It seems fitting that the two best comedies airing this season should end with a full cast O-hanami – it’s hard to overstate just how much this annual ritual means to the Japanese. This finale was certainly less emotionally-charged than the Shirokuma Cafe one, but that’s to be expected given the tone of the two series – and really, that last scene was about as overtly sentimental as this series gets.
I always scribble down notes of everything that strikes me funny during an episode of Minami-ke, and tonight I almost ran out of paper. This was an episode that got pretty much everything right, all the more so as it’s a finale – in addition to being hilarious it struck just the right tone for a last episode. We got a chapter from the shougakusei, the chuugakusei and the koukousei all in order, and all of the major players got their chance to shine. There was a wonderful symmetry to the episode, and just enough heart to make it feel like a proper send-off. I especially loved, among other things:
- “He’s trying to be serious, but the nose-picking ruins it.”
- “Is there a cure for moronicity?”
- “If my foot smells like milk forever and I can’t be a bride, Fujioka’s taking responsibility!”
- Fujioka doing Hosaka’s laugh
- Chiaki’s reaction to Hoaka’s description of his dream fava-bean pasta
- “This is getting heated.”
- Plain Yogurt speaks!
- “The burning soul of the fantasista within me can never be extinguished”!
- “Do you even know what fantasista means?”
Mostly, I think, this was a celebration of the baka in Minami-ke – and thus, it was fitting that the episode should revolve around Kana (who’s actually a lot smarter than she usually acts). Starting with Uchida and Makoto and their psychosomatic hay fever, things were off to a flying start faster than Makoto’s finger going into his nose. From the moment Chiaki spoke I had a feeling it was a “bakayarou allergy” that was troubling her – which makes it all the more ironic that it was Uchida and Mako-chan – who still had his finger in his nose despite the disguise – who sniffed out the truth.
I think Miyuki is really the biggest idiot among the middle-school set – even bigger than Kana – and her milk spill set off an altogether hilarious chain of events that led to Kana getting a soccer ball in the face from the Tamekeri Banchou Fujioka (with typical “this show just doesn’t want anyone to get together” timing). As so often is the case in Minami-ke it’s the reactions that sell the moments – Riko’s reactions to every mention of Fujioka “taking responsibility” with Kana, for example, and especially Kana’s to being hit with said ball. I’m not sure where Kana’s obsession with never being a bride came from but it’s certainly taken root in the last couple of episodes.
As for the high-schoolers, the main upshot of their appearance is that it leads to another meeting between Chiaki and Hosaka, which almost always produces spectacular results. This time he appears to her as the Fava Bean Fairy, and again proves he’s the only one who can make her crave vegetables. There are no musical numbers this time, sadly, but there is plenty of irony as the one time Hayami fails to troll Hosaka with information is the one time it could really help him. She really is a sour-hearted person.
“This is just between us” carries on the glorious tradition of Tadaima in having great fun with the vagaries of language, which is “just a little” bonus on top of an already great season. Again we see the bakayarou in full glory here, as Uchida and Miyuki just can’t grasp the notion that “just between us” actually means just the people having the conversation. Again, it’s all in the reactions – and my favorite here is Kana’s glee at seeing how worked up the shougakusei are getting over the topic of how often it’s acceptable to walk into the wrong public toilet (little realizing she had them all beat). In addition to the comedy this final extended sketch really delivers in the finale department too, as Kana finally decides to use the “just between us” scheme (successfully) to get her long-coveted hanami party up and running. Everyone is present too – well, everyone but poor Hosaka, who’s been screwed by Hayami yet again. But he does get the end the season the way all Minami-ke seasons should end…
I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Tadaima to be the tour de force that it was – in the end, very nearly the equal of the first season with Ohta Masahiko, and certainly better than the middle two (which I liked more than most). It sort of puts me in mind of Jack Nicklaus winning The Masters at 46 or David Bowie having a Billboard #1 album after not producing anything of substance for 20 years – a beloved old veteran who no one thought could raise their game to this level surprising everyone by showing they haven’t lost a step (or more than one, anyway). Studio feel’s OVA had me hoping this season might be a solid one, but it exceeded my expectations in every way.
For a Minami-ke fan, I think this season delivered pretty much everything you could want. The character designs were back on-model, some of the best in any of the show’s anime incarnations. The animation was fine, and we got the new feature of some very funny omakes as eyecatches – omakes that were actually cleverly relevant to the stories playing out in the main episode. All the major characters got multiple opportunities in the spotlight, in fairly equal proportion, and even Sensei and Ninomiya-kun (and Sannomiya-kun) were back at last for the fun.
That question of proportion is an important one for a show with as deep a supporting cast as Minami-ke. There were some imbalances in the second and third seasons – Touma being generally featured too heavily, and her very funny brothers disappearing for an entire season. In Tadaima we got Touma, Makoto and Hosaka – probably the three most important supporting players – in just about equal measure and while I’d always applaud for more Mako-chan, I think their roles were of a good size. The casts from all three schools got plenty of opportunity to shine, which in turn means Minami-ke has a chance to show off the amazing dexterity it has in switching between comedic styles – because those different casts bring out different types of humor in the series. If I had any quibble it might be that the season could have used just a bit more of Haruka herself, though an honest assessment would tell you that she’s always had a slightly smaller slice of the comedic pie than her younger sisters.
So where do we go from here? With Minami-ke, we can never be sure of the answer to that question. There’s still manga left to be adapted, and if this edition is received well by the fans (early returns are good) and does decently on Blu-ray and DVD, there’s every reason to hope that Minami-ke will grace our screens again. Not only do I hope it’s a lot more quickly this time, but I would be very pleased to her that Studio feel was behind the wheel again – they did a hell of a job refreshing the show while completely staying faithful to what makes it great. Kudos to director Kawaguchi Keiichiro – whose work has never impressed me much – and writer Kouno Takamitsu (a Minami-ke S1 and Mitsudomoe veteran whose presence, was, I suspect, crucial to Tadaima’s success). Minami-ke is without a doubt one of the giants of anime comedy, and it’s a rare treat to see it at its best – as it so often was this season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, women’s clothing can no longer contain my wildness as a man.