Anime Review: Minami-ke

Minami-ke is a slice-of-life anime that follows the mundane lives of the three Minami sisters: Chiaki, Kana, and Haruka. It also gives a lot of attention to their classmates in elementary, middle, and high school. Kana is usually the mischievous troublemaker with Chiaki frequently as her target. Haruka is the responsible older sister who everyone idolizes. Due to their large network of friends and acquaintances, the sisters are always assured eventful days.

Plot

Minami-ke doesn’t have much in the way of a story; the most you’ll get is some rudimentary background information about the sisters and the slightest hint of a family history. Like many shows of this style, episodes are typically disjointed; they play out like comic strips. This show does a better job of preserving a narrative throughout each episode, but the series as a whole is still very episodic.

Of course, for a sitcom-anime like this, the focus should be on good characters and humor rather than depth of story. Usually I like my comedies to have good drama at their cores. Effectively balancing humor with drama makes the series feel less artificial, and helps to identify with the characters. Minami-ke doesn’t do this, and spends most of its time setting up the jokes. Fortunately, the writing is of high enough quality that the humor works, but without true dramatic writing, every episode still has a whiff of the Sunday funnies about it. I should say that this isn’t intrinsically a bad thing. But if the series is going to be about life, it should, in some capacity, speak to our lives. Minami-ke does this only slightly, and that feels like a missed opportunity. I would love to have had more dramatic episodes, especially when the characters are so good.

All right, so it’s not all serious with this show but the humor works and I love the dialogue. The exchanges between characters are usually sharp and witty, and the themes used are not very culture-specific. The style of comedy is quite Japanese, but that’s just the flavor of the show. The essence is very much enjoyable for everyone. A few too many episodes are devoted to side characters, only a few of which are decent. I’d say that’s the biggest irritant of the series; it spends too much time away from the characters you want to watch.

Luckily, a lot of other things work. Minami-ke features the greatest video game parody montage ever, and the running gag with Hosaka and his imagined scenarios are over the top but infinitely amusing. My favorite moment would have to be the segment in episode 11 where Chiaki is kicking around a pebble (which she names Yamada). It starts out as a very ordinary yet insightful peek into an elementary student’s mind. From there the story becomes an epic journey, showing the bonds of friendship and adversity. Then the conclusion gives us an ironic twist that is Seinfeldian in its execution, heartbreaking in a way, but still quite hilarious. All of this happens in the space of three miutes – it really is an extraordinary piece of storytelling.

Before I move on, I really must complain about the ending. It’s not that I didn’t like it, it was just very out of form for the series. This character, who you barely see throughout the show, just shows up and hijacks it. By the last episode, you’ve grown almost posessive of the sisters and their slight naivete, to the point where it feels like they’re sullied by what happens. Yes it’s really weird and possibly creepy to complain about such a thing, but you know… that’s how much I took to the cast.

Characters

I spent most of the plot section blathering on about how much I like the characters, so I’ll just reiterate once that the show uses them well. Kana (the middle sister) in particular is deceptively complex. She starts out almost as a cliche; the zany one who has to be that way to serve as a focal point for the humor. She goes through a change by the fourth episode, and you see that she really wants to be a manipulator, but her success rate is inconsistent at best. She’s also a bit dumb, but her out-of-touch quality is really the result of her coming up with scenarios in her head and acting them out without consulting anyone. It’s a surprising amount of nuance for this kind of show, and as a result, I absolutely loved every minute Kana was on screen.

Chiaki, the youngest, idolizes Haruka. Conversely, her relationship with Kana is roughly analogous to the relationship between Stan and Cartman on South Park. Chiaki is quite detached and almost world-weary, and the way she berates those around her is impressive to save the least. Sometimes, she’ll buy into whatever scheme Kana comes up with, and the results are some of the show’s best jokes.

Haruka is the oldest sister, and has the unreasonable burden of having to care for the other two while still going through high school. Her innocence and beauty are played up, but we see that she can be lazy or even violent at times. That makes her the most realistic of the sisters, and I’ll just use the word “endearing” as a euphemism for “if she was real I’d marry her.” I do love that she had a stint as her school’s “legendary badass.”

The supporting characters are hit and miss, and sometimes copies of one of the sisters to very little effect. Makoto, Chiaki’s classmate, is the most annoying for his overblown melodramatics and general un-funniness. He gets too much screen time, and even his cross-dressing as “Mako-chan” quickly becomes an unwelcome gimmick. Most of the others are bland and serve no comedic function. Hosaka, Haruka’s senior classmate, is always watchable. He has too high an opinion of himself, and much like Kana, acts on ideas before consulting anyone (or his own common sense).

Giving so much time to supporting characters (especially one as insipid as Makoto) is a serious weakness of the show. However, the relationship dynamics of the three sisters and their characterization are excellent and strong enough that you can mostly forgive the worse parts.

Technical

The character designs tend to look a little uniform, but the cast establishes itself well enough to overcome that. The animation for the most part isn’t worth discussing because it’s not conducive to the show’s purpose. I would like to note, though, that Minami-ke has the happiest opening and ending songs ever.

The series truly comes alive in the voice acting. Inoue Marina nails Kana, complete with comedic inflections and a wide range of moods. Chihara Minori’s performance as Chiaki is mostly in monotone, almost robotic, which is odd on its own but really accentuates her more emotive lines. Satou Rina plays Haruka in a generic way but it fits her bashful, somewhat motherly personality. Ono Daisuke, an alumnus from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya along with Chihara Minori, gives a suitably over the top satirical interpretation of Hosaka.