Review for His and Her Circumstances Complete Collection
It’s astounding the amount of anime that we get in the UK today, on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a significant fraction of the anime that is licensed for release in the West, localised to English. We tend to get all of the hits, most of the mainstream shows, and several niche titles as well. It wasn’t always thus. When I got into anime on DVD, we really only got the mainstream shows, and even those that conformed to stereotypes of what the distributors thought would sell here, still based on the Manga Video exploitation days. There are so many populist shows that hit big in the US and Australia in the late nineties, early 2000s that never made it to the UK, that I still lament on what I’ve missed out on.
Back when I was reviewing shows like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Kiddy Grade, most of the US based anime forums were alive with chatter about shows like Irresponsible Captain Tylor, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Now and Then, Here and There, and His and Her Circumstances, although the Japanese moniker of KareKano was more often employed. It seems that romantic comedies just didn’t sell back then to UK audiences, so we missed out on one of the most talked about pre-millennium shows. It was the Madman clearout last year that finally afforded me the opportunity to address that imbalance in my anime viewing, and I picked up this complete collection release. It was only then that I learned that it was made by Studio Gainax, and directed by none other than Hideaki Anno. That’s Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Hideaki Anno directing a romantic comedy. This should be interesting...
Yukino Miyazawa is the perfect high school girl, beautiful, elegant, smart, and athletic. She’s top of her class academically, and she’s adored by her classmates. And it’s all fake... From an early age, Yukino learned to love being praised and appreciated, and she puts in hours of work to present the right image to the world, so she can continue to be adored and praised as the school princess. Her true, cynical, slobby self she keeps hidden unless she’s at home with her family. And then Souichirou Arima shows up at school, knocks her off her number one perch, and becomes the most popular guy in school, smart and athletic, and adored by everyone, and given that he’s heir to a rich family, he’s the genuine article, the real prince.
Only that’s all fake as well. Arima’s parents were the black sheep of the family, and he was raised in an abusive environment. He was rescued by his uncle and aunt, and raised as their son, but from an early age, he was thought to have his biological parents’ bad blood, and nothing good was expected from him. As a reaction, he devoted himself into being the perfect son to his uncle, polite and obedient, and only seeking perfection from himself when it came to education and his future.
Circumstances transpire so that both Yukino and Arima learn each other’s secret. They can finally be themselves around each other where they continue to wear masks of perfection elsewhere. This could be the start of a romance, only Arima’s spent so long being the dutiful son, that he’s unsure of who he really is, and whether he did in fact inherit bad blood.
26 episodes are presented across 5 discs from Madman Entertainment.
Disc 1: The Appearance of a Normal Life
1. Her Circumstances
2. Their Secret
3. His Circumstances
4. Her Difficult Problem
5. Day of Labyrinth
6. Your Voice That Changes Me
Disc 2: Love and War Under The Cherry Blossoms
7. Their Estrangement
8. Her Day
9. Atonement for Postponed Debts
10. Everything Starts Now
11. At the End of the First Semester
Disc 3: Another Life, Less Ordinary
12. The Location of Happiness
13. The Subjectivity of Happiness
14. The Story So Far (Part 1)
15. The Story So Far (Part 2)
16. Eternal Interspersion
Disc 4: Formulation of Truth and Sentiment
17. His Return
19. 14 Days, Part 1
20. 14 Days, Part 2
21. 14 Days, Part 3
Disc 5: Alterations and New Perspectives
22. 14 Days, Part 4
23. 14 Days, Part 5
24. A Story Different From So Far
25. A Story Different From Up To Now
26. 14 Days, Part 6
We are distinctly old school here, with His and Her Circumstances getting a 4:3 regular transfer, authored by Madman Entertainment as an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, with the slight ghosting and blended frames that implies. However, they did mirror the release format that TRSI used in the US when it comes to disc count and content. The image comes across pretty adequately, clear enough throughout, free of visible compression and artefacting, and the animation smooth and absent any judder. There is a degree of softness though down to the conversion while the original source offers faded colours and a comparative lack of stability.
But His and Her Circumstances is a masterclass in budget animation. This is a beautifully animated affair, atmospheric, dramatic, and comedic in all the right places with deft use of colour to convey mood, saving the intricate animation for the more emotional scenes, going downright wacky for the comedy, and skilfully using stills and static scenes, pencil sketches and pastels, yet managing to convey energy and motion even so. In terms of budget and overall quality, it is a quick and cheerful affair, it’s just that the animators knew how to get the best effect for their limited budget, and still maintain consistency. And then in episode 19 it goes all paper puppets! Actually His and Her Circumstances is old school enough for a Blu-ray to be a genuine possibility. It was after all animated with cel and paint, and photographed onto film, meaning the resolution should be there, just as for Nadia, Secret of Blue Water and the Evangelion series for a genuine HD presentation.
The audio options are a little different on this release. You have the usual choice between DD 2.0 English and Japanese, but you can choose between a signs only track for the English dub, a translated subtitles and signs track for the Japanese dub as usual, or a dialogue only subtitle track for the Japanese dub. Given the amount of text on screen that gets translated (giving Bakemonogatari a run for its money), you can see why the extra option was provided. I went with the original Japanese dialogue, and it feels old school at this point, with enthusiastic performances from all involved, but on occasion pushing things a little too energetically, even given the show’s manic comedy sequences. I gave the English dub a quick try and it too seemed a dub of its age, but working quite well even so. His and Her Circumstances gets some nice theme songs, and incidental music; indeed the production values of the music really do exceed those of the animation. The subtitles are timed accurately, and free of typographical errors.
For this collection, Madman Entertainment gathered all five discs into a fat-pack case, one disc on each inner face, and three discs on two hinged panels. The sleeve art for the case is reversible should you decry the massive Australian ratings logos.
You get multi-angle credits for the show, and the multi-angle is also used to get different live action previews for the episodes, with the English voice actors in the booth for the English language previews mirroring the original Japanese voice actors on camera previewing the next episodes. The discs present their content with animated menus, and there are also jacket pictures.
There are some useful extra features across the discs.
You get 4 character profiles with a total of ten pages of screen text.
The storyboard sample shows the rough line art animation that the actors dub to in Japan. This runs for 2:05.
There are 5 pages of Producer’s Notes for the show, and a further 51 pages of a Producer’s Journal, as the Right Stuf ADR director and producer for the show offers some insight into localising what was then a major fan favourite anime.
There are 8 pages of translator notes for the show.
There are Madman trailers for Saiyuki, Inuyasha, and the then nascent Studio Ghibli collection.
Here you will find 4 more character profiles, 6 pages of text.
Interview on Kare Kano: Tsukino and Kana lasts 13:51, and features the voice actors that play Yukino’s sisters, Yuki Watanabe, and Maria Yamamoto, in a light and frivolous Q&A piece.
There are 8 more pages of translator notes, and finally there are Madman trailers for Panyo Panyo Digi Charat, D.N. Angel, and Astroboy.
5 more character profiles are here, in 8 pages of text,
Interview on Kare Kano: Hideaki and Maho lasts 12:31, and features voice actors Atsuki Kisaichi, and Junko Noda in yet another unchallenging conversation.
There are 7 pages of translator notes this time, and trailers for Pretear, Orphen, and Chrono Crusade.
You get just three character profiles here, 4 pages of text.
Interview on Kare Kano: Yukino and Arima lasts 9:18, and is a little more measured an interview, if still light.
There are 7 more pages of translator notes, and trailers for Comic Party, Someday’s Dreamers, and You’re Under Arrest: The Motion Picture.
The final Interview on Kare Kano: Tsubasa, Tsubaki, Aya & Rika is a double length instalment at 22:07, featuring contributions from Mayumi Shintani, Saeko Chiba, Yukari Fukui, and Yukiko Motoya on their supporting roles.
English Voice Actress Outtakes offers 4:31 of unfunny.
There are 8 Phone Messages, with the English voice actors recorded greetings in character.
There are 5 final pages of Translator Notes, and trailers for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Fat Albert.
Clichés and tropes abound in anime, indeed they always have, but they also change and evolve alongside the audiences that watch anime. We know what anime romantic comedies are supposed to look like, which usually amounts to the harem, but even when they do stray from the regular formula and actually follow a couple, they still do things in ways that are familiar to audiences, use character types that we’ve become accustomed to. His and Her Circumstances on the other hand was made in a time when the clichés were a lot different, as were anime audiences. Anime was made to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, rather than a niche within a niche. On top of that, with Studio Gainax producing, and Hideaki Anno directing, there was a greater scope for originality and experimentation. His and Her Circumstances is refreshingly different, and it’s surprisingly good, even with the lowbrow gags that back then would have appealed to the general audience. For most of its runtime, I was nursing a nostalgia for a period of animation that I mostly missed out on, wondering why modern anime can’t be this avant-garde and experimental, take risks and innovate. For most of its runtime that is...
It turns out that Hideaki Anno didn’t direct all of His and Her Circumstances. He took it all the way up to episode 18, where he had a disagreement with the manga creator, and thereafter someone else took the reins. It very much tells in the final analysis, with the last eight episodes distinctly underwhelming, although the rot was beginning to set in even before that. His and Her Circumstances was one of those shows that was made while the manga was being written, and as so often happened, it caught up to the manga pretty quickly, resulting in recaps and filler to stretch things out. It gets pretty bad by the end, which also comes rather abruptly, with no conclusion to the current storyline, expecting everyone to go and read the manga instead for the conclusion.
When the show succeeds, mostly during those first eighteen episodes, it really does deliver something special. It’s a romantic comedy, a love story of course, but a romance between two people, and two very unlikely protagonists at that. Yukino’s the two-faced girl at school, who lives her life for the appreciation of others, while Arima is similarly masked, trying to live a perfect life for the sake of his adoptive parents, while worrying about his true blood heritage. They are both initially liked, and popular in class, and they are both attractive; certainly not the hapless teen male, and the class princess that we usually get. It’s only when they get to know each other properly, that they realise that they can each let the mask slip around the other, finally be themselves.
The show doesn’t bother too much with the ‘will they, won’t they’, and neither does it use the awkward fumbling towards a relationship as a source of comedy, as shows are wont to do nowadays. It actually treats their relationship with sensitivity, and honesty; the humour comes from the characters, not their actions, and the relationship progresses through the episodes, from first meeting to delicately veiled consummation. That’s far more than the usual romantic comedy will allow for. The story really focuses on the feelings the two have for each other, and how they develop, Yukino’s growing love and obsession, Arima trying to be pure, and then realising that he has lustful feelings too. They’re both humanly imperfect too, Arima has a temper to him that some might find intimidating, while Yukino is apt to slob out when she’s not putting on a front.
The relationship might take a realistic course, with the expected ups and downs, but it has to be remembered that His and Her Circumstances is a comedy, and most of the story is played for laughs, and initially those laughs come from Yukino’s wacky family, two younger sisters who are more mature than she is, a sweet mother, and a father who acts more like a big brother. Drama might happen, there is the inevitable backlash to Yukino and Arima pairing up (and Yukino dropping her act), with the rest of the girls in class ignoring her. But it all turns out for the best, with everyone friends again, and the instigator of the ignoring actually becoming Yukino’s best friend. So while the romantic relationship might be treated with a degree of realism, the rest of the high school drama isn’t so much.
A single romance is pretty thin material to carry a 26 episode series on, but the supporting cast get their chance to shine as well. Arima’s friend Asaba is initially wary of Yukino, has a reputation as a player, and teases Arima, trying to break his serious demeanour. He warms up to Yukino when he sees that she loves Arima, not the image that he’s been projecting all this time, an image that he’s seen through as well. The first real impediment for their love comes from Tsubasa, a diminutive girl who comes back from hospital to start school late, only to learn that Arima has a girlfriend. Given that she stuck to him like glue in middle school (her family background is similar enough to Arima’s for him to treat her like a little sister), she resolves to break the happy couple up. Again that’s played for laughs, and resolved positively, although not after we get some drama in Tsubasa’s life, as her father decides to remarry, and once again she gets jealous and tries to break that relationship up, until she meets her prospective step-brother.
We also get to meet Yukino’s first real friends in high school, again after she drops her princess mask, and after the ‘ignoring’ incident. Maho is the girl who started it, and she eventually becomes Yukino’s best friend, while Tsubaki, Rika and Aya are also outliers in the student body. The athletic Tsubaki likes pretty girls, while the rebellious Aya has her best friend Rika to keep her out of trouble. The group dynamic that forms is entertaining to watch, and in terms of narrative emphasis, this is really Yukino’s show more than Arima’s, although their relationship sees them have equal emphasis.
The show is fun, and ticks along very well, hitting all the right notes with its drama and its comedy. There were moments early on that I was getting that ‘best thing since sliced bread’ feeling. But as it progresses, the recaps at the start of each episode get longer and longer, until around the midpoint, where they have one and half full recap episodes. It’s episode 19 where the rot really sets in, the money runs out for the animation, the director changes, and the scripts become stale, and rote. Episode 19 is the paper puppet episode, with hardly any animation at all. The same thing happens for episode 26, where they try to be cute with manga slideshow animation, dialogue written as text, and voiceover guy reading stage directions, a poor way to end the series. The final eight episodes (minus one more recap and one side story), look at the preparations for the culture festival, really going over the same ‘separation anxiety’ that Yukino and Arima had during the earlier sports festival, and focusing on a play that Aya wrote for Yukino and Maho to act in. We don’t see the conclusion of this arc; the series just unceremoniously stops before then, and it all feels stale, including a weak storyline that sees a new student transferring in, Tonami, who has a past with Tsubaki. The biggest crime in this arc is the character of Tsubasa, a pint-sized terror in the opening half, now merely becomes a mascot animal of a character.
I can see why fans were all over His and Her Circumstances when it first came out, this is really good, entertaining, original and fresh romantic comedy, especially when it comes to anime. It deserves all the plaudits, for the first eighteen episodes. What comes after that is little more than a travesty, and a poor way indeed to end the show.
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