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20 Years of KareKano

by Caitlin Moore,

His and Her Circumstances is the story of Yukino Miyazawa, a high school first year who defines herself entirely by other people's perception of her. Perceived as intelligent, feminine, and delicate, she is secretly fiercely competitive and obsessed with success and the admiration of her peers. When she fails to get the top score on her school's entrance exam, she zeroes in on the top student, Soichiro Arima, as her rival. When Arima confesses his love to her, she gloats… until she realizes she just might return his feelings. Before she has a chance to act on this, he chances upon her true self and she finds that he, too, has been keeping a side of himself hidden from the world. The two decide to try being their more authentic selves and, somewhere along the way, find themselves falling in love.

Gainax was known for its science fiction action-adventure, with series like Gunbuster and Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water. After the depressing and psychological End of Evangelion, the shoujo romantic comedy His and Her Circumstances, seemed like a positively incongruous follow-up. However, the latter series isn't all that it first seems to be. Based on a manga of the same name from LaLa magazine, His and Her Circumstances was largely light and comedic but still delved into the psychological themes and stylistically daring animation that had set the studio apart.

According to a published conversation with Revolutionary Girl Utena director Kunihiko Ikuhara, Anno wanted to avoid stagnating as a creator, so something so wildly different from his previous oeuvre made an odd kind of sense. On top of that, despite the difference in genre, His and Her Circumstances had certain commonalities with his previous works, including a psychological bent exploring trauma, abuse, and mental illness. Anno spent the months leading up to production interviewing high school students, in order to get back in touch with the feelings of youth an animator in his late thirties had long left behind.

The result? One of the greatest shoujo classics of the 90s that combines frenetic comedy with psychological drama, traditional animation that at times borders on art-house, and a famously troubled production history.

Anno's interviews with students must have paid off, because His and Her Circumstances, despite its problems, became a hit on the fansub circuituntil The Right Stuf released it on DVD in 2002. Instead of a fairly rote adaptation from page to screen, Anno's scripts and direction take the original manga and turn it into something almost entirely new, following the same plot beats but with energy, authenticity, and visual style all its own.

His and Her Circumstances is primarily a love story, exploring its characters both as individuals and as members of a couple. Yukino and Arima, unused to the emotional vulnerability required for a relationship, can be hesitant and awkward at times as they let each other into their respective worlds. Split screens and episodes that retell the same events from their different perspectives depict the parallel experience of two young adults falling in love for the first time. Delicate manga-style pencil drawings perfectly capture the moment you look at your crush and your breath catches in your throat, accompanied by Shiro Sagisu's delicate piano score.

The series uses copious on-screen text and internal monologue to depict Yukino and Arima's intertwined but ultimately separate character arcs. Yukino, the product of a loving middle-class family, finds joy and growth in searching for her true self. While before she always held everyone at arm's length in order to maintain her constructed image, she starts developing interests and making friends. Her arc is the heart of His and Her Circumstances, as she bonds not only with Arima but his friend Hideaki Asaba and a number of other girls in her school. Her relationship with Arima is important, yes, but she also becomes a better-rounded person capable of thinking and acting on her own. Atsuko Enomoto, in her debut role, delivers a charmingly weird performance as the temperamental, newly uninhibited Yukino through all her trials and victories.

Anno's writing of Yukino may have been informed by interviews and by Tsuda's manga, but his treatment of Arima feels much more personal. Arima, as a survivor of severe childhood abuse and the black sheep of his family, does not blossom as a result of facing his inner self; to the contrary, he turns inward and does not like what he finds. He is forced to face his own mental health problems - self-loathing, a fear of abandonment, and severe depression. While Yukino's internal monologues are full of bright colors and exaggerated facial expression, Arima envisions himself in stark black and white, haunted by memories of his childhood. Anno's own public struggles with mental health informed much of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and there are echoes of Shinji Ikari and, in turn, Anno himself in Arima's internal monologue.

Some of the issues His and Her Circumstances suffers from are fairly typical to Gainax's productions. Recap episodes were fairly standard for TV animation at the time; VCRs were expensive and mainly aimed at collectors, and DVR had yet to be invented. Audience members relied on recap episodes to refresh their memories and clue them in on major plot points they may have missed. However, they can also be signs of financial problems or production delays, as compiling clip shows cost considerably less time and money than putting together a new episode. His and Her Circumstances has two and a half recap episodes in its 26-episode run, including one only three episodes from the end. The animation also suffered noticeably in the last few episodes, resorting to budget-saving but visually innovative techniques such as popsicle-stick puppets animated by moving them around in front of the camera, or literally lighting them on fire. The final nail in the anime's coffin is the notoriously inconclusive ending, which fails to even try to wrap up the current arc and leaves nothing but loose threads.

There were a number of other underlying causes as well. The manga's artist, Masami Tsuda, disliked Anno's interpretation of her work. She felt the anime production focused too much on comedy, rather than the romance and drama between the characters. And it was true that both works had undergone sort of opposing tonal shifts - while the manga grew darker and more psychologically dramatic, the anime only became increasingly energetic as Yukino opened up and made more friends. Because of their creative differences, His and Her Circumstances was forced to conclude before they could wrap up the story, with no hope of a continuation.

While Tsuda's disdain for the anime is well-documented, there was something far murkier brewing as well - Anno's departure from the production. Over the years, many rumors have formed about exactly what happened behind the scenes to cause this. Gainax staffers haven't helped the matters by giving differing accounts. The confirmed facts: starting with episode 16, instead of the credits listing Anno as the sole director with his name in kanji, they list him alongside Hiroki Satō with his name in katakana. He is also listed as the writer for every single episode, with co-writers on episodes 19 and 24-26.

One rumor is that he was fired by TV Tokyo for angering Tsuda, but there doesn't seem to be much substance behind that one; if it were, his name would likely have been removed from the credits entirely. The more likely version is that he took a step back out of frustration at her interference in their production. The way the show deals with mental illness, recovery, and living honestly has a distinctly personal feeling to it, and given Anno's recent and well-known battle with depression, Tsuda's opinion could well have been a personal blow. Another variation on this is that Gainax planned on departing significantly from the manga, went through the first part with a breakneck pace to get to the changes, and were asked to step back in line by TV Tokyo executives.

Yet another rumored cause for Anno's departure floating around has nothing to do with Tsuda. After the Porygon episode of Pokémon hospitalized hundreds of children across Japan, TV Tokyo placed new restrictions on anime productions to prevent any similar incidents from happening. Anno, frustrated with the restrictions, resolved not to work in TV anime ever again. However, no matter how plausible or implausible any of these theories may be, Anno has never publicly confirmed his reasons, and thus they remain unconfirmed conjecture.

Whatever the cause, the results were profound. The directorial style of His and Her Circumstances, for all that it seemed to ape Anno, changed noticeably. Although it remained visually distinctive - there was the aforementioned popsicle stick episode, and the finale was mostly static colored pencil drawings accompanied by on-screen text and narration - there was less introspection, internal monologue, and many of his stylistic quirks. Anno took a major step back from working in TV anime, turning mostly to live-action projects punctuated by occasional forays into storyboarding and key animation, or taking a more hands-off role as “supervising director” for Petite Princess Yucie and Re: Cutie Honey. He would not direct his own anime project again until Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11 in 2007.

Had His and Her Circumstances’ production not broken down so totally, it's hard to know what would have come next. The manga has a degree of infamy of its own; as Arima's mental illness came more and more to the forefront of the story, he turned possessive and controlling of Yukino, and the story's conclusion made many readers deeply uncomfortable, myself included. In the final episodes, shades of those tendencies are already starting to surface. Had Tsuda allowed the anime to continue, the later parts could have well poisoned the whole thing and prevented it from being remembered as the classic it is today.

Regardless of what did or didn't happen, of what could have been but never was, His and Her Circumstances stands up as one of Gainax's most unforgettable series. I bought the U.S. DVDs as they were released, going by nothing but its reputation, and have not once regretted spending my meager allowance on it. In fact, I've found new things to appreciate about it every time. As a teen, I loved it for its quirky characters and energy; in college, in love for the first time, the beginning stages of Yukino and Arima's romance was achingly familiar; and now as an adult, I take joy in watching Yukino blossom not just through her relationship with Arima but also making friends and developing new interests, and have a deeper understanding of Arima's struggle with mental illness. Anno's idiosyncratic direction both melds all these elements together and perfectly highlights each one, making the series truly stand out from other high school romance shoujo of its time. For the past 20 years, it has been essential viewing not just for fans of romance or shoujo anime, but anyone who enjoys stories about human connections told with wit, energy, and style. The series is available on DVD from the Right Stuf and streaming for purchase on Amazon.

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