#1 - The Senran Kagura Series
And here we are. The end of the journey, at least as is for now. Those that may not know me may be wondering just what in the fuck would make this my #1 after all the personal importance I've driven into the narratives of the others. Those that know me may also wonder that to an extent, but a lot of you will know why this is here.
To those skeptical and assuming I have put this down as some kind of joke after all the genuine sentiment I've put down so far, I assure you, this is the most serious I have been yet this article.
But I set to find myself. It started with my childhood dream of becoming a knight and for a while, Xenosaga was my absolute favorite game, one I was sure would never be dethroned, but I was able to do what it started for me and that was I did find Atma. Or at least, what I should be and will now refine being for the rest of my days. I needed to see things like me coming to terms with being gay and finding the right dojo to train in before I settled down here. Now I am grown and can understand this all looking back, I can look at the me I am now and how I got here and why it lead to this point. I cannot stress enough how incredible a journey this has been, and I wouldn't have it end for now at any other point.
Finding yourself isn't easy. Many won't ever find their full selves. It's especially hard for minorities, and being a woman, especially a gay one, is incredibly hard to find comfortably in the world of games. Add in my need for a swordsman's life and identity and you're not going to have much to choose form in media in any medium. Most lesbians in most media feel foreign to me, especially western based media. Stuff like The L Word? None of that is familiar to me. I'm not born of the common lesbian experience I see people discuss online, which is very Americacentric and sometimes Eurocentric, that's bathed in Bechdel comics and flannel and k.d. Lang records and writing Xena fanfic. I have nothing against it and if it works for you, good, but that was not whom I was supposed to be. I'm okay with that, but it can be lonely at times.
Enter Senran Kagura.
To most, it's just one of those bland excuses for fanservice (anime/video game T+A for those who somehow aren't in the know) and just an easy cashgrab for sleazy neckbeards and the like. This is completely throwing people like me under the bus, but that's not the focus of this. If you're absolutely curious about it, I have written about the experiences extensively here. But this is discussing favorites, and discuss I shall.
Senran Kagura entered my life on a dare. In another hobby I have, we have anonymous discussion areas that can turn into vicious tabloid-level rumor mills and drama bombs. For a long while I was a z-list celebrity on it for committing the most heinous of crimes: enjoying fanservice stuff, despite the fact I never forced it on anyone, just saying it wasn't the next great Satan was enough to set them off. I was accused of being several anons defending this series for various design decisions and decided if they were going to accuse me anyways, I at least owe it to get into it enough to see what it is I'm being accused of excusing now.
Much to my delight and their dismay, I was hooked on every aspect of it. The only game on this list not a JRPG and somehow it snagged #1 should say enough. It's something that reignited a total and complete love of video games in me that I hadn't had since I became Loto and made Alefgard light again in Dragon Quest as a kid, since I loved Celes and became her Atma Weapon, since I went across Lunar to become the Dragonmaster, and since I saw the ends of the universe and humanity in Xenosaga.
Around that time in my life, I had been training in martial arts again for some time, having been lucky enough to find a legitimate swordsmanship class and not only train in a real samurai lineage, but do well enough that I've earned the right to be a trainee instructor, an apprentice, and the prime candidate to eventually inherit this all and pass it on officially, becoming the first woman and the first lesbian in our line of transmission to do so. I could be culturally important. My childhood dream had come back, and I had embraced it, and it's something I work my ass off to maintain and will never take for granted. I finally had my life career figured out and the kids and women I worked with loved me and still do. How many people get to live something out like this, let alone something as brazen and bizarre as a swordsman in this day and age? Very few.
But that makes the alienation stronger at times. There exist few fictional lesbians I relate to, and even fewer that are martial artists or fighters of any kind. But when you give me something like Senran Kagura, I can turn it on and I find a whole roster of characters I can relate to. The newer games have an upwards of 40 different characters I can play as, and I can find at least one thing I can relate myself to in each one (except Yozakura. Fuck Yozakura). I can be a gay woman and I can kick ass and every single one of these girls has got that going on for them, too.
That mirror is what I needed. All of the rest of this journey was building up to this moment I could look in it and finally like what was looking back at me. Senran Kagura gives me that. It's a game full of small details and big fun, and you can tell a lot of love was put in it. All the games I've spoken of are, but Senran Kagura has one of the largest hearts of them all. Part of it is the creator's unabashed honesty about why he made it, citing he just likes women and is annoyed by the same tropes I am about casts that contain a sole male for the women to dote on and then we never get to learn about them women as people because the guy is just somehow that important. To him, women rule the world and are the strongest and most genuine, and if you can't focus on them at least equally, why bother? He doesn't need to hind behind anything pretentious or pretend what he's doing is pure. He puts it out there, raw and true, and for that I thank him.
Many like to argue that this is all well and good but Atma, you know that deep in your heart these games aren't made for you. It's nice you get all this out of it, but it's not the actual message and you know it. It's somehow invalid. And to that I'd like to say fuck you, and I know deep down even beyond that that yes, these games are made for me. If fate is real, it lead me down this path and made this my current conclusion for a reason. That's more valuable to me than a million thinkpieces hung up on a million crucifixes, citing how amazingly problematic this game is and how problematic I am for enabling it further by supporting it.
Finding yourself is an incredible thing. Being genuinely happy and comfortable with yourself is a noble goal for anyone. Everyone deserves a shot at this happiness. I'm not betraying feminism, I'm not betraying my gender, I'm not betraying my sexuality. That's bad politics. I'm celebrating it all by reveling in the fact I can be someone as cool and unique as a lesbian samurai, and then find comfort and reassurance this is the right thing by turning a Senran Kagura game on and looking at a cast as vibrant and strong as me.
When they raise their swords, I do too, both of us grinning wide with pride.
I am finally the competent lesbian swordswoman I was meant to be, in reality and in fiction, and Senran Kagura reassures me of that daily. I wanted to be a knight and I got so much more than I ever dreamed. What more could you ask for out of a #1 but a reminder you can be the best of the best and that, yes, at the end of the day, this is all worth it? Nothing.
I'm sure someday my life will change in some other radical way and I'll put something else here but until then, tits are life and ass is hometown.
And I am home.