Welcome to another edition of “Life on Anime”… this time we’ll be taking a look at His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano) – a 26-episode anime series produced by Gainax and JC Staff, two industry leaders. It is based on the popular shoujo manga series by Masami Tsuda. The manga originally ran from 1996 to 2005 with the anime running from 1998 to 1999. The Right Stuff International released His and Her Circumstances for the US. The anime adaptation captures the first seven (of twenty-one) volumes of the manga.
Here’s the premise:
Yukino Miyazawa wants to be adored by everyone. She wants to be the best in academics and sports while still being the most ladylike girl in her school. Her obsession with being loved and popular has turned her into a monster on the inside. She cannot be herself at school and reserves her inner self for her family. Enter Soichiro Arima, her academic rival who aced the entrance exam, stealing her spotlight. Yukino becomes obsessed with beating him and seeing the look of shock on his face to the point that she pushes herself even harder, only to learn that he didn’t actually care. In fact, Arima actually likes her!
First, let me be clear that my opinion of Kare Kano falls in the minority. According to popular review sites like Anime Planet and Anime News Network (and even some of their reputable reviewers), Kare Kano is loved and praised. I can respect their opinions. I actually agree with them in regard to the story. But, when it comes to the animation itself, there are some things that I just can’t move past to call this a masterpiece.
The animation of Kare Kano is like the original ending of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the version that relatively no one liked, stretched into 26 episodes. Only, this time, there’s no action at all. Here’s a shocker – it was directed by none other than Hideaki Ano, the original director of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’m a huge Eva fangirl. I lust after Evangelion titles and I love wacky animation. I’m a big fan of Gainax and JC Staff. But, there’s a line and Kare Kano crossed it.
The animation is horribly dated. Every time a scene switches, the camera recording the cells shifts. Every. Single. Time. I watch a lot of older anime including the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, Slayers, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo, and Fushigi Yugi and I’ve never seen such poor camera work for a late 90’s anime. Aside from the shaky cam and random blurring, the art randomly changes in style, coloring, and quality. It’s difficult to tell if some of the artistic decisions were made because of a tight production time line, because Hideaki Ano quit halfway through production and a lot was left unfinished, or if that was their original intention. If that’s how the anime was supposed to be, I find that incredibly hard to believe. Sure, Gainax is known for doing some crazy stuff and even JC Staff pushes the envelope from time to time. But this level of inconsistency is unacceptable for such esteemed studios. The viewer shouldn’t be left wondering if the drastic changes are intentional and artistic or if they’re just the result of sloppy craftsmanship.
Wait. I’m not done talking about the animation quality yet.
Were they on crack when they made this? Seriously. Were they doing drugs? It is, at times, way too abstract. There’s a distinct difference between being artsy and being try hard. Kare Kano is so try hard it takes edginess to a whole new level. A rotten one. Within any five minutes of this anime, the viewer is bombarded with imagery of stop lights, power plants, and odd pans across scenery. There are random images of chairs and desks, even when characters are in the hallway talking. Again, these are all probably considered artistic, but it’s how they’re used and when they’re used that I find so disruptive. Most of them are still images. I have no qualms with the billowing curtain cliche or the low angle of the door to a classroom sliding open. And, for the most part, I love Gainax‘s wacky style.
To give one specific example of what I felt was off about the animation in this particular series, the use of simple, pure lines and very light coloring on the sentimental scenes. I’ve seen this sort of thing done in a lot of different anime. White Album, Blue Spring Ride, and even Neon Genesis Evangelion did this during times that they wanted to draw attention to a specific scene, setting it apart from the rest of the animation. The difference is the reservation taken with using this type of style. It’s used as an accent. And, to be effective, it needs to be used sparsely. If they wanted to go for artistic impact, saving the softer animation would have worked better than also using it for comedy and general dialogue.
And then there’s the recaps. There’s a two to four minutes at the beginning of each episode. This is a 90’s anime, after all and what would a 90’s anime be without recaps? I don’t know, Slayers? Slayers and Tenchi Muyo! didn’t have recaps every single episode. Even the original Neon Genesis Evangelion didn’t have recaps to kick off the next 22 minutes. Although, Eva, under the direction of Hideaki Ano did have some really bad recap episodes. Looks like he did it again! To make the recap situation worse, there are at least three episodes that are nothing but recaps. I actually lost count. Again, this could be because Hideaki Ano walked out of production after having a disagreement with the original creator and Kazuya Tsurumaki (the director of the new Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL) had to finish things up. Or it could have been because the release schedule exceeded a week. I couldn’t find information about that online, but I’m hoping that was the reason for the two to four minutes of redundant summations each episode.
All of that aside, the story is solid. I really enjoyed watching each character develop and was surprised how large the cast became as the series progressed. The pacing with which each character is introduced is great. By the time another is brought into the fold, you’re already comfortable enough with the current cast who are always in a perpetual state of change. The romantic moments will make your heart race. Unfortunately, one of the best scenes (a sex scene) was reduced to abstract colors and some sentimental imagery. At times, I wish they had actually animated the kisses instead of slowly panning out on line art. I can see how this reduction of color and animation would create contrast to the rest of the series if that style was reserved for only intimate scenes, but it’s not. It’s used even during the comedic scenes. But I digress.
Each of the characters are unique and, yet, similar. Like most coming of age stories, each character is trying to find his or her place in the world while also being true to his/her-self. It’s through finding these likenesses and accepting the differences between each other that their relationships form and grow. In this regard, Kare Kano is really unique. Many anime shirk from providing closure, showing kisses, and allowing relationships to blossom and collapse. Kare Kano excels at this.
Relationships are not stagnant. They move and breathe. They progress at their own pace and sometimes fizzle out over time. Things we may hate about someone may become something we’re willing to overlook or accept that we admired. Kare Kano’s characters are real teenagers who experience life at a daily pace, just taking it all in and trying to adapt to change. It’s a unique story with characters who are flawed, real, and sincere.
What’s refreshing about Kare Kano is that characters aren’t terrified of hugging and kissing each other. Once one of them feels like it’s time to make a move, they do it! Compared to the overwhelming quantity of shoujo anime that fail to provide any closure at all, be it a love confession, kiss, or even just a hug, Kare Kano doesn’t shy away from the reality of desire. Instead, the series embraces it and presses onward. This is much appreciated and welcome.
The Bottom Line:
All of that being said, Kare Kano could be considered a must watch. It’s not a series that I’d place in my top ten or even a top one hundred list solely because of the animation. Though it’s not popular to criticize Kare Kano’s (and thus Gainax’s) animation, I think it was too ambitious. Personally, I could see rating this series as low as a three of ten. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever watched but, if you can get past the recaps and you don’t mind the off-putting animation, it’s worth giving a shot, just make sure you get through the first disc before dropping it.
– Jade Woodruff
Staff Writer/Columnist: Nerd Nation Magazine