Romance is a fickle thing, meaning something different to everyone. To some it’s a casual fling after a night on the town, while to others its a lifelong commitment. It’s this mercurial nature that so often makes Romance as a genre difficult to pin down. Some are looking for a wholesome, drama free experience like Ore Monogatari!!. Others want a show that burns hot, fast and steamy, like Domestic na Kanojo, while others still are looking for a tragedy. It goes on and on and on, with each kind of romance pulling a different audience. But sometimes… sometimes you want the purest, most distilled and focused kind of romance you can get. And that’s the kind of romance Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou, AKA His and Her Circumstances, embodies. Created by Masami Tsuda, directed by the legendary Hideaki Anno and animated at Studio Gainax, This is what we’re examining today!
Be warned, this review contains minor unmarked spoilers for His and Her Circumstances. It also contains major spoilers in some sections however these will be heavily marked to avoid accidents.
As per usual, the best place to start talking about an anime is, wouldn’t you guess it, it’s animation. It just so happens that this is also the most contentious part of the show. For 3/4ths of it’s run, Circumstances looks great. Characters are expressive, transitions are clever, the visual metaphors are on point. While it’s not the most detailed of shows, the backgrounds being pretty basic highschool fare, if they appear at all, and the character designs being pretty simple, it’s still incredibly evocative. The ways in which Circumstances communicates the emotions of a scene and the characters in it are phenomenal. I can’t understate just how expressive it is. When he wants to be, Hideaki Anno deserves of every bit of praise he receives. But only when he wants to. And I feel like, for the last 1/4th of Circumstances run, he couldn’t have cared less.
Simply put, from episode 19 onwards Circumstances starts to… fall apart, in basically every way. The interesting and engaging transitions, fun animation, even what little detail the character models had, it all starts to decline. There are still snippets of the visual metaphor and imagery, those are still really good. But they become fewer and farther between, while at the same time the actual pacing of the show begins to slow to a crawl, both narratively and visually. It doesn’t help that Circumstances also has a number of recap and side-story/filler episodes spread across it’s 2nd half either. It’s clear that the production was running into issues at this point. And while some may argue that it’s still just as strong as ever, that episode 19 is a landmark in experimentation, to me it’s just a monument to their gross mismanagement and a complete waste of the audience’s time.
It’s a shame, because you can still see snippets of greatness. These moments where that passion for the show manages to shine through whatever production hell Gainax is going through. But it’s not enough to make up for everything else, not just in the production, that starts to go wrong here. Even now, from what I’ve read, no one is quite sure what happened. There’s the long standing myth that Anno left the show after episode 16, as well as his possible protest towards restrictions being placed on anime at that time. A supposed feud between the original creator, Masami Tsuda, and Gainax about whether or not to make Circumstances a comedy or a romance. Budget problems. The list goes on! Ultimately however, all of it is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is the show in front of us. And what’s in front of us is a train wreck.
All in all, Circumstances is a fantastic visual journey soured by what I can only call the complete and total collapse of it’s production. The final episode is so far gone that you can barely even call it animated. Instead becoming a power point presentation of almost manga-like panels with text in lieu of VA work and an almost complete absence of color. Does it ruin the show? No, that’s the fault of an incomplete narrative. But it will remain as a sour taste in your mouth any time you think back on your experience with Circumstances.
This brings me to, you couldn’t have guessed it, the narrative! Circumstances story is, at it’s core, a pretty straight forward romance. Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they start off as rivals only to become something more. What sets Circumstances apart from the rest of the genre however are its pacing and its ability to dodge stupid drama. For the first, I want to bring up a favorite in the anime community: Kaguya-sama: Love is War. At 3 seasons, Kaguya-sama managed to accomplish what Circumstances did in 3 episodes. What that is, I won’t tell you, just to avoid spoilers for both. But suffice to say, this pacing is a welcome reprieve from modern romances. It feels like things actually happen in Circumstances. That the relationship actually progresses, that they actually want to be together because both are moving towards that goal. It’s fantastic!
Meanwhile on the drama front, Circumstances almost makes it a game to dodge as many tropes as it can. See Arima, our lead boy, start to get jealous that Miyazawa, our lead girl, is hanging out with other guys? In a normal romance, that would be 3 episodes of content. Here? They talk it out in the same episode, like a mature couple. A simple miscommunication or overhearing them talking to their friend? We could start a fight that will last 2-3 episodes. Or… we could talk about it after school, figure out it was just a silly miscommunication and go on with our lives. Circumstances plot is built entirely on real issues couples face, such as learning how to be yourself around each other, how to express affection, or how to balance love and school, and almost never on stupid, drama-bait tropes. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Sadly, all good things must end. Much like the production, the narrative starts to fall apart around episode 19. Gone is the swift pacing and heartfelt romance, replaced by glacial pacing and large amounts of comedy. From this point on Circumstances begins to meander it’s way towards a non-existent finale, one that drops us in the middle of multiple arcs with absolutely no resolution to any of them. What would have previously taken 2 episodes now takes 6, with a recap and irrelevant side-story mixed in for a total of 8 episodes. All the while the narrative content we do get becomes tropier and tropier, going so far as to introduce a new student this late in the game who does absolutely nothing. Had just the production fallen apart, I could forgive it. But Gainax took the story I loved and turned it into the comedic wasteland they wanted.
Once again, Circumstances narrative is an absolutely heart wrenching tale soured by a non-existent climax and it’s production woes grinding it to an absolute halt. Arima and Miyazawa’s story is a beautiful, largely wholesome affair tinted with moments of tragedy that almost brought a tear to my eye, that only serve to make their relationship shine all the brighter in comparison. Even with it’s failings in the last quarter, the first 3 will probably stand as one of my favorite romance stories for a long time. It’s a damn shame it couldn’t carry it to the end.
Not even the characters, their personalities and individual arcs, are safe from Circumstances meltdown. Once again, and I realize this is becoming rote but bear with me here, the first 3/4ths is incredible. Miyazawa’s confidence and self-sufficiency, paired with her narcissism and genuine desire for connection, set her apart from most romance protagonists. She’s not your classic shy and demure love interest, rather she’s generally the loudest person in any given scene. Meanwhile Arima is the exact opposite, often quiet and emotionally distant from those around him. Both of them seek praise and affirmation from those around them, and it is finding it in each other that brings them together. These are two insecure, damaged people who come together as one of the best, most introspective and most importantly real couples I’ve ever seen in anime. And this attention to detail doesn’t stop there!
Plenty of the supporting cast gets their own arcs and moments of growth as well. Take Tsubasa Shibahime for example. When she was first introduced, I hated her. I thought she was a spoilt brat with no redeeming qualities, exactly what Circumstances wanted me to feel. But as we learned more about her, her circumstances, her past, why it’s a desperate cry for attention, she quickly became my favorite character in the show! Which is what made it all the more painful when Circumstances sidelined her into becoming a gag-focused gremlin for the entire final quarter, with perhaps 1 speaking line in 8 episodes but multiple jokes. Can you feel my pain? I hope so, because we’re just getting started!
In fact, to properly communicate just how painful the last quarter of Circumstances was for me, I need to go into spoiler territory! So if you have not watched Circumstances yet and care about spoilers, do not click on the following section. If however, you want to hear about how it assassinated Arima’s character, queerbaited two if it’s side characters and failed to actually resolve anything at all, then read on.
On Arima’s side, it’s pretty straight forward. Circumstances had always presented him as a child with a troubled past, one he wanted to get away from. So a lot of his issues regarding jealousy, self-worth, etc, these all made sense. In fact I would go so far as to call them core to his character, they were great. However as Circumstances got further and further into the 2nd half, it started leaning on these more and more. He reacted more harshly, he pushed harder, he became emotionally manipulative. Until by the end, as much of an end as we got anyways, he had become an emotionally abusive, overly possessive, “I don’t like you having male friends” trash fire. Perhaps if Circumstances had used the time it had to resolve this, to work through it, it could have worked. But as is? He became a text-book abuser, and one Circumstances defended.
Meanwhile on the queerbait side, we have Tsubaki Sakura and Takefumi Tonami. Both of these characters were pretty clearly introduced as gay, or at the very least bisexual on Takefumi’s part. Large swathes of Tsubaki’s on-screen time was dedicated to her interest in girls. From jokes to outright flirting with them, there can be no question as to her sexuality. Meanwhile Takefumi is a bit more up in the air, the most indication we have being some pretty clear attraction to Arima after his introduction. If you want to chalk that up to Shoujo being Shoujo then be my guest. But the fact remains that by the end of its run, Circumstances sort of just… threw these two together, with no regard to if they actually worked or not nor their sexuality.
While none of these mistakes individually killed Circumstances finale, it did buckle under their sheer cumulative weight. Perhaps if it had given any of them a concrete ending, given the audience any kind of closure whatsoever, it could have muddled through. But for me? By the end of the final episode, I was cursing Anno’s name. Again!
Finally we come to the last “real” section of this review, the part I can be unambiguously positive about, the OST. Composed by the legendary Shirou Sagisu, of Bleach and Evangelion fame, it should come as no surprise that Circumstances soundtrack is an absolute banger. From the smooth, almost romantic brass of “Peace Reigns in the Land” to the happy monotony of a stable relationship in “Everyday Peace“. The jovial and warm environment of “The Miyazawa Family” to the soft, low, slow, dare I say introspective piano of “Treasure Every Meeting“. Sagisu is an expert at finding an emotion, a feeling, a scene, and embodying it in a piece of music. However what I think he, and by extension Circumstances, does best is tragedy.
For this, we need look no further than my two favorite songs on this OST: “We Meet Only to Part” and “Souichirou Arima I“. The me, these songs define so much of my experience with Circumstances. The way “Souichirou Arima I” starts somber, lonely and quiet, before growing louder and louder, adding more and more instruments as he meets more people and makes more friends, all the while keeping that same somber sound underneath it all. How almost ephemeral “We Meet Only to Part” sounds, in these halcyon highschool days, before the brass kicks in at the end. A single lone note fading away. While the entire OST is good, it’s these sad, tragic pieces making up a good third of the OST that I will remember the most.
And of course there’s plenty of other great tracks and motifs in here, the “Yukino Miyazawa” line is fantastic, with “Yukina Miyazawa III” being my favorite of them, though “IV” is also great. There’s also the slow, sensual, romantic sounds of “Groping in the Dark“, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to what that’s about. All in all, I think Circumstances has a fantastic auditory identity, as can only be expected by Sagisu, and it’s perhaps the only thing unaffected by the complete and total collapse of the last quarter.
Can the Destination Ruin the Journey?
And with that we come to the end of the “review” portion of this review. All that’s left is this small section where I take off my reviewer hate, cut any pretense of formality and simply try to communicate my own personal experience with a show. Nothing in here has any bearing on the score, it’s purely for you to try to understand where everything before this was coming from. If you don’t care? Then skip it, get to the score and the conclusion. But if you want a peek behind the curtain? Then read on. And be warned! This is no-holds-barred spoiler territory, I will be talking about the ending and I won’t be labeling anything. You have been warned.
So, the ending. Is it really that bad? If I like the other 3/4ths of the show so much, why does the last 1/4th matter? Is the journey not more important than the destination? Well you’re not wrong. The journey is important, and I did enjoy a lot of my time with His and Her Circumstances. Even with it’s failures, Arima and Miyazawa will most likely remain one of my favorite animated couples for a long time. Their maturity, and the depths their romance reaches during it’s runtime, will be hard to beat. I wasn’t joking when I said it accomplished in 3 episodes what took Kaguya-sama 3 entire seasons. But that love, that enjoyment I had, is precisely why the ending hurts so much. It got my hopes up, it got me invested, I came to care for these kids. And Gainax clearly didn’t.
Had we gotten some kind of closure, anything at all really, it would suck but I could manage. However Circumstances gave us nothing. No climax to think back fondly on. No revelation or promise for more. It just… stopped. In the middle of 3 separate stories/character arcs. And that’s a shame! Because I will forever remember the flashback episode of Miyazawa’s parents, and the story of her great grandfather raising her father. I will fondly look back on their first time together, and the respect with which Circumstances portrayed it. On Tsubasa’s family woes, and the struggle of a single parent household raising a daughter, as well as that daughters struggle with accepting new family members. When Circumstances is on point, it’s absolutely incredible. But it not only fails to hit that point for the entire last quarter, it actively avoids it.
So while yes, the journey is more important than the destination, the destination is your final impression of the journey. It’s the last taste left in your mouth as the series ends. That final memory that, no matter how great the journey, will forever color you experience. And in Circumstances case, that final taste is downright bitter.
So yeah, all in all His and Her Circumstances was an absolutely incredible love story that drove itself off a cliff in it’s final 8 episodes. Some will argue that it’s just “Gainax things” and “Anno being experimental”, and if that works for you then fantastic. Enjoy yourself, watch the show, have a better time than I did. But if you’re like me and you can’t stand Hideaki Anno’s alarming tendency to fail to finish his shows, then maybe be prepared to just… stop, after episode 18. Because that’s going to be the most closure you get. Which, to be fair, it was a really damn good climax. It just happened 8 episodes before the actual finale of the show. So if you think of the rest like an epilogue… Maybe it’s not so bad? Either way, take this as a recommendation with an absolutely massive grain of salt.
And that’s a wrap folks! Thanks for sticking around for another season of Throwback Thursday. For those who’ve been here a while, this is where I get to announce our next season! So without further ado, I give to you, a show produced at studio Manglobe, directed by Sayo Yamamoto of Yuri on Ice fame, the 2008 found family piece: Michiko to Hatchin! This is a nice pull for me, as I’ve been interested in it for a while but always held off because it’s always been 1-2 votes away from winning the Throwback poll. I’m looking forward to finally getting to watch it, and I’m sure some of you readers are excited that it’s finally won. So look forward to next week, where we start with the first 2 episodes!
See you then, and thank you for reading.