On her way back to Hanzo Academy to continue her training in the art of the ninja (as it is); Asuka meets up with a girl named Homura, whom she immediately strikes up a bond of friendship with. However, Homura turns out to be a part of a rival school, the dark Serpent Academy for girls, and the girls from said school then unleash a series of attacks on the girls of Hanzo Academy.
During most of its existence, the Senran Kagura series of games, manga and anime has been known for mainly one thing; having a cast of girls with gigantic breasts and no particular fear of putting them in scenes of fanservice. It's not an unfair assessment, and as anyone who's been a fan of anime for at least some time will attest to; fanservice is probably here to stay.
It might sound defeatist, and maybe it is, but there's also another aspect to fanservice that has become more clear to me as of late; whether it is the harmless kind or the harmful kind. The core of the issue is solely centered around how the girls who provides this fanservice is portrayed and treated.
Oddly enough, from a fanservice perspective, Senran Kagura is actually kind of average, at least when you measure it up to many other shows I've seen. The girls seems to be about as comically overdeveloped as the girls in the Koihime Musou series, so I have a bit of a hard time taking it seriously as actual titillation, regardless of how many sushi rolls (aka "penis-shaped food") they are seen shoving into their mouths. And aside from Katsuragi's penchant for groping the girls during shower scenes, most of the scenes are just that. Shower/bath scenes and maybe some awkward camera angles centered around mostly clothed breasts and hips, or stuff being shoved into massive cleavages. It's cheesy, it's dumb, but it's also fairly harmless stuff.
It should also probably be the main reason why you're watching this, because the rest of the show is kind of a mess. Senran Kagura is quick to introduce the cast of girls as part of ninja schools; Hanzo is the academy of the "light ninja", exclusively meant for girls with clean records -- no murder, or even attempted murder, and presumably also some other limitations the show doesn't really get into -- while the "dark" Serpent Academy will accept anyone with the ambition to learn the skills they offer. Yet, to the show's credit, it is not quite that simple. However, this is also where the show kind of shoots itself in the foot. It quite quickly points out that Homura and the girls of the "dark" academy are certainly not bad girls, even though some of them might come across as vaguely psychotic or sociopathic at first. But that's because, unlike most of the girls of Hanzo, the girls in Serpent Academy actually have very tragic backstories that wouldn't have been out of place in Gunslinger Girl. It is kind of disconcerting to have this sort of thing unleashed in an anime that otherwise treats you like an idiot.
And it does. If you take away the Serpent Academy for girls on the "dark" side, Senran Kagura turns into the same generic "you can do it" fluff you've probably seen a thousand times before. It's especially egregrious when it comes to the character of Hibari, whose clumsy, pink-haired antics will most likely make you wonder what she's doing in the academy in the first place, or, if you can recognize the pattern, understand that she will eventually realize her quality before it all ends. If you'll forgive me the spoiler, it becomes all the more head-shakingly hilarious in a scene late in the show where she infiltrates Serpent Academy while dressed in, granted, their black attire, but with her flaming pink hair still making her an easy spot for whichever sentries might be patrolling the area. Yet, she does so quite competently for all intents and purposes.
The core idea isn't necessarily bad either; it shows a surprisingly convoluted setup between the head of Hanzo academy and someone from the Serpent school playing her secret scene that actually makes sense in hindsight, but they're still hampered by tiresome lessons you've heard before, comedy that doesn't really make the lighthearted moments work to the fullest, and an ending that bogs itself down with trite speeches.
So in the end, what could have been a fun, if awkwardly cheesy romp along the lines of Strike Witches or Heaven's Lost Property instead becomes kind of a chore to get through. I also had some problems with the fact that the show kind of made Hanzo Academy come across as massively exclusionary, even beyond the point of fairness, particularly seeing as some of the things that happened to the Serpent Academy girls were far outside of their control. To make matters worse, in one case, one of those very realistic tragedies gets turned into a bit of a tiresome repeated joke.
But hey, if you're only in it for the fanservice, I have some good news for you. The character designs are mostly quite pleasant, which, if you've seen some of the promo art, you probably already know. The animation is generally quite decent, and the fanservice is at least not massively overplayed like another show whose first episode I just watched. (If you need to know, it's the ridiculously titled "I couldn't become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job".) So... yeah. It's a mostly pleasant, kind of dumb piece of "ninja" action show with some fairly dark, yet underplayed twists. Take that as you will.
Kind of lame in all, but if you're in it for the cute, if too exaggerated character designs, feel free to add a star or two. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: Despite its premise, the fanservice isn't really all that worrisome. I think most teenagers -- which, let's face it, is the target audience for stuff like this -- would be fine with it. I'm more concerned by some of the more serious topics, like some of the girls' dark and/or violent pasts.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital Source.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Senran Kagura © 2013 Artland, Senran Kagura Production Committee
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