Hello dear readers! I’m the Fullmetal Narcissist, and welcome to the final installment of my Studio Gainax month feature! My first two reviews for this month were of shows I’d seen previously, that I had a lot to say about. They were also really accessible, as I owned one of them, and my best friend lent me the other. But today, I’m trying something a little more ambitious. To conclude this month, I decided to order a series that I had never seen before, and had been curious about for a while. Not only one of Studio Gainax’s first shows, but one of it’s most influential, as well. That’s right, I’m here today to review His and Her Circumstances!
Or Kare Kano, as I’ll be calling it from here on out. Man, instead of Studio Gainax month, I should have just called it ‘Mercifully shortened titles’ month.
Yukino Miyazawa is at the top of her class in both grades and respect. She’s the perfect model student… poised, generous, cultured, the picture of a school idol. But before you can start throwing around accusations of her being a Mary-Sue, she informs you very clearly that it’s all an act. She pretends to be perfect, working her little butt off to not only get good grades, but to make it look easy. Why? Because she loves receiving praise, and Japan has that whole ‘sempai’ thing going on.
Her world is thrown into turmoil when a new student transfers into her class, named Soichiro Arima, and his good grades immediately bump her from her pedestal as the smartest kid in school. She declares him her rival, and he declares her… His love interest?
There’s a lot to talk about in regards to this series… I’ll try to touch on most of it… But to start, I can’t restrain myself from gushing about the English dub, which is easily one of the best I’ve ever heard. It consists mainly of some of the best and brightest stars of the nineties, and they all give four star performances. Yukino is a very talky character, whose inner monologues take up a disproportionate amount of the script, and this would be unbearable coming from anybody other than Veronica Taylor(Ash Ketchum, Amelia Wil Tesla Seyruun), who has a distinct habit of throwing herself wholeheartedly into every single role she performs. Her obsession over her grades and her budding relationship is every bit as convincing as her drive to become a Pokemon master ever was, and she never misses a beat on this project.
Christopher Nicholas plays Soichiro just as flawlessly, hitting a wide range of emotions where most other actors would have just gone flat. He’s a damaged boy with very profound abandonment issues, and his motive for overachieving is entirely different from Yukino’s, even though it has about an equally complex affect on his life. He does such a great job that I have to wonder why he only had six other anime roles aside from this one.
Soichiro’s childhood friends consist of Hideaki Asaba… Or Sexy Carlos, as AMV Hell 3 called him… and Tsubasa Shibahime, who has an unrequited crush on Soichiro. Because of course she does. Hideaki is played by Liam O’Brien, and I don’t really think Dr. Tenma from monster needs me to tell you how great he is. He loves his lascivious ladies’ man character, and eats up every sleazy line he’s given. Lisa Ortiz, who voiced my favorite character of all time Lina Inverse, portrays Tsubasa, and she’s able to command the screen even when her dialogue is reduced to growling. Which is a thing that happens. Rachel Lillis also has a handful of roles, and while they’re not as diverse as her multiple roles in Pokemon, she still does a great job.
The other two of note are Yukino’s younger sisters, Kano and Tsukino, but the only really big part they play in the story is the fact that it’s their job to dole out plot summaries at the beginning of most episodes, and the preview at the end of every episode. And who did they cast for these roles? Megan Hollingshead (Officer Jenny, Nurse joy, the Sonozaki Twins) and Jessica Calvello (Excel!). While either of these actors are phenomenal on their own, they work even better together, feeding off of each others’ already boisterous energy.
By the way, i’m going to go briefly off topic to say how awesome it is to have Calvello returning to voice acting. She’s already done a few recent roles for Sentai filmworks, and even some Cyanide and Happiness clips, and now she’s going to be in Attack on Titan! Glad to have you back, and I mean it!
Since this series was produced directly after Evangelion, I don’t think it’ll be any surprise that it had an abysmally small animation budget to work with. But that’s never the death knell of any anime… Any show can look fantastic even with the barest of budgets. And since Kare Kano is a slow paced and text-heavy romantic comedy, it should have been easy to cut corners wherever possible without really upsetting anybody.
But since this is late nineties Studio Gainax, the order of the day seems to have been ‘make it look like the last few episodes of Evangelion.’ Much like he did in Eva, Director Hideaki Anno overcompensates for the lack of animation money by employing hyper, eclectic visual style that’s meant to distract us, like dangling keys in front of a baby. this is a huge pet peeve of mine, and until now, I always assumed that Bakemonogatari was the worst offender. The art direction is largely directionless, as the breakneck editing frequently jumps from style to style. When we’re not watching the lifeless key frames of the actual material, we’re looking at art-class charcoal sketches, monochromatic manga images, and… I swear I’m not making this up… Actual cardboard cut-outs on popsicle sticks, all in a hilarious attempt to distract us from what little visual flare the soft, pastel-clad series has to offer. There’s no OTHER reason for such a slow paced anime to do this… Oh, wait, yes there is.
In order to talk about the writing that went into Kare Kano, I’m going to have to start by explaining the concept of Show Don’t Tell. Well, a condensed explanation is in order, as it pertains to a visual medium. Basically, telling the viewer about something isn’t going to give them the same experience as showing it to them. If a feeling or emotion can be stated with a simple change of expression, there’s no reason to have the character blab on about it. For example, my biggest problem with Kick-Ass 2 was that the admittedly bold character development was explored through long-winded emotional speeches, rather than actual actions. Show, don’t tell.
Unfortunately, Kare Kano is an extremely ‘telly’ series. Every single plot point is stated to us, sometimes over and over again, and I’m not just talking about the plot recaps. The voice-over narrations between our two heroes are incessant, as they beat us over the head with every thought, concern, or emotion that may be going through their minds. We’re constantly reminded about things that we couldn’t have possibly forgotten, and no matter who’s talking, they won’t shut up about Yukino’s personality, whether real or constructed, or about the fact that her and Shoichiro are changing each other. A good cast can go a long way, but this amount of expositional soliloquizing wears out it’s welcome fast. And don’t even get me started on the constant… And I mean constant… On-screen text.
Basically, it has the pretentious writing style of Evangelion, and the heavily randomized viaual style of FLCL, and that wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it wasn’t for it’s slow pace and limbo-champ stakes.
Which is unfortunate, because when the show actually shuts the hell up for two minutes and develops the characters normally, it can deliver some heart-stoppingly beautiful moments. But they’re few and far between.
I don’t think it’s a big spoiler to say that our two leads become a couple, since this is a romantic comedy, but the surprising factor is just how fast they get together. Instead of relying on the cliched will-they-won’t-they dynamic, Kare Kano isn’t a story about them getting together as much as it is about them staying together. And that would make for a really interesting plot, if there was any actual threat to them. Yes, the characters themselves may not be annoyingly perfect, but their relationship damn well IS. Every conflict they ever face… And I hate using hyperbole, so no, I am not exaggerating about this… Is resolved as quickly and easily as possible, before being instantly forgotten. Even the characters that try to get in their way are defeated, befriended, and robbed of any future identity or screen time.
Unfortunately for Kare Kano, my other big pet peeve is when a series spends an entire episode… Or two… On one character’s arc, giving them development or a backstory just to drop them out of the story immediately afterwards. When that character is going to be killed off, that’s one thing, but when they’re going to lose all of their dialogue and literally act like a monkey for the rest of the show, that’s something else. And not something good.
Sometimes, even the events revolving specifically around our couple ultimately result in nothing. Here, I’ll give you a spoiler-example. Soichiro was abandoned by his deadbeat father and physically abusive mother as a child. He’s raised by his aunt and uncle, and at one point in the series, we travel with him to his family reunion. And because of some betrayal his father committed, everybody hates him, saying he’ll amount to nothing. You may be saying “Wait, isn’t he at the top of his class?’ Yes, and his uncle brings up that exact point, telling all of them that they’re feelings toward him make no sense. And that’s where that storyline ends.
If having a character point out that something didn’t make sense was enough to make up for the fact that it didn’t make sense, I would have enjoyed Angel Beats a bit more.
Now, here’s the part where I put my money where my mouth is; That entire plot point could have been easily improved. Rather than openly hating him for something he didn’t deserve, why not have them secretly hate him, but wear fake smiles around him and pretend to love him BECAUSE of his grades? Then when they find out that his grades slipped because of his girlfriend, their true natures show! See, by doing that, they could have tied this conflict directly into the main plot. His relationship to Yukino could have been dragged into it, kicking and screaming if necessary.
To address the elephant in the room, a lot of people consider this show’s damning flaw to be the fact that it suddenly ended at episode 26, leaving off without any sort of conclusion. This was done because the manga author, Masami Tsuda, didn’t like the direction the adaptation was taking. She said that Anno was focusing more on the comedy than the main romance, and as such, she refused to let them adapt her work any further. Personally, I think it was unfair and entirely inaccurate of her to imply that this show was moving in some sort of direction in the first place. But yes, I have to side with her on this. I’m actually glad she cut them off, because in addition to protecting her own name, she prevented Anno from embarrassing himself any further.
There’s a long list of shows that were inspired in some way or another by this particular series, including one of my first positive reviews, Yamada’s First Time. The problem? Almost all of these shows are decisively better than Kare Kano.
For those of you who decided to TLDR by skipping right to my final thoughts, I’d hate to disappoint you, so here they are. Kare Kano is a train wreck. I’m sorry, I know it’s popular, and a lot of people love it, but I have to be honest; This is one of the most badly written and poorly executed pieces of work that I’ve ever seen. It showed some promise in the beginning, but even then, the cracks in the writing were already beginning to show. My expectations may have been a little too high, but even if they weren’t, my opinion of this show would still be the same. I thought it would be the best anime I reviewed this month, but no, it’s the worst. At least This Ugly Yet Beautiful World put forth some actual effort, making a genuine attempt to have a decent story and a consistent plot.
I give His and Her Circumstances a 3/10. If you’re pleasantly intrigued by the idea of watching a circle of talking heads play Uno for three minutes, go ahead and raise it to a 5/10, as no other show will be lazy enough to deliver on that particular joy of yours.
His and Her Circumstances: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worshiping and Hate the Gainax.