So this week I’ll be reviewing the Minami-ke anime (manga created by Sakuraba Koharu). This series is a little interesting since there are 3 seasons (with a 4th on the way!) but the subsequent seasons are all quite different. Different studio, director, art style, a lot of things are different. For now, I will just handle the first season. It’s widely considered the best of the three, for various reasons. The first season was produced by the studio Daume and directed by Masahiko Ohta; I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of the two of them. My knowledge of directors isn’t the best to begin with, but studio Daume is totally unfamiliar to me. Looking through their repertoire, a lot of their shows seem romance/comedy/slice of life based, with the notable exception of Shiki, which was horror as I recall. Minami-ke falls under the slice of life/comedy genres, so at the very least the studio has some experience here.
The plot for this show is quite simple. The three Minami sisters live together, and the show chronicles their daily lives as they deal with each other and their classmates. It’s primarily a comedy series, with a lot of slice of life elements. It doesn’t get much more simple than that. I think one of the major advantages the first season has over the second is how the pacing and episode format is handled. There isn’t much original content in the first season; a lot of it is based on the manga. Due to the shorter stories and simpler structure of manga plot lines, a single episode would have a few stories. Sometimes they would be related. For example, if a new character were introduced, that character might be featured in all the stories in that episode. However, since the show was mostly derived from the manga, most episodes would be a collection of these loosely connected stories. I think this is an ideal way to structure a show like this. The variety of stories and the fairly large cast list keep the show fresh and interesting each episode. While the stories may not necessarily be hit or miss, it’s nice that if one segment isn’t all that funny, you know you don’t have to sit through a full 22 minutes of that to the end of the episode.
As with most comedy and slice of life series, the quality of the humor is largely left up to the characters. Most anime has humor that revolves heavily on certain gimmicks for their characters, so if those characters aren’t funny or interesting to begin with, it’s more than likely the whole series will be a bust. Luckily this isn’t as much the case with Minami-ke. There is quite a large list of characters, since the three sisters go to different schools. Chiaki has her elementary school friends, Kana has her middle school friends, and Haruka likewise for high school. Still, there aren’t any episodes devoid of the three mains, so I’ll cover them. Starting with the oldest, Minami Haruka. She goes to high school and fulfills a motherly role to her siblings (and many times their friends). Considering the three sisters live alone, she handles most of the adult duties for the three of them.
In contrast, Minami Kana is loud, brash, and just a little bit dim. She’s the middle sibling, and predictably goes to middle school. Her idiot character is kind of necessary in the show like this, as a lot of situations and jokes wouldn’t really start without her. In fact, she’s the butt of the joke fairly often. Still, she’s definitely the funniest of the siblings, and I think Kana being around makes most situations funnier. While she may not be my favorite character, she is my favorite Minami sibling. Lastly, there’s the youngest, Minami Chiaki. She goes to elementary school, and while she is the youngest, her manner of speech and the way she carries herself is anything but childlike. With the exception of Haruka, Chiaki is quite good at being condescending to people. This plays out most often with Kana. The relationship between Kana and Chiaki is a little interesting. Chiaki idolizes Haruka, yet barely gives Kana the time of day. Kana desperately wishes for the same kind of relationship with Chiaki that Haruka shares with her, so she sometimes goes through these hoops to maybe raise Chiaki’s opinion of her. Of course, this never pans out.
I think the greatest advantage the first season of Minami-ke has over its successors is the art style. In contrast to the subsequent seasons, the art here is softer and easier to look at. Seasons 2 and 3 use this style that’s kind of glossy and in general there seems to be a lot going on on the screen. In contrast, the first season seems less concerned about hard lines and complicated backgrounds. Instead, things just look a bit more formless. That sounds bad, but I think it’d make itself clear with a picture comparison, which you’ll find below. Besides that, however, the character designs in the first season are better. They may not be as sharp, but everyone looks a lot smaller in seasons 2 and 3 and it was quite the jarring shift if you watched from the beginning like I had. Moreover, there was that glossy quality I had mentioned earlier that seemed to permeate every aspect of the show later on. Anyway, the comparison should explain everything quite clearly.
The animation is fairly so-so. I know I’ve said for a while that for slice of life, animation doesn’t really matter. It’s about the dialogue and the characters and there isn’t really much use for incredibly high-budget animation sequences throughout. However, after watching a few other kind of similar series (Nichijou, which I reviewed here, and Hyouka, which I’ll be reviewing in about 3 weeks when it ends) I think the genre could definitely benefit from solid animation. That’s not to say the a show like this can’t be good otherwise, but I think it’s one of the factors separating a “good” and “great” show. So, in the end, Minami-ke suffers on that front. It’s hard to say what could have been, but there are a lot of doors opened with good animation that we’ll never see out of this show.
The music is about generic as it gets, I’m sad to say. The BGM is kind of standard slice of life music. I can’t really explain what I mean by that, but if you’ve watched a lot of the genre, it all starts to sound the same to you. There are certain tunes played at certain times that just sound incredibly similar from show to show. The opening theme is “Keikenchi Joushouchuu☆”, which is sung by the VAs of the three main girls, Satou Rina, Inoue Marina, and Chihara Minori. Again, it’s a fairly generic opening theme. I actually kind of liked the ending theme, “Colorful Days”. Again, it’s by the VAs of the three main girls. While I don’t normally mention this, I will say that there’s a lot of popular voice talent in this show. I mean, for starters, you have the three Minami sisters, who are all voiced by veterans in the industry. There are also some side characters who I didn’t realize were also voiced by some industry heavyweights (Ono Daisuke, Mizuki Nana, Toyosaki Aki, and Kitamura Eri). I’ll be honest, unless the voice acting is really incredible or really terrible, I tend not to notice it, but it is kind of interesting that so many recognizable figures were in this show. By all measures, it wasn’t incredibly popular or anything. Though I suppose four seasons speaks for itself.