I generally grade ecchi anime on a different scale from other anime. Ecchi anime is something I do not naturally gravitate too, and even as I’ve become desensitized the idea of ecchi, there’s always a lingering discomfort in that I am watching giant animated boobs flopping around like water balloons glued to a washboard. So rather than calling out ecchi anime for doing this, I look more into whether the ecchi show will satisfy its target audience first and then see if there’s anything in there for me.
Sekirei sort of accomplishes both.
On the surface, it looks like it could be a particularly odious production. We follow a young college student named Minato Sahashi who has the usual college student problem of a cute girl named Musubi literally falling from the sky and crashing into him. Musubi is one of 108 Sekirei who have landed in Tokyo to take part in a no-holds-barred brawl across the city, headed by the mysterious MBI corporation. With a kiss, Minato “wings” Musubi and becomes her Ashikabe, or master. The “Sekirei” plan begins, and Minato and Musubi find themselves in the battle of their lives.
It’s a rather contrived setup, and it could have been a whole lot worse. Sekirei has one thing going for it, however, and that is comedic timing. Sekirei thrives when it recognizes how ludicrous it is. At its best, it’s a seamless blend of slapstick and wordplay and deranged animation that often hits on comedy gold. It helps that the characters work together well, since they all have distinct personalities. Other than Musubi (who falls too easily into the “innocent fanservice girl” stereotypes), they feel like unique characters in their own right and not simply alternate versions of characters from more famous, better anime. Even though a harem quickly builds around Minato, the characters (again, other than Musubi) seem to have more on their minds than just Minato, and the Sekirei Plan of a battle royale makes for a good and sometimes necessary distraction from the harem antics.
It can’t be stated enough how much the comedy elevates Sekirei. There is an effortless stupidity about nearly everything the show does that it’s still funny even when it does some of the same old bath or being-caught-naked gags. It also helps that the show avoids the path of many harem comedies since Tenchi Muyo! and Love Hina by refusing to abuse the protagonist. None of the ladies overtly seek to harm Minato as they actually do recognize his relative innocence and empathy. If anything, they react to his accidental invasions of privacy in a flirtatious or “whatever” manner, which I’m not sure is much better but at least nobody is sending Minato flying into the sky a half-dozen times an episode. Perhaps that is why Minato comes off as a bit more convincing than the usual meek harem protagonist, since the ladies recognize him as a human and not a pincushion for stress relief (though Tsukiumi, as pictured, can get rather irked at her self-described “husband”). Minato also legitimately thinks of his harem as people, showing an unusual amount of consideration for others than a harem protagonist normally does.
The sequel season, Pure Engagement, has more issues than the first. While the second season has some of the show’s best gags (one highlight is a cell phone conversation between heroic and villainous Sekirei gone horribly wrong), it’s a bit more uneven. The bloated cast gets even bigger in the second season, which weakens the show because it’s difficult to invest in anything that’s happening outside of Minato’s core group. It’s also a couple of shades darker, which causes it to make the mistakes of Freezing and its ilk: asking people to take a show about big-breasted ladies and a thin premise more seriously than it should. Yes, Minato and his group of Sekirei have enough personality and charm, but the rest of the cast doesn’t get enough screentime to establish a similar connection to the audience. Outside of a couple of antagonistic characters, no one outside of Minato’s group makes much impact. They are plot devices or exist only to remind the viewer there is a plot and greater ambition than Minato being surrounded by women.
Like an increasing amount of ecchi these days, Sekirei has zero issues whatsoever about its women taking severe clothing damage and being topless (though it’s not as extreme and sensual as, say, Highschool DxD). Your tolerance (or, conversely, enjoyment) of that will likely dictate how much entertainment value you get out of the title as well.
In a factoid that doesn’t cease to astound people, Sekirei is based on a manga written and drawn by a woman, Sakurako Gokurakuin. I have not read the manga so I don’t know how faithful this anime is to it (I have heard the first season is more faithful than the second), but the manga didn’t conclude until 2015, and the anime’s second season aired in Japan in 2010. It goes without saying that the second season ends with a lot of story left to cover, and the fact that’s been so long since Pure Engagement aired means there will likely never be another season to finish the story. The lack of closure in the ending is frustrating, but it is unfortunately a major part of anime productions these days.
Each season gets a slice of cutesy J-pop with dumb lyrics as openings and closings. There really isn’t much to distinguish them from anything else out there, and the visuals in the opening and closings aren’t anything memorable either. The animation in the actual show itself can veer from exceptionally fluid and intense battle animation to bouncing still figures, so the only consistency in the animation is the lack thereof. That being said, most of the time it is the battle animation that gets the budget boost when it needs it, but not every battle receives this boost. As a result, quite a few of the action sequences feel stilted and awkward, with the corner-cutting being more obvious than it should be.
The one thing Sekirei can universally be praised for is the music. Treating an ecchi anime’s music with the same emotion and care as other anime was a unique thing back in 2008 when the first season aired. The music is composed by Hiroaki Sano, a member of the composing unit MONACA which was in its infancy at the time. Sano’s handed no budget whatsoever (I think even the electric guitar was played on a synth), but he does not resort to the typical compositions of many an ecchi composer before him when handed with no budget. Instead of emphasizing how cheap the music is with synth insanity, Sano takes out the one live instrument he has, an acoustic piano, and bases the whole score off of it. The result is a surprisingly tender and classy soundtrack that gently supports the scenes, and much of the time the score is not used at all, letting the show speak for itself through sound effects and animation alone. The battle music does resort to electronic rock most of the time, but the most effective battle music is a haunting piano cue with a layered string harmony that evokes the great Kenji Kawai at his peak. It unsurprisingly tends to play when a villain is cutting heroic or innocent Sekirei down. The result is a surprisingly effective, if chameleonic, score, that perhaps plays a greater role in humanizing its characters than the writing does.
Also treated with care are both the Japanese and English dubs, both of which are cast and directed well. The Japanese dub is a who’s who of famous Japanese voice actors you would not expect in these shows, like Saori Hayami (Musube), Kana Hanazawa (Kuu), Marina Inoue (Tsukiumi, and has to speak in an archaic Japanese dialect to boot), and so on, surrounding a relative newbie (Shinnosuke Tachibana) as Minato.
The English dub script (led by Sean Whitley in both seasons) does take some liberties, but manages to keep the intent of every scene intact. As mentioned, Tsukiumi speaks in an archaic dialect in Japanese, and Whitley interprets that dialect by making Tsukiumi speak in a absurd take on Old English. This makes Tsukiumi’s lines rather hilarious in many of her scenes, perhaps even funnier to an American than she is when speaking archaic Japanese. The end result is that both dubs are exceptionally entertaining when no one has to take things super seriously, though the Japanese cast adapts better during more serious situations. Both of them work well, however, and your choice of dub won’t affect the experience negatively at all.
The English dub is directed by Jason Grundy in season one and Scott Sager in season 2. The dub sounds pretty consistent regardless, stuffed to the brim with many of FUNimation’s most notable female voice actors surrounding Joel McDonald as Minato. It’s notable for being one of Alexis Tipton’s first lead roles at FUNimation, and she does a superb job bringing a gentle innocence to Musubi. Lydia McKay is another standout as Tsukiumi, especially considering she has to spout off so much faux-Old English (thy, thee, thou, bringeth, etc). Perhaps my favorite is Colleen Clinkenbeard as Matsu, as she resorts to a clean, girl-next-door tone she rarely gets to utilize.
Extras are non-existent for the first season, but the second does give us some episode commentaries that are rather entertaining and enlightening to watch. It is up to you whether Sekirei is worth dropping the money to obtain. It is definitely a decent choice for your ecchi fix, but I don’t consider it a must-own. However, if you choose to binge-watch it on FUNimation before it expires, or can grab this DVD/Blu-ray combo before no more copies are sold, you will be sufficiently entertained. It is no “classic” despite what the packaging says, but at its best Sekirei is a rollicking good time for ecchi lovers.