Friday, March 3, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 3

This is it people.  The true beginning.  After two chapters to set things up, chapter 3 is where the primary plot of Senran Kagura 2 begins, and the game lets you know it.  Just like the first chapter, chapter 3 opens with a poetic scroll reading, except this time it’s not about the shinobi, but rather some sort of powerful entity known only as Kagura.



That is very clearly Ikaruga!

What Kagura is in exact terms isn’t fully explained, but the scroll does give some of the basic ideas.  Kagura is the the bane of all youma and all shinobi look up to her power, which I assume is the game’s way of implying the Kagura rank in the versus games without going into technicalities.  She is “a flower with a fleeting lifespan and with the blood of youma it will bloom.”  I think the flower they’re supposed to be referring to and the one the game keeps showing is the red “tsubaki” flower, also known as the camellia flower. In Japan the tsubaki represents divinity as well as perishing with grace, both of which play into Kagura’s character.
And, if you’re actually paying attention, the scroll also says that Kagura is a “Senran Kagura.”

The word “Senran” isn’t a real word.  It’s a combination of the kanji for “brandish” and “war”.  Kagura is of course a type of traditional Japanese dance.  In this instance, XSEED translated Senran Kagura as “Shining Revolution”, which works because she is a “moment of light that flashes in battle”, much like how shinobi shine their brightest before their lives come to an end in battle.

So now that we know what Senran is supposed to mean, let’s stop misusing the word like it refers to the characters.

The poetic dialogue explains what Kagura is without actually explaining what Kagura is.  The real explanation doesn’t happen until later.  It’s not so much for some kind of twist, but for a replay bonus.  Once you know what Kagura is (or at least have a general guess as the game goes on), the opening scroll makes more sense.  Not knowing is also part of the player engagement, as we’ll see later.

To start off with some suspense, the scroll is followed-up by a cutscene in which a girl named Naraku is carrying a little girl in her arms, running from a pack of armored figures known only as the youma generals.  If Naraku knew what to call them, she must’ve been running from them for some time.

Right away the cutscene shows there’s something unique about the youma generals.  All of them attack Naraku in formation with ninja speed, even visibly injuring her and drawing the only bit on onscreen blood ever in the entire franchise.  Youma are supposed to be mindless, raging monsters, so seeing them synchronize like that tells us that they’re not ordinary youma.  It also shows that Naraku is one hell of a protector.  There are 10 of them and she has been fending them all off with her hands full!

 But that’s only a glimpse.  Before that plot can begin, the rest of the characters need to meet her.  It’s road trip time!
Cutting from the action of Naraku’s chase to characters preparing for a vacation helps imply that Naraku has been going at it for a long time without any of the characters being aware of who she is.  It shows that Naraku has been tough enough to handle herself without the need of anyone else and the main characters can go about their daily lives without even being aware of it.  Naturally that’ll all change when they meet.

Homura’s team is getting ready to head to Kyoto, a very popular place for tourists, as we’ll inevitably see.  Yomi won a trip there from a lottery at the shopping district, but ironically, she’s the only one not excited to go.  They need to ride a shinkansen (bullet train) to get there and Yomi is terrified of it.  That’s understandable, especially to most U.S. players.  She’s never ridden one and the idea of a train that goes 120 miles per hour is pretty intimidating.  It’s little things like this that show even with all their ninja training, there are still things in everyday life they have to worry about or aren’t used to.

Yomi gets a sigh of relief when Homura seems to lose the tickets because Homura is not very careful.

But their leader comes up with a better idea: ride on top.  Better yet, train on top of the train!  Everyone is quick to point out how stupid it is.  Even on a regular train they could very easily fall off, let alone a bullet train!

Oh Yomi.  Trains are perfectly safe.  Remember Star Fox?

But as established, Homura isn’t much of a thinker.  She just has them do it, with the exception of Haruka.  She thought ahead and got an extra ticket for herself.  She knows Homura too well.
A bullet train is a fun backdrop for the player to have a spar, but not so much for the characters themselves.  During the fight everyone is yelling in fear that they’re really going to die, but thankfully you can’t actually fall off, which is…. Impossible.  They can jump on the train and for some reason it doesn’t zip right under their feet and throw them off.  I remember a shinkansen battle going a bit differently from that in The Wolverine.

Frankly I’m not even sure how they can hear each other either.  I would think that blinding speed would make you deaf or the wind would drown out their voices.  I greatly question the physics of this game of fighting bunnies and transforming ninja girls!

They're like Hardcore Max!
As it turns out, however, they never needed to stay on the roof at all.  Homura finds the tickets in one of her pockets.  At Mirai’s suggestion she hands them to Yomi for safekeeping until the next train stop, but when the wind speed is going over 100 MPH…

I like customizing outfits, in case you couldn't tell.  Mirai is supposed to be Mercedes from Odin Sphere.

So they’re stuck up there.  When Haruka comes up to check on them, the exhaustion and lack of oxygen has already made Yomi and Mirai go loopy, resulting in one more mission to beat the sense back into them.
Plot twist!
There’s a glimmer of hope when Haruka tells them about the free passenger seating, but she didn’t realize there isn’t another stop until Kyoto, so she’s stuck up there with the rest of them.  At least Homura stopped the training.

As if things couldn’t get any more humiliating for Homura’s team, the Hanzo girls are shown safe and sound down in the passenger car, playing the same card game they did when they took the train to the beach in the first game.  They think they hear something, but nah.

At this point the story officially moves to Kyoto.  It was only barely pointed out, but in the previous Senran Kagura games the story largely took place in the Asakusa district of Tokyo and most of the locations were based off of real life.  Now in Kyoto there’s going to be a lot more of that at historic sites I’ll try to point out as they come up, for those interested.  As I said in the review, the locations are more targeted toward the Japanese audience that recognizes them, but I still think it’s neat getting to see and fight at these foreign tourist spots.

The hub you spend time at in between missions also changes.  In the first chapter, it was the Hanzo academy homeroom taken straight from Shinovi Versus and the original game, while in the second, it was in the cave Homura’s team lived in from Shinovi Versus.  Now in Kyoto, both teams sit around in hot spring (onsen) hotel rooms adjacent to each other wearing hotel bath robes.  When it comes to places to relax in Kyoto while on vacation, you can’t beat that.

Is that a 3DS?

The Hanzo girls are in Kyoto for a school trip, chaperoned by Kiriya.  It looks like it’ll be a peaceful one, but not long after arriving they see Naraku being attacked by the humanoid youma seen earlier, which now show they are capable of setting up shinobi kekkai barriers.

Nan Yaegashi specializes in cutesiness, but he can also draw great villain shots like this.

 Being the righteous justice seekers they are, Ikaruga and Katsuragi spring in to help these people in need and the girl identifies herself as Naraku, the protector of something called the reincarnation sphere.  Kiriya tells the students they aren’t allowed to engage youma without the OK from the higher ups, but seeing as someone is under attack, he agrees it’s an understandable emergency.

That one small bit about good shinobi not being allowed to attack youma without permission hints at something greater.  If Hebijo students encountered a youma, someone like Homura would absolutely be allowed to be impulsive and attack it.  Hebijo is sink or swim anyway
The Hanzo students of the nation, on the other hand, are smaller in number and their higher-ups need to be in tactical control of their ninjas like the trained soldiers they are.  They have more regulations they need to uphold and that conflict of order vs. chaos is going to cause some friction down the line…

Something should be immediately apparent about the youma generals when you fight them: they mimic each of the 10 students.  At first I thought that was a cheap way to make them little more than fights against other shinobi with a new coat of paint, but after observing them closer, I really like them as evil Psycho Rangers-style counterparts.

Each one of the youma generals are ranked by “seats”.  With the exception of the first and second seats (based on Asuka and Homura), they all wear drab, black armor all over their bodies, including their faces.  They also have cloud tassels for an otherworldly touch and all of their waists and chests are tied by rope with an tassel knot for that traditionalist look.
The gray armor is a nice antithesis to the expressive outfits the girls wear.  The playable characters wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something like that, except maybe the first and second seat’s colorful armor.  In fact an outfit based on the first seat’s is DLC in Estival Versus.

Not as intimidating.
Their personality-less armor suits their character, namely the fact that they have no personality.  The youma generals seem to be capable of working together, but they still aren’t shown to have any kind of motive outside of attacking Naraku and Kagura along with anyone who gets between them.  All they can do is make growls and screeches.  With other ninjas the main characters have been able to come to understandings on some level, but the youma generals can’t be bargained with.  They can’t be reasoned with.  They don’t show pity or remorse or fear (although they’re smart enough to retreat).   And they will absolutely not stop, ever, until you are dead.

That also contributes to the game’s theme of individualism.  Even if they’re following orders, every one of the human characters are still people.  If they only did as they were told and their entire lives were nothing but being a ninja, the youma generals are somewhat of a representation of what they would be like.  They’re the mindless machines that Dougen wanted.  If the Iron Giant is not a gun then the youma generals are.

Yet despite all of this, each one has their own distinctions with their headgear, evil weapons and exclusive hidden ninpo.
There's an interesting translation story regarding the youma general's weapons.  In Japanese, their names are single kanji for something dark or evil.  Single kanji doesn't translate well into English, so XSEED instead got creative with naming them.  Very special thanks to XSEED's Ryan Graff for giving me the untranslated names of the weapons.

Let’s start with the first two shown.  The tenth seat is modeled after Haruka.  Since Haruka is a scientist, it has a mad scientist’s static hair and glasses.  Its weapon is a substantially less cuddly boxing robot called that fights with spiked fists and has a wooden head in its bucket-like body for a creepy decapitation image.  The Japanese kanji for it is "", meaning "shikabane" or "corpse."  For the translation they named it Death for a recurring Horsemen of the Apocalypse theme.

Most of Haruka’s alternate weapons have silly objects in place of her robot’s boxing gloves, but Death’s is straight-up lethal spiked bludgeons with a head in its bucket body like the kind you'd see in front of a guillotine.  In its hidden ninpo the tenth seat rides its weapon as it spins around like a tornado.

The ninth seat mimicking Hibari has a puffy hair style I think is supposed to be a “cutsey” style in Japan, like Midori’s hairstyle in Guitar Hero.  That would make sense, as Hibari is definitely the most innocent and cutesy of the heroes.

Instead of Hibari’s white, cartoonish, perky-eared bunny Ninto for a weapon, the ninth seat has a black, more realistic-looking, floppy-eared bunny-like creature.  In Japanese its kanji is "" basically meaning filth, so the translation names it after a certain kind of filthCecotrope, another name for rabbit dung.  Her hidden ninpo has her dash across the field on Cecotrope in a much more extreme version of Hibari’s basic ground ninpo.  The first fight takes place at the old capital where there’s a lot of open space, so the ninth seat has plenty of space to show off the distance its ninpo goes.

The youma generals have so many small details put into their conception that there’s already a page worth to admire about them from a narrative and design standpoint.  To top it all off, I love their battle music.  I never get tired of it.  It has a lot of sick guitar licks and suspenseful chords with a heavy metal rhythm.

Since the player got to use Homura’s team in tag teams for the previous chapter, the Hanzo girls get a try now, starting with Katsuragi and Ikaruga against the tenth and ninth seats.  I like their tag ninpo.  It has Ikaruga batting Katsuragi into the enemy and their victory pose has Ikaruga punching her for being too touchy.  I know it’s Katsuragi’s way of being playful, but it’s annoying and uncomfortable so I love seeing characters strike back like that.

As those two buy time to get Naraku to safety, Kiriya is called back to Tokyo on an emergency summons to meet with the ninja council.  For the first time in the series there’s a look at the greater organization the Hanzo students work for.  Based on how it looks, the nation’s ninja council is olden and traditional.  Their meeting is held in a candlelit room where all the councilmen sit in robes.  It’s kind of like the ninja equivalent of conservative suit-wearing old white men in the White House only I don’t think the ninja council is supposed to be comprised of fascist white supremacists.

The youma generals in Kyoto are the least of the problems at hand, it seems.  All of Japan is being overrun by youma and every ninja the council has is spread out too thin to deal with the widespread problem.  Since they’re low on manpower, they officially assign the Hanzo students, girls who have not even graduated and are still learning, to eliminate the youma in Kyoto.  In other words, help isn’t coming.  Everyone’s busy.
But there is one more assignment on top of that: a capture mission for a particular person of interest and you can probably guess who that is.

I have to say, like the youma generals and their organized fighting, it’s odd that there would be a sudden country-wide surge of youma.  It’s like a planned invasion of some kind, but youma don’t plan.  Hmmmmmm….

Back in Kyoto, Yagyuu, Hibari and Asuka stick with Naraku to protect her, but she isn’t very grateful about it.  Naraku is actually rather rude to the ninjas.  She only stops being mean when the little girl she’s with acts as the voice of authority and tells her to.

Yagyuu and Hibari both fend off the eighth, seventh and sixth seats on the stage of Kiyomizu-Dera.  Yagyuu insists that Hibari leave it to her, but Hibari wants to fight and tells her that she can handle herself!
Yagyuu being overprotective of Hibari and wanting to do everything to support her has always been her biggest flaw and a complaint among some players of the games, so seeing her have to deal with Hibari not wanting Yagyuu to do everything for Hibari's sake is a big step in her character development.  Hibari too is also far more confident in her abilities than the girl who was feeling down on herself for her many mistakes in the first game.

I just had to use that heart halo somewhere.

It looks like a smooth mission when the only opponent shown is the eighth seat youma general, but after that you’re double-teamed by the sixth and fifth as well.

The eighth seat is Mirai’s youma counterpart.  Since it uses Mirai’s guns and weaponry, it wears a green beret with a patch depicting Hebijo’s insignia.  In case you’ve never read any kind of war story ever, green berets are a very iconic military cap worn by British commandos and U.S. Special Forces.  I guess it’s possible the green color is supposed to represent Hebijo’s school color though.

Its weapon's kanji in Japanese is "", meaning slaughter or massacre.  Like Death, the translation gives it the name of a horseman of the apocalypse also known for massacres: War, referring to the use of guns in war.  It’s not too much different from Mirai’s default weapons (a gun’s a gun, right?), but it notably replaces her umbrella with a bayonet-equipped machine gun and her grenade launcher with a bazooka, both of which are more lethal-looking.

It doesn’t use all the weapons.  It only fires out black energy balls by swinging its rifle, something Mirai could do with her umbrella in Shinovi Versus, but not in this game.  Since you can bat projectiles back at enemies in Senran Kagura 2, that’s the best tactic for fighting it.
For its ninpo the eighth seat does a handstand, somehow turns its legs into machine guns and does a breakdancing spreadshot twirl with them.  A page taken from Bayonetta, perhaps.

The seventh seat is the Yagyuu mimicry, who wears a dark, straw hat with cloth covering most of its face.  It’s based on how ninjas used to be in real life, where they would disguise themselves as peasants and conceal their identity for spying and assassinations.  Remember the Yu-Gi-Oh card Shien’s Spy?  That’s what that is.

Or an even better, multicultural example:

Either it looks that way to represent Yagyuu's reserved nature and her reluctance to open up to people or it's supposed to fit with the paper oil fan, which can be concealing and was often used in the times of those ninjas, as opposed to Mirai’s modern-day, metal-framed umbrella.  I’ll go with either.

The seventh seat’s weapon is a drab, grey umbrella with a black spiral on it.  Its kanji is "", meaning sympathy and condolences.  In English they named it Funeral Rain for the depressing rain often depicted for funerals, where condolences and sympathies are more prominent.  I think the spiral pattern is a reference to how the general and Yagyuu spin their umbrellas to attack with them, but I’ll just say it’s referring to this:

Beyond the weapon, the seventh seat’s difference from Yagyuu is that it summons an evil counterpart to Yagyuu’s squid with purple and light blue stripes all over it.  For its ninpo the seventh seat has it swim across the ground for a charging strike.

The sixth seat is based on Hikage and has red hair in what one might call an “emo” haircut.  I think the haircut sort of representins Hikage’s reclusiveness and social problems, with the red hair being a unique color to the other general’s just like Hikage’s green hair is to everyone else.  Its weapons are a set of black knives with the kanji "" in Japanese, pretty much meaning the source of a problem or a root of evil. In English it's called Pestilence, the Horseman of disease, which is kind of similar in that disease is the most baseline and natural ways people die.  It's neat how well the Horseman of the Apocalypse naming lined up with the kanji.

Not much different from the other knives, to be honest.
For a ninpo, the sixth seat emphasizes the speed and acrobatics of Hikage’s knifeplay by teleporting over its target and striking from above, so when it kneels down and gets briefly covered in an aura of darkness it’s time to get ready to dash out of the way.

Fighting the three of them is the first time the player fights with Yagyuu and Hibari, with their special introduction and tag attacks.  Yagyuu may be overprotective, but it’s still adorable seeing them happy to be together.

With everyone else dealing with the generals, the only one left is Asuka.  She also ends up having to stay behind and fight off the fifth seat at the Senbon Torii so that Naraku and the little girl get away, but not before some mysterious words from the girl about needing time to get stronger.

The fifth seat is Katsuragi’s counterpart.  It has distinguishing yellow skin, possibly because of Katsuragi’s blonde hair, but the fifth seat’s hair is tied in a tight knot, possibly as a contrast to its human counterpart’s free-flowing hair.

Its weapon is a pair of what looks like bone-crafted ice skates.  The Japanese kanji is "" that can mean ruins, remains or even "skeleton", fittingly enough.  In English they're named Bonecrush.  Because they're bone.  And they crush.  I guess crushed bones is one of the most debilitating injuries one can sustain too.

Like Death, ice skates are sharp and much more lethal than the battering greaves Katsuragi usually wears.  I remember their sharpness being a big part of the movie Blades of Glory.
For its ninpo the fifth seat puts those skates to use with a little tornado skating twirl.

It’s after Asuka fights it off and Naraku is long gone that Kiriya arrives to tell her their new mission: to capture the little girl they saw as well as her bodyguard Naraku.  He doesn’t give any reason as to why.  It’s just orders, and ones we the audience saw he was given earlier.  A soldier doesn’t need to know the why behind their missions.  That’s all up to the higher-ups and it’s the way things work for the good shinobi.  Asuka does question why they should bother with capturing someone when there are youma everywhere and the targets are clearly not on the youma’s side, but that’s not her place.

Asuka may have her orders, but she still wants to get to the bottom of things.  She finds Naraku at Ryoan-ji and tries to ask her who she is and why the good shinobi want her captured, but Naraku doesn’t want to tell because either way, Asuka will be ordered to capture her anyway, making them enemies.

Naraku calls shinobi pawns.  She believes they are people with no individualism who simply do as they’re told.  Even if Asuka isn’t blind like Naraku claims, the truth of the matter is that in the end she has to do her duty, so Naraku has every reason to withhold information from the enemy.

Asuka isn't her only opponent here.  Homura finds them and intervenes to back up Asuka.  For the first time the player gets to use Asuka and Homura on a team against this new foe.

She's got balls of steeeeel.
Like I said in my review, Naraku really should have been playable.  She fights similarly to the playable characters and has her own hidden ninpo involving swinging and kicking her expanding flails around by her ankle and blowing damaging bubble gum.  Yes, she actually blows bubbles as an attack.  Don’t underestimate the power of bubbles!  Anyone who’s seen Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Yu-Gi-Oh GX or Naruto should know the utility of a good weaponized bubble!  Fucking bubbles!

Like other characters I also enjoy little details like how Naraku keeps her hands in her sweater pockets when she’s fighting because she never uses them and the way the balls are wrapped all around her legs instead of just her ankles.  She’s a fun and appealing character design that makes for an exciting shinobi smackdown in tune to some catchy fast-paced music.  It’s the usual fusion of a certain musical style with traditional Japanese instruments, this time using techno.

Her playability status qA at least corrected in Estival Versus, where she’s DLC with her own transformation sequence even though she is very explicitly not a shinobi.

Naraku uses the old “I was not at full power excuse” and gets away, but on the bright side, the main characters have officially met up.  Their first exchange after the intense battle?
Homura somehow mistakens the word “pawn” for “prawn” and thinks that Asuka is trying to upstage Homura’s running impressions gag.  That’s just silly.  Homura is silly.

She never stopped.
The words being mistaken in Japanese are definitely not “pawn” and “prawn”, but I’m not sure what word Naraku is actually using.  She’s saying “koma”, but I doubt she’s calling the shinobi spinning tops because in Japanese it’s spelled in katakana.  It could be a shortened word of some sort or slang.  If anyone knows please tell me in the comments.

With youma still tearing through Kyoto, the rivals of Homura and Asuka’s teams have to pair up for some more cool tag attacks.   Ikaruga and Yomi meet at the Kamo Riverbed, where Yomi is still being stubborn and antagonistic, but thanks to the voice talents of Ai Kayano you can hear the reluctance and desperation in her voice, as though she’s unsure about Ikaruga, but still wants to stick to her principles.  They put aside their differences to fend of a swarm of youma, including a new pair of red and blue oni women youma, and at the end of it all they admit they make a pretty good team.

Nice tag attack.
Whether it’s together or against one another, the idea of fighting together to strengthen mutual respect is a common narrative element in shonen and indeed can apply to real life, where actions can speak as loud as words.  In addition to the commonality between two fighters, how they act in battle can show their priorities, trust and control over themselves, among other things.  Senran Kagura 2 in particular reinforces it with its co-op emphasis and it is one of the many things that have forged the mutual respect of the two teams.

Katsuragi and Hikage are examples of forging their rivalry and respect from battles against each other because they get a lot of satisfaction from the other’s skills and neither of them are malicious to each other.  They’re actually quite good friends, which is also shown through the co-op mechanics here when they fight the tenth seat at the old capital.

Both Ikaruga and Katsuragi contemplate the freedom Homura’s team has and how even though their lives are cushier, shinobi still have to take orders they don’t always want to or risk punishment like Katsuragi’s parents.  Need I remind you, Shinovi Versus said Katsuragi’s parents failed their mission for refusing to kill someone because they didn’t want to hurt the target’s family.  It hints at how Hanzo academy isn’t quite the paragon of good and justice it might look like at first glance.  At least they aren’t making the Hanzo girls kill anyone though, right?


After Katsuragi and Hikage beat down the tenth seat, Naraku and the still-unnamed little girl take advantage of the situation and finish it off.  It’s portrayed offscreen (sadly), but the girl crushes the tenth seat and then searches its remains for a small red orb (akadama).  Apparently the strongest youma have these red orbs in them, as Katsuragi points out that the lesser ones they’ve been fighting didn’t have anything like it.

That’s already weird enough, but the little girl then proceeds to happily eat the little orb that came out of the bloodthirsty monster.  As she said earlier, it’s going to make her stronger.

Actually that may not be so weird when you consider grown adults try to taste fucking Switch cartridges specifically because of a design to prevent that.

The whole situation gets more curious with each scene.  Just like the opening scroll, this and Naraku’s dialogue referring to things yet to be revealed sets up a whole lot of mysteries.

Haruka meets up with Hibari and Yagyuu at Kiyomizu-Dera during the struggle and she offers to help them with her mission, since they’re such good friends.  When she first sees Naraku and the little girl arrive on the scene, Haruka thinks they look like ordinary people, but that very quickly changes.

Naraku has officially stopped trying to begrudgingly work with the shinobi now that they’re out to get her, so instead she’s doing her damnedest to bring out as much youma as she can, presumably for more of those red orbs, first by striking Yagyuu to have her blood draw out more of them.  With Yagyuu out of commission for the time being, Haruka has Hibari fight off the youma while she deals with Naraku.  As usual, Yagyuu is overprotective and doesn’t want to put Hibari in danger like that and even Naraku says it’s dangerous, but Haruka trusts Hibari.  She’s had to fight Hibari and she knows Hibari’s a strong shinobi.  This is different from Yagyuu, who encourages Hibari, but still keeps trying to protect her and doesn’t let her fend for herself.  The name of the mission even is “The Power of Trust.”

Ever see the rabbit in Monty Python?  Well that's Ninto.

Yagyuu and Haruka fighting over Hibari’s attention is a recurring gag in the versus games, which is funny, but in a situation like this it’s played much more earnestly.  It’s another case of control vs. freedom.  Haruka is hedonistic and wants Hibari to do what she wants, which can be linked to her past as a show child where she was miserable because her parents never let her express herself.  Yagyuu, on the other hand, keeps coddling Hibari and wants her close because she doesn’t want to lose her like she lost her little sister.

Now Yagyuu has to accept that Hibari may not need her to protect her anymore, which I’m sure many people can relate to when it comes to their daughters or little sisters.  The feeling is amplified by Yagyuu’s traumatic past.  We’ve seen the shinobi use the concept of the katana and shield to protect something important to them, but what happens when what they’re protecting doesn’t want it?

As for the fight with Naraku, it’s the same as before, but a little more challenging now that you have to fight her alone with Haruka.  Luckily Naraku doesn’t have as much health because she’s still injured from the fight with Homura and Asuka.  Regardless, it’s neat getting to see Haruka fight a powerful foe like this singlehandedly because she’s supposed to be one of the oldest and wisest of all the shinobi students.  She’s kind of like a big sister and you can count on big sis to fight off those bullies!

Unfortunately it was just a ploy to bring out more youma and there were already enough so now shit’s REALLY hitting the fan!

I sure used those brush hair pieces for Haruka.
More shit hits the fan when Kiriya meets Asuka at Kitano Tenmanguu with an update on the Hanzo student’s assignment: the capture mission has been changed to an assassination.  They want those girls dead.
Now more than ever, Asuka’s idealism is being challenged.  She has always wanted to understand the people she fights against, but now she is being told to kill people she doesn’t know, that the higher ups won’t tell her about, who have done nothing but antagonize her friends and very clearly doesn’t want to be friends.  Even if she doesn’t want to, Asuka still needs to fulfill her mission.  Not because she wants to, but because she has to.  It’s part of what it means to be a good shinobi.  But is it really right?

It still bugs me that Kiriya is never onscreen for any of this!

And for people who haven’t played it that are optimistic there’s a conspiracy going on, I’ll tell you right now, there isn’t.  There’s no string-pulling.  The ninja elders have a legitimate reason for it.  It’s just that their reasons should not matter to someone whose duty is to do their mission.

As that’s going on Yagyuu goes through a bit of an existential crisis, believing that she has nothing to fight for anymore, but Mirai’s pleas for her to help her fight the youma at Aoibashi and stop moping make Yagyuu realize that there are still other people that need help and that even if Hibari doesn’t always need her, there will still be times where Yagyuu will be needed and that is what she will fight for.  Leave it to Mirai’s abrasive, straightforward attitude to get through to Yagyuu’s clouded, reserved thinking.  Even though they were great foils for each other, Yagyuu and Mirai didn't get to know each other very personally before this point.  In fact Mirai even points out that they refer to each other by name for the first time.  Like with Yomi and Ikaruga, Kitajima is good at filling in where there should be more.

Now that the teams have met up and have established their synergy, the chapter reaches a conclusion.  Not a giant epic youma battle like the first two, but with everything built up reaching a peak.  Asuka catches up with Naraku just as the little girl is eating another red orb, but this time, something happens.  The little girl transforms into what looks like a teenage girl in a sailor uniform.  Instead of acting childish, she now talks calmly and politely, with little hint of emotion, and finally reveals her name: Kagura, the slayer of youma.

The red orbs are part of an “awakening ritual” that allows Kagura to get stronger and become some sort of youma-slaying entity once she consumes enough and she and Naraku are hell-bent on doing that no matter what they have to do or who they have to kill.  Since these blood-red orbs are a core essence of youma, this explains what the opening scroll meant by “with the blood of youma it will bloom.”  That’s one cryptic mystery solved.

So she’s some kind of human that eats youma to turn into a super form and apparently exists specifically for killing youma.  If you swapped the words “human” and “youma” in that sentence it kind of reminds me of…. Nah.  Never mind.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the way she transforms from a cheerful, playful child to a stoic, polite teenager is supposed to be some kind of Japanese subtext regarding the compliance expected of people as they get older.  It kind of fits with the theme of individualism if that’s what Kitajima was going for.

Asuka seriously seems ready to kill the two, but Homura, of all people stops her before she can and their ideologies butt heads.  Homura believes her slaying youma can help them with the situation, while Asuka says Kagura’s way causes way more collateral damage.  Both have good points, but it’s kind of rendered moot when ultimately Asuka’s decision is influenced by her orders to kill them.  Homura is disgusted by Asuka’s absolutism.  She’s from a place that values individualism and giving people a chance and she also knows that just because someone is in charge doesn’t mean they’re always right, like with Dougen.  There’s no way Homura can let Asuka go off killing someone without good reason, so she aims to stop her with force.

This is a brilliant way of turning the tables from the end of the first chapter.  Instead of fighting Homura with Asuka, it’s the opposite and Homura is the one who seems sensible and cares about protecting others this time.  Asuka belives there can be good in evil, which is part of her optimism and Homura believes there can be evil in good, which is part of her cynicism.  It’s another way of showing that who the enemy is is a matter of perspective and that everyone has the potential for good and evil.

In the end they’re unable to agree.  Asuka is dead set on following the path of the good shinobi no matter what, so Homura simply leaves Asuka to her own devices, ending the chapter on a gripping cliffhanger.  Will Asuka kill someone for the sake of her orders?  Will Kagura and Naraku succeed in their plan?  What will happen if they do?  How will the rest of the renegades react to their rival’s new hit order?  You have to keep playing to find out!

Chapter 3 is another set-up chapter, this time for the main plot.  It introduces the new characters and new enemies, sets up ambiguous details and then pays some of them off, gives the rivals screentime for character development and gives the player more tag team combinations, bosses and youma to keep the gameplay interesting.

With bosses no longer taking up the majority of the play time, chapter 3 also allows characters to better showcase their musical leitmotifs when they transform.  I particularly like Ikaruga’s bled of elegant Japanese instruments and rhythmic guitar.

I also like Yagyuu’s.  It reminds me of the hard-hitting duel music from the first chapter, but with a recognizable melody.

After already spectacular opening chapters, chapter 3 made me want to play more.  Kitajima knows how to pace the story and keep the players invested with meaningful character dichotomy and development, which continues into chapter 4.

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