Monday, January 7, 2013

First Impressions – Minami-ke Tadaima

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My God, it's like being in 2007 again. Pinch me.

Does this mean Seirei no Moribito will be back in the Spring and Ghost Hound in the Fall?

OP: 「Shiawase☆High Tension↑↑ 」 (Happiness High Tension) by (Rina Satou, Marina Inoue, and Minori Chihara)
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A word  of qualification before I begin: I love Minami-ke.  The original season (with Ohta Masahiko directing) remains one of my favorite anime comedies of all-time. I even liked large sections of the second season – much-reviled by many – and even more of the third, slightly more well-regarded season.  There’s just something about the dynamic of the characters and the writing that clicks with me, but even I’ll admit that the series only rarely re-captured the magic that propelled the first season from good to great.  And studio and director changes have definitely taken their toll.

Well, we’re back – with yet another new studio, Feel, and director, Kawaguchi Keiichiro, both of whom I’d regard as entities with mixed track records.  But Feel gave us an OVA (Minami-ke Omatase) last Fall and, while not spectacular, it was encouragingly on-point.  So I had high hopes from Tadaima, especially after seeing the preview.  And based on one episode, I’m thrilled.  It all feels like Minami-ke again – the character designs are a nice hybrid of the first and third season (actually it’s the most manga-faithful of any incarnation of M-K in this regard), the writing is crisp, the timing spot-on.  Minami-ke, based on this premiere, is back.

What’s most encouraging is that Feel managed to deliver an excellent and very funny opener without using any of its three best side characters, among the best supporting cast in anime: the tomboyish Minami Touma (no relation), the… well, whatever he is Hosoka, and the irresistibly irresistible sometimes-trap Makoto/Mako-chan.  The watercolor palette, that background music, even the very faithful to the original OP – it was sheer delight to immerse myself in real Minami-ke again.  As I’ve said many times comedy is a very personal thing, and very hard to blog on top of that – and Minami-ke is no exception.  It’s a feeling as much as anything, relying less on traditional punchlines and more on its uniquely off-kilter sensibility that skewers the illusions of everyday life.  Perhaps that’s why it was so hard for the adaptations to be consistent – you can’t just copy the words out of the manga, but rather capture the mood and rhythm of it.  The first season managed to actually improve on the manga, which isn’t the most natural fit for an anime – and that was elusive in Okawari and Okaeri.

I’m going to assume that you know the basics of the premise and dispense with overlong explanations.  Of course it’s the story of three sisters (don’t expect too much) and everyone has their favorite: the youngest, precociously childish Chiaki (Chihara Minori), tsun to the world and dere to Haruka (Satou Rina), the eldest – a latent banchou and overall Goddess.  And then there’s my favorite, the middle-child Kana (Inoue Marina), one of the all-time great baka in anime history.  Like a cat, she’s smart enough to think her way into trouble but usually not out of it (a “genius who plays dumb?”  Well…).  All three seiyuu are spectacular here, and hearing them again is like welcoming old friends into the house – and it’s the dynamic between the three sisters that drives most of the comedy and occasional sentimentality of M-K.  But the series also includes one of the all-time great supporting casts, not just the three standouts mentioned above but a core group in every sister’s circle that all have something unique to add to the comedy stew that is Minami-ke.

We got a pretty traditional four-chapter episode here, and with it a new character to the anime – Miyuki (Nanjou Yoshino) an elfin middle-school classmate of Kana’s who contributes hilarity in a chapter where Kana uses her cuteness to wrest study aid from brainy friend Keiko (Gotou Saori) – naturally, it doesn’t help, and Kana is back to posting test scores that comment on the frailty of humanity.  Other highlights include Kana scheming to get Haruka out from under the kotatsu - prompting a classic Chiaki reaction of “You needed my help for that?” (astonished reactions to Kana’s baka-hood are a staple of the Chiaki catalogue) - not realizing that it was Haruka pulling a scheme on her, and yet another frustrating near-miss for Kana’s love-struck classmate Fujioka (Kakihara Tetsuya).  Not even a helpful shrine Omikuji could connect the circuits in Kana’s brain, though she did consider it, as Fujioka foiled himself with prior dispatch.  Ironically he could have a Minami sister of his own whenever he wanted, as Chiaki has hopelessly crushed on him since they met – even naming her teddy after him – but age-inappropriate crushes involving the sisters and the supporting cast are a foundation stone of M-KChiaki’s angel-devil (the latter of which is disquietingly sexy) natures make another appearance as well.

It’s pretty hard to describe just what it is that makes Minami-ke so funny, and why the chemistry is so fragile.  All of the ingredients have to be present and in harmony: there are certainly elements of physical comedy (a Makoto/-chan specialty), situation comedy and misunderstandings, and wordplay (reflecting the Japanese passion for puns) along with a real sense of who the characters are.  If any of the elements is misaligned the show can be amusing, but just doesn’t feel quite right – the mode of much of the second and some of the third season.  But this premiere did feel just right to this Minami-ke fanatic, even in its “needs more Mako-chan” form, and feeling that way again about a show I love is a rare and special pleasure.

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ED: Kyūsekkin Lucky DAYS」 (Fast-Approaching Lucky Days) by (Rina Satou, Marina Inoue, and Minori Chihara)
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15 comments:

  1. Funny, Mako-chan the one thing I want to see the least of. It's just tiring.

    I'll admit this ep wasn't so bad, but it just lacks the freshness of the first season. I miss that old "Sensei... Ninimiya-kun" TV drama.

    All I can say is; I wish Working! sequels don't end up like Minami-ke sequels. That would be a tragedy.

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  2. Looks like Mako chan will be returning next week =3

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  3. I had just watched the first season over the last week or so (for the first time, I'm still relatively new to anime), and perhaps because it was that recent, I found that a lot of the stuff in this first episode felt kinda recycled and tired instead of being familiar and comforting. But I'll also admit that the first season, while amusing, wasn't something that really grabbed me as brilliant or hilarious (personally I think it would be better with more Haruka and less Kana, who I find tiring).

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  4. I was actually glad not to see too much of the supporting cast here. For me this show works best when they are used sparingly and the show focuses on the Minami sisters. The main thing that dragged the seasons after season 1 down IMO was an over reliance on the supporting cast. I remember thinking, "Holy shit, enough Mako-chan already!" This episode was exactly what I wanted to see from the show, focusing on the 3 leads and using the supporting cast as support. I can't say that there was much laugh out loud hilarity in this first episode but it was consistently amusing and that is just fine. I'll be happy if the rest of the season is like this.

    Man a Ghost Hound remake would be SWEET.

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  5. Hey is this sort of reboot? I know there is no clear linear storyline for gag shows like this, but I found that as far as relationship development goes, 2nd season was sort of reboot after 1st, such as the one with the three brothers and other male side characters in school and I have no doubt 3rd season was another reboot even though I didn't watch it myself. In other words, after a few episode of the 1st season, everything else since has been constant reboot season after season, it seems to me. Anyway this feels like yet another reboot.

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    1. It'd not a reboot - they're using manga material. The second season was the only one that did a significant amount of anime-original material.

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  6. Replying to Anonymous about reboots (since the reply script isn't working for me right now): It's less a 'reboot' than that the show really doesn't do much in the way of time progression. For a 'reboot', you'd need to start the storylines over, like Fujioka liking Kana, Makoto not being Mako-chan yet, etc. This is more that they just don't move on to another year of school, things just keep happening in the same time period.

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  7. Hm, I've seen the character Designs but mistook them for Sket dance characters and shrugged it of (I first saw them around the time that show premired, but thats a diffrent story) Guess I'll give this one a shot.

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  8. I don't understand why Enzo likes this show yet has strong opinions against similar moe/comedy shows like Nichijou.

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    1. Because I find one to be far more entertaining than the other?

      To me, that's like saying "Why does Bill like Hunter X Hunter but not Bleach? They're both shounen!"

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    2. Because some comedies (particularly Kyoani ones like Lucky Star, K-on, Nichijou) rely way too much on exaggerated over-the-top gags or "look at me I'm so Kawaii" moments. Yes, minami-ke is most obviously a moe comedy show but it much less forced, more natural and isn't so shameless in the "hnnnng" factor.

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  9. I click-opened this post in the lightning speed since you mentioned Seirei no Moribito -- wish that it would be back...love, love, love the show.

    I like this first episode...it made me chuckle a few times, and I simply love the chemistry among the three sisters (I have two other sisters, so I can so totally relate).

    ~Ronbb

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  10. Tadaima indeed. Everything about this season of Minami-ke feels like an encour to the first and I'm loving it.

    Hope Hosaka (we await the return of the king), Maki, the other Minami family and Mako-chan make appearances soon.

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    1. Yeah. I always loved the Sr. High School crew because they were just so darn funny. Hosaka fantasies were always my highlight.

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