Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 6th 2012
Sekirei: Pure Engagement
Blu-Ray - [Limited Edition]
With four powerful Sekirei under his influence, would-be college student Minato Sahashi has become a force to be reckoned with. That means that other forces to be reckoned with would like a reckoning with him. Conflicts with the Discipline Squad and a few less-than-friendly Ashikabi at first only result in him adding still more Sekirei to his roster of busty comrades. Soon, though, the schemes of Eastern Sekirei superpower Higa pits Minato against friend and neighbor Uzume, which in turn leads to him facing off against the mad CEO of MBI Hiroto Minaka himself.
Sekirei isn't just about boobs, but you wouldn't know that by looking at it. The series bends over backwards to work in the greatest quantity of nipples and jiggling jugs that it can. Whether they fight with water, cloth, fist, sword, or fire, the attacks of the Sekirei are like boob-seeking missiles, shredding, ripping, burning or exploding whatever it is that is keeping their opponents' breasts from enjoying the fresh spring air. If there's any way that an important conversation can take place in the bath, it'll take place in the bath. Female characters are as remarkable for their lack of modesty as they are for the size of their boobs, which by the way are so large that after a while they look more like pointy extraterrestrial parasites than human mammaries. Which is a bit of a shame since the series' fan-service is actually very good when applied to more modestly-endowed characters like Benitsubasa. The series' need to bedeck every scene with boobs is so pressing that it often interferes with the series' non-boob-related qualities. It is hard, for instance, to get the full impact of a deathbed request when there is a giant, barely-concealed nipple heaving in the foreground.
And that's a real shame. Because Sekirei wants very much to be one of those series whose surprising depth belies its puerile surface, and if its puerile surface keeps shanking its surprising depth it'll never make it. Not that it would necessarily have worked anyway. Even if it didn't have ill-placed booby-bombs to sink important scenes, the series still does enough things wrong to lay waste to those that it does right. At first this season seems to be on the way to rectifying that imbalance. The first season spent an inordinate amount of time introducing and inducting girls into Minato's harem, a process that even harem fans find tedious. This season introduces no new romantic interests, and inducts only two into his harem—which if you're counting brings the total to six. That leaves the series considerably more time to pursue things like Uzume's tragic double life, and the Sekirei Project itself. We get a lot of background on the project, including a long-delayed rundown of MBI's history and the origin of the Sekirei. The Sekirei's number system and corresponding differences in power start to make sense, and their world begins to take on a more concrete shape. There are factions and forces and schemers, all moving against each other and the MBI authorities. It's a far more complicated and dynamic milieu than before, made even more so by the sadistic directives that MBI CEO Minaka starts issuing to get his "game" going.
With all of that activity going on, it's only a matter of time until bad things start happening to Minato and his harem. A surprisingly powerful sense of danger hangs over most of the series, exploding occasionally into violence and tragedy. The resolution of Uzume's situation in particular proves that the series has no qualms about hurting its long-standing characters. So when Minato's sister and her Sekirei get into a brawl with an abusive Ashikabi and his Sekirei, or the Uzume arc propels Minato's harem into a full-on assault on MBI, there's no guarantee that they'll come out okay. The series also isn't shy about driving home the ugly reality of the Sekirei game, or the nastiness of Minato's opponents. Don't take that to mean that the series is dark or grim, though. It balances its blacker undercurrents with a heavy dose of humor, the best of it involving the flip-flopping of vicious Benitsubasa and her dim-witted sidekick Haihane from deadly threats to Stooge-level idiots. There's some business with Benitsubasa and an ill-fated ransom call that is just murder on the funny bone. Heartening developments also crop up here and there, notably when we see how Minato is starting to fit into the power balance of the Sekirei Project.
How the series torpedoes its frankly nice balance of action, substance and laughs can be summed up in one word: romance. Oh, it has other problems, make no mistake. There's its villain, who spends the entire season laughing maniacally from the top of his skyscraper. Its premise, from the submissive nature of the Sekirei to the idea that they can only manifest their true power with the help of a man, is deeply sexist—something only somewhat mitigated by the handful of male Sekirei. Good old fashioned plot holes (why, for instance, no one tells Minato that Uzume is an enemy, even after she starts attacking allies) play their part too. And then there are the clichés. The game itself is a big one, and it is the climax's devolution into a tower-based pseudo-tournament that ultimately tips the balance against the show. But in the long run, it's the romance that has the most corrosive effect. The simple fact is that the series is terrible at it. No one in Minato's harem has an iota of chemistry with him, and none of the other Ashikabi/Sekirei pairs can boast much more. The series' idea of clever romantic byplay is having Minato's girls squabble over who gets to sit next to him at supper and feed him, and its idea of a romantic situation is having someone trip and give him a face-full of boob and/or butt. Romantic advancement consists of such scorching developments as Musubi realizing that she's jealous or Tsukiumi realizing that she wants to meet Minato's family. In a series that insists on making love a central theme, that's deadly.
Of the series' non-boob related technical merits, its action scenes are probably the best. Though less than fully animated, they are energetic and frequently pretty cool. CG assists and rapid-fire editing are largely responsible, along with the generally spectacular nature of the Sekirei's powers. Character designs and background art in general are generic, if occasionally and formidably cute in the case of the characters, as is the effective but forgettable score. The decision to use an insert song to bolster Musubi's final fight was a serious mistake, but a relatively forgivable one.
Funimation's dub is typically good, taking few risks and making few mistakes. Tsukiumi's thou-art-thee speech pattern is definitely one of them. The female cast doesn't try too hard to be effeminate, which is definitely the right decision, and Joel McDonald doesn't overplay Minato's wimpiness. That said, the dub overall is at its very best when going whole hog for ham and playing fast and loose with the humor. Emotionally charged scenes don't work terribly well, but they don't work much better in Japanese, so it isn't much of an issue. It's hard to judge exactly how tight the script is since audio and subtitle tracks are non-selectable and thus can't be directly compared, but it seems faithful enough.
The set includes a Blu-ray version for those who prefer their boobs in HD and also a pretty nice line-up of extras. There are previews and clean versions of the various and invariably undistinguished openings and endings, as well as a highly humorous (and highly breast-centric) two-part OVA episode. More important are the commentary tracks for episodes 5 and 10. As the first season didn't have any, ADR director Scott Sager leads Joel McDonald and Leah Clark (episode 5) and Alexis Tipton and Jamie Marchi (episode 10) through discussions of both seasons. Lively and reasonably informative, they're a boon for dub fans. As Sager himself warns, there're spoilers, so save the commentaries for after the series. The limited edition comes with a chipboard box to hold both seasons.
In the balance, the quality of Pure Engagement isn't far from that of its predecessor. If you liked season one, season two will probably press the same buttons. Ditto if you hated it. Fans will be glad to know that this season features real plot advancement and an ending that satisfies while also leaving large gaps for a sequel to slip through. If you aren't already a fan, though, and are on the lookout for a fan-service action/romance with a surprisingly meaty underbelly, you'd probably be better served by something like Mahoromatic or even My-HiME.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C+
+ Harem romance that aspires to something more lofty than cheap titillation and wish-fulfillment; more plot advancement and less harem clutter than season one; good action.
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