(Originally written between Dec 6 2014 and some point in January 2015)
Minami-ke had been on my list since the first month after I started watching anime. The things that put me off from watching it in the beginning were the fact that Seasons 2 and 3 have a “reputation” and the fact that I didn’t know how to find out where to actually watch the show.
But now I finally decided to try again. And I found it. And I watched Season 1. And it was excellent. I mean, maybe not by overall or modern standards, but this is a slice of life comedy(occasionally absurd) from 2007, meaning that it competed with stuff like Lucky Star, Hayate no Gotoku, Seto no Hanayome and Hidamari Sketch, not the moe and gimmicks of today. Out of the aforementioned 4 shows, Lucky Star went and became popular as its own thing and Hayate no Gotoku and Seto no Hanayome had male main characters, so they’re not directly comparable to Minami-ke. Minami-ke is, however, quite similar to Hidamari Sketch in some ways, which suits me well because I love Hidamari Sketch. Also, it was quite nice to watch a non-moe(arguably) show with only female main characters. It’s not something you see very often anymore, and I think it’s a nice bit of coincidence that Minami-ke happens to come from one of the golden years of anime. It made me laugh in a way that no other anime has for quite a while.
However! There exists a second season, and a third season, and a fourth season. While I’ve heard that the fourth season is ok, the second and third season are surrounded by miasma. The second season sold about a third of what the first season sold, and the series never recovered its sales numbers, not even with Season 4. A big part of this reason is the fact that the studio changed. Watching the first episode of Season 2 was a confusing and horrifying experience, because not only did I have a hard time accepting that the characters looked totally different(Chiaki’s hair is brown, not blonde with brown tips, goddamnit), the set layouts also changed. The Minami-ke, i.e. the home of the main characters, looks different, some of the school classrooms look totally different, the building layouts are different. Hell, they even stopped drawing background characters. Instead of people that blend into the background, there are now black blobs wearing wigs and human clothes, and occasionally mouths(but never eyes) appear on the blobs, if they happen to have lines. So yeah, Season 2 was a shock.
Season 2 was also basically an attempt at creating actual drama, which didn’t work because as the message that pops up before every episode in Season 1 says, “This is just a plain depiction of the days of the lives of the three Minami sisters. Please don’t expect too much”. Season 3 was a bit better in that respect. It only had occasional bouts of drama, some of which actually surprised me by turning into actually funny jokes, so it wasn’t all bad. Season 4, however, was a different story, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word.
I first noticed the change when watching the season-bridging OVA Minami-ke Omatase. This was the first installment in the series that was animated by Studio Feel and directed by Keiichirou Kawaguchi. The comedy in this OVA was totally different from the 3 previous seasons, and I found it neither funny nor endearing. The same staff then did Minami-ke Tadaima, i.e. Season 4, so it went about as well as I expected. Here’s a few paragraphs I wrote while watching the first 4 episodes of Season 4:
Minami-ke has a few running gags that involve characters mistaking the genders of certain other characters. The show constantly teases resolutions and punchlines to these gags, but nothing ever happens. And that’s kinda what the show itself is. Season 1 was hilarious to me, because the jokes were all new. Season 2 was boring. Season 3 had some funny moments but was still a step down, and Season 4 is almost as bad as Season 2. Yet I still keep hoping that someone will pop out and say “just kidding, here’s the real sequel”.
The main problem I have with the later seasons is that the characters get very stale. This is evident in the first episode of Season 4, where the funniest character was the completely new side character, and in the second episode of the same season, where the funniest characters were old side characters that never got much screen time in the past(the same characters who were responsible for the funniest scene in Season 3).
I think the reason for this is partially in the nature of the jokes. In Season 4, some of the jokes have the same structure as the jokes in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Joshiraku, i.e. a theme(a concept, word or phrase) is picked and the characters then try to exploit that theme in various ways for comedic effect. In the two aforementioned shows, which are both based on manga by Kouji Kumeta, this kind of humour somehow works, but in Minami-ke it just falls flat. Relying on only one very specific theme in each scene makes the scenes feel tedious instead of funny, and all sense of comedic timing is lost.
In addition, Season 4 brings back some jokes from Season 1. In the show’s defence, these jokes were probably reused not because the writers(or maybe the original mangaka) ran out of jokes, but because these were some of the funniest jokes in Season 1. In any case, however, the old jokes simply fail to work, because they’re blended with, or immediately preceded by, the tediously unfunny kinds of jokes that are the standard in Season 4.
So yeah, that’s what the first 4 episodes were like for me. What makes it even more disappointing is the fact that I trusted the MAL scores for all the seasons, which give the impression that Season 1 is good, 2 and 3 are terrible, and 4 is about as good as 1. I trudged through Seasons 2 and 3 in the hope of finding a great final season, but instead I found nothing. Also, contrary to what I believed when I started the show, there is actually no noticable passage of time between or during the seasons. The characters stay about the same age and attend the same levels of school across the seasons(which confuses me, because the show has at least 2 different christmas episodes).
However, as bad as I think Seasons 2 and 4 are, I still recommend watching Seasons 1 and 3. Those who don’t care about skipping seasons can watch 3 without losing much context, and those who do care can still always watch Season 1. Also, Seasons 2 and 4 are not 100% terrible(Season 2 actually manages to pull of emotion at certain moments and Season 4 features the return of Sensei and Ninomiya-kun), so those who have a lot of time and nothing to do may find something they enjoy even in the inferior seasons.