Sexual fan service is hardly a new aspect of anime. While the most obvious are panty shots and boob bounces, few anime come without a shower scene, beach episode or hot springs episode where the female characters -- and sometimes even the male ones -- are shown off in all their near-naked glory.
But occasionally, there comes an anime literally built around fan service -- where every scene and every situation is designed to exploit the hyper-sexualized characters. Senran Kagura, based on the 3DS game of the same name, is one of these. And it's possibly the most embarrassing thing I have ever watched. Note: Portions of this review are NSFW.
Good — It's Got No Delusions
Few anime beginnings set the tone of their series as well as the first two minutes of Senran Kagura -- the show only goes nine seconds before the first piece of fan service is delivered with a mighty showing of jiggle physics. We have a schoolgirl ninja being chased by a squad of female black ninjas -- costumes complete with fishnet stockings and boob windows. Over the course of the fight that follows, the schoolgirl strips to her underwear, pulls throwing knives out of her bra (groping herself in the process), stashes a phallic-sized scroll in her ample cleavage, and does everything possible to give the camera the best possible shots of her panties.
I'll say this for Senran Kagura, at least it's honest about what it is. It is happy to show you up front exactly what you are in for.
Good — Not Afraid To Make Fun of Itself
Amidst the sexual pandering, there are a few truly clever moments when the series uses its excessive fan service as a way to satirise itself and the expectations of the audience. Perhaps the most telling of these is when, in an early episode, the girls are eating their favourite food: sushi rolls. Their eating of these phallic objects is so unabashed that at one point, the camera even switches to a side view as one of the girls pulls back her hair, extends her tongue, and proceeds to insert it lovingly into her mouth. The punchline is that, moments after in the same scene, their male teacher does the exact same thing with the exact same camera angle.
It's an old sight gag, true, but jokes like this where the creators had fun with the absurdity of their own fan service got a laugh out of me.
Good — Quality Animation
If there is one indisputable good thing to say about Senran Kagura, it is that its animation quality is top notch. There is a strong commitment to detail even amongst flashy effects. Of course, like everything else in the anime, this quality animation is mostly focused on fan service, but the fight scenes are still enjoyable to watch based on aesthetic qualities alone.
Mixed — Fan Service and Nothing But
As an experiment, I decided to count the fan service in Senran Kagura. This experiment lasted only one episode as it took longer to list all the fan service than it did to watch the episode. Here are the results:
Boob Bounces: 49 Strippings: 1 Panty Shots: 19 Breast Gropings: 4 Putting Phallic-like Objects in Mouth: 9 Objects Stored in Cleavage: 2
And that doesn't even mention the wet shirts, changing room scenes, lesbian undertones, transformations, and “facial”-related imagery. Moreover, the fan service never lessens over the series' run. In fact, in some later episodes it is far more prevalent.
If nothing else, remember that this is a series where the characters get more powerful the less clothing they have on -- and yes, that is an actual plot point.
Bad — The Shallowest of Plots
The plot of Senran Kaugura is painfully shallow. There are two ninja schools, one for good ninjas and one for evil ninjas. The overarching plot involves the evil ninjas trying to get two powerful and magical ninja scrolls.
Other than that, the story pretty much just follows the everyday training of the good ninja girls, with occasional interruptions by the appearance of one (or several) of the evil ninja girls. And without devolving into spoilers, let me just say that the ending is overly melodramatic and completely nonsensical.
Bad — Generic Characters
The characters, like the plot, are hardly anything you haven't seen before. Each of the main characters falls into a stereotypical anime role: the klutzy-yet-talented hero, the proper lady, the tomboy, the quiet one, and the cute one -- and each of the heroes has a similar counterpart on the evil side. They do each have adequately developed backstories -- though they border on the hilariously over-tragic like Sargent Calhoun's in Wreck-It Ralph -- but the characters are just so generic it is mostly a wasted effort.
Make no mistake, fan service bordering on soft-core pornography is the point of Senran Kagura -- a fact which is more than a little disturbing when you realise that the characters are 15 to 18-year-old girls. Frankly, I have never been more embarrassed watching something than this. I found myself constantly wondering why anyone would watch this when there is a vast world of actual anime pornography out there -- especially in Japan.
However, if fan service is your fetish of choice, you'll no doubt be incredibly happy with Senran Kagura. Just don't expect it to deliver anything more than that.
Senran Kagura aired on Tokyo MX in Japan. It can be watched for free and subititled in English at Funimation.com.