By Benny Carrillo / April 22nd, 2015
Authors Note: Please be advised that the rest of this article will go into detail regarding parts of the plot for Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus. As such there will be spoilers ahead.
Life and Hometown
Let’s make no mistake; Senran Kagura is full of fan service and sexual innuendo. I mean, when your producer makes comments like this, you can’t really dispute that fact.
“Tits are life, ass is hometown.”
~ Kenichiro Takaki, Producer of Senran Kagura
In fact “Life and Hometown” has become something of a catchphrase for the franchise as a whole. But, is there another meaning to those words? Actually, I’d argue yes.
Let’s take a look at the premise of the Senran Kagura’s plot and see what we can determine. In particular, we’ll be dissecting Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus as that’s the game in the franchise I am currently playing through and have the most experience with. Please be advised there will be spoilers as, in order to make a strong case, I’m going to have to delve into both character and faction backgrounds.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus revolves around four separate factions. Three of these are schools. Each of these schools, Hanzo Academy, Hebijo Clandestine Girls’ Academy and Gessen Girls Academy, seems like a normal school on the outside, but each secretly train Shinobi for the government to be used in secret missions. Both Hanzo and Gessen train “Good Shinobi” and represent Light and Virtue, while Hebijo trains “Evil Shinobi” which represent Darkness and Chaos.
The fourth group is Homura’s Crimson Squad, which represents a third category known as Renegades. While technically Evil Shinobi due to the fact they are former students of Hebijo, they disobeyed orders and were branded traitors by both sides. As such, they are constantly on the run and hunted by both factions.
While the game could simply take the easy route and have the Good Shinobi and Evil Shinobi do battle with each other, instead, at least in the Gessen and Hanzo routes which I’ve finished, it turns into Good vs Good.
Let me illustrate this by focusing on Gessen’s story, as this game serves as their introduction to the franchise and the narrative has to establish them and their motives. Each of the five girls of the Gessen Academy; Yumi, Murakumo, Yozakura, Shiki and Minori; all share a common thread: they were all adopted by the legendary Shinobi, Kurokage, after their parents were killed by Evil Shinobi.
Kurokage himself was a Good Shinobi who sought to rid the world of all Evil, going so far as to become a renegade himself when he violated the code of Good Shinobi and began murdering any Evil Shinobi he came across, even if his orders did not call for it. While Kurokage himself later regretted this attitude, his granddaughters decided to take up his cause to create a world where no evil existed as a way to both repay his kindness and to seek revenge against those that murdered their parents.
In fact, death is a very common theme in these games. While none of the main girls die, almost everyone’s background includes a family member who died in the line of duty or someone close to them has lost someone. The girls deal with the fact that at any moment their lives could be taken from them in an attack or because of a single misstep. It’s something that constantly sits in the back of their minds.
The Gessen girls find themselves being ordered to participate in a Shinobi Battle Royal as part of their training, in which their school challenges another school to a series of fights and the victor has the opportunity to burn the loser’s school to the ground. Due to the fact that Asuka and the Hanzo school let Homura’s Crimson Squad live after encountering them in previous events (as well as seeking to fight Asuka’s grandfather Hanzo, who decided to humiliate the Gessen squad by feeling them up during the opening events of their storyline), they decide to challenge the Hanzo girls to a Shinobi Battle Royal, with the intent to wipe them and their school off the face of the Earth due to the fact they now see them as irredeemable and tainted by evil.
What follows is a crusade that not only sees them fight the Hanzo girls, but also challenge both Hebijo’s Evil Shinobi and Homura’s Crimson squad to combat. And yet, after each victory, they find themselves unable to kill their opponents for various reasons. It’s finally after the second fight with Hanzo’s Shinobi and Asuka that the Gessen girls come to their conclusion: Shinobi are still Shinobi whether good or evil. Just because they don’t have the same ideology doesn’t mean they cannot coexist. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin and both need to exist in order to maintain balance.
And, yet, as clichéd as the result sounds, it’s the actual process of watching these high school girls come to their own conclusions that is endearing and fascinating. You see their pain from losing their families, the joy and support Kurokage brought them, their confusion and the uneasiness when they can’t fully finish off the Hanzo squad, the fear as they think they’re betraying Kurokage’s ideals and, finally, the relief in coming to terms with the fact they want to live in a world where good and evil can coexist and be friends with these other girls, including two former classmates who defected to Hebijo.
And that’s without even getting into their own personal stories. Consider the fact Yumi is actually Kurokage’s blood-related granddaughter and wanted nothing more than the strength to avenge her mother’s death. Murakumo, who hides her face behind a mask due to a lack of self-confidence, finds herself at one point forced into combat with her dear childhood friend, Yomi. Yozakura, at the age of nine, had to learn to care for her 11 younger brothers and sisters, essentially becoming the mother of her family… and was then torn from them when her father was killed a year later and the entire family was forced to be split up as everyone was adopted by different relatives. Shiki, who, despite being the most materialistic of all the shinobi, is actually a bookworm and practices Buddhism. And, finally, Minori, who, despite being the most childlike of possibly every character in the franchise, is still the constant reminder that sometimes we need to take that childlike and simplistic approach when solving our problems.
So, taking all this into account, is there another definition we can create? One which conveys the feel and purpose of Senran Kagura and gives it that unique flavor? I think so. Let’s go back to the idea of life and hometown again and apply it to the story. Life can very easily equate to the girls’ daily lives and upbringing — about the daily struggle they endure as they try to find their way through this very turbulent and chaotic time in their lives, and how precious those times with their friends and family are. Hometown, meanwhile, can be equated to the schools that they attend — the family they wish to protect, and the environment that they struggle to maintain. It’s this very simple duality of meanings that I think makes Senran Kagura so interesting.
So, let’s put it all together. How can we define Senran Kagura?
Senran Kagura – A game series with deep plot and characterization that features several groups of shinobi girls that are divided into two primary factions of “Good” and “Evil,” and details the bonds and struggles that bind all of them together.
Yes, once again, it’s not the best definition in the world, but you can see what the writers were trying to do. Still, no matter what definition you use, there’s nothing else out there quite like it. It really is its own unique blend of gameplay and storyline.
So, that’s why I say: Senran Kagura is Senran Kagura. It’s because it really is its own game, its own definition, you can’t really describe it, but you know it’s wholly unique unto itself.
However, as compelling as this may sound, perhaps I’m merely highlighting the best parts of this game rather than really getting down and dirty and tackling the core issue of its sexuality. Well, all right, then. Join me for the third and final part of this little series as I tackle that question head on by talking about the master of “Sexual Kicked-Her-Assment:” Katsuragi!
In the meantime though what are your thoughts? Is Senran Kagura unique enough to define itself? Do you have your own definition for what Senran Kagura is? Do you agree that there’s more to this series than just it’s fanservice or are you still not convinced? Please let me know in the comments below your own take on this and the article. I look forward to hearing some feedback from you all.
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