In perfectly simplistic terms, Minami-ke Okawari is a direct sequel to Minami-ke; in more complicated terms, it is the exact same anime with a substantially warped facade. Much like Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage, there exists little permeable variation between the two seasons, as the events in the second flow seamlessly into those of the first. Yet, be that as it may, one key issue plays into the picture: Okawari is animated by an entirely different studio. While to some this might seem trivial, it speaks to a much greater concept - perception - and thus manages to stem beyond a simple matter of aesthetics and impact the work as a whole.
Keeping in mind that Okawari maintains the franchise's world of hilarious inanity, it never manages to step out from the shadow of its predecessor. While still an undeniably solid comedy, the transitional period between rejecting and accepting the new character designs presents a glaring disturbance in the natural flow of the story. The same antics continue regardless of the studio transition, but a Haruka with red eyes instead of brown, a Kana with muscular arms, and a Chiaki with dark blonde hair present themselves as astoundingly out of place. Though certainly not a stake in its grave, the life and vibrancy of the characters all but dissipates, and a notable portion of the season is spent trying to win back viewer affections. Fortunately, this notion does eventually pass, and the awkwardness becomes less and less abrasive as the episodes pass; come the halfway mark, the issue is almost nonexistent. Overall an annoying and unnecessary problem, sure, but the new studio does a fantastic job in remedying it, as the quality of the story and characters ultimately pick up the slack.
Still, there are a handful of minor quips with Okawari that do not stem from its sequel status. I am sure some will cite me for nitpicking such flaws, but I feel them relevant since the series' animation already put me on a skeptical edge. Take, for instance, the inclusion of a touch of drama; though in-and-of-itself it makes for a nice change of pace, many of the events carry an anticlimactic flare and build up to slightly uneven finishes. Certain subplots like Chiaki's friendship with Fuyuki just seem to end, and fall out of the loop of recurring events with rather odd suddenness. Though a third season, Okaeri, gives leeway for tying up loose ends, no transitional elements or methods hint that this is the case, and as such it leaves me a bit perturbed. Again, while not overwhelmingly detrimental, it merits a sleight of score, and will hopefully be improved upon in the coming episodes.
While I could ramble on more about the drastic changes in animation, it would do little more than belabor an already tired talking point. Though arguments could be hashed out either way in regards to which style is a better fit to the series, Okawari looks great by its own merits. Whereas the first flaunts a simple, demure texture, Okawari opts for a deeper and richer palette to create a warmer, more personal atmosphere. I never felt the new style to interfere with any of the returning scenes (such as Chiaki's pelting of Kana with her bear), and for that I really have no complaints; it's merely a stylistic variation at its core, and should be taken as such.
There is one glaring flaw in Okawari's animation, however, which qualifies some bitching: silhouette background characters. Their presence can be alluded to the sensation of viewing Van Gogh's Starry Night without the actual stars; while they does not kill the piece of art as a whole, damn are they obnoxious. If nothing else, they add a measure of tackiness to an otherwise sound visual presentation, and glean my only real lasting resentment toward the Okawari trend. To the animators I say this: slap on generic faces, make them dancing monkeys, or hell, clone and give them fancy laser guns with white suits, but never do such a thing again.
Save for a different set of opening and ending tracks, both the musical score and voice acting retain their same elegance from the first season. In fact, my only real gripe stems from the fact that the new opening lacks the light-hearted, hyper tone of its predecessor; beyond that, all is well. All the same seiyuu return for their respective characters, and while the visuals may prove irksome, the audio is a welcome egress.
Again, save for the visuals, all the characters remain the same, and bode for a joyous return of Minami bliss. Though a few new side characters make an appearance, their introductions are nothing but an asset; Hosaka, for instance, revels in the realm of pure hilarity, and easily qualifies as one of my favorites from either season. While some of the comedy with the previous cast stutters in the beginning episodes, these new characters inspire continued viewing, and successfully bridge the aesthetic rift. Many of the classic character gags make their return as well, such as the gender-disparaged antics of Makoto and Touma, and leave little room for anything but laughs. All other flaws aside, Okawari remains true to the core principles of its characters, and for that I can view it as little else but a success.
While not quite perhaps as charming as Minami-ke, Okawari nevertheless lives up to its namesake and easily takes the cake as the comedy anime of the winter 2008 season. With a third installment already on the way, the franchise continues to run strong, and for a very good reason: it's simple, it's funny, and it's definitely not to be missed.
It’s a new year, but little has changed for the Minami household. Chiaki has been given the job of nutritionist for her class's new hamster, and uses the same techniques to care for it that she learned while studying Kanna; Haruka is still suffering from the greatly-exaggerated rumors that she was once a mob boss back in her middle school; and Kanna is as hyperactive as ever, always forcing her friends into awkward situations (including cross-dressing, litter picking and forming an army)! But despite their troubles, the three sisters stick together and always manage to have fun!
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!