’s taken from her, is this so shocking?–I’m thinking most especially of the early ep. when Shana actually drew her sword on Yuuji in a sort of crazed irrational fury, for pretty much (in Yuuji’s view) no apparent reason).

    Is it so implausible that Yuuji’s defense mechanism is to not just avoid the issue in his own mind? I’ve had crushes on girls who I was legitimate friend with but were already “attached,” and I think I did much the same thing to avoid making an ass of myself. In Yuuji’s extreme circumstances, I don’t think this is so weird or out-of-bounds. Even the resolution of sorts between the two in ep. 23/24 can be interpreted by Yuuji as a strong sense of partnership and camaraderie than anything remotely romantic–something more akin to the relationship between Alastor and Shana, but now with Shana the mentor and Yuuji the junior pattern, as opposed to something romantic. Or heck, as something more akin to the relationship between Yuuji and Konoe, which to me looks very much like an older protective brother and a younger sibling, down to the juvenile clutching of Yuuji’s shirt, than anything remotely romantic. And when Yuuji did get a sense of something else going on (her lip-read confession, which he seems to have found hard-to-believe), he asked Shana about it, only to see it shot down. Also throw in Yuuji’s general lack of self-confidence; he isn’t stupid, and in a crisis, he actually deals with things well, so I think the last thing he thinks of himself is as a babe magnet, and things don’t look so annoyingly implausible to me.

    As for this ep., I personally saw nothing remotely romantic about the Yuuji/Konoe interactions. The closest thing is the strange “moment,” but I think that was a Hecate repeat and should be understood as such. So for me, Yuuji being clueless is not so unbelievable because, from Yuuji’s perspective, 1) what exactly about his interaction with Konoe is Shana so jealous about? (remember that Kazumi felt *no* jealousy UNTIL the strange Hecate moment, which Shana never saw, precisely because the more mature Yoshida saw Yuuji as purely avuncular) and 2) Shana couldn’t possibly be in love with him, so she wouldn’t even be jealous in his first place. He’s of course spectacularly wrong, and looks really, really stupid, but this honestly still works with me.

    I don’t expect my characters to be rational actors, or even to be all that consistent. They just need to be consistent *enough*. In short, I find Yuuji character believable. I would have drawn him differently in some ways, but I find him believable.

    And heck, I even thought there was some character development in this, because Shana came close to being honest for once. I liked the ramen eating contest because it actually showed Yuuji as less the preternaturally mature high schooler, but just another guy willing to engage in a stupid eating contest. “I don’t really understand, but I won’t lose!” is about as good an expression of adolescent guyness as I can think of. Is it such a surprise he’s perplexed by women.? And Shana eating the ice cream showed just how immature she is in some ways, despite the fact that she’s so supremely competent in all things related to Flame Hazen. For me, the characters really do fit each other in so many ways.

    Just my two cents… :)

  2. baseball68 says:

    Actually, I wrote that too fast. Regarding putting Konoe in a life-threatening situation, I should add that the need for a third-party is also necessary just in case Bal Masque anticipated the possibility of the Flame Hazen injuring Konoe/Hecate while knowing that they could “fix” things easily. A tomogara is of course far less predictable, and would actually want to eat Konoe/Hecate, as opposed to just injuring her, so presumably that would draw a reaction. Of course, I’m theorizing that Bal Masque was already one step ahead of Shana and knew she wouldn’t actually let Konoe/Hecate be eaten, but using the third party is a more stringent test than Shana just hacking at Konoe/Hecate to see what would happen. And of course I have to right that Hecate and Konoe really are the same.

  3. I’m convinced that the author of this series isn’t planning ahead. He’s just doing something that’s interesting at any given instant, irrespective of whether it makes any sense or whether it undermines characterization or whether it conflicts with precedent. I don’t think he has a destination, other than the fact that he knows what the final story line will be whenever he feels like finishing things up. (It’ll be about Ramies, of course.)

  4. Ubu Roi says:

    I’m not even sure of that Steven. It SHOULD be, but I’m not sure it WILL be.

    And baseball68, you make some good observations. I liked the ramen scene also; especially why it happened. It’s just that at the point where Shana is so obviously ticked off, it’s time for Yuuiji to re-assess.

    Yes, it’s inherently inaccurate to use the knowledge and wisdom of a 40-something to judge the actions of teenagers, but this is a bit too dense. I think Jason made a great point in his post; while I was looking at Yuuiji, he was looking a Shana and Yoshida. Two strong women that went head to head in ep.2 and the moment we hear *DING* “A new competitor has arrived!” they both abandon the field? We can speculate over why Yuuiji hasn’t figured out what’s going on, but Yoshida and Shana know it’s a contest.

    Random thought: Why has no one yet remarked over the change of name from “Hiragi” to “Shana”? Not everyone outside the Supersize Cafe is in on the secret….

  5. One thing that occurs to me that may be a factor. Yuuji and Hecate were linked in that weird machine for a long time. We know that the experience vastly increased Yuuji’s pool of power-of-existence. Did it also create some sort of special link between the two of them? If I had to wager, I’d wager that’s what the author has in mind. And if so, it’s a deep thing which could affect Yuuji subconsciously even if he doesn’t realize that Konoe is Hecate.

    It’s stupid, of course, but that’s my guess.

  6. baseball68 says:

    Steven, I think that scene clearly implies that. Why the flashback at that moment? And Yuuji’s moment of recognition, only broken by Hecate’s smile. And if Yuuji’s consciousness was literally filling Hecate, wouldn’t that produce a strange connection, even if it was drained away? Some thing’s going on here, and it’s related to the whole bird thing. And considering the fact that there was some kind of weird mind-meld going on there, I think it’s completely plausible.

    Going back to the teenagers thing–let me put this way. I’m in my late 20s, and my last “relationship” completely fell apart, for reasons I to this day do not at all understand. Nothing dramatic or spectacular; it just sort of, well, fell apart. I can give you various speculative reasons why, but nothing really satisfactory. And, without sounding pompous, I think I’m more mature than most guys my age. Yuuji’s, what, 15? He’s thoughtful for his age, and in a crisis he does well, but the beginning of seasons 1 emphasize how normal Yuuji really was before he found out he was a torch. His philosophical and thoughtful side only really came out due to the extreme circumstance he was placed in.

    So he’s a bit confused about Shana, who herself is such an odd cipher. So what? I think he doesn’t really know what he feels about Shana, and because he doesn’t know, he kinda wants to keep his options open with Yoshida, who he does care about (but in a non-romantic way, unfortunately, Yuuji probably has problems distinguishing between different types of “caring” with regards to women his age–another problem that’s hardly a rarity). And here comes along Konoe, who inspires all the protective instincts Yuuji normally has.

    Part of the real and legitimate frustration in my view comes from how Yuuji is drawn as such a perceptive figure in so many ways. For that reason, I at least am disappointed sometimes with how dense he is, and I think a lot of other critics of the way the triangle has been drawn also think that. If he can deal with all these crazy situations, why can’t he recognize Shana’s petty jealousy for what it is? And there’s also the issue of string Kazumi along. Fair enough points, but I’m just willing to also see Yuuji as just another 15 year old completely confused and flummoxed by women.

    It looks like the next ep. will involve Chigusa fixing things. And Wilhelmina/Chigusa interactions no less. That’s always great to see–at least give that ep. a chance. :)

  7. Ubu Roi says:

    Part of the real and legitimate frustration in my view comes from how Yuuji is drawn as such a perceptive figure in so many ways. …. I think a lot of other critics of the way the triangle has been drawn also think that. If he can deal with all these crazy situations, why can’t he recognize Shana’s petty jealousy for what it is? And there’s also the issue of string Kazumi along.

    Quoted for truth.

    And I was so aggravated, I didn’t watch the previews

  8. The reason is that the love triangle is the real story. All the gothic horror is just paint on the background to differentiate this particular story about high school romantic angst from all the others.

    Or at least that’s how it feels a lot of the time.

  9. baseball68 says:

    I just watched CLANNAD ep. 4, and I actually liked it. I thought it was genuinely funny; however, I’ll be annoyed if they nail the viewers with some depressing ending like Nagisa keeling over. I’ve never played the game, and my attempts to find a plot summary have failed, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen.

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