"Sekirei: Pure Engagement": Less Impure, Less Engaging
There’s something different about Sekirei: Pure Engagement, the second DVD release from the Sekirei franchise. The first season, you may recall, was a bouncy fan-service show that also had an actual plot with actual characters, and that tried to use its fan-service in evocative or funny ways. It seemed to be trying to be classy erotica in spite of the mainstream anime sheen that covered it, and while it didn’t quite succeed I thought the end result was more interesting for the effort. The best-case scenario for Pure Engagement, I thought, was if the trashier aspects were gradually phased out until only the genuinely artsy bits remained. The worst-case scenario were if it decayed into a collection of beach/bath-house/pool episodes. Instead, to my surprise, the series compromised by phasing out the fanservice entirely.
Well, not entirely. The characters are still primarily impossibly proportioned J-cup women, and there’s a fair bit of nudity as well. But it never seems designed to titillate, or to evoke any emotion at all, really; it’s just sort of there. The sexual themes from the first season have been mostly muted. I have mixed feelings about this change. There are fewer stupid or discomfiting scenes (I still remember a bit from the first release where a woman’s bouncing breasts are the focus of the screen after she’s been stabbed in the chest), but there are fewer tender moments and mocking in-jokes as well.
With fanservice mostly out of the picture, the show focuses on plot, which, unfortunately, comes with its own set of pitfalls. There was a lot going on in the first season, but it all meshed together pretty well and never felt rushed or forced, but in this season all of the plot trains seem in danger of colliding with each other. The events proceed jerkily, stalling for several episodes and then suddenly jumping ahead when it’s time for a climactic scene. The plots aren’t balanced out well–two threads in particular get the most attention here while the others are pushed to the sidelines–and the show feels like it’s in danger of turning its complex world into a more predictable series of events.
That’s not to say the set is devoid of any fun. The main strength is the cast: we care about what happens to the characters because they’re well written and believable. My favorite arc in particular is the one dealing with Homura, the last “free” Sekirei, who is grappling with his desire to stay his own man while his body reacts to the situation in particularly unusual ways. A moment between him and Minato, who is slowly evolving from the easily flummoxed Arthur Dent from the first seasons into a capable and well-meaning leader, provides one of the best scenes in the show. The other “main” plot, involving Uzume, a Sekirei who lives with the main cast, being forced to work for a villain in order to protect the life of her hospitalized Ashikabi, is less appealing: it feels mundane and soap opera-esque compared to the other plots, and it’s just a little unbelievable that Uzume never thought of asking her incredibly powerful friends to help her with her plight. Some of the B-plots try to make up for it though. I love Hayato Mikogami, the childish crime-lord, and the team of Yukari (Minato’s younger sister) and the bishonen Shiina is quite funny (though the limits the show goes to keep them separate from the main cast is a prime example of that stalling tactic I mentioned earlier). The show ends in a climactic battle sequences that is a lot like the one from the previous season, but is sort of fun regardless.
This set has three discs; the first two contain the first twelve episodes, and the third has the two OVAs released with this season, as well as textless versions of the OP and EDs. The OVAs here, unfortunately, are significantly less cute than the one from the first season: They apparently channeled all of the missing mindless fanservice into these two specials, and they feel especially out of place given the more serious, plot-heavy tone of the episodes on the main set.
Sekirei: Pure Engagement is still worth watching if you enjoyed the first set, but some of these flaws had better get ironed out by the time the third season comes around.