Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 16 Mar 2007
revised 10 Jan 2010
A masterpiece – with a severe flaw.
Yukino Miyazawa is the perfect student at her high school. Top of the class in grades, sports, and everything else. A model student. Souichiro Arima has just joined her class, and as it turns out, he is also the best at everything. Striving to always be number one, Yukino can not let this stand, and declares Souichiro her rival, whom she despises with a passion. In her anger and determination, the least expected outcome results… she falls for Souichiro.
For those of you who have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, here is the idea… take the last two episodes of it, stretch it to a full-length series, and turn it into a romantic comedy/drama.
For the benefit of everyone else, a fuller explanation… His and Her Circumstances is a series that you read as much as watch. There is so much on-screen text that is crucial to the story that you’ll spend as much time reading as watching what is going on on the screen. At times, it seems more like reading manga than watching anime. There is also much that is not animated in the series. Static and panned shots abound, as well as a fair amount of recycled footage in the form of recap episodes and segments. It’s as if Gainax used a 13 episode budget and made a 26 episode series with it. This, however, is not the crucial flaw this series possesses.
Another unique aspect about this series is the way in which it is told. I didn’t keep a tally, but it seems that more of it narrated than is told through actual dialogue. Rather than watching the characters do stuff, you watch them talk about themselves doing it. And it’s not in flashback either. You won’t be watching Yukino agonize over something, you’ll watch her talk about her thoughts as she agonizes over it. It makes for a very interesting viewing experience. This also is not the crucial flaw that this series possesses.
So, ‘what is the crucial flaw in this series?’, you ask. I don’t recall all of the details, but it boils down to this… director Hideaki Anno did not complete the series. So as not to spoil the series, I won’t discuss at what point, except to say that it is fairly easy to tell, even just by looking at the episode titles. However, let me clarify. Anno’s portion of the series is simply fascinating and amazing to watch. At times it even feels like Evangelion, his most known work. Episodes also share the dual-title characteristic that Evangelion did. Unlike that series though, the goal here isn’t to toss your mind in the blender. It gets abstract at times, but you won’t be scratching your head in bewilderment. Well, until Anno’s tenure as director ends anyway. But then it will be for different reasons.
After his departure, the series is left looking for a way to conclude, and seems to have trouble finding one. With the major story arc complete, we are treated to a sidestory of sorts that lasts for a while, as the series sort of meanders to the 26 episode mark. It doesn’t so much end as it stops. No heartwarming conclusion or tragic ending, and no sense of fulfillment. For a series that started out and went incredibly strong, it goes out with a whimper. This is not a knock on the replacement director either. (Kazuya Tsurumaki, who would go on to create FLCL, in case you were wondering.) Those episodes, on their own, would have made a fine school comedy. The problem is that they were tacked on to the end of a fascinating character study and suffer from a disjointed juxtaposition, which is a shame. It tries to recapture the feel of the Anno episodes at times, but never quite succeeds, and at its best moments feels like more of an homage to Anno’s style rather than a continuation of it.
So, my final verdict on His and Her Circumstances is that in some respects it is a masterpiece in storytelling. The Anno episodes get a full A+ from me, and rather than award it a perfect score with reservations, it earns very good marks as a whole. Were the ending handled differently – or perhaps even the series compressed a bit and ended with Anno still in the director’s chair – this would easily have been a benchmark title.