Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Nov 29th 2011
Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls!
Episodes 1-7 Streaming
At Kawakami Academy, disputes are settled the old fashioned way: with duels. Or, that failing, with all-out war. Non-lethal weapons are of course used, but other than that, there's very little that isn't allowed when resolving issues with violence. Yamato Naoe isn't a fighter; he's a thinker. He makes the strategies; his friends carry them out. His trump cards are German aristocrat Christiane, energetic lancer Kazuko, shy swordswoman Mayu, and lust-addled archer Miyako. They're all superior martial artists, and all hopelessly smitten with him. His true love, however, is the immensely powerful Momoyo, who may or may not give a skinned knuckle about him. Together they battle other classes, go to school, and occasionally get tangled up with cyborgs and gunrunners who have evil plans for Japan.
A little hope can be a dangerous thing. Take Majikoi. Its first episode had a few glimmers of interest, so we spend the next six hoping that something will come of them, only to be crushed at every available opportunity by brainless fluff plots and excruciating harem capers. In this case, at least, it's better to abandon hope early and just move on.
Majikoi is based on the adult computer game Maji de Watashi ni Koishinasai!, which itself should sound a warning bell. The anime landscape is littered with the corpses of failed eroge adaptations. Still, there are enough signs of life that it isn't hard to fool yourself into thinking that Majikoi might not be one of them. There are two things that Majikoi's first episode does reasonably well: action and combat strategy. The action is the lesser of the two, as it quickly overplays the superpowers of the show's main fighters. Even so, it betrays a good eye for composition and a knowledge of how to expend a limited animation budget. The fights that take place largely in stills, and there are many, benefit from the former, while the more active ones benefit from the latter, pouring their energies into a few high-impact moments of fluid activity.
It's the strategic focus of the fights, however, that really gives one hope. They aren't just a string of pointless rumbles. They're part of a battle, which despite its controlled nature and non-lethal weapons, still has many of the opportunities for strategy, betrayal and trickery that a real battle would have. Yamato uses harassment, psychological warfare, hired mercenaries, feints, ambushes and his opponents' weak hold on their own soldiers to give his outnumbered troops the advantage. The focus is larger than any single fight, and watching the ebb and flow of the battle as he and his enemies play their pieces and give up and gain the advantage while adjusting their plans on the fly is the episode's great pleasure. Unfortunately it isn't all there is to the episode. There are characters to introduce, which generally involves a big dramatic entrance and a quick survey of each girl's primary quirk (and, yes, they're all girls). There's also some romance, tacked onto the end like a particularly phony afterthought, and somewhere in there there's a pair of military cyborgs who apparently escaped from a different series altogether.
Smart series that it is, naturally Majikoi dumps the strategizing to focus on all of those things that it sucks at. In the ensuing episodes Yamato plans nothing more complicated than a dog search or a porn crackdown, and that's when things are exciting. When they aren't, he's getting in naked misunderstandings with Christiane, having a childish spat with Momoyo, or otherwise serving as the object of various girls' affections. In general these episodes are constructed, if such a word can be used, around one or two of the girls mooning over Yamato or, if you're lucky, learning to moon over him. They're painfully empty, containing nothing of import and focused on girls whose personalities, when put together, wouldn't fill a thimble. They cycle through a roster of stock situations with resigned apathy, sleepwalking through the usual accidental nudity, blushing gifting of bentos, animosity-turned-love, and flashbacks to sticky sweet childhood memories.
The only sign of life is the show's sense of humor, which is admittedly spotty but also contains hints of personality. When Miyako plans to use a Miyako-only porn game to win Yamato over ("you'll stop being able to distinguish between games and reality just like the PTA and other pro-regulation groups keep warning and do all the stuff in [the game] to me!"), it's both a really perverted joke and a mean jab at the people who'd ban things like, well, Majikoi (the game). The rest of the series could use some of that spunk. Or some of the backbone it takes to stage an episode-long joke around a penis festival (yes, you heard me right). That particular episode goes so far over the line that it can't help being funny, then keeps going until it isn't the least amusing, and then pushes even further until it is again. In its own screwed-up way, that's pretty impressive.
Majikoi is not the kind of series to stand by idly as its sense of humor grows enjoyable though. If left unchecked, that might make it *shudder* good. So it mixes in a lot of awful humor too, and if things are getting too fun, it's quick to cut the party short with a burst of cringe-inducing seriousness. Sometimes that means breaking out the ongoing plot (which surfaces maybe once an episode), sometimes it means interrupting a penis festival with an earnest civics lesson (really), and sometimes it means dredging up some romantic muck to fling in our faces. All of the series' romantic scenes are terrible—Mayu actually does the "I'm late for school" collision—but the real pain is reserved for Yamato's scenes with Momoyo. Momoyo may be unapologetically strong and Yamato less bland than the norm, but they share a staggering lack of chemistry. And yet the series insists on trying to wring pathos from their relationship, which mainly ends up wringing us instead.
The onset of harem nothingness means that the artistic focus of the series moves from action to naked bodies somewhere in episode two. The action scenes from that point on are a lot less distinguished, eliminating the jolts of quality in favor of all stills, all the time. The budget instead gets pumped into bouncing busts, fellated candies (seriously, don't ask), and squirming naked bodies. From what you can see of it through the pervasive censorship (sure to be removed for any potential DVD release) the fan-service is pretty good, so if lasciviousness is your primary motivator, the show will likely satisfy. If aesthetics are your thing, don't bother; the series is strictly middle-of-the-road artistically.
Also middle-of-the-road is the show's soundtrack, which can be action-like when action is called for, sensitive-like when sensitivity is called for, sexy-like when sexy is called for, and annoyingly comedic when comedy is called for. It always feels like a slightly worn imitation of better soundtracks, though—which makes the fact that the volume is kept down a good thing.
A show doesn't have to be brilliant to be worth watching. It'd be silly to demand that a pornless porn-game adaptation be brilliant anyway. But Majikoi isn't even mindless fun. It's plenty mindless. If it were any more so, it'd be legally dead. It just isn't much fun. Being fun requires a certain measure of effort and imagination, both of which it actively spurns. If you really need to turn your brain off for a while, there are better ways to do it than this. Seriously.
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Focus on military strategy in the first episode; can be funny when it feels like it; loads of naked flesh for the nudity-minded.
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