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Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances)

Kare Kano, or Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (His and Her Circumstances), is GAINAX's late-90s adaption of Masami Tsuda's popular shoujo (girl-oriented) manga of the same name. Hideaki Anno, previously known for directing Nadia and Evangelion, tackles a new genre with this series, and brings with him much of the style and technique that he used in Evangelion to set Kare Kano apart from other shoujo romance series.

Before the critique, I'll cover the basic plot. Yukino Miyazawa has always been the smartest and most popular girl of her class, but her place at the top is threatened by fellow first-year high school student (equivalent to American grade 10) Souichirou Arima. In competing with Arima, she ends up revealing her true self to him (since her school image is a façade) and their relationship moves quickly from rivalry to friendship to being boyfriend and girlfriend. This happens in the first four episodes, and what follows is a realistic, humorous, and often touching look at the joys and trials of balancing academic, family, social, and romantic life.

Kare Kano is definitely a shoujo series, and it has all the trademarks: emphasis on character over plot, frequent super-deforming of characters (the dog, PeroPero, is always super-deformed), flower borders, soft-focus, black-and-white manga-style sketch drawings, feminine bishounen (beautiful boys) with flowing hair, same-sex crushes, and recaps of previous episodes. However, it is also a Hideaki Anno series: inventive camera angles and editing, use of budget shots (more evenly distributed than they were in Evangelion), introspective psychological questions (and sometimes entire conversations) written as text on the screen, sparse but effective integration of live action, excellent characterization and teenage social psychology, offbeat humor, heavy visual symbolism, and even some Evangelion references and in-jokes. Another fact to note: the music is composed by Shiro Sagisu, and is just as good as, if not better than, his rich and varied score for Evangelion.
Because of Anno's influence as a director and screenwriter, Kare Kano rises above the more standard shoujo anime offerings. However, the series has its faults. After an exceptionally strong first half, the series subjects the viewer to one and a half episodes of pure recap. A little recap is fine (Evangelion used it very well in the first half of the 14th episode), but this much is completely unnecessary and disrupts the intense flow of the series. I'm guessing they made the recap decision because they could not produce the expected new episodes under a time crunch (perhaps they were waiting on a new issue of the manga, since they chose to follow it so closely); still, a better alternative (in my opinion) would have been to delay further episodes until they were ready with new material. The recap episodes would be forgivable were it not for the unresolved plot threads in the second half of the series. In the latter eleven and a half episodes, the focus shifts away from Yukino and Arima to other characters and other plotlines. These are all very interesting, but some of the more interesting sideplots are dropped without warning, presumably because there isn't enough time in the series to deal with them--one can only wonder why time was spent on recap when it could have been spent on further developing these sideplots. Finally, the series has no true conclusion, since the manga was still ongoing and they didn't want to alter the story to "force" a resolved ending. While GAINAX's decision to stay true to the manga is admirable, it is frustrating to see such an otherwise excellent series stop in the middle of so many still-developing storylines. As it is, I consider Kare Kano to be incomplete without the presence of a second season. However, GAINAX has not yet announced a second season, and leaves us with an enjoyable but unfinished work.

Verdict

While it may be weakened by unresolved plot threads in the second half and an overdose of recap, Kare Kano is an otherwise excellent work. If you're a fan of shoujo anime or Hideaki Anno, you should enjoy it.

Kare Kano links

All images used on this page are copyright GAINAX Co., Ltd.