My God, it’s like being in 2007 again. Pinch me.
A word of qualification before I begin: I love Minami-ke. The original season (with Ohta Masahiko directing) remains one of my favorite anime comedies of all-time. I even liked large sections of the second season – much-reviled by many – and even more of the third, slightly more well-regarded season. There’s just something about the dynamic of the characters and the writing that clicks with me, but even I’ll admit that the series only rarely re-captured the magic that propelled the first season from good to great. And studio and director changes have definitely taken their toll.
Well, we’re back – with yet another new studio, Feel, and director, Kawaguchi Keiichiro, both of whom I’d regard as entities with mixed track records. But Feel gave us an OVA (Minami-ke Omatase) last Fall and, while not spectacular, it was encouragingly on-point. So I had high hopes from Tadaima, especially after seeing the preview. And based on one episode, I’m thrilled. It all feels like Minami-ke again – the character designs are a nice hybrid of the first and third season (actually it’s the most manga-faithful of any incarnation of M-K in this regard), the writing is crisp, the timing spot-on. Minami-ke, based on this premiere, is back.
What’s most encouraging is that Feel managed to deliver an excellent and very funny opener without using any of its three best side characters, among the best supporting cast in anime: the tomboyish Minami Touma (no relation), the… well, whatever he is Hosoka, and the irresistibly irresistible sometimes-trap Makoto/Mako-chan. The watercolor palette, that background music, even the very faithful to the original OP – it was sheer delight to immerse myself in real Minami-ke again. As I’ve said many times comedy is a very personal thing, and very hard to blog on top of that – and Minami-ke is no exception. It’s a feeling as much as anything, relying less on traditional punchlines and more on its uniquely off-kilter sensibility that skewers the illusions of everyday life. Perhaps that’s why it was so hard for the adaptations to be consistent – you can’t just copy the words out of the manga, but rather capture the mood and rhythm of it. The first season managed to actually improve on the manga, which isn’t the most natural fit for an anime – and that was elusive in Okawari and Okaeri.
I’m going to assume that you know the basics of the premise and dispense with overlong explanations. Of course it’s the story of three sisters (don’t expect too much) and everyone has their favorite: the youngest, precociously childish Chiaki (Chihara Minori), tsun to the world and dere to Haruka (Satou Rina), the eldest – a latent banchou and overall Goddess. And then there’s my favorite, the middle-child Kana (Inoue Marina), one of the all-time great baka in anime history. Like a cat, she’s smart enough to think her way into trouble but usually not out of it (a “genius who plays dumb?” Well…). All three seiyuu are spectacular here, and hearing them again is like welcoming old friends into the house – and it’s the dynamic between the three sisters that drives most of the comedy and occasional sentimentality of M-K. But the series also includes one of the all-time great supporting casts, not just the three standouts mentioned above but a core group in every sister’s circle that all have something unique to add to the comedy stew that is Minami-ke.
We got a pretty traditional four-chapter episode here, and with it a new character to the anime – Miyuki (Nanjou Yoshino) an elfin middle-school classmate of Kana’s who contributes hilarity in a chapter where Kana uses her cuteness to wrest study aid from brainy friend Keiko (Gotou Saori) – naturally, it doesn’t help, and Kana is back to posting test scores that comment on the frailty of humanity. Other highlights include Kana scheming to get Haruka out from under the kotatsu – prompting a classic Chiaki reaction of “You needed my help for that?” (astonished reactions to Kana’s baka-hood are a staple of the Chiaki catalogue) – not realizing that it was Haruka pulling a scheme on her, and yet another frustrating near-miss for Kana’s love-struck classmate Fujioka (Kakihara Tetsuya). Not even a helpful shrine Omikuji could connect the circuits in Kana’s brain, though she did consider it, as Fujioka foiled himself with prior dispatch. Ironically he could have a Minami sister of his own whenever he wanted, as Chiaki has hopelessly crushed on him since they met – even naming her teddy after him – but age-inappropriate crushes involving the sisters and the supporting cast are a foundation stone of M-K. Chiaki’s angel-devil (the latter of which is disquietingly sexy) natures make another appearance as well.
It’s pretty hard to describe just what it is that makes Minami-ke so funny, and why the chemistry is so fragile. All of the ingredients have to be present and in harmony: there are certainly elements of physical comedy (a Makoto/-chan specialty), situation comedy and misunderstandings, and wordplay (reflecting the Japanese passion for puns) along with a real sense of who the characters are. If any of the elements is misaligned the show can be amusing, but just doesn’t feel quite right – the mode of much of the second and some of the third season. But this premiere did feel just right to this Minami-ke fanatic, even in its “needs more Mako-chan” form, and feeling that way again about a show I love is a rare and special pleasure.
ED: Kyūsekkin Lucky DAYS」 (Fast-Approaching Lucky Days) by (Rina Satou, Marina Inoue, and Minori Chihara)