Since we’re about to kick off a veritable estival (sic) of Senran Kagura funtimes here on MoeGamer, I thought we may as well start with a relevant Waifu Wednesday.
At this point, even if you just take the console and handheld games into account and discount the two mobile games, Senran Kagura has an absolutely massive ensemble cast so it is, of course, tricky to pick a favourite from among them.
Ikaruga has been there since the beginning, however, and captured my heart and attention immediately. So it’s her under the spotlight today.
Ikaruga hails from a longstanding and wealthy noble shinobi family that conceals its shadowy business under the company name Phoenix Conglomerate (sometimes referred to as Houou, depending on media, after the Japanese phoenix). The clan had, in recent years, been in something of a tricky situation, as its heir apparent Murasame was showing insufficient talent in the shinobi ways to be able to wield the heirloom sword Hien.
Ikaruga was actually originally a distant relative to the main branch of the clan and grew up in the slums, but she was adopted after she demonstrated some talent in the ninja arts. So great were her abilities — particularly when compared to her adoptive older brother — that she was given the honour of being the heir to Hien.
This, naturally, put her in something of an awkward personal situation, since Murasame resented Ikaruga for showing up and taking away what, he believed, should be rightfully his. Rather than being defiant about this, Ikaruga was wracked with guilt, and became extremely withdrawn and aloof, particularly once she enrolled in the Hanzou academy to train her shinobi skills.
Her guilt made her incredibly lonely and she frequently clashed with her classmates — particularly the very forward Katsuragi, who seemed to take delight in provoking her — but over time, she came to understand the value of developing bonds of trust with the people closest to her. She began to open up and express herself more, and eventually came to realise that she was not alone; she had people who cared about her, and did not judge her for a situation that was, after all, somewhat beyond her control.
In the original Senran Kagura Burst, the Hanzou girls are typically paired up with a girl from the rival Hebijo academy who contrasts with them somehow. In Ikaruga’s case, she typically finds herself squaring off against Yomi, which makes for an interesting contrast.
Ikaruga hails from an affluent background, but despite speaking and behaving in an understatedly polite manner, tends not to show off her “princess” aspect all that much; she more resembles the seemingly cool but easily flustered “student council president”-type, helped along by her delightful portrayal by veteran voice actress Asami Imai. Yomi, by contrast, comes from an extremely poor background, but deliberately plays up stereotypically “hime-sama” tropes such as ending her sentences with “desu wa” — somewhat ironic, considering her hurling accusations of being a “princess” at Ikaruga during the early stages of their relationship.
Opposites attract, as they say, and over time Ikaruga and Yomi develop a fairly close relationship with one another, since both of them are able to learn things from one another. Ikaruga learns to open up a bit and express herself — often participating in impromptu masked “superhero shows” for local kids alongside Yomi — while Yomi learns that bitterness about past events never solves anything; it’s better to try and make a positive difference to people in the present using the things you learned from more difficult times.
Ikaruga’s design blends elements of both Eastern and Western influences. Upon their first meeting, Yomi comments on Ikaruga’s distinctly Western-looking outfit, which resembles a military uniform, but Hien is obviously a traditional Japanese nodachi. The combination of the two gives Ikaruga a look of considerable grace and elegance during battle, but also puts across the irrefutable sense that she is not someone to be trifled with.
Given her background, it’s unsurprising that Ikaruga’s guardian spirit is a phoenix, but besides being the name of her clan, a phoenix is also a good symbol for Ikaruga’s life up until this point; she’s had several opportunities for “rebirth” as she’s grown up, beginning with her adoption out of a life of poverty into the wealthy arm of the clan, and continuing with her realisation that she stands alongside friends she can trust with her life.
Ikaruga’s musical themes have something of a flair for the dramatic. Her original transformation theme from Senran Kagura Burst outright quotes the opening to the theme song to The Phantom of the Opera, for one thing. And throughout the rest of the series, her compositions typically blend Japanese instrumentation with distinctly Western classical-style harmonies, melodic patterns and ornaments. Her Bon Appetit theme emphasises her “traditional” upbringing even further by making use of harmonic and melodic structures typical of Western Renaissance music coupled with Japanese instrumentation.
They depict her blend between power and grace; her acknowledgement of her past but her embracing of her present; the deadly elegance that is so core to her being. They’re some of the most “serious” compositions among the soundtrack, reflecting that she is usually the voice of reason when things start to get chaotic. But they also reflect her enthusiasm for theatrical play alongside Yomi; she gets very into their little shows!
Ikaruga has been a fixture in the series since the start with good reason: she’s a well-realised, interesting character with an immediately recognisable, distinctive design. There’s a strong sense that she’s been composed not just as a combination of audio-visual assets and text, but as a very complete-feeling person; in other words, she’s a fine example of the care and attention series creator Kenichiro Takaki, character designer Nan Yaegashi and the rest of the team behind this series have put into each and every character since the very first episode.
Long may Ikaruga continue to show us her dance cloaked in shadow!
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