Out of all the members of Senran Kagura’s core cast, Haruka initially seems like the one who has it most together — or, perhaps more accurately, is most at peace with the person she is.
Combining a sense of genuinely warm, sisterly affection for her friends and comrades with an overtly sexual interest in both sadism and masochism, Haruka is, in many ways, one of the most “grown up” cast members.
That’s not to say she had an easy life, mind you. Far from it.
Haruka’s childhood was troubled, though not through explicit tragedy as with many of the other girls in the cast. Rather, her childhood was troubled due to the behaviour of her parents towards one another and towards her.
She grew up as the daughter of a renowned physician and lived in an opulent mansion — a fact which drew her a certain amount of scorn and bullying from her peers at school. But all was not well in her household; her father was almost perpetually absent, and her mother was overbearing and controlling to a fault.
These things fed into one another. Haruka knew that her father was having extramarital affairs every time he went away — and so did her mother, even though they never discussed it. Instead, Haruka’s mother poured an excessive amount of affection onto Haruka, treating her like a doll — dressing her up in fancy clothes and doing everything she could to control her life.
Haruka’s father was also, despite his occupation, a nasty piece of work. He committed fraud on his taxes, and used the money from this to cover up numerous cases of malpractice.
Haruka became increasingly frustrated by all this, and eventually decided that the only way for her to escape her torment would be to burn her house down and kill her parents. She was stopped just before she was able to go through with it by Hebijo teacher Suzune (aka mysterious, long-presumed dead shinobi Rin), who suggested that her proposed course of action wouldn’t bring her satisfaction or a sense of justice. Instead, Rin offered to train Haruka in a special “puppetry” technique.
Haruka proved to be a talented student, and was eventually able to manipulate her father into confessing his numerous misdeeds. He attempted to recant as the effect of Haruka’s newly acquired puppetry skills wore off, but the police and courts found the things he had said to be suitably convincing, so as the narrative of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal is progressing, the investigation and court case is ongoing.
Meanwhile, Haruka took the opportunity to escape her broken home life and follow Rin to Hebijo, where her already advanced skills thanks to her “head start” assured her a place in the Elite class almost immediately. From there, she was able to make use of her position to indulge herself by recruiting gleefully masochistic “dogs” to do her bidding, but over time she comes to realise that making use of puppetry to get one’s way is a hollow victory at best; more enduring, lasting relationships come from genuine connections built between people.
Given her background, it’s not altogether surprising that Haruka turned out the way she did. Her sisterly side comes from the fact that she had to be responsible for herself because her family certainly wasn’t taking good care of her — but aspects of both her parents clearly rubbed off on her personality. Her obsession with “dolls” and puppetry most certainly stems from the way her mother treated her, and her interest in the sciences — particularly the use of poisons, toxins and drugs with bizarre effects — can obviously be traced back to her father.
By the time we meet her for the first time, though, Haruka is obviously at peace with these sides of herself. She accepts that her past experiences helped make her the person she is today, so she embraces these traits rather than being ashamed of them. And that goes for her sexuality, too.
Haruka’s self-assuredness, confidence in her own body and overt sexuality can be seen as a sign of rebellion against how her mother once treated her. While once she was treated like a doll — the possession of another, for the owner to do with as they saw fit — now she is her own person, and she chooses to express herself however she pleases. Her body belongs to her, now, so she can do whatever she wishes with it.
She is no longer constrained by what her mother feels is appropriate for her to wear, so she takes things to an extreme with by far the most heavily erotic, sexualised outfits out of all the cast. Even her standard Hebijo uniform features a noticeably shorter skirt than her peers, and her short shirt proudly bares her midriff. She enjoys sadism, but throughout her narratives she is shown to only ever truly let this side of her out when it is fully consensual.
It is abundantly clear that she holds great affection for her “dogs” in particular; in the instances where we do actually get to hear from them, it seems that they are eager masochists who take delight in abuse from Haruka rather than unwilling prisoners. While she may well have brought about this situation using her puppetry powers to begin with, it’s obvious by the time we reach Burst Re:Newal’s narrative that she’s not using them any more; the “dogs” are there because they wish to be.
And she understands the masochistic side of things, too; she is one of only a couple of cast members who express pleasure (rather than pain or embarrassment) at taking a beating in a fight, and she looks positively gleeful any time her clothes get shredded by a well-placed combo.
Whether this side of her is evidence that she is a “switch” in S&M terminology — someone willing to be both dominant or submissive depending on the situation — or if she is willingly accepting punishment for what she perceives as past misdeeds is somewhat left up to interpretation. But one thing you certainly can say about Haruka is that she’s more than willing to get as much as she gives.
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