Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Senran Kagura Anime Review

Game to anime adaptations in recent years have a pretty good rap sheet, as opposed to movie adaptations.  Viewtiful Joe, Sengoku Basara and Inazuma Eleven all have great anime adaptations that are faithful to the source material and capture their inherent fun.

Senran Kagura had the potential to do the same.  Like Viewtiful Joe or Sengoku Basara, the Senran Kagura games are all about flashy shonen action with a distinctive visual style and a strong story that, if adapted word for word, is practically a good anime already.
Instead, what we got is an embarrassing, insulting failure that drives away fans and newcomers alike.  Anyone I ask who has ever recommended the Senran Kagura anime hasn't watched it and anyone who has watched it is disgusted by it.   It's easily the worst game-based anime I've ever seen since the Art of Fighting anime all the way back in the 90s and as a fan of the games, this trash needs to be addressed.

Based on the first game in the series (at least for us Americans), the Senran Kagura anime tells the story of the good shinobi of Hanzo fighting the evil shinobi of Hebijo.  Like the games, the plot eventually revolves around the super secret ninja art scrolls that contain Hanzo academy's ultimate power, but unlike the games, there isn't as much to say beyond that.  This anime takes the titles of good shinobi and evil shinobi pretty literally, something the game made a point not to do.

The first warning sign that this anime was going to be shit comes straight from Funimation's advertizing for it: "From the creators of Ikki Tousen!"

Somebody at Funimation must've forgotten that the point of advertizing is to attract interest in your product.  Ikki Tousen fucking sucked!

It's hard to believe they expected audiences to take this seriously.  A gang of high schoolers controlling people through violence without police intervention?  That's just absurd.

It does make sense why Ikki Tousen's creators were brought on for the anime; before making Senran Kagura, Tamsoft made a few games based on the Ikki Tousen franchise and apparently the upcoming Senran Kagura: Estival Versus has a few playable Ikki Tousen characters.

With such a history between the game developers and animation studio, there might have been a better working relationship.  If you think about it the anime might have had hope to be at least decent.  Animation studio Artland can animate ok, if nothing else, and the Senran Kagura anime is directed by the same person as all the Slayers anime.  Sadly, any hope is jettisoned because there's one very crucial person who was clearly not involved and that's the second warning sign of this anime's quality.

Kenichiro Takaki, the game's director, always takes the spotlight when it comes to Senran Kagura, but he is not as important as he thinks.  He is indeed an important figure and brings everything together, but the real lynchpin is the writer, Yukinori Kitajima (and the artist, Yaegashi Nan, to a lesser degree).  Kitajima is a writer with experience, having written for Okamiden, 999 and Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies.  Yes I wrote an entire post bitching about Dual Destinies, but a lot of that was disappointment comparing it to the previous Ace Attorney games (and Capcom's stupid-as-fuck decision to only make it available for download).  It was decently written and well-presented overall.  I've certainly seen game franchises do worse when they assign new writers.

As fun as the cuteness and action is, Senran Kagura would fall flat if it didn't have a good story supporting it, and when Takaki tries to write it himself we get things like the Senran Kagura manga, which pales in comparison to the games.  To be fair on Takaki though, part of that has to do with the really wonky artwork.

Kitajima's lack of involvement in the anime shows immensely and I'm not even sure Takaki was involved either.  I seriously question whether or not anyone involved in the production ever played the game and weren't instead given concept art for the outfits and footnotes for some of the plot, because almost nothing that made the games any good are present in the Senran Kagura anime!

The complex and likable characters are completely derailed or dumbed down to the point of having no character.  Hikage, the girl who had an entire comedy bit about trying to make her smile and doesn't really care much about anything, is changed into a two-dimensional psycho.

Hanzo, the badass, wise founder of the Hanzo school who spends most of the first game establishing the yin/yang ideology and the concept of the "sword and shield", is changed into a pervert and little else.  Yes he does that in the games sometimes too, but there he tries to make it up to people, is punished for it and/or is at least somewhat respectful.  In the anime he's just a moronic creep and what few moments of respect he gets is vastly overshadowed.

Yomi is villanous to everyone instead of being polite, Haruka is sadistic to the point of being an unsympathetic torturer, Asuka's inner conflict is all but gone and character moments that were impactful and strong in the games are brushed aside as though they were only included to make it look like the game.  This anime is a textbook example of how to make a good story bad!

What's there isn't optimally presented either.  Every character has a really distracting red blush that doesn't represent the cartoonish style of the games at all despite all the outfits being taken straight from the first game.  The animation itself is passable, but sometimes stilted and sloppy.

The voice acting isn't doing it any favors either.  Funimation's English dub is one of the worst I've heard in a while.  A lot of its voice actors are little-known or newcomers and it shows, but even the Japanese version with most of the game's voice actors doesn't have the same energy they normally do.  It's poor voice direction all around, but the best voice acting possible couldn't save this anime from the worst writing I've seen come out of the last decade!

The only saving grace it could have had is the awesome shonen action and it can't even do that right!  It seems to want to go straight to the action and training (sacrificing pacing and character development along the way), but fight scenes are brief and never have any of the high-speed energy or crowd fighting we've come to expect.  Every single fight takes place offscreen or in shinobi kekkai barriers that act as pocket dimensions, which is one of the stupidest, most bullshit changes of all!

In the games, shinobi kekkai barriers are actual barriers that keep civilians out of a shinobi's fights and render those inside them invisible (there's another function, but that wasn't written yet).  It's a bit of a stretch, but I've seen an anime with ninjas making floating crystal ice mirrors, so I can roll with that; at least it's stealth.
Sending enemies to some kind of pocket dimension specifically for fighting is something a fucking wizard or god would do!  It's like everyone can use the Mangekyo Sharingan's transportation technique, which was already ridiculous and overpowered when only one character (the villain, no less) could do it! (Technically 2, but Kakashi didn't use it that way.)

The pocket dimensions themselves are unimaginative and practically featureless.  Contrary to the diverse fighting locales of the games, the kekkai barriers in this anime mostly have one feature and nothing else.  For example, Yomi's is a black void with bean sprouts as a background and Katsuragi's is a wrestling ring in a black void with lights in it.  Perhaps they thought fights on the roofs of the shopping district or Hebijo's classrooms would be too interesting.  It denies its audience of any substance.

Imagine if all those moyashi converged on the enemy to destroy them.  That'd be silly.

Only on the rarest of rare occasions does this 13-episode shitfest threaten to capture the quality of the games.  There's a scene in the second episode in which Ikaruga takes advantage of Asuka's instinct to protect living things so that Asuka conquers her fear of frogs, her summon animal.  It's something that wouldn't have been out of place in the games, and more moments like that could have helped the anime immensely.

Alas, that's only salvaging.  I was at one point considering doing an episode-by-episode series of articles to bitch about every individual thing wrong in this anime, but I've come to realize it's not worth it.  It is shit and not worth anyone's time.

It's not quite as bad as Ikki Tousen, but any remotely positive point can be traced back to the games.  This anime contributes nothing and tarnishes the Senran Kagura name.
I give the Senran Kagura anime a 3 out of 10.  Play the games.

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