His and Her Circumstances, Vol. 2 by Hideaki Anno (Review)

That’s what this series has done to me, reducing me to a doe-eyed awkward teenager who gets that gooey feeling in my stomach.
His and Her Circumstances

When we last left Yukino and Arima, they were finally getting their relationship off the ground. The first disc found them slowly letting down the facades they’d been building up over the years, revealing their true selves to each other in scenes that were, by turns hilarious, goofy, freaky, and quite moving. The first disc found them battling with each other, as Yukino and Arima both sought the upper hand until they realized that the only answer was to be true to themselves. With that confidence, they plunge into their relationship headfirst.

But alas, high school is never that easy. While the first disc looked at the struggles that Yukino and Arima had to overcome between each other, disc 2 (“Love and War Under the Cherry Blossoms”) looks at the bigger picture. The young couple now has to endure more pressures and consequences in their search for true love.

Now if you were a young couple newly in love, studying would be the last thing on your mind, and so it is for Yukino and Arima. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but this is Japan. One’s performance in high school determines their social standing, the college they’ll attend, the job they’ll receive… in short, their ultimate worth in life depends on those few years. Making matters even worse is that Yukino and Arima are the top students in the class, the brains that everyone else in the school relies on for help with their studies.

When it’s revealed that both of them have slipped in their grades (Yukino falls all the way to *gasp* 13th!), they’re not the only ones who are shocked. The school officials express concern, demanding the two stop seeing each other and focus on their studies. The young lovers refuse, determined to prove that they can be both a couple and good students.

In a final effort, the school brings in the couple’s parents for a little conference. This mortifies Yukino since her family is a little on the dysfunctional side. Not Jerry Springer dysfunctional, but definitely not the dignified, proper family Yukino wishes they were. This sets up a hilarious episode where Yukino’s parents plot to take on the faculty, only to shock Yukino with their final reaction.

But that’s only the first crisis. The second is far worse; it’s easy to rebel against the adults, but what happens when all of your peers turn on you? Although the rest of Yukino’s classmates are jealous of her for dating the dreamiest guy in school, they still like her because of her classy demeanor, intelligence, and eagerness to help. That’s put to the test when Maho, a girl tired of always living in Yukino’s shadow, discovers that it’s all been an act. Maho slowly plants suspicion in the minds of the other girls until, as a group, they completely shut out Yukino.

Here is where you begin to see how much Yukino has changed as a person. Although she’s still a little girl capable of being quite dippy at times (usually around Arima), she understands why the girls have begun treating her so. While in the past she helped them because she wanted their adoration, she now genuinely desires to be their friend and resolves to put things right.

I found this to be a welcome change from what we normally see in American television, where it’s funnier to get revenge or humiliate the other person. In contrast, Yukino treats her foes with grace and understanding. It’s a surprisingly mature act for Yukino, and one that I found consistently fascinating and moving as it unfolded.

Of course, sometimes you do need to put your foot down, as Yukino finds out when Shibasame returns to school after a hospital stay. A former classmate of Arima’s, Shibasame is horrified that his affections are now with Yukino. Shibasame wages a one-girl war on Yukino, determined to take this new girl out of the picture so she can have Arima all to herself. It makes for some of the disc’s funniest scenes, capturing the same manic humor that was in Yukino and Arima’s fights on the first disc. But even then, the series allows plenty of room for depth.

While Shibasame seems like a complete brat, it’s hard not to sympathize with her desire for Arima’s attention. Before Yukino came along, Arima was closest to Shibasame, even if he only treated her like a younger sister. But for Shibasame, who comes from a broken home, that’s the closest thing to love she experiences.

The disc ends with summer vacation. Arima drops a bombshell on Yukino; he’s leaving to participate in a kendo tournament. Yukino is obviously bummed, but after a sweet goodbye, she decides to spend more time with her newfound friends. For Yukino, it’s uncharted territory. She’s still learning how to have relationships and her new friends guarantee that she’ll be having some interesting ones.

As I watched Yukino deal with and triumph over these situations, I was completely bowled over by how funny, tender, and goofy it was. Despite the series being, at it’s heart, a high school romantic comedy, it’s incredibly mature (far more so than most Meg Ryan flicks). But it’s also screwy enough to be hilarious. His And Her Circumstance is unafraid to balance these extremes, following up a deranged sequence with one tinged by heartbreak, and without trivializing or sacrificing anything.

Another thing that impresses me is the series’ highly stylized look. The animation is incredible, which is to be expected from GAINAX. Many of the scenes look as though they were lifted straight from the pages of the manga the anime is based on. Lines of dialog are often written out, for added effect, as are sound effects and other graphical elements. The series also utilizes “pillow moments” to great effect, cutting away from the action to scenes of empty hallways and courtyards (often rendered as lovely watercolors). These provide a nice buffer from the rest of action, often allowing the viewer to reflect on what just happened, or to calm things down for a more emotional/humorous scene.

But regardless of the style, it’s the characters that ultimately drive this series and make it so endearing. There’s a heart beating at the core of this series, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger with each new episode. His and Her Circumstances is quickly becoming one of my favorite anime series. Very few anime series have made me care for or want to identify with its characters so much.

I’m glad noone was home when I watched the second disc. Not that anyone in my household would care for His and Her Circumstances in the first place, but still… I’d hate to think of what they’d say if they saw me grinning from ear to ear as I sang along with the theme karaoke-style, and in Japanese no less. That’s what this series has done to me, reducing me to a doe-eyed awkward teenager who gets that gooey feeling in my stomach as soon as the freakin’ theme song comes on.

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