5 November 2006
After watching His and Her Circumstances, I can come to only one conclusion: Hideaki Anno just doesn't believe in endings.
More on that later. This is another somewhat out-of-date review, as His and Her Circumstances (also known as Kare Kano) aired in Japan back in 1998, making the series nearly ten years old by now, though it thankfully hasn't aged as badly as other animes. A slice of high school life romantic comedy, it primarily follows the love story between incredibly vain poseur Miyazawa Yukino and thoroughbred model student Arima Souichiro. At first glance, it seems to be nothing more than a stereotypical shoujo high school anime, but the anime quickly reveals itself to have more depth than that. This is from the team that brought us what is arguably the most popular anime of all time, after all.
Straight up, the best thing about His and Her Circumstances is the humour. More than once the series will have you in stitches as it takes romantic clich�s and twists them for its own benefit in the most unexpected ways. Between Yukino's ruthless manipulation of her peers and inner dialogues, Arima's surprisingly evil ploys and Asaba's extravagant ambitions for his 'Mary Land', in addition to the always-entertaining interaction between a cast of such interesting characters, almost every episode will surprise you with something completely unexpected and hilarious at least once. The comedic timing throughout is something close to perfection, and indeed puts many self-described 'comedies' to shame.
As mentioned, His and Her Circumstances is directed by Hideaki Anno and animated by GAINAX, best known for Neon Genesis Evangelion, and more recently for FLCL and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (abomination that it is). As such, fans of Evangelion will notice more than just a few throwbacks here and there - if in nothing else other than the creative reuse of mundane footage, some familiar sound effects, and more than a few shots that seem to be almost directly parodying its predecessor. So if you happened to have seen Evangelion at some point (more than likely) there's even more that you'll get an appreciative chuckle out of.
Not to be fooled into thinking this is all humour and fluff, His and Her Circumstances actually has some real depth. For one, it's probably the most realistically written high school romance I've come across yet � but not to the point where you start suffering stage anxiety for the characters, which has become something of a staple in most romances these days. The characters issues they examine, particularly those of the main characters' fake personas, are especially deep and well-handled, giving some genuine conflict and context to the main relationship. Arima's back story and personal dilemmas are particularly heavy to the point of depression, and feel especially chilling given the normal light-heartedness of the content, but the humour nicely balances it and breaks you out before the anime gets too weighty.
I've mentioned the characters before, but it's worth mentioning them again seeing as this anime is heavily character-driven. One thing I really appreciated about this anime was that all of the characters were interesting. All too often I find myself watching animes where the protagonist and one or two other characters will hold my attention, but I'll be irritated the moment it cuts away to the back story of another character that's either an overdone stereotype or so indistinct and unlikable you have to resist the urge to skip back to the main story. Sometimes it's the opposite, where the only interesting characters are side characters that turn up for a couple of minutes every episode. Not so in this anime - many of the characters seemed developed enough to the point where they could just about have an anime dedicated to them alone. The cast wasn't particularly large, but they could have easily spent a few more episodes on some of the side characters. So extra points for having a well-developed and likeable cast of characters - it seems to be becoming rarer and rarer these days.
All of that being said - don't expect a traditional ending to this anime. If anything, it hints at possible things to come, but doesn't follow through on any of it and when you reach the last episode, you'll likely be very surprised to find that it is the last one. It isn't necessarily a bad way to end the anime, but I expect that many people will find themselves turning to the manga in search of more comprehensive closure. Particularly after the cast spends five episodes preparing for a play you never get to see. (Consider that fair warning). All in all, it feels rather like the anime ended three episodes too early - which is incidentally how many episodes they spend on recapping.
Recaps are the single most irritating thing about His and Her Circumstances. Most anime fans have come to expect a recap episode in most full-length animes around episode fifteen or so, and no one is going to complain as it makes sense for viewers who may have only started watching the series partway into its television run, and it also gives the animators a week off. Not too many people like it, but most accept it. His and Her Circumstances, however, can't get enough of it. In addition to TWO COMPLETE RECAP EPISODES IN A ROW around the episode 15 mark, they also throw in another one in the early twenties, right about when you're starting to get antsy as to how they're going to fit the remaining story in to the last few episodes. As if that wasn't excessive recapping enough, a good three or four minutes of the start of almost every episode is spent retelling the 'story so far', so that in the end if you were to remove all of the recaps from His and Her Circumstances, it would probably only be 21 episodes long, rather than a full 26. It makes you wonder if Hideaki Anno ONLY ever operates on a shoe-string budget.
On the subject of budget, for the most part the animation is done well, minus a couple of episodes where the animation went haywire - such as the episode which was entirely done in paper-puppet style, and the occasional use of live-action footage. Whether this was a budgetary or artistic decision is difficult to determine, but it was jarring all the same. Other than in those breakaway episodes, the animation was of a high standard, and even the repetitively re-used background shots were effective. The editing style was one of the major things that for me made this anime stand out, so cheapness can be easily forgiven there.
The sound was also of a relatively high quality - the soundtrack was used to the fullest effect, and the voice acting was particularly good - Yukino's voice actress especially shone with her performance. The rest of the cast also gave excellent performances, though the choice of voice of Tsubasa and her father didn't seem to fit as well as the rest, even though this seemed to be a purposeful decision.
In the end, His and Her Circumstances wound up being an anime of contrasts - from its mood swings between depressingly heavy material to light-hearted comedy, to its high-budget to low-budget animation shifts. It's a ridiculously fun anime to watch, and when it's finished you'll be left wanting more. Though you definitely want to skip the recaps. Overall Score: 724,099/1,000,000