031: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou

AKA: His and Her Circumstances
Aired: Fall 1998
Genres: Romance, School, Comedy, Drama, Slice of Life
Date watched: Dec 22 2018 – Jan 03 2019
Series watched: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou (26 ep x 24 mins)
Links: MAL

Why I started watching: This was a group watch anime, our third one in total, and Nak’s first choice. He thought we would like it. What a funny fella! This review is very, very long and I get into a lot of personal stuff. I put the actual review first, so if you want to skip the rest, it ends after the paragraph with song links.

Also known as KareKano, Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou tells a heartwarming love story done in an anime style of days gone by, with simpler and more muted art, characters that talk really quickly, out-of-date aspect ratios, and a story that gradually skids to a halt and throws in tons of recap scenes and hand-drawn stills to pad out the show. Well, maybe that last one was due to budgeting issues. If there is one anime above all that I wish would get a remastered, updated, or refreshed version of some kind though, it would probably be this one, because I desperately want to give it a 10/10, but cannot due to its many flaws.

The first half or two thirds of the show has one of the best love stories I have ever seen. There aren’t many anime where the love story begins early and the rest of the show is dedicated to how it develops, as opposed to the type of story where the couple takes the entire show to get together. Both main characters, Yukino and Soichiro, are extremely likeable, not only by the audience but also by the student body of the school they study in, and the drama between them is light, usually not lasting more than half an episode to an episode at most, before they get back into lovey-dovey mode. And then you’ll get hit with a random recap episode or something that breaks the mood and makes you roll your eyes.

But still, I loved seeing Yukino and Soichiro start off embarrassed and awkward around each other, and having to deal with curious parents, teachers, and fellow students, but then progressing to hand-holding, shoulder-touching, cheek-caressing, and then more intimate things once they get comfortable with each other. It’s a special sort of magic that for some reason not a lot of modern shows try to touch on. You get to feel the bonds of trust strengthen between the two of them as the show progresses, and the perspectives of people around them shift as they come in contact with the couple.

Regarding those people, the story initially only involves the couple and their families, and then slowly introduces other students as time goes on. That choice was weird, because the characters that arrive later have very little time to get acquainted with the audience, and the way the show tries to solve that is to entirely drop off some of the earlier characters, starting with the two MC’s families, then friends. For example, Tsubasa features heavily in the middle episodes, and then disappears almost entirely from the show despite some major issues still requiring her attention. The relationship between Sakura and Takefumi is introduced, complete with backstory, and then is just kind of left hanging. We don’t get to see much of Yukino’s sisters at all after the first chapters. And so on.

And then finally the last episode just sort of fizzles out into nothing. Apparently, the manga does continue the tales of all the students as they graduate and pursue their dreams, and is something I badly want to hold in my hands and read one day, even though I’ve since spoiled myself at a high level at what happens to all the characters. Selective amnesia is my superpower, after all. And evidently the superpower of the studio that adapted this anime as well, as they forgot that a show generally should end on some sort of a conclusion.

And now.. the music. Both the OP (Tenshi no Yubikiri by Mai Fukuda), and the ED (Yume no Naka e by the two lead seiyuu – Atsuko Enomoto and Chihiro Suzuki), quickly solidified their positions at the top of my Top 10 OPs and EDs lists, a significant distance ahead of the runner-up songs. This is due to a number of factors, not the least of which both just have really nice, upbeat melodies. But, at least to me, both also have a mournful tinge behind the cheerfulness. The OP sings about being given encouraged to chase a dream that perhaps will come true someday, on the wings of an angel. The ED sings about the reverse – an angel reaching out to someone who’s spent their life searching for answers, telling the person to let it all go and follow them into a shared dream instead.

There’s a video by an anime reviewer named Gigguk about an anime that really inspired and touched him. I think he touches on the idea is that for nearly everyone, there’s one or two that really, really resonate with the person due to whatever personal circumstances they may have. For me, this was KareKano, and it started when the music hooked me.

Both songs hit me really hard. The main trigger for both was the video – the OP flashes through a lot of stills, including some pictures of “real” scenery, and the ED has a real life motion video that changes every episode, I guess representing the endless search of the person in the song. But both triggered in me strong nostalgic memories of home – I migrated from Singapore to Canada during my Christmas break in 1998, when I was between grades 8 and 9, and a whole host of memories belonging to old places came flooding back – the schools, the malls, the train stations, my friends, after-school activities, and more. Then I realized that according to MAL, KareKano would actually have been airing during the time that my family was migrating, and that just cut so deeply. To help explain why, I’m going to dump a lot of personal information here.

If I had nine lives, I would be on my third life right now. Don’t get me wrong – I am fairly contented where I am right now, all things considered. Life is stable, I am not unhappy, and I have the support of a good group of friends, which is the most important currency in life. I’ve beaten a lot of things and there are lots of doors open in front of me. Even the act of watching anime is something I could not do in my second life, but a door that I opened and walked through in my third one, not to mention giant projects like this blog. But my previous history also contributes to who I am today, and this.. this thing called KareKano managed to reach back and tear open some wounds that had been sealed away in a box and left behind by the annals of history.

My first life started when I was born in 1984, and ended at the end of 1998 when we flew off in a plane to Canada. I was a he back then, and one of the ringleaders of the Grade 8 class we were in. Because we were in an accelerated learning program, there were only a handful of schools that could take us, and I had known a lot of the people in class for up to five years, with two more to go. I was in a brief relationship with a girl there, which happened in the last 6 months of my stay in Singapore, after I had told everyone that I would be leaving. She confessed to me and I accepted even though we knew it wouldn’t last. Just before we flew off during winter break, someone’s parents rented a beach chalet and invited the entire class to stay the night. My parents refused to let me, something they’re still in my Great Book of Grudges for to this day, but they did allow me to at least stay until the evening. She was the last of my friends I ever saw, and I remember walking under the moonlight along a quiet strip of beach with her, saying my goodbyes, and contemplating running away, just before Dad came to pick me up. I had always been vehemently against migrating, and had many screaming arguments with my parents about it. So my first life refused to go along and died right there on the beach, together with my friends in an endless overnight sleepover.

My second life started in 1999, and since it won’t really relate to this KareKano review in any way, suffice to say I learnt I was transgendered in Summer 2002, went through depression and slunk through university, finally came out to everyone at work and home in Fall 2012, and transitioned in March 2013. My second self died there, once I legally changed my name and gender. In its place was my third life, female edition, although it took me four more years, two aborted surgeries, and another major bout with depression, before I completed my final surgery. And then one more year of recovery, before I was comfortable with my body and able to look outwards and onwards again.

Anyway, school anime has always poked and prodded at my feelings because one of my few lingering regrets is that I never had a chance to wear a girl’s school uniform and go to school. I had those urges even back before we moved, but I figured it was perverse and always avoided it, never understanding why I felt that way until many years later. That being said, I’ve largely come to terms with that (since I can dress up and go to work now!), so even most school anime don’t tug on my heartstrings, though I tend to find that I relate to female schoolgirl leads a lot and live vicariously through them. (That’s incidentally also why I heavily favour female protags in my anime.)

But KareKano was different. The videos and lyrics of the songs opened the door to a flood of nostalgia. The sort of innocent first love that Yukino and Soichiro had, reminded me of two of my classmates, and the things they did reminded me of my own relationship. Hideaki and Takefumi both reminded me of others I knew, and Tsubasa reminded me of the actual girl I was with. Scenes of staying until late at school reminded me of evenings and nights at my own school. Scenes of chasing each other through corridors dug up old memories of multi-floor chases around the corridors and inner courtyards. The video footage of classroom, gyms, and streets dredged up other raw memories that I had long forgotten. The pond in my old school. The house that my best friends lived in. A courtyard I used to hang out in after school. A quiet park I loved walking through. A pendant my girlfriend bought for me from a shop. An old man who we used to buy ice cream from every day after school. School buses. Cheap canteen food. My teachers. My friends.

I checked Google Earth to see if I could find some of the haunts and hangouts I used to know. To my horror, most of the places I remembered were not there, or were transformed into something utterly unrecognizable. I knew change was inevitable, but most of the places I remembered were just.. gone. Yet I still remember them. I still dream fairly often about people and locales from Singapore – the school, the train stations, my friends.. but I realized that all my memories, like the show, were frozen in time from when I had left. My memories from my first life were crystallized, certain faces and places forever etched into my dreams as simple, flawless drawings, with all the vivid details, good or bad, washed away by time. Like the rough drawings that KareKano had to resort to nearer the end of the show once they ran out of animation budget.

The songs don’t make me cry anymore, unless I’m wistfully listening to the music as I dig through nostalgia, or analyzing the lyrics for a blog review or something. However, butterflies in my tummy still flutter everytime I hear the opening chords of either one, and I’ve thought about both looking up my old friends to see if they were interested in meeting my new self twenty years later, as well as starting the long and arduous process to being able to return home someday in order to update my frozen memories. In that sense, I can safely say that KareKano is the most important and personally meaningful anime I’ve watched and probably ever will watch, as it has created a bridge that allows me to look back at my past, and maybe someday even deal with the grief of that kid still reliving a cool, moonswept night back in December 1998.

  • Base: 9
  • Mood: +1
  • Plot: -2
  • Music: +1
  • Misc: -1

Final Score: 8/10