Reviewby Richard J. Thompson, Dec 17th 2010
DVD - The Complete Series
Minato Sahashi, having failed his college entrance exams for the second time, goes from loser to leader with one chance encounter. His fate is sealed with a kiss as he is drawn into the Sekirei Plan by a ditzy girl named Musubi. The Sekirei Plan: 108 beautiful women and pretty boys are unleashed in the year 2020 to do battle alongside their chosen Ashikabis in a super-powered duel filled with fanservice and heart. For the last one standing there's a glorious prize but for the rest there's eternal separation from the ones they love. To make it through, Minato and Musubi will need help. Each new kiss means more trouble for Minato but as the harem grows, so do his chances of surviving to retake his exams and save the Sekirei from a bad end. Unsure of himself, Minato will face dangerous foes and temptation as he and the Sekirei live life to the fullest and battle together with a cruel destiny hanging overhead.
Based on the ongoing manga by Sakurako Gokurakuin, Sekirei is an example of what the harem genre can do when it chooses to be more than merely pleasing to the eye. With animation produced by Seven Arcs, famous for the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha franchise, this series fields a solid collection of beautiful women and the occasional pretty boy in a story rich with harem hijinks and clothes-destroying action. The cover art says it all: this show isn't shy about focusing on the (cartoonishly exaggerated) female form. There is some lack of variety where faces are concerned but this is not uncommon in harem anime or anime in general. Yet Sekirei stands out from the crowd due to moments of genuine emotion that give it surprising depth. While the execution isn't perfect, the series has a heart if you can accept the giant bosoms and nudity that come with it.
From the first episode to the last, the plot moves with relative swiftness. Opening with a battle between humans and Se>kirei, the series starts serious before going to Minato Sahashi's latest failure. Departing swiftly from the “loser guy” formula though, after having Musubi literally drops from the sky into his life, it is Minato who takes action to save her and soon he is drawn into rescuing another Se>kirei from harm. He becomes her Ashikabi, a partner/master, and a part of the Se>kirei plan that the ridiculous CEO Minaka of MBI has begun. Minato quickly manages to distinguish himself from many harem leads by being much more proactive and capable than usual, often entering the zone of danger himself to successfully protect others. It is this aspect of his character that helps keep things moving smoothly as more Se>kirei are brought in and the plot actually takes shape. While there is no shortage of fanservice for the fans and plenty of fights between beautiful women, the plot also has a heart. Love, friendship and hope are major themes throughout this series. Certainly they are presented in a way calculated to stir the libido but Sekirei knows how to tug at the heart strings when it wants to.
What really holds the series together is the cast. Through their interactions with each other and with Minato, the characters grow and are allowed scenes that display depth. The first 6 episodes primarily introduce the major cast members. Episode 3: The Green Girl brings in Kusano, a timid, young-looking Se>kirei with the power to manipulate plants; she's a scene-stealer throughout the show. If you're concerned about the potential loli aspect that Kusano introduces, her fanservice scenes are limited to adorable costumes, including a wagtail bird outfit that references the meaning of the word Se>kirei. She and Musubi are the most open-hearted characters in the series, often delivering just the right statement of love or truth for the occasion. Matsu the strategist and Tsukiumi, a powerful water-wielding Seki>rei, are quickly given introductions after Kusano. Matsu serves a valuable role, providing information and support for Minato's attempts to help others. Rounding out the harem, Tsukiumi starts out a very different character from where she ultimately ends up. Her proud nature and warrior spirit make her one of the most fun characters in the show. In addition the main cast, there are a variety of interesting secondary characters such as the twin lightning Seki>rei, Minato's sister and a landlady with a scary side to keep the plot busy. The characters all grow in the second half, as Minato takes up the challenge of helping a Sekir>ei and her Ashikabi escape from Minaka's twisted battle game. This defiance leads to an all-out struggle for survival against MBI's Discipline Squad, powerful Sek>irei working to keep MBI's plan running smoothly. Despite the increase in action and occasional dramatic moments, the series never stops being a harem comedy, which somehow works in the end.
The English dub features several relative newcomers anchored by familiar mainstays, giving Sekirei a nice bit of variety. Alexis Tipton and Joel McDonald shine as the two lead characters. While she captures Musubi's blend of air-headedness and naivety, he brings out the mix of ostensible weakness and true inner strength that makes Minato a great leading man. Alexis also handles several scenes very well near the end, managing a very different tone and feel. However, it is the supporting voice work of Tia Ballard and Lydia Mackay that really makes Sekirei's English cast great. Tia's Kusano is a scene-stealing cutie while Mackay's Tsukiumi manages the difficult task of delivering lines in an oddly-fitting old-world accent while also expressing her steady character development. Every scene with one or both of these two in it is almost guaranteed to be a favorite. Chuck Huber devours the scenery as Minaka, who is impossible to take seriously at all but is fortunately surrounded by other less-silly antagonists. The English dub follows Funimation's typical rewriting methods and deviates from the subtitles a fair bit at times but remains faithful enough and actually improves on some scenes. Fans who prefer the Japanese language track are in for a treat as well. Shinnosuke Tachibana and Saori Hayami carry Minato and Musubi well in Japanese as relative newcomers themselves while the talented Marina Inoue, a personal favorite who debuted in Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, gives Tsukiumi a solid performance that Mackay tries to honor.
Music wise, Sekirei has a passable opener, “Se>kirei” sung by the Japanese VAs for Musubi, Kusano, Matsu and Tsukiumi, who also sing the closing song. For an opening song, “Se>kirei” is peppy and energetic but also somewhat forgettable. Visuals are generic scenes of the various characters in a variety of action poses mainly with a heavy focus on lead Musubi. The series' thematic use of flight and flying as a metaphor gets a bit more of a literal use here. The series closer is much stronger and more memorable overall. “Dear sweet heart” is a catchy tune that easily captures the harem themes of the show with perfect visuals of Minato and the girls. It also changes visually from episode to episode with the “mankirei” nightmare images courtesy of Minato. Episode 11 features a stand-alone ending theme “When I Think of You” done by Saori Hayami as Musubi. It's a little melancholy, but it works well as the ending for that episode. Overall, Sekirei's soundtrack is a bit dull and forgettable outside of the major themes. A surprise in-episode bit of singing adds something extra but the series music is a weak point overall.
In terms of Extras, Funimaton's release of Sekirei features clean versions of the opening and closing songs. Sadly, only the episode 2 version of the closing gets this treatment, meaning that many “mankirei” images are left covered in text. Also the special closing for episode 11 does not get a clean version. Funimation routinely seems to neglect allowing textless versions of special episode endings, an oversight in this release particularly, and due to a lack of text-less video, a choice was made to crop the video by placing a black bar over the kanji. The English credits were then applied over the black. The result is noticeable and covers parts of characters faces in episode 12. These questionable choices hurt the release. However, the OVA short episode, Kusano's First Shopping Trip helps make up for all those issues by being a cute and crazy story about exactly what the title says. It has fun with several clichés.
Overall, Sekirei is a very enjoyable harem anime for fans of the genre and potentially a series for those looking for a decent action comedy with likable characters. The overwhelming fanservice means the show isn't for everyone, but for those so inclined, it's a rewarding series with a big heart and plenty of powerful emotion.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Likable characters with lots of personality to spare, Kusano's costumes and lots of fanservice.
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