His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano)
by Polly


I get a lot of email sometimes about these here Japanese Cartoon reviews. "Polly," they says, "Polly, why don't you review older Japanese Cartoons? Why's most of the stuff you review fairly recent?" The question has two answers, really. The first being that most of my older stuff is still stuck on VHS that I never felt was worth upgrading to DVD because there was a pretty fair amount of crap released then that doesn't hold up well now (Slayers seasons 1-3 *barf* for example) and to be honest, what the hell can I possibly say about a lot of those shows, many considered classics by now? Honestly, what new could I possibly blabber about Evangelion, Trigun, Tenchi, Bebop, Dirty Pair or even Castle of Cagliostro (which is the oldest thing I've seen) that hasn't already been said dozens of times by writers far better than I? Does the internet really need any more? Not really. So, until then, I typically just revew new and recent additions to my DVD collection or stuff that I'm rewatching on a whim and call it a day. Honestly, I'd like to rip some of Miyazaki's work a new one someday (not Cagliostro), but wouldn't want to put msyelf through that torture again. BUT I DIGRESS...

The reason I bring this up is because today's review is for a show from 1998. Hey, that qualifies as the oldest thing I've reviewed so far! I honestly don't even know HOW this show ended up in my collection. I was just digging through "The Pile" the other day and it was there, still unopened. So, I spent this past weekend barrelling through it. MAN, IT'S ALWAYS PARTY TIME AT POLLY'S PLACE! SOMEBODY CALL ANDREW WK!

I'm guessing my choice in what kind of Japanese Cartoon to review this time may be a little surprising to some of you. Despite my taste for more sci-fi and action-based titles, even the Polly is prone to succumbing to the odd sappy-dappy high school romance every now and then (SaiKano and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien are the only other ones I own), so with that in mind, what does His and Her Circumstances offer me?

His and Her Circumstances (aka: Kare Kano for ease of typing for the rest of the review) is a late 90's adaptation of a long-running high school romance manga by Misami Tsuda. It depicts the budding, then flourishing relationship between two slightly messed up individuals, each striving to be the perfect model student for varying reasons.

Yukino Miyazawa is perfect. She has it all. Perfect grades, great looks, the whole package. Guys want her, girls want to be (and just want) her. She looks out for #1, she gets it, and showers in the praise that others lovingly heap upon her on a daily basis. To those familiar with her at school, absolutely nothing could seem wrong. What they don't know is that the Yukino Miyazawa they know is merely a facade manufactured by Yukino herself through years of relentless studying, only to satisfy her craving for others' approval and admiration. At home, she's a slob in almost every sense of the word, speaking crassly to her siblings and parents and generally not giving much of a fuck about anything other than being the center of attention. She's addicted to praise like crack cocaine and will do damn near anything she can to get it.

Her perfect deception comes slowly crashing down when a better, more perfect person, Soichiro Arima, enters the scene and begins scoring higher than her on exams and becoming generally more popular with just about everybody. A careless mistake on Yukino's part rips her mask right off in front of him and he sees exactly the type of person she really is and uses it to his advantage, forcing her to be his servant in order to keep the secret and to satisfy his own desire to be near her.

Man, both of these characters sound like straight-up assholes and awful choices for lead roles, yeah? Well, it's a good thing that as the two begin spending more time with one another, thanks to Soichiro's blackmailing, we're given a deeper look into both of their personalities and what drives them to wear a mask of perfection in front of others. This is the show's strong suit. The first half of the show functions almost as a case study in what makes both characters tick, and how they're so much alike, yet so incredibly different. It should surprise no one that Hideaki Anno of Evangelion fame was director for a good portion of the show and that these scenes turned out the way they did. In just a short amount of time together, while learning from one another, they decide to drop their respective ruses and give into just being themselves, grow to become friends, and finally, through a bit of patience and courage, end up as an official couple. It's easy to grow connected to these characters because they actually develop, and even easier to admire the courage it takes to face the world for the first time as their true selves.

Watching these two grow close to one another, opening up to their true selves, and dealing with the various mental obstacles that stand in their way is some of the most satisfying material I've seen in the high school romance genre. Yukino and Soichiro's relationship is fascinating in that it's both very mature and honest. There's a sense of realism in watching these two slowly open up to one another, yet at the same time being scared shitless the whole time as to what truths they'll find, and if those truths might ultimately rip them apart. It's not over-the-top melodramatic mush-fest lovey-dovey, and though it's still slightly idealized, it's believable and well-paced enough that I never once thought that it felt forced. The characters were honest and real enough for me to buy into their relationship, and that's about the only way a show like this can work.

Along the way we'll meet other side characters that aren't quite as important as the main leads. They're all fairly predictable tropes of the genre and anime as a whole. You got the rival girl who supposedly laid claim to Soichiro first, the girl who just can't stand the fact that Yukino is popular, the sporty lesbian (but totally not), the gay friend that's totally not gay...Ya know, you've seen em all before. They're there to mostly just bounce off the leads and manage to be entertaining enough, but will become almost infuriatingly grating by the time the show begins to wind down. You'll find out much more about that in just a little bit.

Kare Kano's production can be summed up with one word: Interesting. The show is clearly quite budget'ey given the amount of slow pans over stills, unabashedly recycled shots, and some obvious hiding of characters' mouths during long-winded passages of dialog. That's okay though. A show like this really only needs to be able to tell a good story and the visuals take a backseat. Except, for better or worse, they don't.

Kare Kano's look is constantly changing, and something weird or interesting is always happening. It's hard to get bored just looking at the show. Even if you find yourself not really drawn to the story or characters, then the visuals will most certainly leave some kind of impression one way or the other. There's a near constant stream of visual gags going on with characters' designs distorting in various anime-like ways, manga panels springing to life with animation and dialog bubbles popping in and out, and then there's the episode almost entirely dedicated to popsicle puppet theater and pencil sketches. The show's always throwing out some new weird thing for you to look at, and though it may be a turn-off for some, I prefer to think of it as the animators being as resourceful as they could with what they were given. If anything, it's at least unique. The drawback, however, is that with characters constantly swapping in and out of traditional and super-deformed designs, it's easy to become distracted, and even detached, during certain scenes that were clearly intended to be serious. It doesn't ruin too many of the vital scenes, but at later points in the series it's likely to become a bit tiresome. The whole visual presentation is absolutely surreal and at least worth taking a few minutes to look at, but it's definitely not for everybody, especially those drawn to the more attractive designs.

Now, before I go beating this show more senseless and braindead than the second half of it already is, I feel it's worth noting that the show faced a fuckton of issues during its production. The most obvious is the somewhat lacking budget. I've gone over this one a bit already, but other than the distracting nature of the show's presentation, there's a bit more as to why the budget kills it, and I'll hit that in a moment. One of the bigger blows the show sustains is that Hideaki Anno left the staff at some point for one reason or another, and his absence is evidenced by the strange shift in focus from love story with comedic elements, to comedy with some random love stuff. Along with that, the original mangaka was very unhappy with the direction that the Japanese Cartoon took with the material, opting to focus more on cartoony comedy and less on the actual love story. For this reason, she never allowed production of a second run of episodes to commence, and the show just drops you off in the middle of the 7th volume of the manga without any kind of resolution. I've read a few other bits of hearsay here and there, and it really sounds like the show was pretty fucked before it was even half over.

So, I've already gone over how I believe the budget actually worked in Gainax's favor, forcing them to be a bit more creative with how the show was presented, but I haven't gone over the real huuuuuuge and annoying problem here. MOTHER. FUCKING. RECAPS.

Son. Of. A. Bitch.

You're going to see this A LOT!
If you watch this show and somehow manage to not know what's going on at any point in time, you've gotta be fucking braindead. Kare Kano loves beating you over the fucking head with recapping every god damn thing that happens...ALMOST EVERY GOD DAMN EPISODE! Almost every episode of the series begins with a 2-5 minute recap of EVERYTHING that's happened so far, from episode one up until whatever episode you're on. There is almost no way you couldn't just pick a random episode to start on and within five minutes not already know where you're at in the story. And I guess this wouldn't be so bad if the series didn't also include a really awful-tasting staple of 90's Japanese Cartoons: Recap Episodes.

You read that right. "Recap Episodes".

With an "S".


I know what's going on at all times because the show won't shut the fuck up about it, and then they decide to dedicate well over an hour's worth of the show's running time to TELLING IT ALL TO ME AGAIN! In the middle of the show, you'll get two recap episodes in a row, and toward the end of the series one of the episodes just cuts off IN THE MIDDLE to the opening theme+credits again and rolls even more recap out. Clearly, this is the bad side of a fuckshitty budget and it really makes the show so god damn incredibly grating to sit through. It'll piss you off even more when you realize that they're just WASTING TIME not showing you the parts of the story and the characters you're honestly invested in. YES, THERE'S ONLY TWO EPISODES LEFT IN THE SHOW, BUT LET'S WASTE AN ENTIRE EPISODE ON A STORY ABOUT ONE OF YUKINO'S SISTERS WHO IS COMPLETELY UNRELATED TO THE PLOT WHATSOEVER! OH MY GOD, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE ME SO FUCKING ANGRY, KARE KANO?

And that's the major point of why Kare Kano blows it so fucking bad and literally had me raging at my TV. The entire second half of the show just flips out, loses its shit, and goes "I give up BUT I MADE POOPIES! I MADE POOPIES GODDAMMIT!" It loses every bit of steam it had and becomes so bizarrely out of step with what came before it, that I had to ponder whether I was even watching the same show anymore.

The first half of the series is brilliantly written, spectacularly paced, always entertaining, and incredibly intriguiging! Adverb Adjective Action! I was fully convinced with Yukino and Soichiro's feelings for one another and, as a viewer, felt involved enough to actually wanna see things turn out for them, but by around episode nineteen, nearly any and all progression in their relationship comes to a halt (aside from one major event) as the show becomes one big fucking awful non-funny typical Japanese Cartoon joke. Yukino and Soichiro, though still given the lion's share of the screentime, manage to somehow get lost in the shuffle of their own fucking show. Elsewhere, side characters that had been set up with promising story arcs of their own, suddenly turn into stark-raving [REDACTED]s and annoying loudspeakers for their flaws to be comedically reverberated through. Along with that, new characters are suddenly thrust into the limelight for their dumb high school romance to play out and I honestly didn't give one half of a piddly-fuck about it! I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT A PIDDLY-FUCK IS! Their story doesn't help us understand the main couple any better, doesn't really give you anything to think about, and it CERTAINLY wasn't what the fucking show should have ended with. It doesn't even feel like it belongs, and was merely shoehorned in because some director thought the circumstances of them coming together was just HAHA STUPID NON-FUNNY JAPANESE CARTOON JOKE funnier than the more serious relationship between Yukino and Soichiro.

So, there ya go. About all I can fucking say at this point is "Ugh!"

"Polly, who are these people and why are they in the last screenshot?"
I "ugh" out of disgust. Not because I completely hated His and Her Circumstances, but because of all the potential it had starting out and how it pissed it all down the drain around halfway through. Tucked away under layers of nonsense and wasted time and further buried within the pages of a 21-volume manga series, I can just feel that there's a truly heart-warming and decent high school love story wanting to be told and worth experiencing. It was strong enough for the first thirteen episodes for me to be sold on it that much. From all I've gathered, this is the case with the manga, but the Japanese Cartoon ends up shitting the bed by cutting the story short and shifting the focus to pointless drivel and unnecessary characters. In all honesty, I understand why the mangaka said no to more of this. I was counting the minutes left until I could finally say it was over, so I can only imagine her anger and embarrassment.

With no real conclusion or even a glimpse of closure for characters you'll be drawn to for the first thirteen episodes and then rarely see much of again, it's really hard for me to make a recommendation on this one other than to watch the first thirteen episodes and maybe pick up the manga somehow. I'd like to check out the manga, but under the TokyoPop label it's surely out of print by now (and I REFUSE to go through the hassle I endured to finally end up with a copy of the final volume of another particular manga...) and reading manga in a browser page-by-page is for pooptards. I'd take a batch download though...*kaffkaff* nevermind, MooMan1 is awesome!

Farewell, Yukino and Soichiro! Wherever you two are, I hope it all worked out!


Hey, I know! What if Yukino was turned into a secret government weapon capable of destroying entire cities, and in the process is slowly losing her humanity, and Soichiro was her coward blockhead boyfriend with an fucked up past..... Naaaaaahhh, that'd just be way too silly...

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