Sekirei is precisely the sort of series I categorically avoid: a fan service-heavy, harem fighter in which battles between large-breasted women almost inevitably result in their nudity. Although I’m an admitted detractor of both harem and mature-rated fighter animes, I find myself surprisingly offering a relatively unreserved recommendation of Sekirei here. While I certainly never felt that the nudity was entirely motivated, the series does an admirable job of justifying the formation of a harem through its own narrative rules, thereby making us care about the characters as a group, which is often difficult in a harem anime given the endless jealousy-fueled confrontations between those characters in the harem (not that those don’t exist in Sekirei, they just serve a different purpose).
The series’ narrative centers on the “Sekirei Plan,” a game concocted by a rich madman that pits 108 (potentially alien) superpowered individuals known as Sekirei against one another in battle in a city-wide free-for-all from which only one Sekirei may emerge victorious. In order to use their superpowers to their fullest extent and therefore win, the Sekireis must be “engaged” by forming a physical relationship (initiated by a kiss) with an Ashikabi, a normal man or woman with whom the Sekireis then become bonded and reliant upon.
The thing is, not all Sekireis must have a unique Ashikabi. In fact, given that the Sekirei’s choice of Ashikabi (unless forcibly engaged) is determined by some sort of genetic chemistry between the two, many Sekireis find their Ashikabi amongst existing Ashikabis. Thus, throughout the course of the two seasons of Sekirei collected in FUNimation’s recent Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Sekirei & Sekirei: Pure Engagement, the series’ protagonist Minato engages six Sekireis. While harems are usually about a conflict of interest amongst a group of (typically) women who all desire a single man, Sekirei breaks from this tired trend by making the harem a necessary component of the six Sekireis’ survival during the “Sekirei Plan.” They need each other to survive just as much as they individually desire Minato.
What’s more, Minato is not your typical, personality bereft, audience surrogate harem lead. Minato’s actions, including taking on the six Sekireis, may be motivated by his overwhelming selflessness, but we actually watch him grapple with the consequences of his decisions rather than blindly jump into action. Most notably, Minato struggles greatly with putting his Sekireis in danger when he’s compelled to help others, as he is in the build-up to the climaxes of both seasons, and he even grapples with bringing on his sixth Sekirei, Homura, who had to that point been a guy.
On that note, I also find the inclusion of Homura to be a particularly interesting facet of the series, as an inherent gender instability in Homura actually results in him developing female characteristics (namely breasts) to accommodate Minato’s sexual preference. Thus, Homura becomes the sole trans-gendered character amongst an otherwise female harem. Ignoring the fact that Homura’s inclusion is blatantly motivated by the mangaka’s/producers’ desire to appeal to the sexual preferences of a specific potential audience, including a legitimately transgender character (as opposed to bishōnen characters such as Baka and Test’s Hideyoshi) is pleasantly progressive of Sekirei and the identity crisis that plagues Homura as a result makes him one of the more captivating characters in the series.
FUNimation’s 9-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Sekirei includes textless openings and closings, commentaries and trailes. The set also includes two, 28-minute OVAs: “Kurano’s First Shopping Trip” and “Two Gossip Topics,” which is divided into two half-episode sections. Although included in the FUNimation release as extras, it should be noted that the OVAs are intended to fit narratively between the first and second seasons in the order listed above. However, skipping them certainly won’t hinder your enjoyment of the series any. In fact, I wish I had skipped them myself as “Two Gossip Topics” easily marks the lowest point of the series, embodying everything I hate about the harem and mature-rated fighter animes. It’s an infantile, disgusting excuse to get all the Sekireis together (friends and enemies alike), get them naked for a physical and compare/contrast breast sizes, which is literally the plot of the first half of the OVA. The second half finds them all in a bath house squeezing each other’s breasts… just because. Sure, that’s fine for some viewers, but I for one ask for a little more motivation from a series than that justifying the nudity in “Two Gossip Topics,” which is to say: none.