Minami-Ke (translation: The Minami Family) is a slice of life comedy anime based off of the long running manga series written by Sakuraba Koharu. The manga, which began serialization in 2004, is still ongoing in Kodansha's Young Magazine. The popularity of the manga has spawned off four anime seasons. Due to the nature of the series, all four seasons will be discussed in this review.
As the opening text of every episode in season 1 mentions, the premise of Minami-Ke focuses on the daily lives of (surprise!) the Minami family, which consists of three sisters: Haruka, Kana, and Chiaki. For reasons never explained, the three sisters live by themselves with no adult supervision. Haruka is a high school student, and she is the most mature of the three. She is the motherly figure to her younger sisters and takes over the domestic roles of cooking and cleaning. Kana, the middle child, is in middle school. The troublemaker in the family, she suffers from the Dunning-Kruger effect, where she's not very bright, but believes she is of high intelligence. Chiaki is the youngest, and in elementary school. She's arguably the brightest character in the series, but because of her age, is still very childish with a very snarky attitude.
A story of seasons
What's interesting is that the names of all three sisters are based on seasons. Haruka is named after spring, Kana is named after summer, and Chiaki is fall. This may seem inconspicuous, but their names do pertain to do their personalities, and season play a role in the show. There is a large cast of supporting characters in the series. To save time (and prevent boredom), the vast majority of them are portrayed as fellow classmates of the girls. From this group, the only one that'll be mentioned is Touma, as she's a fellow (unrelated) Minami and her name is based off of winter.
In similar fashion to other schoolgirl comedies, the entire series focuses on the characters partaking in mundane tasks. In the mold of shows like Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star, the absurd nature and eccentricities of the characters is what makes the show. Unlike some schoolgirl comedies that barely qualify as comedies, Minami-Ke actually does focus on comedy, and there will be scenes that'll get a laugh out of you. There's even some running gags going around, such as Kana's classmate Fujioka being in love with her, and her being too dumb to notice him. Or Fujioka thinking that Touma is a boy, and Touma trying to hide it, as she believes that'll ruin their friendship.
Kana is arguably the star of the series, and despite the fact that Kana and Chiaki get the most screentime, much of these scenes are based off of Kana's antics. Much of her actions consist of her being a troublemaker, and her lack of intelligence. There are also several scenes of Kana "teaching" things to Chiaki and her friends about "the grown-up world". Chiaki knows Kana is an idiot (which leads to her catchphrase of calling her one), but due to her and her friends' young age, they're still gullible to Kana's "teachings".
The anime series is largely episodic, and outside of running gags and character introductions, there's practically no consistency between the episodes. It's also worth noting that much of the series is on a sliding timescale. So despite the fact that they've had summer vacation and Christmas at least three times throughout all four seasons, they're all still the same age. The only exception is that the second season of the show takes place immediately after the first.
Why does this look different?
At times the show does feel really random, as each episode consists of multiple unrelated scenes. This is due to the nature of the manga, which consists of very short chapters containing only one scene or gag. So a single episode will end up covering multiple chapters, and each episode usually consists of anime original scenes as well. This affects the first season the most, as they just shoved in the chapters, in order, into the episodes. Season 2 remedies this by being almost entirely anime original, and a single episode consists of a single story. The later seasons revert back to the original format, but the producers at least tried to pick and choose chapters that flowed better together.
With that in mind, let's talk about the changes between the seasons. One thing to note, is that all four seasons were produced by three different studios, with season 2 and 3 being the only consistent seasons sharing the same studio. While the general content of the show between the seasons hasn't changed, there are notable differences. The most obvious is that all four seasons have very different art styles. This can be a bit jarring when you go from season 1 to season 2, as those have the most drastic changes. It seems the producers noticed this, and remedied it by reverting the show's format and color palette back to the original. Season 4 further tried to follow season 1's art, but with a more modern look due to the time gap between seasons.
There are some minor things that have been altered. For instance, the layout of their apartment has changed a few times. Kana and Chiaki's shared bedroom grew at first, and then they gained completely separate rooms, as their apartment magically expanded from a two bedroom to a three bedroom. Season 1 had a serious face gag, that was prominently used in season 2, but was dropped completely thereafter. There was also a weird art style change that only happened in season 2, where all of the background characters were creepy black silhouettes.
Why should you watch this?If you enjoy pointless comedies about eccentric characters, this is definitely your show. The eccentricities of some of the characters make it very enjoyable, especially Kana's insane troll logic. The series is great at taking mundane scenes, and cooking it into comedy. You can get a good laugh out of scenes like: mistaking a love letter as a challenge to a fight, or the "correct" way to open a can of soda so you can pick up guys. While the opening text in the first season tells you not to expect much, there's plenty to get out of this show.