It occurs to me that in previous installments of this column, I have given some time and attention to three of the four main “faction” leaders in Senran Kagura — Homura, Asuka and Yumi — so it probably behooves me to devote today to Miyabi.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge her a moment in the spotlight, of course, but of all the Senran Kagura girls, she’s one that doesn’t seem to get a ton of fan attention. Which is a shame, because she’s a fascinating character with some cool backstory. Actual backstory, not… you know what I mean.
So let’s rectify that and give Miyabi some love, shall we?
Miyabi was introduced alongside Yumi in 2013’s Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus, in which she took on the role of the leader of the “new Hebijo” faction — the class of Elite students that took the place of Homura and friends, who had become renegades at the conclusion of their route in Senran Kagura Burst (and, indeed, Burst Re:Newal).
The new Hebijo girls initially provided a notably dark tone to the narrative whenever they showed up. While Homura and her gang were formidable opponents in the Hanzou route of Burst and Burst Re:Newal, it didn’t take long for the clashes between the two schools to come across as good-natured rivalry more than “light versus dark”. When Miyabi and company showed up, however, there was real darkness there… and a significant source of that was Miyabi herself.
Over the course of numerous games, we learn bits and pieces about Miyabi’s background. We learn that her mother was killed by a youma, and that she sought to become a shinobi at all costs in order to exact revenge on these otherworldly beasts that tore her family apart. With revenge not exactly being the sort of motivation that would get “good” shinobi schools on your side, she enrolled in Hebijo — “where good favours few, evil accepts all” and all that — and took aim for the Elite class.
We don’t see exactly how this unfolded — or indeed exactly how she was involved in the death of Ryoubi and Ryouna’s sister Ryouki — until her “Abyssal” DLC campaign for Burst Re:Newal, though we learn a few second-hand details long after the fact throughout the Versus games, which are enough for both Ryoubi and Ryouna to forgive Miyabi.
Her Abyssal campaign reveals that she sought to unleash a particularly powerful Ninja Art known as Blood Riot; this is one of the forbidden Anathematic Ninja Arts that puts the user — and everyone around them — at great risk, but Miyabi saw it as the only way she was ever going to get strong enough quickly enough to be able to take down the youma.
It was during a chance encounter with Ryouki that tragedy struck; a youma attacked, leaving Ryouki injured and vulnerable to “infection”, leaving Miyabi no choice but to strike her down. Miyabi’s actions were ultimately the merciful thing to do; had she left Ryouki be, there would have been nothing left of the girl’s spirit as the youma took over.
The use of Blood Riot carried a heavy price, however; it left Miyabi comatose and vulnerable to the youma’s influence, and much of her story concerns her inner struggle to fight off the primal urges it stirs within her, and her attempts to maintain her humanity while gaining new power.
Elsewhere in the series, Miyabi is used as a means of exploring the concept of gender identity. While obviously feminine — particularly in the way she dresses — she has many more stereotypically masculine characteristics than other members of the cast: most notably short hair, a deep voice and a rather mature, detached personality that seems constantly serious. This leads to many regarding her as “boyish”, and not in a playful, tomboyish way; the behaviour of the “fan club” she gradually amasses (without her doing anything in particular to do so, much to her chagrin) suggests that at least some of the people who fall for her practically believe that she really is a man.
Thus, a number of Miyabi’s personal stories, be they in the Shinobi Girl’s Heart sequences in the Versus games or her overall narrative in Bon Appétit, concern how Miyabi feels about this, and how she responds to the situation. She clearly has a complex miasma of emotions swirling around in her head; we learn in her Abyssal story that she was genuinely in love with her fellow Hebijo student Imu prior to the Blood Riot incident, but that her traumatic ordeal left her with significant gaps in her memory, including this particular aspect of her interpersonal relationships.
Imu, meanwhile, maintains her memories and is absolutely devoted to Miyabi — to a fault at times, as seen in the Hebijo arc of Peach Beach Splash, where her borderline obsession causes tension between her and her sister Murasaki — as she believes unconditionally that the pair of them will one day rediscover what they once had together.
It’s not just about matters of the heart, though; Miyabi finds herself somewhat torn over her whole identity at times. On occasions where she has the opportunity to be more feminine, she finds herself worrying if doing so is not actually being true to herself — or if it is letting down the people who love her for who she is under normal circumstances — and in Estival Versus, there is a memorable sequence where she is absolutely mortified to accidentally reveal the fact she used to call her mother “mama”.
Although clearly mature and responsible — much more so than many other members of the cast — it’s clear she’s a deeply conflicted character with a lot going on and an occasional desire to enjoy her youth more than she’s had the opportunity to in the past… and a unique, distinctive addition to the complete Senran Kagura ensemble.
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