“I am the ultimate queen of vanity!”
– Yukino Miyazawa
You know, if there’s one thing that can be said about any Studio Gainax project is that you never know what to expect. “Kareshi Kanojo no Jijō” [often shortened to “Kare Kano” or “His and Her Circumstances”] is absolutely no exception. Created by veteran director [and possible nutcase] Hideaki Anno, and based off a popular running manga, “His and Her Circumstances” had the potential to be one of the greatest romantic stories in anime. Keyword: HAD. What did it do wrong? What did it do right? Let’s get right into it.
Who Is This Series For: This series is for you if you are a fan of romantic comedies. “His and Her Circumstances” delivers on both counts, and does both masterfully. This series is absolutely for you if you are interested in Japanese school life, as it gives you an in-depth study of what goes on behind those closed doors. Heck, it even gives you live shots of the inside of a high school in the ending credits [More about this in Lagniappe]
Who This Series Is Not For: “His and Her Circumstances” is not for you if you are a fan of repetition. Over half of the episodes spend some time with recapping the series from the beginning up to the present day. By my calculations, there is approximately fifty-eight minutes worth of flashbacks in “His and Her Circumstances”, sometimes taking up half the episode, sometimes a WHOLE episode. “Kare Kano” is not for you if you expect any kind of cut-and-dry ending. This is a Gainax/Anno collaboration; that ain’t happening here. If you want an ending that’s satisfying, I recommend you check out the manga, which was still in production when “His and Her Circumstances” was made.
Story and Premise – This story, based off a manga by Masami Tsuda, focuses around the relationship of two high school students; Soichiro Arima and Yukino Miyazawa. Both appear to be model students on the outside, blessed with both beauty and brains, but they both use this as a mask for what lies beneath. Arima’s mask is hiding an almost obsessive need to prove himself to everyone around him that he can be a model person unlike his birth parents, and Yukino’s mask hides an equally obsessive need to be praised and admired by those around her. Together, these two enter a relationship that allow them to shed their masks and live as their true selves. Throughout the series, the two are met with various road blocks in the form of sports festivals which drive the two apart, envious admirers, and even their own eccentricities and personal demons. This story would be perfect were it not for the multiple flashback and recaps in almost every episode. On a whim, I pulled out my stopwatch and timed the duration of each recap this show does as well as which episodes. As a whole, the series devotes fifty-seven minutes & thirty-one seconds to flashbacks–two whole episodes worth of recapping! [To give you an idea, here are the episodes that contain flashbacks of some sort: two, three, four, seven, nine, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, nineteen, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six: more than half the series!] Also, the ending is about as up in the air as you can get. All these relationship threads that are produced throughout the series, Tsubasa and Kazuma, Tsubaki and Tonami, etc…are left hanging. Now, I will grant that the anime did run ahead of where the manga currently was, and that’s why the series took a dive after a point story wise, but still, that’s when creativity should take effect. Why not make it a multi-season series? Why not go on hiatus until the manga finishes? Why even take on a project when the source material isn’t even completed and you have NO idea where the story is going to go? Why am I asking all these questions? Did I leave the iron on? The coup de grâce for me was during episode twenty-four when, after a long, almost pointless speech by Yukino about her relationship with Arima, the creators decide to pad out the episode by playing the opening title sequence, sans credits. My forehead is still red from all the facepalming. (13/25)
Characters – Once again, Studio Gainax gives us a group of characters that are both extremely complex yet extremely relatable and likeable. Everyone knows a girl like Yukino; lovely and graceful on the outside yet conceited and vain on the inside. Among all the female characters that Gainax has put out, Yukino is by far one of my favorites BECAUSE of her relatability and familiarity. Arima puts me in the mind of a much older and more mature Shinji Ikari from “Evangelion” with regards to his back story, and while to some that may sound like a bad thing, in a way, it’s actually a good thing because Shinji was a very complex character. He was whiny, yes, but there was a REASON behind it. The same goes with Arima, especially towards the second half of the series; he acts possessive and a bit on the cold side to some characters, but you know exactly why. I also think that Yukino’s two younger sisters, Tsukino and Kano, are very cool. In a way, they act as the bridge technicians from “Evangelion”, pretty much spelling out everything for both Yukino and, in turn, the audience. At first, I was annoyed with the character of Hideaki Asaba, but as the series went on, and I learned his story and saw his role mature, I here to really enjoy his screen time. (25/25)
Animation and Music – I have a love/hate relationship with regards to the animation in this series. First the love. I love the character designs used in this series. They remain true to the original manga, and they really jump out at you. I also like the fact that at times, the creators mixed chibified characters with the standard characters as a way of showing differences in maturity. I also like the fact that Gainax added subtile homages to its previous works, using queues from “Evangelion” among other shows. Now for the hate. Because the series was ahead of the manga, which was still in production at the time, and because the series ran over-budget numerous times, AND because Hideaki Anno actually abandoned ship after a dispute with some of the workers on the project, the animation after episode eighteen takes a nosedive. Crayon drawings, storyboard drawings, even artwork lifted straight from the manga gives the illusion of “Oh crap, we’re out of money! Let’s slap something together and call it artistic…” I don’t.buy it. With regards to music, it’s simply awesome. The opening theme, “Tenshi no Yubikiri (The Promise of an Angel)” is addictive without being annoying and goes with the opening title sequence perfectly. The strings version of this song, heard throughout the series, is very beautiful and sounds more like a piece you would hear in a fancy concert hall instead of a high school romance anime. The ending song “Yume no Naka e (Into A Dream)” is equally catchy, though the ending credit sequence, which changes with each episode, gives me pause. There is also a classical piano version of this song heard throughout the series, which is equally pleasing. “Kaze Hiita Yoru”, which is only heard at the end of episode twenty-five, is a nice departure from the norm. I always love it when I hear a saxophone in Japanese pop music. Weird, I know, but that’s just me. (17.5/25)
Performances – This series was dubbed in the US by The Right Stuf International, with director/producer Jeff Thompson at the helm. Overall, I was extremely pleased with the work done on this one. Reading the journal entries from the director on the DVD [more info on this in Availability], you can tell he banked a LOT of hours Veronica Taylor [the original Ash Ketchum from Pokemon] pulls off a jaw-dropping performance of the masked model student Yukino Miyazawa. She genuinely sounds age and gender appropriate with no trace of a pre-pubescent pocket monster trainer in her voice. Christopher Nicholas as the tormented soul Soichiro Arima is good overall, but there were times when his emotions did not quite match that of the original voice actor, Chihiro Suzuki. But, as a whole, he puts on a good show. Tsukino and Kano, Yukino’s little sisters, are excellently portrayed by Jessica Calvello and Megan Hollingshead respectively, and both actresses go above and beyond the call of duty for the American DVD release to a point I have yet to see in any American adaptation. [More on this in Lagniappe] Liam O’Brien does a good job of play his now-standard role of goofy tag-along character in the form of Hideaki Asaba. When he’s funny, he’s very funny; when he’s serious, he’s very serious, but he doesn’t go to it in the depth that Arima does, which is a very good thing, as Arima is arguably the most serious character in this show. (24/25)
Story and Premise – 13 out of 25
Characters – 25 out of 25
Animation and Music – 17.5 out of 25
Performances – 24 out of 25
Final Grade: 79.5/100 = 79.5% (C)
Availability – “His and Her Circumstances” is still readily available from many online retailers for a remarkably low price. You might find it used in some brick and mortar stores like Best Buy or FYE, but you’ll be extremely lucky if you do. The series is spread over five DVD’s with about five or six episodes per disk. Extras include interviews with the original Japanese casts, translator notes, character bios, and a special Producers Journal from the ADR Director/Producer Jeff Thompson on the first volume. It’s worth a read.
Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra)
- At the end of every episode, the Japanese voice actresses for Tsukino and Kano Miyazawa, Yuki Watanabe and Maria Yamamoto respectively, would do previews for the next episode in front of a camera in the recording booth. In an homage to this, the US actresses for these characters, Jessica Calvello and Megan Hollingshead respectively, did the same for the DVD release and can be viewed by switching the angle view. [The outtakes of these previews are extremely funny. Sadly, I didn’t find a clip on YouTube…]
- The ending credit sequence for some of the earlier episodes was filmed in an actual high school in Japan in various locations. As the series goes on, the sequence also goes inside a sound recording booth, and even shows the actual frames from one episode being set ablaze. [Because everything looks better when set on fire!]
- It should be noted that the first time we hear “Yume no Naka e (Into A Dream)” during the ending credit sequence, it is only sung by a female, possibly because at that point, Yukino and Arima had not begun any kind of relationship. In all episodes afterwards, once the pair becomes friends [and later a couple], the song is preformed by both a male and female.
- In episode eleven, “At The End of the First Semester”, Tsukasa Shibihime is tricked by her friends about seeing a giant Totoro. Hideaki Anno actually worked with Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli [The creators behind “My Neighbor Totoro”] on several projects.
- There are several references to Anno’s previous work, “Neon Genesis Evangelion”, scattered throughout “His and Her Circumstances”. For example, in episode eleven, when Yukino is going through her memories to determine whom Tsubaki reminds her of, we see several line drawing pictures of Rei Ayanami, Shinji Ikari, Asuka Langley Soryu, Kaworu Nagisa and Pen-Pen. We also see a picture of the series director, Hideaki Anno in a frame.
- In the second half of episode eight, “Her Day”, when Arima is chastised for being late by his teacher, the shot cuts to a chemical bottle sitting by a sink with “NCC 1701″ printed on it. This is a blatant Star Trek reference, as this is the prefix number for the original USS Enterprise. [No bloody “A”, “B”,”C”,”D” or “E”!]
- In Episode twelve, “The Location of Happiness”, the Miyazawa family is seen playing “Uno”, a popular family card game.
- A lot of the incidental music from “His and Her Circumstances” was remastered and used in Hideaki Anno’s later work, “Evangelion 2.0 You Can (NOT) Advance”.
- This series marks the first time Studio Gainax attempted to make a show based of a manga currently in production. Of course, now it’s done all the time with series like “Bleach”, “Naruto” and “One Piece”, but at the time, it must have been pretty big.
- At the beginning of every episode, the viewer is reminded with a black and white card to watch the show in a well lit area and to be careful not to sit too close to the screen. This could be related to “The Pokemon Incident” that happened December 16, 1997. [if you don’t know about “The Pokemon Incident”, might I recommend you Google it…]
- In the last Japanese interview with the voice cast on the DVD, Mayumi Shintani, the voice actress for Tsubasa, asks for the viewers support for a new voice project she is working on called “FLCL” which would be released later that year. She would go on to play the female lead of Haruko Haruhara.
- Jeff Thompson, the ADR Director/Producer of “His and Her Circumstances”, passed away on January 14, 2006.
So where does that leave us? Well, “His and Her Circumstances” is an anime that held a lot of promise. With its intriguing characters, promising premise and story, and acting that hits on all cylinders [Thanks in no small part to the work put in by the late, great Jeff Thompson], this story would’ve been one of Studio Gainax greatest shows on both sides of the Pacific. Sadly, this is not the case as the story-line and animation style degrades severely at the half-way point, with flashbacks acting more as a hindrance than a help. But, for all it’s flaws, “His and Her Circumstances” is still a good love story, and sets the tone for many other romantic comedy shows like it. But, if you’re looking for a satisfying ending…do yourself a favor: read the manga.
And that is that, ladies and gentlemen! Another review out-of-the-way! Thank you all for being so patient! As proof that patience can, indeed, be rewarded, the next anime that I will review will be one of THE most popular anime of all time. It is the fore-bearer for all that we know with regards to high school comedies featuring an all-female cast! Yes, that one. The next review will be: