Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master
Getting ready for Christmas, Asuka and her newest friend Yumi are out shopping. While they are doing so, they are attacked by girls from Gessen and defeated soundly, with Asuka's fellow Hanzo students being held hostage. And while Gessen might be the one behind it at the front, there are more going on behind it all, and in the end, it will involve everyone: Hanzo, Homura's renegade squad and the new students at Hebijo. And most importantly, Yumi and her friends, because it all stems from incidents from her past and that of her parents and close family.
Back when I watched the first TV series, I had yet to try any of the actual games in the Senran Kagura franchise, which would count for my tone of unfamiliarity with it. Since then, I've purchased and played to completion three of the games -- two on the Nintendo 3DS and one on the Playstation 4 -- which makes me a lot more familiar with the various characters from the many schools that's a part of this franchise. It also made me realize how abridged the anime could get, since it was based on the first of the 3DS games -- which has also been remade for the PS4 in the style of Estival Versus -- in addition to taking some liberties with the characterisations of the (then) Hebijo girls, particularly Hikage.
This means that Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master is going to be a bit unapproachable for people who haven't played any of the games, as the show is easily twice as populated as the first season, and plays out like it expects you to already know who all these people are. This isn't necessarily a good thing, particularly for people who would like to know the motivation that drives most people, even if said motivations can get a bit basic. Funnily -- and aggravatingly -- enough, the girls who got the motherlode of characterisation -- the former Hebijo girls -- are now reduced to comic relief most of the time. Not having a major ninja organisation behind them makes it harder for them to find work within their educated profession, and so they take on a lot of low-pay side jobs, which brings all the "we're poor" jokes to the table. It was also a joke that got old in the games, but those salvaged themselves with having side plots, like the friendship that developed between Yomi and Ikaruga despite the former's hatred for wealthy families, one of which Ikaruga was adopted by. Or Mirai's desire for revenge over the people who bullied her at school being expertly handled by Haruka in a way I never expected, especially from her.
If it sounds like I'm taking a titty show very seriously, then keep in mind that Senran Kagura sort of brought that up on itself. The first season had, as I've already covered, some serious topics it wanted to talk about. In some mostly unrelated ways, so does this season. But don't worry; you'll still get your share of some sexy fun here too. In fact, the second episode seems to be some straight out promotion of one of the offshoot Senran Kagura games; namely Peach Beach Splash. I haven't played that game, however, so I can't tell how the main storyline of that went, other than I know it does have one. However, even though I haven't played said game, it's still the sort of fun I can get behind. Although Shinovi Master still pushes its luck a bit by extending the number of games where the losers get dunked in water that makes swimsuits invisible in a competition created to find the strongest shinobi; I would think even the hardiest tiddy fan would eventually want the show to get on with it. (No innuendo intended.)
I'm a bit less enthused about the antics of characters like Katsuragi and her fellow somewhat sexual harrass-y sisters in the other ninja schools, though, who would very much like to grope the boobs of girls who'd rather she left them alone. It makes for a slightly uncomfortable tone in what would otherwise be a fun show; it's not a catastrophical flaw, but it's something you have to consider if you're planning on dipping your toes in this franchise. It's doubly interesting, because the recent remake of the first Senran Kagura game, Re:Newal caused some controversy when Sony forced the creators to remove a mechanic where you could grope the girls in the game with virtual hands. I have... mixed feelings about that myself; it's not a mode I'm going to miss myself, as merely trying it out in Estival Versus was enough to leave a really bad taste in my mouth, but Sony still went about it in a way that I felt was kind of bad. Funnily enough, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master is the first entry in the franchise that hasn't been shy about showing nipples to its audience, and the show front loads the heck out of itself in that area. The second and third episode has so much boobular nudity that there's almost nothing but, except maybe just that; butts. Most of it is fine, really. Even at its "worst", I've seen so much worse elsewhere, so don't be ashamed about this.
And so we're back to the story. Much like the first season, Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus brings some interesting ideas to the table, and even has the wherewithal to get pretty decent about its story at times. Interestingly, Asuka plays a bit of a second fiddle this time around, never mind her Hanzo allies and their sudden reduction to damsels in need of a rescue; this is more Yumi's story than anyone else's, as the actions of the main antagonist directly ties to the past actions of her grandfather. Fubuki, said antagonist, is a mysterious girl who carries quite the secret, and she does an effective way of shaking up the status quo.
Unfortunately, the show takes forever to reach any particular point it wants to make. It seems a little bit too into throwing out mysterious hooks, the biggest of which is Asuka's sudden change of values. I could only watch in complete confusion as the normally straightforward girl would suddenly turn absurdly cynical, willing to throw her values to the wind, becoming an almost exact opposite of herself in the process. Confusingly, this also lead to my favorite scene in the entire show, where Honoka seeks out Yumi so they can have a chat about said change in Asuka. The two girls don't really know each other that well, but both know that Asuka consider them among her best friends outside of her Hanzo group, and the fact that someone thought the two should share their worries with each other speaks better of the franchise than you would think. But Shinovi Master is still a bit predictable despite all of this; I immediately realized that Fubuki was the girl who trained alongside Yumi when they were both children under Kurokage's care. Later, Asuka would learn a ninja skill that will slowly kill her if overused, as if the show would make me believe it would ever kill off its main character... or that any of the girls would die at all.
And while I applaud optimism in general, I wish Senran Kagura: Shinovi Masters had a bit more courage about its plot. The positive angles it had are downplayed far too much for the sake of platitudes that are repeated far too often for their own good. Even worse, Asuka, Yumi and the others are made to face overwhelming odds, yet they are later able to defeat said odds without training or explanation as to why they suddenly just can, making said strength and dedication to principles seem like kind of a joke upon itself. The almost constantly terribly comedy isn't really helping matters either. The fact that largely 80% of the cast is just there to fill out the roster without doing anything too meaningful isn't helping either. They even brought in Kagura and her aide Naraku, only to reduce them to exposition-dispensers. The two were the ones who served as the main "antagonists" to the second 3DS game, which I had hoped would be the storyline this season would follow, but the only things the two have in common is that they're both centered around having to deal with Youma; dangerous beings from another dimension, whom Kagura was created to fight.
And so, the halfassed animation becomes the icing in the teeth of this particular presentation. I've never been picky with animation quality on the whole, but there is just something about Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master's animation that reeks of lack of effort. Aside from too much stills during battle scenes, most of the movement looks stiff and unnatural thanks to cel pans and things that just HAS to be the same four or five frames of animation slowly being repeated in a loop to emulate slow-motion rotation jumps. Artland did a pretty decent job with the first season, so seeing the lack of craps given here is discouraging, to say the least. At least the people responsible for animating breasts wobbling or bouncing put their hearts and souls into this show, even if they had to do so in bizarre situations, like seeing boobs suddenly start bouncing on girls who are standing perfectly still.
At its best, Senran Kagura -- that is to say any part of the franchise -- have a pretty endearing cast who bond in the most surprisingly cute ways, and the main plot -- when not interrupted too much -- can tell some pretty consise stories, even if they aren't necessarily masterpieces. In Shinovi Master's case, this sadly becomes a bit too little too late. I can almost applaud the show's decision to get all the T&A out of the way as soon as possible, but I think a bit of a balanced approach would suit it better. Because once we're done with the flashback centered around the girls' grandparents -- which does not appear until more than halfway into the show -- Fubuki and her own parentage had the potential to make for quite a compelling tale if they were willing to dive a little deeper into it than the show did. And give it a less tidied-up ending, or at least a less quickly resolved one. The fights does at least not last forever, which, given the animation quality, is definitely a good thing.
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master is a disappointment in almost all respects. It got off to a good start, and for what it's worth, it also ended on a relatively nice note, but the sheer amount of badly dressed chaff that makes up most of the series is a bit of a problem I can't take in stride. Especially now that I've played most of the main storyline games, and especially given this season's irritating tendency to be all secretive while it's also about as subtle about its message as a sledgehammer. Yes, the show did make me smile every once in a while; I certainly don't want to take that away from it, but for all it has talked about justice -- or good and evil, or friendship and companionship -- I still wish it had shown a little more courage about itself than it did. Don't expect the T&A to carry all the weight, Senran Kagura. That's just unseemly.
A few good moments -- or a few good games, for that matter -- do not save a show, sadly. I know this is the same rating I gave the original series, but I did like said season a good deal better than this. Shinovi Master isn't a complete disaster, though, so I don't feel right awarding it just one star either. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: This show has a ton of T&A, especially during the first half, and maybe for the first time (outside of possibly some OAVs), DETAILED nudity. It's being unashamedly perverted, which I have a weird sense of respect for, although I could do without the sexual harrassment going on. There's not a lot of the latter, though, so don't let that get you too down.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs only.
Review Status: Full (12/12)
Senran Kagura: Shinovi Master © 2018 TNK.
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