The Winter season of anime is upon us, and though there are a bevy of shows we could feature we have identified Senran Kagura as the Classiest of the lot. Our authors draggle, Emperor J, kevo, redball, Reiseng, and pictographer Foshizzel share their initial impressions.
redball: The world of Senran Kagura does not seem to be all that different from the one we live in at first glance. Every day in the real world girls dress in uniform and are accosted by boys. It is here that Senran Kagura takes leave of reality and enters the world of fantasy, for our heroine need not confront her attacker. She quickly hides her presence and herself by jumping into a nearby tree. She is, after all, a shinobi. A ninja.
This introduction sums up the message of the first two episodes of Senran Kagura: Do not take the world for granted. In the blink of an eye the most beautiful things can disappear. We should, instead, take our time to fully enjoy life.
Emperor J: I think a lot of the attention from the first pair of episodes has to be devoted to the character of Katsuragi. In just 2 episodes she has established herself as one of the most well-written and developed characters in years.
Now, you may be saying that she’s simply an audience-insert character doing perverted things to the other girls, but she’s far more important than that. Her displays of affection toward Asuka serve to make her much more confident in her abilities and relieve the strain of the pressure of being the descendant of a legendary ninja.
But you may also ask why she has what looks like the laziest transformation sequence in anime history? Those transformation sequences are the result of what the characters aspire to be. Katsuragi, by only unbuttoning her shirt is visually stating that she is perfectly fine with how she is.
So in summary, Katsuragi’s character perfectly speaks to the point redball made. She enjoys her life to the fullest on her own terms. Also, by her own force of personality, she is able to make the rest of the team better and more focused on enjoying their everyday lives.
Reiseng: Expanding on what Emperor J said, Katsuragi’s character is of great importance to Asuka.
Asuka has lead her entire life living under the shadow of her grandfather. Even though she herself is severely lacking as a ninja, she feels the need to live up to everyone’s expectations of her. Whenever she is with her grandfather in public, the sheer amount of respect and loyalty others (including some of her closest friends) show for him brings her down and reminds her of just how inferior she really is.
By constantly groping and massaging Asuka’s breasts, Katsuragi lets Asagi know that she is more than just a ninja. Asagi is Asagi and Katsuragi likes Asagi and not her ninja lineage. By unbuttoning her shirt during her transformation, not only is Katsuragi affirming her identity but is also letting Asagi know that it is okay to be an unorthodox ninja. That it is okay to not fit the typical stereotype expected from ninjas. Ninjas don’t have to be small, invisible and silent. Katsuragi demonstrates to Asagi (who can’t fit the proper definition of ninja due to her clumsiness) that they can be loud, flamboyant, careless and yet they will still be effective.
Ninjas don’t have to be small, invisible and silent.
Senran Kagura doesn’t only use Katsuragi to comment on the requirements of ninjas afterall, Asagi’s grandfather himself is a bit of an oddity. Normally when we think of a legendary ninja, we picture a strict old man who will tolerate no nonsense, but that is not the case in Senran Kagura. Asagi’s grandfather is laid back, relaxed and while he has expectations of his granddaughter he never forces anything on her. It is a reversal from common trends and one of the many ways in which Senran Kagura demonstrates that you do not need to fit stereotypes in order to meet your dreams.
draggle: I’d like to take a step back and look at the deep, convoluted symbolism of Senran Kagura. A constant symbol we’re exposed to are rolls of sushi, which the girls slosh around vivaciously in their mouths and salivate over. Plainly, the sushi rolls symbolize the life of a shinobi.
The girls have this life thrust down their throats from childhood, and the only way to escape from their training is to swallow it whole. To train to become shinobi, they must battle against their fellow ninjas, stripping off the thin layer of seaweed that is their clothing to reveal the pure white, sumptuous fleshy rice hidden underneath. Then, the ninjas push away the grains of rice to reveal, hidden within, the ultimate prize: the pink, raw flesh of virgin, uncooked seafood. Although the life of the shinobi is hard and grueling, there are brief moments of understanding and joy, as symbolized by the piece of wasabi emerging from the tip of the sushi roll, which the shinobi swallow with pleasure.
“A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action … with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions.” – Aristotle
Senran Kagura is arguably the most melancholically tragic anime since Oda Nobuna no Yabou. Senran Kagura is the sordid tale of five budding young nymphets who have hardly had a chance to experience life and the wonders it brings. Yet their duties as ninja have predestined them to become sociopathic killing machines. Underneath their bosoms, they are still children inside. Children desperate for love and attention. Every scene is punctuated by the subtle undertones of existential despair. The girls hold tears behind their empty smiles as they go through the motions of boob physics, lunch-eating, and assassination. Their dreams flutter away in the wind as the camera tilts lower and lower under their skirts. Truly the rawest schadenfreude compels us to watch this sheer misery.
redball: Once we elaborate the picture becomes clearer. It is, as kevo said, a rather sad predicament our young shinobi find themselves in. However, I must object to his conclusion that the ultimate message here is one of darkness. Instead it is a message of hope. Even as the girls have their minds whittled away, shaping them into cold hearted killers who know only orders and will certainly die in the line of duty, they also must still exist. They must carry on. For now, joy and pleasure are knowable and obtainable and they will seek these pleasures out.
Certainly leading this charge is Katsuragi, as Emperor J and Reiseng have pointed out. She is determined to live her life to the fullest until she learns, as all shinobi do, that the feeling of joy is a luxury. Through her we are able to see that in the face of adversity we can persevere. Even in the darkest of circumstances we can hold fast to our humanity with a loving touch and a little levity.
I will close with draggle’s point about the sushi rolls. The symbology here is twofold: both that of a shinobi’s life and of its finality. For you see, even the pure bliss of a mouthful of a fat sushi roll is a finite experience. Just as these girls’ days of youthful ignorance are soon to be over, so too will they finish their sushi rolls. Once the roll is done there is no going back. Thus, you must enjoy your sushi roll to the utmost before it is gone. We see this in the way the girls hungrily cram the rolls into their mouths, but then take their time to savor them as they eat. It is reinforced as a lesson once their instructor joins the fray. A lesson we should all take to heart.