All the happy memories…

When I began blogging in 2011, I wrote an article called “Kare Kano — An introduction to the series in retrospective.” However, I felt like it never got the audience it deserved, so I’ve decided to write about the series again, adapting some pieces from my old post to here. I hope you enjoy!

It is Hideaki Anno’s last major anime director work outside of Evangelion, of which he only directed half up to 18 episodes. It suffered from subpar production values and internal clashing. It’s terribly filled with recap episodes, recap beginnings, and a controversial abrupt end that still haunts fans today (who demand Gainax and J.C Staff finish the damn job).

But despite all of that, it remains my favorite romance to this day. This is Kare Kano, the story that deserves to be told again.

No Yukino! They’re not supposed to know it’s a cardboard cutout!

Beginning in 1996 and ending in 2005, with an anime adaption made in 1998, His and Her Circumstances is old. Damn old. It shares the same time period as classics such as Cowboy Bebop, Serial Experiments Lain, Rurouni Kenshin, Revolutionary Girl Utena, and Trigun, where that flavor of “traditional” animation was still alive and kicking.

However, unlike many of the top rating anime in its time period, His and Her Circumstances did not revolve around any fantastical setting. It instead pioneered the setting (along with Boys over Flowers) that many “romantic comedies set at school” anime productions would follow in the next decade. Before the year 2000, not many anime series of this mold existed–compare that to the next decade or so, where about four to five times as many series were produced that fit such a mold. This isn’t suggesting that the shows that followed looked to Kare Kano as their exemplar, but rather that Kare Kano was one of the first to execute the combination properly.

His and Her Circumstances, or Kare Kano, begins with Yukino Miyazawa, your two-faced heroine. She shows her admirable, refined and polite mask outside, whilst her family is stuck with the spoiled, rash, narcissistic, and unfashionable inner self. Our two-faced heroine has one goal in high school: to be admired and adored by everyone, to be excellent in everything she does, and to be the best. She is the self-proclaimed “queen of vanity” after all. However, enter top-ranking class rep, son of the owner of a huge hospital, who has great looks, great manners, great athleticism, and of course, greater grades: Souichiro Arima. Thus Kare Kano begins with a rivalry between the high-achieving girl and the higher-achieving boy.

However, above all else, you’ll find that Kare Kano is deeply rooted in examining the logistics of relationships. Whether it’s between family, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, grandparents, or stepbrothers, Kare Kano seeks to show all these relationships possible, albeit in comedic and dramatic tones, which constantly alternate throughout to the end. The anime doesn’t follow the traditional approach of “pure comedy firsthand, then transition into drama”, but rather evenly distributes the two styles within the series, within episodes, and within each other. It is then clear what the true heart of Kare Kano is. Kare Kano is a story about the 90’s in Japan—it is a tale of Japan’s youth in an uncertain time, in uncertain circumstances.

Miyazawa faces the challenges of being a friend for the first time, while Souichiro has a difficult past to overcome and trust issues to resolve. Maho Izawa must deal with a fall from grace, while a small Tsubasa looks for a figure to protect her for good and call her own. I dare not expand too much for those who haven’t had the chance to watch, but I assure you, many of the characters presented in the 26 episode run will change in a significant way. We believe in their troubles and worries, which lull us into this dramatic, yet realistic tension that some of us have faced in our own teenage years. Kare Kano is not just about romance, but a story about adolescence and the struggle each character faces in an uncertain world.

Remind you of any art styles?

Although shamefully cut short (though people can argue this is purposeful), Kare Kano’s dedication to delving into the consciences of each character is refreshing. In a number of dramas, while it is nice that side-characters get explored, that exploration occurs concurrently with the main character(s). In Kare Kano, the exploration of side plots may start with Yukino or Souichiro, but the introspection becomes an independent study as the episodes progress, allowing for the characters to grow independently of the main plot. This side-character focus happens so often in the story that it’s easy to forget what the main plot is—some may call it a lack of focus, but I call it a deep exposition. The show takes the time to tug at our emotions, to empathize with each character, to make sure no character leaves without becoming a better person.

In particular, my heart goes out to Yukinon, who has been my secret favorite character for years (I tell people it’s Tomoyo from Clannad). Under her comedic and exaggerated exterior is a mature, yet frightened, readjusting to a new life outside of her mask. Seeing her mature throughout the series and discovering what it means to live life honestly and in stride…it brought tears to my eyes back then…and even now as I write this. When I was younger, I remembered identifying highly with Yukino’s life and understanding her struggles with readjusting to a new life. I won’t spoil too much, but there is significant growth in how Miyazawa handles troubles in her life, so much that she almost becomes unrecognizable when you compare her past and future side by side. Watching Yukino change her relationships as she changed herself…it inspired me to make those same changes in my life–call me cheesy if you must. Tof you following my Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun posts, you can see at this point why I make parallels with Tonari to this show. Although this isn’t an anime I would suggest as a gateway, I would highly suggest Kare Kano as an eventual must-watch—simply for the strong character development it portrays.

Half an episode was dedicated to this style. The budget reached an all-time low at this point.

However, there is one aspect of Kare Kano that I feel deserves as much praise as the plot or the character development—it’s the music. While production values for animation may have dropped to the point where they resorted to using all stills for an episode, the music was consistently great. Shiro Sagisu, famed for his composition of epic Evangelion music, has an ability to write emotionally touching pieces, which is reflected both in his Eva and Kare Kano work. It’s a pleasure to listen to the energetic pieces used during the comedic moments of the show, but it’s heavenly to listen to the subtle, bittersweet piano melodies that define the show. Take for instance this piece…

Treasure Every Meeting
[flv:treasureeverymeeting.mp3 350 0]

Perhaps the most recognizable piano piece from Kare Kano, the song captured the “lost” feeling of many of the characters, often playing in the background during times of reflection. It retains a simplicity that allows you to focus in on the sense of wandering and solitude, which I hope is a universal theme everyone has felt. In fact, many of you who haven’t watched Kare Kano have probably heard this song somewhere else before as well. If you happen to have the soundtrack, all the songs on the Evangelion 2.0 soundtrack that have influences from this show happen to be labeled with the KK suffix—obviously a nod by both Hideaki and Shiro to their past work. It’s recycling music, but in this case I feel it’s effective to bring out a meta-message to Evangelion. Both deal with the theme of being lost in adolescence, where teenagers are constantly playing a seesaw game of moving closer and farther away. Somehow, the music captures those feelings for both shows perfectly…and I appreciate Shiro for making this kind of statement with his music. Every time I listen, I am reminded of Yukino’s thoughtful monologues, Arima’s struggling past, and now Shinji’s attempt to become closer with others.

While not all the animation may have survived the test of time, the rest of the show definitely has. The story is still highly relevant to people of all ages, the characters still stand as unique and evolving, and the music still stands as an absolute classic. For those looking for a great romance-drama-comedy to dive into, I highly recommend this series. If you can look past the production quality, I assure that the story will not disappoint.

If you do decide to watch the show, I recommend either the sub or the dub, for each have their merits. I especially like Yukinon’s voice in the dub, but the seiyuu do a good job capturing the moment. If you’re looking for a good start for the dub, I recommend watching the first twelve episodes on YouTube courtesy of Nozomi. Trust me, you’re not losing much in terms of picture quality. Either way, however you decide to enjoy it, I hope the story reaches out to you the same.

Perhaps the best drawn face of Miyazawa I can find…it’s also the face of my favorite character!


  1. Sadly the truth is that this show fucked it up real good: A->F. The worst last 4 episodes ever. Yes, it pains me to this day. Gainax was never the same afterwards and started the slow painful decline ever since then. Now they don’t matter anymore.

    1. Not Gainax fault. The blame is on the Mangaka for shifting the storylines into darker undertones. And what do you mean by Gainax’s painfully slow decline? After KareKano they releases anime like Ebichu, Mahoromatic, Abenobashi, Melody of Oblivion, Shin Sekai no Yori, He is my master, Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking, Shikabane Princess, etc.

      1. You mean Kono Minikuku mo Utsukushii Sekai (This Ugly Yet Beautiful World). I think you’re confused it with the currently running Shin Sekai Yori. Gainax the studio has nothing to do with Shin Sekai Yori, FYI (A-1 Pictures is doing it). Heck if Gainax is doing Shin Sekai Yori, it won’t be a nobody it is now. How come nobody is correcting this? No even Enzo who was here?

  2. This was definitely one of my favorite animes growing up despite its decline at the end. I’ve actually only seen the dub as it was back in the day before I watched anime on the computer ^^;; I agree with you on Yukinon’s voice in the dubbed version. She has that perfect transition from devious narcissist to vulnerable teenager. This is definitely an anime I recommend to those who love romance and wonderful character development.

    And I must say, when I finally sat down and read the manga a couple years ago… WOW. My respect for this series nearly tripled after reading it. If anyone hasn’t seen or read this at all, I recommend it in that order. Watch the anime to get a solid idea of how this story works and then sit down to read the manga. It just left me breathless.

  3. I remember being at an anime con in the early ’00s, waiting for fansubs of this show (it was the start of its second season), showing up way early, and watching the room slowly get packed with people. This experience has not been matched in over ten years.

    1. I still do need to watch Utena sadly…it was on Funimation’s TV channel, but since I caught it mid-way, I kind of…got confused at the plot.

      One day though, after my own backlog has been gutted and chewed on :D.

  4. KareKano is probably the highest on my “plan-to-watch” priority list, up there with Revolutionary Girl Utena. It’s one of those rare romantic comedies which focuses not on the two leads getting together, but rather on their status as couple, and that makes it must see for me.

    And plus, I heard a while ago that there’s paper cut-outs during one of the episodes! That’s a certain flavor that GAINAX (without budget) has, one that other studios such as SHAFT (without budget) don’t.

    1. Oh hey, there’s even a picture of said scene up in the post! 😛

      But yes, I agree, it was one of the first anime to focus on the “past the post” kind of deal, rather than getting to it. But it also goes beyond that with all the other characters, something I appreciate very much.

  5. I don’t remember much about this show, but I do vaguely remember those cringeworthy episodes that were full of recaps and paper cutouts.

    I kinda liked this show. I loved how Yukino looks like THIS at school and then she goes home and transforms into THIS!!! XD

    Yukino somewhat reminds me of Sakura Ichiko. Both of them are very popular in school and are the center of attention and they both wear masks in front of others.

    I think this show deserves a remake, just to remove those bitter memories of those stills and to give it a more worthy end that it rightfully deserves.

    [Off Topic] – Too bad you guys didn’t follow the pattern in titling your posts, I was secretly hoping for Stilts to post something like “Pantsu wo Kakeru Shounen” or something, but now the chances of that happening are quite slim. OTL

    Well anyway nice post Zanibas. Happy Holidays!!!

    Just Passing By
    1. Now that I think of it…Tittyko does have resemblances to Yukinon, except Tittyko’s past is darker and Yukinon softens up a lot faster. Oh, and one gets their lifestyle through hard work, while the other…magic :P.

      I agree with you though, in that it needs a remake. IT NEEDS IT! Give me more of my beloved cast! D:

  6. I’ve heard both the good and the bad from this series in general, mostly with major character flaws that really make it seemed over dramatized..well, apaprently. From what i’ve heard. I should really revisit both the anime and manga to figure out what the fuss is about. Great post tho! The first pic really brings back some memories from when I wanted the anime years ago.

  7. I agree that one of KareKano’s strengths is its music. I still remember THAT piano piece above, the OP and ED (ohh, I always anticipate the ED — the wandering camera around an unknown highschool/city or sometimes just that CUUUTE gray cat sitting).. that was what – 7 years ago? I’ve only watched this on TV (local dub), way back when anime still has a strong presence on local TV and not treated as a “kids thing only”. Ahh~ those days..

  8. I liked this show mainly because of Yukino who was as funny and wacky as they come. Her coupling with Arima also didn’t feel forced and unlike most Shoujo he doesn’t come of as a bland jerk. In particular was the confession episode where they were able to squeeze out a lot of comedy on Yukino’s attempt to confess.

    Sadly, as the show progressed I started liking the supporting cast more as they took the limelight. In fact, Arima himself gets even less screentime and becomes more boring (Yukino was still a hoot to watch though). The rather obvious loss of budget on the later episodes didn’t help. I did admire how Gainax did really try to make it look interesting with whatever they had left.

  9. wow, what a coincidence, I just finished rewatching the anime and an re-reading the manga. The recaps at the beginning of the episodes was really a pain which I often skipped over.
    Because of the open ending in the anime you need also need to read the manga to get the whole story and to see all the facettes of the main and supporting characters. In this case the ending of the anime is not so disappointing. I just love the ending of the manga!
    While the budget is getting lower and lower I sometimes enjoyed the “live action”-endind and preview of each episode.

  10. I’ve been a lot of praise for this series since like…forever.. But the proclaimed abrupt end abates the desire….should i still watch it? (i mean, there’s the manga option to boot…)

      1. I would modify this recommendation to at least extend by skipping 14 and 15 (half of 15 if you want to check out moar Asaba), and watching 16 involving Miyazawa’s parents. I thought it was a heartwarming side-story to watch that wrapped up nicely.

  11. Ah yes, I marathoned the manga in about two nights, it almost gave me a depression thanks to Arima’s storyline. But luckily, we always had Yukino’s antics to save the day. Definitely one of the better romances I’ve read. This could REALLY use a remake, though I think that it’d be best if the would focus more on YukinoxArima and cut/limit the storylines of other characters – yeah, they are interesting, but I had a feeling that they detracted from the main storyline a bit too much IMHO.

  12. Great post, Zanibas. I too adore Kare Kano despite its glaring flaws – this show might have the biggest gap between its highs and lows of any anime of all time. But at its best, it was indeed the best romance series in anime history.

    I don’t agree with the comment that the problems at the end of KK started the downfall of Gainax, as they produced many outstanding works afterwards. But sadly it’s true that Gainax as a studio seems completely irrelevant now – almost none of their original talent remains, and no young stars have stepped up to fill their shoes. Gainax in their heyday was the best TV animation studio ever, with a stunning array of classics spanning many genres, yet still possessing a signature style that was instantly recognizable. The loss of that is our loss, and anime’s loss.

  13. This anime is still my favourite romance anime at all time. I watched it 10+ years ago and countless time of re-watching.
    Especially the OST is very touching, unique style of presentation and the seiyus done a very good job.
    Anno Hideaki, you are a god.

  14. Kare Kano brings back a lot of good memories. I loved the series from start to finish. Even the abrupt ending wasn’t that bad to me, I was sad to see it end so soon. But throughout the series, the fluid pacing and the way humor, romance, and melodrama are all perfectly balanced really showcased Hideaki Anno’s range and skill as a director. I watched Kare Kano just after watching Evangelion, and I think it was unique seeing Anno add a bit of psychological drama to Yukino and Arima’s inner monologues in a similar way to Shinji’s.

  15. Huh, I remember watching this! Though I was just a little kid back then and I seem to have missed a lot of the finer points, and it looks like I should consider another viewing…

    Mjolnir Hammer
  16. “However, unlike many of the top rating anime in its time period, His and Her Circumstances did not revolve around any fantastical setting. It instead pioneered the setting ……. This isn’t suggesting that the shows that followed looked to Kare Kano as their exemplar, but rather that Kare Kano was one of the first to execute the combination properly.”

    @Zanibas : have you ever read the manga “Switch Girl” ? <– that mangaka was most definitely inspired by Kare Kano ! it's also about a girl and a boy that act COMPLETELY different at home/school, but then diverges into random school foolishness (like wars between schools?!??!)

  17. For those who haven’t seen this, let me save you some time. Don’t. If you’re interested check out the manga and skip the anime. 90% of the praise in this thread is pure nostalgia goggles. The animation goes into a downward spiral, they reuse A LOT of footage, and the ending is an exercise in rage inducing frutration. The characters are good, the main plot is pretty good, the soundtrack is good, so get the soundtra k and listen to it while reading the manga.

    1. I wouldn’t say the nostalgia ratio is that high, although I do concede there is SOME. Although the animation might lag in some areas, I think the dialogue is well expressed by the voice actors and seiyuu. Sometimes it’s just worth it to sit and watch if only to hear the words spoken with emotion.

  18. KareKano was my introduction to anime. A complete boxed set was a gift that sat on the back of my DVD shelf for quite a while before pulling it out one day 5 years ago from boredom.
    I was completely hooked in by its wonderfully composed story telling and imaginative artist style. It was something that I just had to have more of.

    I think i shall pull it out again this winter and watch it over again.

  19. Thank you for this post! I’m sorry for any mistakes from here on ( I’m on my secons glass of wine after all :)). I don’t know if anyone said this before me, but I love this series!! The way it’s so true in the little details. I’ll never forget how I watched the beach episode and the way it was animated….. the bleached colors afterwards…it was such an insightful observation, i couldn’t get it out of my head. Or the way Arima invited her to spend the night – it reminded me so much of myself….it’s something you cannot say directly, and you don’t have to. Mutual understanding, without any words mind you, is something not any anyone can animate properly. That alone makes it wothwhile! Sorry for the rant….

  20. I just have to say this. Great Anime.
    Greater manga. First full set of manga i ever bought. Remember dragging my friend to Kinokuniya (he is a member) to get the books! A definite great read. My childhood comes back to life.

    Thank you for this post. I feel all emo again.


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