"This is just a plain depiction of the days of the lives of the three Minami sisters. Please do not expect too much."
When I was in college about three years ago, I roomed with an avid movie geek. Let's call him Aaron, not because I want to protect his identity, but because I can't remember his real name. Next door to us lived a bona fide American otaku and pre-law senior we'll call Roger. At the time, I was a fledgling otaku, still a little wet behind the ears and not knowing what shoujou or shounen was, and had only recently grasped the difference between anime and manga. During the weekends, on an irregular basis, Aaron and I would go through the bathroom that linked our rooms to spend a few hours with Roger watching anime. The first anime we watched was this obscure school life show called Azumanga Daioh. I doubt any of my readers have heard about it; it's not like it has spawned thousands of avatars, lemon yuri fan fics, Internet memes, and in-jokes. I certainly didn't know what I was getting into at the time. Aaron caught me up on the premise of the anime is a single, succinct sentence: "Azumanga Daioh is the Seinfeld of anime; it's a series about nothing."
A show "about nothing" doesn't sound like a formula for success, but three years later not only have I seen Azumanga Daioh twice, I have watched and enjoyed even more shows "about nothing." Some of these have also become Internet memes and have inspired even more in-jokes, avatars and fan fics. Despite (or because of) their episodic nature, having predominantly female casts, little or no plot, and a notable absence of respectable adult authorities, shows like Strawberry Marshmallow, Aria and Lucky Star have earned high scores here at THEM and strong fan bases across the 'Net.
And now here comes Minami-ke. Like Strawberry Marshmellow, it features a core cast of adolescents under the guidaince of a surrogate mother who is not much older than the rest of the characters. Like Lucky Star, it has an off the wall sense of humor that draws inspiration from traditional Japanese owarai, pop culture and the funny little things people do in fact and fiction. Like AzuDai, each of its characters are likeable, and you may find someone in the cast who reminds you of an old friend or roommate. And like Aria, Minami-ke is easy going and idyllic. It doesn't do anything that I haven't seen before, but it does it well enough for laughs despite some caveats I'll get to later.
For now, let's meet the Minami family. Mum and Pa are absent from the picture, so it's Haruka's job as the eldest to care for her two siblings while still attending high school. She is the most levelheaded of the bunch; a good housekeeper and cook, but extremely lazy when Kana and Chiaki aren't around. Kana is a middle school wildchild who talks and acts before she thinks, if she does think at all. Chiaki is the youngest of three, and the smartest. She is the "straight man" to Kana's "funny man" antics, and because of all she has to put up with from Kana, is sarcastic and insulting. As a comedic trio, they work very well together, with just the right mix of dysfunctional to be funny but not alarming.
Ah, but wait! There's more. There's the girls' cousin Takeru who drops by occasionally to visit and bring the girls a check for living expenses. Then there's Haruka's high school friends Maki and Atsuko, and her sempai Hosaka who has a secret crush on her. Then there's Kana's classmates Keiko, Fujioka and Riko. And Chiaki has her own elementary school possee too: there's Makoto (who occasionally cross-dresses as Mako-chan when visiting the Minamis), Yoshino, Shuichi, and Yuka. The casting list for this anime takes up half of the Wikipedia article. That sounds crowded, but the size of the cast is not a problem as much as its brevity. The anime is ten episodes in when it introduces its final important set of characters, another family also named Minami (not related) who are almost entirely male. By the end of episode eleven, the anime has finally assembled its cast together, but ends not long after that. Studio Daume may be justified in doing this since another studio picked up where they left off weeks after episode thirteen finished airing, but it's still off-setting.
The anime dragged in the middle for me, since a lot of the humor in those episodes involved somebody getting naked at the wrong moment, grabbing someone's skirt to get thier attention, falling into someone's boobs, etc. In other words, perverted otaku humor. Thankfully, this lightens up and then disappears as the anime goes into the home stretch. Some episodes didn't work as well as others because they were mostly about Kana and Chiaki's bickering, which makes Kana look like an idiot, Chiaki a jerk, and the audience fools for hoping they would ever act otherwise.
In fact, all the characters in Minami-ke are somewhat one-dimensional. Because of this, the anime works best when it doesn't focus on gags from one or two characters, but includes as much of its very large cast as possible in an episode. That's what happens in the final episodes, and that's what made them the best of the bunch. It left me satisfied, and I'll be looking forward to getting a second helping of the antics of Minami-ke and friends sometime in the near future.
Technically three and a half stars. Go the full four if you're a fan of slice-of-life anime. — Bradley Meek
Recommended Audience: As mentioned earlier, there is a fair amount of otaku pandering, including nudity and crude humor.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Minami-ke © 2007 Doumu, Starchild Records
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