Anime Watchlist is ComicsVerse’s anime recommendation series, where we spotlight some of the best lesser-known shows out there.

In the 90s, the popularity of anime soared in the West with series like COWBOY BEBOP and REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA. But among these now iconic titles was one small anime series that made me laugh and cry just as much as the top shows of its time. That little anime that slipped through the cracks? HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES.

GIF: Gainax (by Tumblr user my-life-as-a-cat)

This slice of life anime follows high school student Yukino Miyazawa who seems to be radiantly perfect in every category conceived by every school she’s attended so far. Too bad the only thing that’s perfect is her facade, since she’s really a scheming, snarky, extremely competitive nerd, and a slob at home. To further solidify her image, she sets herself on a mission to score the highest on her entrance exam for her new territory: high school. With this, she hopes everyone’s perception of her will be secured, and her high school life will be filled with the adoration and praise of her peers.

That mission fails hard when Arima Soichiro shows up. He’s basically Yukino’s equal, if not her superior since he gets the top score instead of her. He seems unaware that his success makes him public enemy #1 for our female lead, who comes in second. To Yukino, this means war. But for the viewer, it’s comedic gold.

The Balance of Comedy and Drama
Image: Gainax

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES does something different from typical shoujo series. Shoujo projects are aimed at a young female audience and tend to focus on romance, which more often than not means waiting to seeing if a couple will get together or not. This is not the case with HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES. The small rivalry between the two leads to a romance early in the show, and the focus of the series is on their dynamic as a couple as the story continues.

I found this novel as a fan of the genre. Viewers remain attached to the story to see if the couple can survive, not to guess if two people are actually going to end up together. Because falling in love and staying together are two separate concepts, and the latter is rarely utilized in anime. Most of the time the relationship is written off as a “happily ever after.”

It doesn’t hurt that these two goofy, yet insightful characters are fun to watch. The comedic and romantic chemistry between Yukino and Arima is pitch perfect. Seeing Arima’s reaction to just how diabolical Yukino can be is hilarious. And her snappy response to how he’s not so different from her is enough to earn a few chuckles throughout the episodes, as well.

It’s also great to see how they develop as a result of being with each other. Together, they evolve from two people who wore masks in public, to having the courage to bear the ugly, honest, dark truth under their guises to one another and eventually their friends and loved ones. How dark is that truth at the core of these characters? It’s bleaker than you might expect.

The anime’s method of covering these heavy subjects is refreshing as well. Without giving away who the characters involved are, the incidents aren’t described via a flashback with a voiceover. But rather, it’s the character’s tone of voice and a change in the animation style that communicates what they’ve gone through. When they describe a scenario, there’s a disconnect between what the character says (which should be upbeat), how it’s being said, and what we see. It’s similar to real life when a person tries to make a sour situation positive, or becomes pensive as they recall a past encounter, with their tone of voice telling you more than words could.

Stepford Smilers Everywhere

GIF: Gainax (by Tumblr user bewareofmpreg)

Many characters in the series exemplify the Stepford Smiler trope, meaning a person that projects an idealized version of themselves instead of who they really are. This is used to make a statement on how people put on personas to achieve happiness, or just to get by. Some of the other characters had to keep up a persona due to a tragedy, whereas others try to keep people distant. Suffice it to say, almost no one is who they first appear to be in HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES. And the mystery behind why they hide who they are is another of the show’s strong points.

RELATED: Want more romance? Check out these Top 5 romance manga titles!

The Use of Different Animation Styles

One of the screenshots of the anime in which an actual pre-production sketch is used.
Image: Gainax

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES employs many different animation styles, including sketch-like drawings (like the one above) and real-life location shots, throughout the series. And it’s not just to be gimmicky. This change in art style brings us into the heads of the characters more effectively than long-winded monologues with the character standing still could. You can feel the shocking change of a tone when the art cuts to something grittier and more detailed, even if it’s for a split second.

READ: Want more recommendations? Check out these Top 3 shoujo manga!

The series may appear simple, silly, and sweet on the surface. But like the protagonists, there’s more to this anime than the premise indicates. It’s a surprisingly witty spin on the usual shoujo story with dark themes. The delivery of the show’s heartfelt lines of dialogue and knee-slapping punchlines are top notch, which is true whether you watch the series subbed or dubbed. HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES’ humor, relationship dynamics, themes of maturity, and character development make it a must-see anime.  

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