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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sekirei & Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ - Review

Minato Sahashi has failed his college entrance exams twice and is basically branded a loser. He meets a girl named Musubi who's under attack. Giving her shelter and time, she then tells him that she is a being known as a Sekirei and that he is an Ashikabi, one of a arbitary number of masters who have the ability to contract with some of the 108 Sekirei in existence. Forced into a secret "Sekirei Project" that involves him, Musubi and the city, Minato does what he can to get by.

I know..... It's hard to read. There are so many things that flash warning signs: loser protagonist, random girl falling on him, secret projects, 108 people unrelated to the chinese novel.... In fact. It's a spoiler but to be expected, let me add harem in there as well...

Simply put, if you were to mash Mai-hime and Ikkitousen together, you'd get Sekirei. Without giving too much away, Sekirei are these super human beings who have specific abilities such as controlling fire or being a skilled martial artist. Sekirei also seem to need to be "winged" to fight properly. To "wing" Sekirei, the most general way is to kiss them in which they will then stabilize and follow their Ashikabi, though apparently contact between the mucus membranes also counts.



YES, the anime is massive fanservice.
By the way. I'd like to mention that it's one of the male sekirei mentions that they could go "further" than just kissing, even if he is a bishounen.

I've been trying to figure out a way to deal with this but I'll break it down in the usual manner.

First off, the art style itself isn't bad. Generally the eyes are very round and it's really to each their own. Character designs for the protagonist and main support characters are fairly solid, they all fall into a generic archetype which is kinda annoying.

Moving onto the characters themselves, the protagonist basically forms a harem of cookie cutter girls who have unique abilities which is basically the only thing that's keeping them from being mistaken with another person, and the creator can't seem to decide on whether he wanted a 108 harem fest or if he wanted to actually create 108 distinct "heroes" as you see a handful of male Sekirei, two of which are significant characters though it's still about a 11:1 female-male ratio.

And as usual, we've got a male protagonist, with a self-esteem issue, is a pushover, next to useless, somehow wins the heart of a handful of Sekirei, and would be a "good" character if he only pushed himself.....right. This is probably the biggest turn off for anything for me. I'm so absolutely sick of useless protagonists who have no strengths except for being some sort of arbitrary moral support when he "decides to do something." Christ, even having him attend college would improve my view, but no. He's gotta fail TWICE and be a loser rounin cause "that's when you pick yourself up!" He's also a terrible reluctant protagonist (Saito from Zero no Tsukaima does a better job) and the voice actor is pretty bad.

Setting up the usual harem scheme, this is also supposed to mean massive fan service, and to be honest, I'm on the fence here about this. Having been released a couple years before the "moeblob" and the Seikon no Qwaser/Queens Blade censor pushing era (July 2008 and July 2010 for the first and second seasons respectively) Sekirei was not subject to the stupid pink, airy background with the character yelling "iiiiyaaaaaa" the annoying time wasting scenes we see today. I think I've only seen maybe one or two of these ridiculous glorified scenes that are purely for fanservice only.

That isn't to say there aren't any breasts. There's lots of breasts, so many of the characters are so endowed you'd think there was some sort of disease going going around, and likewise there are also many bathing scenes and instances where breasts are exposed, and while that may seem to be the focus for some people, it feels like one of those cases where the animation production is simply just going along with following the manga and its respective scenes. There's not much glorification on the fact that there's exposed skin (except in the first few episodes) and it almost becomes like an everyday thing where even major plot points are discussed in the nude. There's no frame cut, dynamic angle changes, or change in music, and for that I'm grateful because in some sense, it's actually tasteful, or used as humor. There's one scene where the main characters are discussing something harem related and all you see filling up the frame from different angles are the breasts of the characters talking.

The other type of fanservice is the ikkitousen style of exploding clothes during fight scenes. I don't think it ever gets as bad as ikkitousen where I recall in of the OVAs one of the characters just straight up yells that there aren't enough exposed breasts in the scene but it's on that kind of level.

Moving on, the production values for Sekirei is fairly solid. You do see the occasional still shot, panning corner cutting but most of the fight scenes are crisp and generally don't repeat clips. But it's obvious that they also have a limited budget and know how to evenly distribute it (unlike SHAFT...) but it does also result in some unintentionally hilarious scenes such as this:

I... um....uh.... I think the answer is C? I mean I think I see something regarding phenotypes but I'm not too sure what a ""oquckdame" is... or the rest of the page for that matter.... You know... maybe Minato really isn't that stupid.
Also with 108 characters, it gives the creator some freedom in the different kinds of battle characters she can create. It's good animation overall and CG rendering was pretty well done. Kyoto animation probably holds the title for best 3D rendering followed by J.C. staff but Seven Arcs is a very capable and competent production team, even if they haven't been the main team for many series.

The story and some of the execution of the plot needs work. Lots of work actually. There are questions that I had about plot points early on that were never addressed, such as "What happens when a Sekirei shuts down?" There are apparently rules that govern fights between Sekirei but it's never explained as of yet about the result. It seems akin to death as that's how the characters in the show are reacting but then there are hints that they can come back or something.... It's sketchy. There's also the issue where in the second season, there's a constant recurrence (almost to where it becomes an inadvertent gag) of the "bad timing" device. The one I'm referring to is where there are two characters who are looking for each other but have bad luck and never do meet resulting said characters being at the same place at the same time but looking in opposite directions or alternating their arrivals at a same place. In general, this isn't a bad device UNLESS THEY NEVER MEET. In that case, it's simply downright irritating and a waste of time. One can only have so much tolerance before it gets annoying, and it occurs throughout an entire season. Overall, however, the main plot is hammered in fairly well (I think...) but it's specifics that get somewhat problematic.

The biggest part about Sekirei that keeps it from being the absolute trash it's over arching plot is supposed to make it out to be are the inter-character relations. In addition to supposedly being all different Sekirei seem to also have been "born" in chronological order starting from number 01 all the way to 108, and within the numbers there are elite groups and members who work under different organizations and are in different political areas of the city the show takes place in. In addition, there's a strong emphasis on "fated" destinies and the belief that Sekirei actually choose their master based upon their reactions to certain people, and of course there are Ashikabi who initiate the "winging" through brute force resulting in a large range and mix of characters that can exist in the world. Putting the main protagonist's harem aside, the show gets fairly deep into tertiary characters, but unfortunately, not deep enough. It falls just short of a complex and well crafted world.

Before I wrap this up, one final thing that amused me (I couldn't really find a place to put this anywhere else) was Kusano's character. She's the 108th Sekirei and the youngest in the entire story I believe. She's supposed to be about 5-8 years old and is one of the few incarnations of the old school "moe" device. For those of you who are unaware. There are actually two uses for "moe." The old school/generation version was used to describe characters (mainly girls) who evoked a platonic love from the viewers for the character. Basically the main difference from the old "moe" and the lolita complex was that moe was non sexual. Nowadays, it's used fairly plainly to mean something that's cute but closer to sexual emotions. Anyway, Kusano is a pretty plain and generic character standalone, but the execution by the creator along with the voice actor made this show a bit more amusing with the occasional jealous fits that Kusano has.

Sekirei is a show that needs work. It's good but not great. It's bad, but not terrible. Depending on your point of view, I would generally say that it ranges at either below average or above average but not the middle itself. It isn't a bad time sink and the physical quality of the show is pretty good. Assuming the manga still runs, Sekirei will probably go for a third season as well.

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