We at Classy have been fairly quiet of late. We chose Senran Kagura as our study, and we diligently watched and analyzed the entire show. This, however, did not lend itself well to bi-weekly posts. Senran Kagura is like a sushi roll: best swallowed whole. Our authors draggle, Emperor J, redball, Reiseng, and pictographer Foshizzel share their impressions of the show in its entirety.
Emperor J: Senran Kagura is a series that stands out for how seriously it takes the subject of girls living in a brutal world having to fight against one another. On the surface, it just looks like a festival of fanservice; filled with odd transformation sequences, girls in bikinis (and sometimes less) just because it had to make an adaptation of a platform game interesting. That surface view is completely wrong on a number of levels.
Take the students at the rival Hebi Gakuen. You would just expect them to be absolutely terrible people who are strong because they survive the brutality of attending that school. In reality, they are just as good as people as those attending Hanzou. They each just had their own circumstances that forced them there. What other series would have spent the time trying to make the “bad” guys look respectable?
Then there are the girls at Hanzou who take up most of the action. You may think they just sit there in skimpy outfits occasionally eating sushi rolls in suggestive ways. I’d point out that sushi rolls can be quite nutritious depending on how they are made, first of all, but then you would also be watching for the wrong reason. There is no fanservice in Senran Kagura.
As an example, Hibari may do things that are absolutely adorably useless. But that is the ninja technique she mastered after years of training. It’s deception at its finest level. Katsuragi may look like an audience insert character, but she provides the emotional support for the rest of the girls. Then Yagyuu and Ikaruga keep everyone on the straight and narrow as leaders, while Asuka provides the emotional link to the audience. It’s not that she is weak and becomes strong. She was strong to begin with, but has to bring that out through training.
To summarize, Senran Kagura is a classy show because it treats its characters and the audience as adults. This is a mature show with very important social themes that blurs the traditional lines between good and evil. This isn’t a fanservice show that we are consistently accused of watching ironically. This is clearly above anything that came from the winter season and I would expect it to make a number of lists of top anime in 2013.
draggle: I don’t know where people get this silly idea that EmperorJ mentioned, that we “watch ironically.” We provide some of the deepest and most genuine analyses on the Internet. That’s the entire reason this site exists.
Anyway: Senran Kagura. Truly a refined work of pointed social commentary, it carefully approaches difficult topics such as poverty with the finesse of a master craftsman. As EmperorJ says, the twin schools of Hebi Gakuen and Hanzou provide a mirror on the division and classes that exist within our own society. The students of Hebi Gakuen are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of the twin tyrants of poverty and cisexist gender norms. They are filled with resentment towards the students of Hanzou, many of which were born into wealthy families, the heirs of sushi shops and master ninjas, who receive the best education money can buy and live in a world where ambiguous gender identities are not only tolerated but encouraged.
Despite the terrible misfortune and squalor they live in, in a job where failure means death (much like how the brunt of serving in the armed forces is disproportionately borne by the poor), Senran Kagura leaves us with a message of hope. With the power of love and friendship, we can overcome the powers that divide us by class and gender identity. We can have our sushi and eat it, too.
redball: The most lasting impression I have of Senran Kagura is that this is a positive story about the transcendence of women in society. Whether we are considering Hanzou Academy or Hebi Gakuen, the next generation of exceptional ninjas are strong women and they are replacing an entrenched patriarchy. The story of Senran Kagura is one of change towards a more just society.
As with many civil rights movements, different cultures and locales tend to arrive at the same ultimate conclusion in different ways. This is the true contrast between the two schools. In Hanzou Academy women are treated as equals, having already earned the same respect due to any student. At Hebi Gakuen women must toil to earn the same respect. This reflects an attitude of tolerance, rather than acceptance, by those at the top of Hebi Gakuen.
The mutual struggle for equality is what unites the girls at the end of the series. In this scenario Dougen plays the role of the hate group. While he has pretended to be accepting of the societal change, his real goal is to destroy the current class of both schools in order to protect his ideal social pecking order. Unfortunately for Dougen, his students are smart enough to see through this plot and they are able to foil his plans.
Without the character growth and Dougen’s eventual downfall, Senran Kagura would be a story of moral relativism: what works for Hanzou Academy does not for Hebi Gakuen and vice-versa. Fortunately, that is not what happened. Each side was able to see the flaws and advantages of the other approach. In the end, Hanzou Academy’s teachings of tolerance and love won the day.
Reiseng: I want to first point out that Senran Kagura has an incredibly varied, well realized cast. From Katsuragi’s eccentric nature (including her nudist streak) to Haruka’s fascination with puppets, the characters are varied and very interesting to see.
As my comrades have pointed out, Senran Kagura is an intricate show that explores important themes like poverty, friendship and survival in the face of despair.
And yet, Senran Kagura attempts to cover these themes without simplistic, naïve statements like “poverty is bad!” and instead shows a more down to earth approach through great character development of the villains.
I particularly like how the friendship between characters is built through the basic human desire for food.
My comrades talked about sushi rolls and how the girls bond over these sushi rolls. This bond is strong because they are bonding over food which is a basic, human need.
As different as the two groups of ninja are, both groups bond over food. The good guys bond over delicious sushi rolls while the villains bond over conversations about sprouts. It is this common bonding over food that allows the two groups to eventually reconcile and come to a mutual understanding at the end.
It is this bond that differentiates Hibiki from Suzune. Suzune never bonded with her sensei and her peers over sushi unlike Hibiki did so. This is why Hibiki acts as a double agent while Suzune completely switched sides.
It is the recognition of this bond over food that prompts Suzune’s suicide. She realized that she had never made a bond by placing her beloved sensei’s sushi roll in her mouth and figured that since she was no longer able to do so, suicide would be a better option.
This exploration of basic human desire to bond and love done through interesting characters makes Senran Kagura an exceptionally classy anime.