It would be remiss of me to run a Senran Kagura feature and not give good old Asuka a bit of time in the Waifu Wednesday spotlight, wouldn’t it?
Like Ikaruga, Homura, Mirai and Hikage before her, Asuka has been part of the series since its inception, and was initially regarded as its main protagonist. Over time, the series has expanded to allow many of the other characters some time in the spotlight, but many of those who have been following since the very beginning will always have a soft spot for Asuka.
Perpetually upbeat, dedicated to her own personal Path of the Shinobi and, if a masked (and increasingly unhinged) Kiriya in Bon Appetit is to be believed, completely lacking in personality, Asuka was, is and always will be a wonderful face for the series.
While many of the cast members of Senran Kagura have had to deal with a great deal of tragedy in their respective backgrounds, Asuka is one of a few characters who come from a relatively normal upbringing — well, normal for shinobi students, anyway.
Asuka’s parents and grandfather run a small sushi shop, and she grew up surrounded by both love and an appreciation for shinobi culture. Her grandfather is not only an excellent sushi chef, after all; he’s also the legendary shinobi Hanzou — he who Hanzou National Academy is named after.
While Hanzou has long since retired from active duty in the field, it’s clear that his edges haven’t dulled at all. He’s observant and wise, and teaches Asuka a great deal. He’s also a colossal pervert, but everyone just sort of puts up with that side of him; he is a legendary shinobi, after all, and his actual behaviour never escalates beyond a few overexcited comments when faced with the prospect of being surrounded by busty young beauties.
Despite knowing what he’s like, Asuka relies on Hanzou for life advice. Early in the original Burst and its remake Burst Re:Newal, she is confused as to what she should do when she encounters a boy who falls in love with her at first sight and immediately confesses to her; without hesitation, Hanzou tells her that “it’s good to love someone” and that she should “go for this”.
His advice spurs her on to contemplate what it really means for her to be following the Path of the Shinobi, and she ultimately decides to change her routine so that she never accidentally runs into the boy again. One can assume that this was Hanzou’s intention all along, but he’s never been one to throw his weight around. You learn much more powerful lessons if you draw your own conclusions and make your own choices, after all; a good teacher simply provides you with the tools and information you need to be able to work things out for yourself.
Asuka learns many lessons over the course of the various games’ narratives, including the true meaning of Hanzou’s favourite phrase “a sword is meaningless if not joined with a shield”, referring to using one’s strength not only to benefit oneself, but to protect one’s loved ones and comrades, too. But, thanks to both her friends and rivals, she learns that labels are unimportant; whether someone is a “good” or “evil” shinobi is not a reflection on them as a person; more often than not, it is simply a reflection of their circumstances — and their employer.
What initially appears to be a deadly rivalry with “evil” shinobi Homura quickly blossoms into a genuinely close relationship as the pair of them come to understand and appreciate one another; they respect one another’s strength and genuinely enjoy any time they end up clashing in battle. Asuka describes Homura as “my strongest friend”, while Homura asserts that no-one is permitted to defeat Asuka but her. While they have each had their own victories over the series’ duration, they know that when the final battle eventually comes, they are going to have to settle things once and for all — and when that happens, one of them is going to perish.
It would be easy to become depressed with that seemingly inevitable eventuality in mind, but Asuka remains chipper and upbeat. While she takes her life and shinobi studies seriously, she’s also someone who focuses very much on the here and now, and can be surprisingly practical at times, despite occasional ditziness. She knows in her heart that her final battles are coming, but she also clearly believes that there’s no point getting depressed and anxious over them, because they’re not here yet. While life is good, you might as well enjoy it.
And her enthusiasm is infectious. Her energy inspires her comrades, with even the stern and serious Ikaruga deferring to Asuka as “leader” of the Hanzou Elites, despite technically being her senior. It draws them together and makes them a close-knit family — something which Asuka is aware is very valuable to those who have, for one reason or another, lost their families.
In a scene where Ikaruga grows depressed over a school assignment to research their respective “shinobi family trees”, Asuka recognises the guilt her senpai feels over her adoption and the resentment it caused her brother Murasame to harbour towards her. So she responds as only she can.
“It’s not simply a family tree,” observes Ikaruga, taking a piece of paper Asuka hands her at the end of the session. “It includes everyone in the shinobi class all lined up, like a family. Myself as the mother, Katsuragi as the father. Then Asuka, Yagyuu and Hibari as the children.”
Ikaruga is, quite understandably, brought to tears by Asuka’s thoughtful gesture.
“The five of us are basically family,” explains Asuka. “So I decided to write that up.”
If that isn’t a perfect summation of what Asuka is all about, I’m not sure what else is.
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