Yukino Mizukawa is a model student at her Japanese high school. She's beautiful, always top of her class and unfailingly sweet and helpful to others. However it's all an act. She works like a demon at maintaining her grades and her image, but underneath she's selfish, spoiled and anti-social. As soon as she gets home, she drops the facade. Then one day a new student arrives: Souichirou Arima, who seems really to be all the things Yukino has been killing herself trying to be. Naturally she vows to destroy him.
This show is nearly impossible to describe! It's a love story between Yukino and Arima, but the first four episodes devour the ground that would last to the end of any other romance. For once love isn't shown as a fairytale ending but the start of a journey. By turns this show is a pisstake of romantic comedy, an exploration of character and a self-discovery headfuck. It's not about the traditional "will they, won't they?" but instead about the interrelationships of the four characters of two people... the public personas and true selves of Yukino and Arima. Both of our leads, for their own reasons, spent years of their lives constructing fictional identities which need to be torn down. Light-hearted stuff, eh?
Fortunately the show's also hilarious.
There are some great characters, my favourite being Tsubasa, the savage who goes around attacking things. She's like the genetic hybrid of a cute girl and a snapping turtle. There's genre subversion and deliberate flouting of romantic convention, which gives more of an edge than one expects from this kind of show. Maybe this scared away the audience; the show bombed in Japan. At times it's capable of being downright anti-romantic. It's a Gainax show, the next project Anno Hideaki did after Neon Genesis Evangelion, and it's mercurial to a fault but its good qualities are superlative. Refreshingly intelligent, devastatingly honest and always surprising, some of this show's individual episodes are downright brilliant. It feels truthful. This show's depth, subtlety and range should theoretically have made it a must-watch. I've seen it called a masterpiece and in many ways I can't disagree.
Unfortunately its problems are no less glaring, to the point where one might perhaps refer to them instead as bloody, gaping wounds. Anno Hideaki is a troubled individual and this was the first Gainax show not to be based on someone else's manga. Masumi Tsuda was inexperienced when she started the series, more used to short stories, and furthermore her manga was incomplete when Gainax started their adaptation. There were disagreements and Anno Hideaki walked off the production halfway through, after which everything falls apart. They somehow stagger to the end of their contracted 26 episodes, but only thanks to cheap tricks and shortcuts. All those recap sequences are taking the piss, while the last three episodes are just storyboards instead of the real thing. Instead of actual animation, we get a summary of what the animation would have been had the staff had the money and/or inclination. It wraps things up after a fashion, but it's bollocks.
(The manga's ending sounds far more interesting, taking us forward a further sixteen years to show Yukino and Arima married with three children after Yukino got pregnant while still at school, not to mention other unexpected outcomes.)
And as for episode 19... okay, if that wasn't a crisis-hit episode because Anno Hideaki had just quit as director, someone needs to die. Basically they glued paper faces to sticks and did it as a puppet show.
However if you stopped watching at episode 16, you'd know about none of all that. You'd merely call the show wildly unpredictable. Every so often they suddenly decides to tell us about Yukino's parents or a fat boy who used to get picked on. Some of these one-offs are the show's strongest episodes! We start off totally focused on Yukino and Arima, but gradually the cast grows and other people's stories creep in.
Then there's the animation, which practically needs its own review. Neon Genesis Evangelion looks tame compared with this. It's usually realistic, but it regularly lets rip with visuals that go beyond super-deformed into a universe of surreal weirdness. It took me an episode and a half to acclimatise, but it's fascinating. This series pushed the boundaries of visual storytelling. Its artistic experiments are symbolic of the characters' emotional or mental states, and no less importantly can be very funny! One of my favourites is the episode where Yukino goes apeshit at Tsubasa and transforms into a demon-fanged Godzilla of vengeance.
I love the music, which never failed to raise a smile. I particularly worship the end theme, which is played over typically cheap Gainax credits. A live-action camera wanders through a deserted school, after which we see an adorable pair of voice actresses recording the traditional "next episode" preview. And when I say "adorable", I mean "the two cutest living entities on the entire planet". You have no idea.
This show has various names. The Japanese original is "Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou", which doesn't translate well. Those first two words could either mean "him and her" or "boyfriend and girlfriend". "His and Her Circumstances" is a direct translation to please the purists but a bloody awful title, so it's also been called "Kare Kano" (simply abbreviating the Japanese) and "Tales at North Hills High" (huh?).
His and Her Circumstances can be sweet, rewarding, frustrating or just frickin' strange. It's far more intelligent than most romantic comedies, although sometimes it hardly seems to fit into the genre. I couldn't call it a classic, if only because I've just finished watching episodes 24-26 (grrr), but when it's on form this show is astonishing.