THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE SECOND SEASON. AS SUCH, IT WILL CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE. You have been warned.
Awhile ago, I reviewed Sekirei's first season as mediocre but entertaining. Its cocktail of boobs, action, foreshadowing, and boobs failed to live up to its potential, but I could see a strong possibility for improvement on the horizon. Luckily, the 2010 sequel, Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ seems to have delivered on its predecessor's promise, at least in part. It acquits itself well even if it doesn't quite stand up to its contemporaries within the genre--it is not quite as funny as Ichiban Ushiro no Daimao or as pretty as Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls. This series still manages to pull at heartstrings or elicit laughs when it needs to, mainly by sticking to its interesting story to help smooth over its weaker technical aspects and characterization.
Picking up in the wake of the first season's events, Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ once again focuses on the plight of the beautiful alien sekirei and their human masters called ashikabi. At the center of it all Minato Sahashi and his gaggle of girlies find themselves drawn into increasingly violent situations as the head of the MBI (the powerful corporation behind the whole mess) finds ever more innovative ways to escalate the battle royale. Along the way, this season pauses to highlight some of the secondary characters, reveal the history of the Sekirei Plan and develop some good, old-fashioned rivalries. The end result is a much more satisfying series than the one that came before.
This time around, the writers know how to keep viewers interested, and the three main arcs feature more combat and more tension. Minato's limp optimism fares better when pitted against real villains like Minaka (the MBI chairman) and Higa (a rival ashikabi with an equally powerful harem of sekirei) and their genuine threats give the proceedings some needed urgency and weight. Most importantly, this season makes a concerted effort to drive home a loose timeline for the Sekirei Plan, and the chairman's more active hand pays off in spades during the final, breathless arc. Of course, the focus on suspense and action drains some of the ecchi from the series, but this tradeoff improves the narrative by enhancing the flow of the story.
All that said, Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ takes few risks and offers few surprises. Moreover, Minaka's begins to irritate as a villain in the later episodes due to the fact that he holds all the keys to moving the plot forward and chooses only to apply them according to completely opaque motivations, causing the show to drag at times. And the passive nature of the main cast makes it hard for the series to sell itself as anything more than an enjoyable action snack with a tasty ecchi glaze, as the proceedings carry little moralistic weight or character development.
Unfortunately, the show doesn't sport improved visuals to go with its better story. If anything, the animation appears to have taken a step backward between seasons. The heavy use of chibi form carries over from the previous series, but Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ suffers from shoddier execution--the characters frequently deform unattractively for extended periods and in an inconsistent manner. In addition, the show seems less kinetic than its predecessor, relying heavily on techniques that plague long-running shounen shows to help rush through the fight sequences and is therefore rife with still action shots with speed lines or animating only the super powers, along with a lot of background-less attack sequences. Coupled with the plot's significantly diminished opportunities for cheesecake (ecchi fanservice for those not familiar with the comic book term), there's almost no reason to watch this one on mute without the subtitles.
Yuki Kaida takes advantage of Homura's more prominent role to rise above the rest of the cast who busy themselves reprising their delivery from season one. As Homura transitions from male to female, his (her?) seiyuu allows a feminine timbre to creep into her (his?) voice that drives home the sekirei's growing acceptance of his transforming gender. Of the remaining cast, only Karasuba strokes the aural pleasure zones. Romi Park communicates the disciplinary squad captain's aura of controlled violence by mixing malice and nonchalance equally to create a villain who can strike fear into her opponents with her speech alone. As the perfect foil to demure and gentle Miya's mannerisms, this performance comes across as particularly effective.
A good deal of the in-episode music should remind viewers of a decent RPG soundtrack, with the main "action" theme echoing some of the less able Final Fantasy fight music (yes, Mystic Quest was a Final Fantasy. No, it didn't sound as awesome as VI or VII). As the lone bright spot in the score, the new OP, "Onnaji Kimochi", stands head and shoulders above the previous season's. While it might not find its way into many viewers' playlists, it holds up on repeated listens and manages to embody the series' combination of warm fuzzies, voluptuous vixens, and high-stakes action. Sadly, neither of the ending themes offer much more than saccharine melodies meant to reiterate the show's themes of love and friendship but which only manage to accomplish forgettable mediocrity.
Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ does slightly better at characterization than its prequel by spending as little of its time on the banal main cast as it can manage. The back story interludes provide some much-needed insight into Miya and the previous incarnations of the disciplinary squad and these characters prove more interesting than the blandly archetypal ladies who accompany Minato. In the present, Homura, saddled as he is with some major changes, offers welcome respite from the fawning sekirei that dominate the show's roster, but he shrinks from the limelight in the series' second half and we're left with the more cookie-cutter members to carry the show to its conclusion.
This show delivers on the promises laid out in the original Sekirei, but remains hamstrung by weak execution. Like the buxom Musubi, Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~ plows forward oblivious to its shortcomings, offering rushes of excitement and fanservice that distract, but never rises to the level of enthralling. As a sequel to the first season, this anime more than passes muster, but the meager production values and hesitant plotting hold it back. Let's hope that the third installment proves better still.
As the first stage of the Sekirei Plan, Minato Sahashi and his team of buxom beauties enjoy a small respite from the insane machinations of the MBI, but all good things must come to an end. At the whim of the crazed President Minaka, Musubi, Tsukiumi, Matsu, and Kusano find themselves drawn into the search for the final unwinged sekirei, a battle royale, and the scheming of other ashikabis. At the center of it all, Minato still tries desperately to keep all sekirei - both his and others - from harm, but how long can his ideals stand up to the realities of this cruel game?
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.