Thursday, March 23, 2017

Senran Kagura 2 Story Analysis: Chapter 5, Part 1

We now arrive at the final chapter.  After a rollercoaster of character development and vague hints at the bigger picture, everything starts to come together and work toward the conclusion.  Nowhere is that more prominent than the opening.  Chapter 3 opened by introducing us to Kagura, chapter 4 opened with some insight into her character and chapter 5 starts with the full story from an unlikely source: Kiriya.  After harshly telling his students that he can’t tell them more than necessary, this opening shows a change of heart from his perspective.
Earlier he met with some higher-ups meeting in Kyoto.  The youma problem around Japan is dying down thanks to the efforts of the nation’s best shinobi, but they still need Kagura killed.  Much like how Kiriya refused to tell Hibari about Kagura, the officials reject Kiriya’s suggestion to tell them, meaning he always wanted to tell them, it’s just that he was following orders as much as the Hanzo students are.

Even if it’s against the officials, Kiriya comes to the decision to risk everything and tell them anyway.  He thinks about what they’ve accomplished through their free thinking.  They work with former evil shinobi (something unheard of), accomplish their missions and make each other stronger simply by doing what they feel is right.  Without their individualism making them open to reasoning and finding other solutions, that would have never happened.  Just as in all aspects of society, they are a new generation of shinobi with new methods that he has seen can work, but the old, rigid traditionalist ninja council might not.


He could be executed or punished in god knows what kind of way for defying his orders, especially if something went wrong.  Kiriya is so confident that his students will find the right idea that he is risking everything by telling them about Kagura and taking full responsibility for whatever might happen.  That is the strength of both his individualism and trust.

He is still offscreen.

Just like the shinobi finally get the full picture of the situation, so too does the player.

Much of what has already been inferred about Kagura comes together in the explanation.  She’s a super being said to exist for at least 900 years and is solely dedicated to slaying youma.  She starts off small and has to eat the red orbs to enhance her body and mind to become her true form and lay waste to as many youma as she can.  Since she starts out weak, a clan dedicated to serving her known as the Goshin clan assigns a bodyguard to help with the awakening process.  That bodyguard is given the name Naraku.
After Kagura slays a certain number of youma in her awakened form, her mission is over and she reverts back into an artifact called the Reincarnation Sphere, as sort of an egg form. She remains there for 100 years, gathering power until she’s reincarnated again.


 But here’s the big kicker and why the council wants her dead: when Kagura reverts back to the reincarnation sphere, she releases a titanic amount of heat with enough power to destroy a city.  In other words…


After hearing this, the girls’ reactions are pretty much what the council implicitly expected: they feel bad for Kagura.  The council didn’t want that, but Kiriya did.  He trusts they can find a solution without having to weigh the value of someone’s life.  Now that they know the disaster can only happen once she slays enough youma, they decide right there to kill them all first.  It’s such a simplistic and ambitious idea, but that’s to be expected of them.  When they are fighting to protect something, they exceed their limits.

Just then, without any kind of foreshadowing, Hanzo himself makes his presence known.  Apparently he was keeping an eye on the situation the whole time and thinks his grandaughter’s idea is worth pursuing.  That he came out of nowhere and nobody knew he was there is more believable when you remember he’s one of the most revered elite shinobi of all time.  Ninjas are all about stealth, after all.

That he so quickly latched onto the idea and kept an eye on them all the way in Kyoto without helping further shows how Hanzo is a hands-off mentor.  He could easily dominate the problem, even when he’s not in his prime, but he has a lot of faith that the students will pull through and he uses his skills to support them in unconventional ways.  That Kiriya bows with tears of joy after Hanzo tells him how proud he is of Kiriya making the right decision speaks a lot of how respected and respectful he is as well, which was also seen in Shinovi Versus with Kurokage.  I often compare him to Miu’s grandpa in Kenichi: the Mightiest Disciple.  They’re both wise, legendary, but laid back mentor characters that demonstrate they’re the experts and I love ‘em.


Hanzo knows that slaying that many youma is no small task, however.  They need extra training in fighting together if they want to succeed.  To help, he brought the most badass unstoppable ninja partners around: Daidouji and Rin, also known as Suzune!  Apparently the plot point of the good shinobi knowing Suzune’s identity is also carried over from the Shinovi Versus games.

In Senran Kagura Burst, Rin and Daidouji were both bonus bosses fought after the end of each storyline as a final test of each team’s combined strength.  You had to fight Daidouji with all 5 Hanzo students and Rin with all 5 former Hebijo students, all while the mentors gave a little speech to each one about how the students can improve.

In case fighting off 5 shinobi wasn’t enough they’re also usually the strongest playable characters in every game they’re in, which is why they’re regulated to being bonus characters.  Since they’re basically the most hardcore badass motherfuckers in the franchise, they don’t normally fight in the main plots, so seeing them get some action in this chapter and Suzune get some back in chapter 2 had to have gotten fans hyped!


Daidouji and Rin fight Homura and Asuka at Fushimi Castle to make sure their teamwork is as strong as theirs.  Daidouji and Rin are parallels to the students and combined they form the best katana and shield.  Like Homura, Daidouji lives for the battle and trains to be the strongest she can so that she can defeat her rival Rin.  That push to raise power is the katana.  Similar to Asuka, Rin wants to be a ninja of love and peace so she can protect all that is good in the world (believe it or not).  That desire to protect and direct the katana’s power from their rivalry is what makes her the shield.  Asuka and Homura are the next generation of that power.

I can see the resemblance!
The big difference between them and the pairing of Asuka and Homura is that Daidouji is a good shinobi senior and Rin is an evil shinobi teacher, once again showing that regardless of title, they follow the same path.


 Also, in case you forgot my post all those years ago, Daidouji-sempai rules.  They both hit hard at close range, but they obviously don’t do as much damage as they did as bonus bosses.

The designers were clearly wanting to recreate the feel of the fight against Daidouji in Burst because the music sounds like a remixed version of the music it used.


I prefer the old music.  I guess they wanted more guitars, but it would’ve made for a cool throwback if they used the original.


After fighting the pair with Asuka and Homura, Daidouji and Rin train with everyone else entirely offscreen.  I understand the fifth chapter is long enough as it is, but it would’ve been nice to have some kind of representation of that rather than omitting their training entirely.  That’s what montages are for.


I guess I could have also used "Be a Man", but that would be ferociously counter-indicative.

After everyone’s done, Katsuragi and Ikaruga get a special request from Daidouji for a fight against her alone at Kinkaku-ji to redo a fight they had when Ikaruga and Katsuragi first entered Hanzo academy.  Them being freshmen in school together was mentioned back in chapter 3, but it doesn’t really go anywhere outside of some more hints at Katsuragi and Ikaruga’s strange friendship.  I can’t say it’s a very well-handled subplot, but fighting Daidouji some more is always fun.

With their team-based training and new a new objective, the students are prepared to destroy the youma for good.  As they do, Naraku and Kagura spy on them to try and snatch up any red orbs when they can.  Each team gets what you might call a mini-plot, in which they fight youma and develop their character at the same time.  With the exception of Asuka and Homura, who will get much more attention later on, every character is given an even amount of screentime.

Ikaruga and Yomi kick it off by killing the 9th and 8th seat at Togetsu Bridge.  Yomi feels she knows Ikaruga enough to open up to her by now, but she’s still under a misconception that rich people can never understand the poor and that the gap between them is too deep.  She thinks someone like Ikargua has a relatively easy life and that she doesn’t have problems she has to struggle through like poor people do.  It’s a sentiment I’ve seen from some people in real life.  Rich people like Ikaruga do have their own personal struggles though.  As if called on cue…

I think my fashion for him kind of added to the shock factor.


Ikaruga’s brother Murasame finds them.  He’s been in Kyoto to fulfill his desire to take a trip to Kyoto he never got to in middle school.  I know how that feels.  Sometimes life just feels incomplete if you miss out on something.  He was also the one Ikaruga and Yomi heard in the hot springs, if you recognized the voice.

He wears that crown because he's the king of cool!

Murasame is one of those characters that only pops up once in a story, but by god is it memorable when he does.  He’s always trying to upstage his sister and take their family’s heirloom, the sword Hien.  Their family gave it to the newly adopted Ikaruga when Murasame was deemed unfit to have it.  Ikaruga wants to be nice to her older brother (onii-sama), but because the sword is entrusted to her, she cannot give him Hien and stops him at every opportunity.

In the Hanzo storyline of Burst, Murasame snuck into the academy and was easily ejected out through a trapdoor.  In the Hebijo storyline, he competed in a local eating contest along with Yomi and Ikaruga, where he lost the first round after vigorously stuffing his face with too many cabbage cores.  In Shinovi Versus he snuck into the academy again and fell for the same trap as the first time, but that time Ikaruga found a book he left behind on repairing family relationships, implying he may be trying to get out of his obsession.


Of course, all those times were flukes!  He’s one of the biggest badasses in the franchise!  He won 6th place at his town’s local kusarigama tournament and he clearly watches shonen!  Shonen is a genre for badasses!  As the mission description says, “Ikaruga!  Your brother has made his long-awaited entrance!  Allow me to dazzle you with grace!”  For his first act of heroics, he crushes the red orb in one of the youma generals under his foot, his eyes burning with righteous intensity!




After being introduced to Yomi, Murasame suddenly remembers what Ikaruga did to him!  She stole Hien when it’s rightfully his!  With his kusarigama in hand and garbed in his homemade shinobi cosplay outfit, he challenges Ikaruga right there at the bridge!  Trap doors won’t save her in a public setting!  For the first time players get to fight Murasame and see him in action after he’s only been dealt with in visual novel sections.  We finally get to see how he does fight!  Sure he doesn’t have proper ninja training, but all a ninja really needs is spirit and heart!

And then you fight and oh my god he fucking sucks.

Murasame’s entire moveset has him kicking dirt, hitting himself with his kusarigama and falling over.  It’s a hoot.  The only semi-threatening offensive move he has is his ninpo, which he calls “Hien Hosen!  Mode Zero!” even though he doesn’t use Hien and he clearly just named it that to make it cooler than his sister’s “Mode 1”.  For this "ninpo" Murasame does a twirl with his kusarigama, gets wrapped up in the chains and falls over.  Only his fall at the end does significant damage, but the initial twirl is long-reaching and if it hits you it shreds your clothes no matter how puny the damage is, making it a bit frustrating for people who care about getting A ranks.

Murasame can cancel out of aerial raves using his dive attack like other characters, and by dive attack I mean a literal nosedive.  He slams his head into the ground, burying it, flails around a little and pulls it out.  He can’t be hurt until his head is out so you have to stop for a few seconds to watch him do that, making an already awkward fight more strange to watch.

Most people get concussions, but Murasame is no ordinary man!


Like Dougen he also takes clothing damage down to his briefs because he isn’t being humiliated quite enough.

It’s made even better by the dialogue during the fight.  Shonen has clearly gone to Murasame’s head.  He says all a ninja needs is courage and heart, he starts talking like the ninja of old (translated as ye olde English) and he even yells “nin nin!”

It’s my understanding that in Japanese, “nin nin” is sort of a dorky exclamation used when kids are enthusiastically playing ninja or when a character is sneaking around like a ninja.  What did XSEED translate that as?

“Believe it!”


I love it.  It’s a similar exclamation used by English speakers that fits within the context of Japanese media.

Murasame gets his own music for this battle and it’s one of my favorites.  It opens a lot like Ikaruga’s theme does to signify that he’s trying to take cues from her to be better than her as well as to possibly fool the player into thinking Ikaruga is the one getting the badass music, but then it shifts into something much less graceful.  The instruments used are more like the kind you’d hear in a kabuki play, probably to represent Murasame’s weird theatrics, and they’re complimented by some simple guitar and sitar rattles for a melody.  This is not the music of a badass ninja.  It is the music of a clumsy man attempting it.  The only badass I can imagine this working for is Kyoshiro Senryo.


It’s an entertaining breather fight and a major treat for fans to get to humiliate him themselves and see just how bad he is in a straight-up fight.  It stands out so much from the rest of the battles in the game that it’s one of my favorite parts of the story.  It’s the little things in life sometimes.

After he’s defeated in the ninja battle equivalent to a mom spanking their kid, Murasame decides to let her go due to prior arrangements with friends.

"unique"="badass"

Yomi witnessing Ikaruga’s family feud has her rethink her idea that the rich and poor can never understand each other.  The rich have their own problems they have to deal with, just like the poor have theirs.  She’s had misconceptions about people with more money than her, but now she feels comfortable with Ikaruga and calls her by her own name instead of “ojou-sama.”  They are now officially friends.


As that happens, Murasame listens in from under the bridge.  Apparently his picking a fight was all an act to help the two get along, implying that his grudge at this point is all theatrics and that his efforts to help his sibling relationship hinted at in Shinovi Versus was earnest.  It makes him kind of an enigmatic character of conflicting interests.  He wants Hien back, but he doesn’t necessarily want to hurt Ikaruga and he's so hammy it’s hard to tell if he’s serious or not.  He kind of reminds me of myself, really.

Sadly, that’s the last we see of him.  He doesn’t really have any friends to meet up with and the youma scare him, so he decides to get out of Kyoto.  He’s a one-scene wonder.

Unless of course you unlock him and have him kick ass with the other ninjas!  All the fumbling and awkwardness is carried over into his playable debut, but he does enough damage and some of his moves are so long-reaching that there’s actually some practicality to playing as him as long as it’s not against a boss.  He gets some of the wackiest lines and his tag attack with Ikaruga never gets old.  He’s easily my favorite character to play as when I just want to goof off and have fun rather than get a high ranking.  Murasame rules!

Awyeboi!
Katsuragi and Hikage kill the 7th seat at Katsura river, but Katsuragi has a crisis of allegiance and runs off with the red orb.  The red orbs need to be crushed, but she thinks she might be able to use one to kill Kagura and that the way the council wants them to do their missions might be the sure way to have her parents pardoned.  She doesn’t want to kill Kagura, but she also loves her parents.  It’s the negative side of her impulsiveness, where acting on her desires creates unnecessary risks.  In the end Hikage tells her that which path she wants to follow is her own choice, but of course Katsuragi chooses to save Kagura, just as Hikage expected.

Mirai and Yagyuu fight the 6th seat and its gang of metal training dummies, but Mirai is still misunderstanding Yagyuu’s words at the hot spring.  The same misunderstanding happens to Yagyuu at the Daimonji Bonfire when Mirai tries to call her fat.  Not because she’s sensitive about her weight, but because she’s proud of her belly and thinks Mirai is insulting it.

Apparently people really like to poke it and feel its softness.  That’s an odd thing to be proud of, but it shows that Yagyuu is secure and proud of what she has, which is something Mirai could learn from.


They realize their misunderstanding as they fight and make up.  Yagyuu even lets Mirai poke her belly, which seems to have the distracting effect of bubble wrap on her.

Poke her Mirai!  Poke until she is dead!
In between each of these battles, Kagura and Naraku have brief conversations further developing their character while they wait to snatch up an orb.
Kagura asks Naraku what will happen when she’s awakens, to which Naraku tells her that once she’s awakened she will lose all individualism.  She’ll essentially become a living weapon that only wants to destroy youma and will keep doing it until she returns to the sphere, kind of like when the Iron Giant went into weapon mode.  Kagura has to learn the same thing it did.

Naraku doesn’t mention the whole city-wiping explosion factor.  In fact she never does ever in the story, which makes me wonder if the Goshin clan keeps information like that from her just like the ninja elders did to their ninjas.
Kagura wants to do what she was born to do, but she’s visibly sad.  She’s never gotten to live a happy life or have friends and it’s going to happen again to add to the weight on her heart she already has from her past lives shown at the start of chapter 4.

She later asks about how the shinobi communicate through battle, to which Naraku pretty much explains what I did previously: that you see the other person’s true self in battle.  Like she said in the hot springs, Kagura likes the idea of having friends, but Naraku hesitantly states that she is not Kagura’s friend.  She seems to be trying not to get attached even though Kagura clearly is.  The writing, voice acting and expressions all form untold implications that allow these simple dialogue scenes to show and not tell without needing high-end animation.


Hibari and Haruka face off against the fifth seat and her yukki onna backups.  I haven't mentioned the common youma enemies for the sake of story focus, but it should be said I like their designs that fuse cute with lifeless and intimidating.


Unlike the other pairs, Hibari and Haruka aren’t exactly rivals so much as genuine friends.  They don’t push each other through wanting to be stronger than the other, but rather through support for each other.  Their plan to synchronize their fighting is to understand the other by thinking like them, which in Hibari’s playful terms means imitating Haruka’s behavior and speech patterns, complete with noblewoman laughs.  Haruka follows suit by talking in the third person like Hibari does in Japanese and says she wants to finish the fight so she can go eat snacks.

Most of the time when characters do this it’s to rib on each other, but here the two are having fun with their silly role playing.  They both have the self-awareness and respect for each other for their generalizing acts to be endearing.  I think one of the reasons Haruka likes being around Hibari so much is for times like this.  As much as she likes “adult” entertainment, Hibari makes her feel like a kid again and that’s a whole different kind of entertainment for her.  It’s almost saccharine how they’re the best of friends, but as I’ve said before, it doesn’t feel like pandering to the cute-loving crowd because their relationship has been developed.

This also happens to be the first battle players get to play as both of them at once, meaning it’s the first time they can use the pair’s tag ninpo.  It’s a combined earthquake butt stomp that makes a heart-shaped crater.  Hibari’s butt stomps (also known as the “hip drop” for you Mario Party players) is one of her most useful moves in the other games because it allows her to bounce off the tops of enemies to rack up combos and avoid damage.  She’s so known for it the text for her Steam emoticon is “buttstomp”.
She can’t use that move in Senran Kagura 2, so the developers seem to have made up for it with this ultimate tag team butt stomp.  I assume the hearts are based on the ones Haruka makes with her Death Kiss attack.


Haruka and Hibari don’t have any reason to fight like the other rivals do, but that changes after Haruka seems to see someone offscreen she recognizes very well: Dougen.  She’s so distracted by it she completely loses focus on the mission at hand and leaves the red orb from the fifth seat for Kagura and Naraku to snag.

Haruka’s vengeful anger gets the better of her.  She wants revenge on Dougen for controlling her.  It’s a matter of pride and quite uncharacteristic of Haruka.  This is the first time in the series Haruka has been totally infuriated.  Being controlled must have struck a serious nerve, probably because of her childhood.

Hibari may not know Dougen (unless someone told her offscreen), but she does know he might try to control her again and begs her not to confront him alone.  I think it’s like a victim confronting their abuser; they might be able to handle the situation, but a lot of the time it’s better to have friends.  In this case, the abuser is someone who has shown that his puppetry jutsu works best when the target is alone.  This moment also shows Hibari putting her foot down to help Haruka, just like Haruka would do for her.  It’s a mutual beneficial relationship where they both keep each other in line.

When all else fails, Hibari plays her plot point mentioned at the beginning of the game: the Kagan.  Her Kagan are mind-manipulating eyes, but she doesn’t have total control over them so that she’s using them now shows her how much she doesn’t want Haruka to put herself in danger.  In Shinovi Versus she accidentally mind-manipulated everyone into fighting her.  Here the Kagan warps Haruka’s speech patterns and makes her speak without conjugation, in simpler words, and in a tone that blurts her words out and puts emphasis on the wrong syllable instead of calmly talk.

XSEED translated this appropriately as childlike caveman speak, with a few liberties.  I can’t understand everything Haruka says in Japanese, but I don’t think she says “rumbly in my tumbly.”


Haruka doesn’t want to talk like that, of course, so she fights Hibari to make her reverse it, ultimately distracting her from Dougen.  Even if she has to fight her friend, Hibari will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.
At least the Kagan is relatively harmless for now, as far as we can tell.  Imagine if she actually wanted to hurt someone with it.


It’s a straight-up fight like the rest of them, but the best part about this one is that the first time you play the mission for the story, every one of Haruka’s battle lines is replaced with her new speech pattern.  It’s nice the developers put the effort in to make it consistent with the story even though it’s only for one mission.  It's no wonder Haruka doesn't like it.  It's impossible to take her seriously like that.

The mind mess-up wears off once Hibari is down.  Haruka comes to her senses and thanks Hibari for stopping her.  She has the self-awareness to recognize her flaws and she doesn’t have any hard feelings about Hibari having to get aggressive.  They trust each other enough as friends to understand, which is just another way these characters are so likeable and relatable.  Haruka still punishes Hibari with her puppetry jutsu for making her talk like that though.  Haruka may be nice, but she’s strict about what’s acceptable to her and what’s not.

To be fair it's probably nothing compared to their training.

Now that the game has had all its character moments, it moves into the final act.  The youma generals that were giving everyone trouble in chapter 3 are taken care of and the shinobi have learned to fight together so well that they were practically a warm-up.  With that and their ambitious end goal set, the time for their ultimate test draws near as the opposition unloads the most powerful enemies yet and the shinobi face their final, most difficult battles.  Get ready for next time as we conclude this story analysis with Senran Kagura 2’s finale of nonstop action!

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis, just a couple of things that you seemingly missed. Daidouji asking Ikaruga and Katsuragi for a rematch is a callback to the events of the Spark! manga that tells the story of how Ikaruga and Katsuragi meet. This manga is in fact the only piece of additional material considered canon for the games by Takaki.

    The Daimonji Bonfire actually throws a wrench on an otherwise well crafted story. See, Burst's events happened during the summer so July. And the Bonfire is something that happens in August, thus making SK2 happen just a couple of weeks after Burst. Thus creating a ridiculously compressed timeline.

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