The story of the Minami sisters (and their extended cast of friends) is continued in Okaeri.
This should all be familiar material by now, but Minami-ke Okaeri continues in the tradition of depicting the ordinary lives of (relatively) ordinary people. I felt this iteration was missing the character focus of Okawari and the withering abuse of Kana by Chiaki that I enjoyed so much in the first season.
Mako-chan makes more frequent, albeit more toned down, appearances. Touma also becomes more integral to each story. If they’re supposed to be some commentary on gender identity, I’m not getting it. It’s more likely that the show’s producers just think cross dressing is really funny. Unfortunately we see that it isn’t. Comedy’s all in the material folks, and in this case there isn’t any.
As far as storylines go, what you get is even less than Haruka’s meager character arc at the end of Okawari. This season returns to the vignette format of the first season. I’d describe it as one-third mediocre comedy, one-third experimentation, and one-third charming side stories. There aren’t many laugh out loud moments but the good ones are usually perpetrated by Chiaki and Kana. So maybe it’s time to stop thinking of Minami-ke as a comedy show, and more as a lightweight family drama.
There’s something strangely intriguing about Okaeri‘s forays into surreal fantasy, first demonstrated in the second episode when Chiaki’s inner angel and devil manifest. Incidentally these scenes manage to be cute and funny. Seeing a character’s thought process play out in such a way adds a layer of depth to an otherwise uninteresting scene. Then there’s also Hosaka, whose elaborate fantasies never fail to amuse.
Side stories usually involve Touma in some way, be it her relationship with her inept brothers or how Fujioka keeps thinking she’s a boy. The segments on the latter don’t particularly rile me up but Touma’s brothers can be a comedy gold mine. There’s also some measure of artistic truth to their situation – that despite the brainstorming of the three brothers, they still don’t understand Touma at all beacause they just won’t reach out to her. This is contrasted with the family dynamic of the Minami sisters, who have an innate understanding of each other (and Touma).
I would put Okaeri on par with the first season. I miss Chiaki’s relentless verbal abuse of Kana, but am also thankful that Makoto/Mako-chan is more of a human and less of a failed punch line. That said, this season still feels somewhat superfluous. There isn’t a progression of the series’ style; rather it regresses back to that of season one. Most of the vignettes work, sure, but it’s new kinds of stories that I’m interested in. Okaeri turns up a bit short in that respect.
This season attempts to do more with established characters rather than introduce new ones into the mix. The only new face is Hitomi (Natsuki’s friend in high school) but she only has lines in one episode. As for the rest, Touma’s role is greatly expanded. It’s partly due to her brothers neglecting her, a plot point that’s darkly humorous and also leads to Haruka scolding Natsuki. I think the borderline dysfunctional dynamic of the other Minami family is pretty funny, except Touma herself is kind of annoying and selfish – a miniature Kana with less charm.
Mako-chan shows up regularly too, concerned about his fake entry into womanhood (his unladylike physique in particular). You have to chuckle when the original motive for Makoto’s transformation to Mako-chan has been dropped completely, and now he must be the best woman he can be simply because it was the identity forced upon him (by Kana, naturally). Less funny is Fujioka’s continued inability to woo Kana, although he has been appropriated by Chiaki. Knowing Chiaki, she probably sees him more as a pet than as a friend.
Also returning are Hosaka and his elaborate fantasies. Like Robert Downey, Jr., Hosaka marches into each scene with machismo and gusto, and chews up whatever scenery he’s put in front of. The irony of all this of course is that he’s almost completely ignored by Haruka, the focus of his affections, even though we viewers are utterly entranced by him. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he’s the best character of the show.
Our central trio, Haruka, Kana, and Chiaki, spend surprisingly little time together. The last episode brings them together, and I enjoyed seeing that even though Chiaki and Kana antagonize each other all the time, they’re still very much attached.
In general it can be said that the character writing serves the dramatic situations. Okaeri does a lot to establish its cast, but not as much to develop. We see each week that Touma is neglected by her brothers, for example, but we don’t see the resolution to that problem. We don’t see Touma change because of it. Still, this cast has come really far in terms of watchability. Even when the writing falls flat, the main cast is able to prop up the scene.
Okaeri more or less returns to the art style of the first season, but swaps out the old character designs for lankier ones that are less appealing to me. I don’t understand the change in visual design each season. I suppose as long as the characters are still recognizable, it’s all right. Otherwise, the sound and voice acting are all the same as before (though I do like Chiaki’s angel/devil theme).