Reconsidering Senran Kagura Burst ⊟
Senran Kagura Burst is a bit controversial — where some see a cute 3DS brawler with an all-female cast, others see a sophisticated boob-jiggle delivery vector. Really, it’s a bit of both – the reality of even this game is more complex, and even paradoxical in some ways.
Among the most staunch defenders of the recent XSEED eShop release, and its growing universe of spinoffs and sequels, is someone who knows the game really well: Brittany Avery (a.k.a. Hatsuu), production assistant at XSEED Games, who worked on the Tamsoft-developed title’s localization and continues to engage with fans about it.
Her honest affection for Senran Kagura and its characters made me reconsider my own feelings about it — it’s not just the usual case of “dev (or publisher) likes own game;” she’s genuinely, infectiously enthused about it.
“A lot of people have been harping on Burst for being completely degrading to women in every possible way, but as a female myself who has thoroughly played the game, it’s difficult for me to say that’s 100% the case,” Avery told me. “If it were a game where the characters had no variety to their personalities and their sole purpose to the in-game plot related to fanservice and nothing more, I’d probably just delegate it to the ‘designs are cute, but this game isn’t for me’ category and never really give the game a chance. I’m not one for just playing a game for the stimulating visuals and no story.”
In fact, she explained, the characters are “three-dimensional” young women. “In-game, they don’t go spelling it out in flashing lights or present obvious strong female clichés you see in Western movies like that one scene where a woman is suddenly knocking some one-note sexist dude upside the head to prove how badass she is along with a couple one-liners. It’s just this variety of great girls being who they are for the sake of being who they are.
Hibari (from the Senran Kagura anime)
“Take Hibari, for instance. I can’t say she’s my favorite character, but she suffers from self-esteem issues throughout the story to the point where the plot takes drastic changes due to her obsession with how others close to her perceive her.” The development of her character (and the existence of a character arc, period!) changes her from what might be perceived as eye candy to someone that could be identified with. “She changes and grows quite a bit as a character, and I think there are people that can relate to her story of trying to find her place in the world.”
Other characters like Haruka are more overtly sexy, but Avery says there’s more nuance to them as well. “When I first saw her, all I could think was ‘Oh, okay, I get it, she’s super sexy.’ Then you get to see how it’s not that she’s just sexy — she owns her sexuality. It empowers her, gives her this aura that makes her not just fanservice, but someone whose maturity and level of self-comfort demands respect.” Haruka also acts as a sort of older sister to her teammates. “I think there’s an audience that can relate to her having grown past that stage of constant confusion that’s a natural part of your teen and early twenties years.”
She’s thought about Senran Kagura Burst’s characters more than pretty much anyone, I think.
“What I mean in the end is really look at these girls,” she said. “This is the kind of variety you want in a game with an almost all-female cast! Look at all the weaknesses and strengths they have. Isn’t that kind of great? Isn’t that the kind of stuff we’ve been looking for in our female characters?”
Ironically, she notes, by decrying the game’s focus on boobs and ignoring the other facets of the characters, critics are themselves objectifying the characters. “It does get frustrating, because isn’t obsessively focusing on the idea that the girls in Burst are nothing more than breasts the complete opposite of what those who are against games that feature one-dimensional females or females completely second to their male leads are working to accomplish?
“Isn’t the only thing you’re accomplishing then objectifying the characters who actually have more to offer than what’s being blatantly marketed?” She argues that if there is actual objectionable content, critics should talk about it to help make future games better, while also acknowledging the successes of characterization.
That’s not to say that respectfully written characters are all there is to Senran Kagura Burst. “I’m also guilty of enjoying some of the more fanservice-y features of the game, only it’s more like I acknowledge that it’s sexy but personally find it cute or adorable,” Avery admitted.
“Still, if some men and women among our audience decide to start playing it to look at the bouncing boob physics or mess around with the sexy outfits in the Dressing Room, that isn’t for me to judge,” she noted, adding “I didn’t start watching Free! Iwatobi Swim Club for the deep plot.”
Avery acknowledges an imbalance in the marketing of fanservice toward male fans – there’s just an overwhelming majority of media aimed at straight men – while “female fanservice is more often fan-generated, but I think it’s a matter of balancing out that male/female fanservice if that’s a feature in your work rather than actively working to reduce any one side in favor of the other.” She also acknowledges the fact that different people have different comfort levels with the surface display of the game, which may prevent them from discovering the character development within.
“I think playing it has great potential to change people’s minds,” she said, “especially since the game actually has a plot that it plays almost completely straight, but there are guaranteed to be some people who won’t see past only what they want to see.”
In the end, then, the choice about how to feel about Senran Kagura Burst is up to the individual, preferably after becoming informed by playing it. And then, Avery suggests, those individuals should allow others to form their own opinions. “There are some who have the power to take a more neutral approach to the overall content of the game they disagree upon so others can form their own opinions but haven’t done so.
“That, I feel, is more detrimental to Senran Kagura Burst than the actual content of the game.”
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