After a generally highly regarded first season of Minami-ke, the second season of this slice of life show, Okawari, somehow managed to ruin much of what the franchise brought to the table with lower quality animation coupled with looser, less humorous scripts and plots. Overall, it was a disappointment of a series, that started out at a mediocre pace before getting stuck in a rut and really spoiling the whole thing. However, Minami-ke is back for 2009 with Okaeri, so can can it right those wrongs and return this series to its rightful place in our hearts?
Well, let's start out by talking about the animation and artwork quality. It's terrible. Really terrible. While Okawari certainly wasn't the greatest looking anime series in history, I felt that some of the criticisms towards its visuals were a little overly harsh. This time around though I'm pulling no punches, as it somehow manages to have become even worse still, and cringeworthingly so. There are so many glaring errors in movements and basic anatomy that it isn't just disappointing, it's downright distracting, and by the close of the episode I was spotting visual incongruities far more easily than I was any jokes.
Putting the animation quality to one side, there is something soothing about Minami-ke as a whole, which is so often the case with slice of life shows, and once again in this opening episode even away from the pure humour there's something likeable about the everyday concerns of Haruka, Kana and Chiaka, alongside the myriad people who know and interact with them. It's a shame then that once again this episode just seemed to be going through the motions much of the time, from the inevitable New Year shrine visit which began the episode onwards. In fact, only parts of the "Cup Yakisoba phenomenon!" section managed to get a giggle out of me, while the rest of the instalment barely held my interest by a thread, unlike the sparkling dialogue and characterisation we've come to expect from the likes of Hidamari Sketch and Lucky Star.
So, if you hoped that Minami-ke Okaeri was going to save this franchise, then it looks like you're going to end up disappointed, as certainly from this first episode there was basically nothing to redeem it. The series can, of course, pull itself out of this rut with some good humour and script writing, despite its appaling art quality, but sadly I just don't see that happening. I'll keep on watching though, just in case.
Oh, and just in case you think I'm exaggerating about the art quality, check this out (click for the full-sized image):