Anime Retrospectives is ComicsVerse’s series on anime that ended prior to the story’s true conclusion. Today, we’re looking back at HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES.

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES, released in Japanese as KARESHI KANOJO NO JIJOU and commonly abbreviated as KARE KANO, is still remembered as one of anime’s rom-com classics 20 years after its first broadcast.

Directed by NEON GENESIS EVANGELION visionary Hideaki Anno and produced by Studio Gainax, HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES aired from October 1998 to March 1999. The original manga by Masami Tsuda, however, ran in shojo magazine LaLa from 1996 to 2005. This alone should tell you just how much was left unaddressed in the show’s 26 episode run. In fact, the anime clumsily introduces a new arc in its final episodes without anything resembling a conclusion. Unfortunately, a sizable creative dispute between Anno and Tsuda not only troubled the show’s production but also virtually killed any possibility of a continuation.

His and Her Circumstances Cast Visual
HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES follows the lives of a “perfect” main couple and their eccentric friends | Image: MyAnimeList

Non-endings are never ideal. However, the bulk of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES is easily some of the most inspired and diverse anime I’ve come across. The series can be a lighthearted shojo, sometimes dipping into zany comedy buoyed by its colorful cast. But it can also be a tragic character drama, addressing intensely real issues such as child neglect, mental illness, and bullying. At its emotional core is a deeply compelling and warm romance. Indeed, HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES is a passion project that offers a refreshingly grown-up perspective on dating.

The Duality of Woman

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES follows Yukino Miyazawa, who at first glance is a model Japanese student. She’s soft-spoken, pretty, and intelligent, consistently scoring the highest grades of her class. Whether she’s sharing notes or getting deadlines extended, she’s always willing to lend a helping hand to her dear classmates. She’s a natural-born leader, respected and adored by her all her peers and teachers.

Little do they know, Yukino’s perfect exterior is just a facade. It’s a narcissistic act she maintains to receive special treatment. In reality, Yukino’s personality, which she reverts to back at home, is that of a petty, devious slob. In fact, she is so addicted to praise and looking perfect that she won’t hesitate to pull all-nighters studying or spend hours in front of a mirror practicing ladylike poses.

Yukino Jealousy
Yukino finds a new competitor in Soichiro for the school’s adulation | Image: Amazon Prime Video

Yukino’s life takes an abrupt turn, however, when her high school debut is ruined by Soichiro Arima, who scores top marks on the entrance exams. And this is a spectacular blow to her ego. Soichiro also takes the class representative spot, monopolizing the class’s topic of conversation. More unforgivable is the fact that he’s kind, handsome, and athletic, possibly even more perfect than her. She vows to destroy the boy who stole her precious thunder.

One day however, Yukino slips and allows Soichiro of all people to discover her real self by accident. Now spending more time together, Yukino soon learns that Soichiro isn’t exactly flawless either, uncovering a painful past. This initiates a chain of events that has them confide in one another, become friends, and eventually fall in love. They then have to cope with whatever the real world throws at them to hinder their relationship.

Learning HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES

Good anime romances are few and far between. All too often we have two characters who like each other, only to be embarrassed from openly admitting it for 25-episodes. As such, anime has a tendency to be too occupied with the blossoming of romance. Rarely does a show depict the trials and tribulations that come with maintaining a relationship. And HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES illustrates how a good relationship can be almost therapeutic, providing emotional support during difficult times.

As its title suggests, HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES delves into the personal lives of two complex individuals. It reveals the reality behind these outwardly “exemplary” students. Yukino struggles to break her habit of pretend-perfection because of her insatiable ego. Soichiro feels he must act and think a certain way to justify his foster family’s love. Both are flawed characters who come to understand and eventually embrace one another. Their newfound connection brings out the best of them, forging a mutual resolve to drop their masks and be true to themselves.

Yukino and Soichiro Walking Together
HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES takes us into the thought processes of these “model” students | Image: Amazon Prime Video

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES also carefully examines the relationships with several of their friends. Every single character has a backstory and feels textured. Take Maho Izawa for example. Her emotional growth, from the classic mean girl out to destroy Yukino’s reputation to Yukino’s first and closest female friend, is very natural and satisfying to see. No one feels like they’re there just to take up space.

Intimacy in Visual Style

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES employs interesting visual techniques to further such depth of characterization. Hideaki Anno as a director is heavily concerned with portraying deconstruction of the mind. His characters will often attempt to vocally and mentally explain their thoughts and feelings to themselves and us. We as the audience dive into their psyche, drudging up images that grant us insight into how the character perceives themselves, others, and life in general.

Soichiro Internal Thoughts
Soichiro’s internal resentment towards his extended family is strikingly presented in bold red letters | Image: Amazon Prime Video

Soichiro, for example, is actually quite sensitive behind his mask of composure. As Yukino comes to learn herself, he carries the trauma of his biological parents abusing and abandoning him as a child. His extended family treats him as the black sheep simply because he was born to shameless criminals. He will go on lengthy soliloquies frequently complemented by dark, red imagery. He is irrationally afraid of disappointing the kind foster parents who took him in and cared for him. So much of what makes HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES so visually engaging is the nuance in how these emotions are depicted.

Two faced Yukino
The staff at Studio Gainax came up with various interesting ways to portray Yukino’s two-faced personality. | Image: Amazon Prime video

The expressions in HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES are also a great way to learn about the characters. The show especially conveys Yukino’s two-faced personality very well. For example, different art styles will clearly demarcate her public image and real self. There are also trippy background cuts in between her personality shifts. She will even look towards the camera to display how self-aware and proud she is of that side of herself! Still, screenshots really don’t provide justice to the sheer visual creativity of these scenes.

No Laughing Matter

The staff at Studio Gainax made it a point to incorporate enough screwball comedy to keep the more introspective moments from being too heavy. For instance, Yukino’s family often attempt to pry into her personal life, making for some great comic relief. Yukino’s two younger sisters especially are a riot. They regularly give 4th-wall breaking commentary on Yukino’s academic routine, playing brilliant foils to her fake perfection. HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES does a good job of balancing its humor with its more serious material.

The silliness of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES employs just as much rich visual vocabulary as its serious scenes. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s episodes in particular often involve super exaggerated expressions and non-stop, rapid-fire pacing. His hyperactive style is incredibly telling of the trajectory of future series he would helm, such as GURREN LAGANN and KILL LA KILL. HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES is full of such tight editing and inspired visual comedy. You can tell he and other staff had a lot of fun constructing each gag.

Imaishi Episode
Imaishi’s episodes in HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES were full of absurd visual gags | Image: Amazon Prime Video

However, the original creator, Masami Tsuda, was less than pleased with the result. Tsuda felt that Anno and his team were taking too many artistic liberties, making the anime seem considerably wackier than the manga. To make matters worse, HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES suffered the same scheduling and budgeting issues that plagued Anno’s previous project, NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. Not only were some entire episodes recap, but also the second half would stray into dull side plots. Eventually, Tsuda’s dissatisfaction grew enough to cut the anime short. This is actually why first-timers are typically recommended to stop at Episode 18. The series just ends abruptly and superficially, leaving several questions unanswered.

A Stylish Soundscape

The music of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES no doubt heightens the viewing experience as well. Legendary composer Shiro Sagisu (NEON GENESIS EVANGELION, BLEACH) helms a soundtrack that is varied and utilized to great effect thanks to Anno’s musical sensitivity as a director. Piano tracks like “Treasure Every Moment” are soothing and apt for scenes involving a quiet exploration of the psyche. “Miyazawa Family” is an example of the wonderful jazzy tracks that accompany the lighter, comedic scenes of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES. It particularly makes use of ‘papaya-pa’ vocals over a jazz combo, followed by swinging ivories and a marimba solo. They’re cheeky and utterly fun tunes to listen to.

Kare Kano ED
The ending credit sequence of HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES regularly features locations in an actual Japanese high school | Image: Amazon Prime Video

The ending theme “Into A Dream” is a sunny song for all ages. Atsuko Enomoto, Yukino’s voice actress, sings it alone the first time we hear it, signifying Yukino’s solitude in the beginning act. Once she becomes close with Soichiro however, both Enomoto and Soichiro’s voice actor, Chihiro Suzuki, perform the song together for the rest of the show. The ending credit sequence itself is most notably live-action, filmed in an actual high school in Japan. Perhaps Anno did this to draw a parallel from the series to reality.

Hideaki Anno’s Hidden Gem

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES feels just as fresh as it did 20 years ago. It’s a wacky and yet cerebral take on the romcom genre, replete with meditative character moments and slapstick buoyed by charming visual tricks. The entire main cast has a solid rapport that makes you want to root for them. There’s rarely a dull moment in the series, each scene crafted with purpose and a lot of heart.

Kare Kano Key Visual2
HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES shows how romantic passion is a multifaceted, emotional phenomenon | Image: IMDB

However, 20 years really hasn’t numbed the frustration at the lack of a sequel. Sure, the manga is complete, but the anime still has an unfinished quality to it, a good chunk yet to be fleshed out. It’s frustrating primarily because what was adapted was so good. For now, though, you can find this disarmingly honest shojo romance available on the Starz channel of Amazon Prime Video, both subbed and dubbed.

Featured image from Madman Entertainment.

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