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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. All images for His and Her Circumstances © Masami Tsuda / Hakusen-sha / GAINAX / Kareno-jijyo-dan / TV Tokyo / SoftX.
So you're Hideaki Anno, the creator, director and writer of Neon Genesis Evangelion, easily the most discussed and dissected anime of the 1990s. Now that you've finished taking on the clichéd giant battling robot genre and transformed it beyond all imagining, what do you do for a follow-up? Well, you could do another robot show; you could do another heavy metaphysical psychodrama, right? Of course we are talking about the folks from GAINAX who never do the same thing twice, so you do something no one expects. You do a high school shôjo (girls') romance anime: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijô (His and Her Circumstances)! Or just Kare Kano for short.
The high school soap opera comedy/drama is pretty standard fare in anime and manga. The story of a guy and girl who are destined for true love, if only they can ever work their way through the missteps, misunderstandings, romantic triangles/parallelograms/various other polygons, interfering friends and parents and, oh yeah, the exam hell of the Japanese high school. It's been done a lot and it's very popular. But of course this is Anno and GAINAX doing their take on the genre. It's not going to be like anything else. Which is why the best summary of Kare Kano occurred when someone on rec.arts.anime.misc once described the series as "Marmalade Boy on acid."
Based on a manga series by Masami Tsuda (which ran in LaLa magazine), Kare Kano tells the story of two high school freshmen: Yukino Miyazawa and Souichiro Arima. Miyazawa is a very elegant and admired student. She is a classroom representative, the ideal conscientious scholar, the student all others turn to for help with their studies. But all her apparent perfection hides a dirty secret: she is neither naturally that smart nor graceful. Her perfect student appearance is a front she works hard to maintain in order to hide her insecurity and need for constant praise. She has been top of her class from elementary school through junior high. So when she enters high school and unexpectedly finds herself demoted to second place, she declares war.
Her rival is Souichiro Arima, a very popular and admired student who outranked Miyazawa on their high school entrance exams. Unlike Miyazawa, he is naturally smart and gracious. He is also from a wealthy family while Miyazawa is very middle class. Miyazawa is so jealous that she vows to humiliate him by outscoring him on the first round of exams at the school and begins maniacally cramming for the tests. But after she aces the exams her dreams of revenge are dashed when Arima isn't bothered by being ranked in second place, and instead congratulates her on her success. Later she is further humiliated when he comes by her house on a Sunday to loan her a CD only to see her unglamorous self in a sweat suit and wearing big glasses. (And it doesn't help that she goes to the door thinking it's her sister and does a mock flying kick at him!)
Fearing that Arima will tell her embarrassing secrets to the rest of the class, she begins to meet with him after class when he asks her to help him with some of his extracurricular school work. She feels like he is blackmailing her by asking her to do this, and finally explodes at him. He confesses that he wasn't blackmailing her, instead he is in love with her and this was just the only excuse he could think of to get her to spend any time with him. Thus begins the cautious and cute romantic relationship between these two "perfect students".
While the plot sounds fairly typical for a shôjo high school story (for manga, anyway), the presentation of the anime is not. This is GAINAX and Anno after all.... From the very first frame of the show you can see this is going to be different. First off, an incredible amount of Japanese text appears on the screen during the animation, some of it just repeating what the characters are saying or reinforcing the action, but more often giving extra information or else a counterpoint to what the character is saying. The second difference is the multiple animation styles used in the show. Most of the show is in the usual anime style, but there are a lot of superdeformed segments, especially when Miyazawa is showing her home life. A lot of bizarre and surreal images are thrown in for emphasis or comic relief, such as an image of Miyazawa towering over the city as she reflects on how wonderful she is or an animated paper cut out of Miyazawa that bursts into real flames. But when dramatic or romantic moments occur in the story, the animation is frequently replaced by still images of simple black and white line drawings of the characters. But the most significant difference between Kare Kano and most other anime is the amount of time they spend on the interior voices of the two characters. While it is not unusual for an anime to present a few inner thoughts of a character at some point, in Kare Kano a significant fraction of the time is given to both Miyazawa and Arima's inner monologues as they work their way through their relationship, each of them trying to explain themselves and their actions to the viewer.
We discover that Arima is driven by his own demons to succeed. He was abused by his parents as a child and is now being reared by his uncle and aunt. He strives to be the perfect student to prove that he will not bring shame to the family like his parents did. We also get a glimpse into the pressures involved in the contemporary Japanese school system. Both Miyazawa and Arima are "elites," top students whose grades will get them into the top universities that are the only route into professional careers. In Japan your future career is largely determined by which college or university you attend, so most of the academic pressure is focused on the high school years to ensure you get into the "right university." (By comparison, once you're in the "right university," college life is much less stressful.) So Miyazawa and Arima not only have to deal with meddling friends and teasing parents, they even have to face their teachers who try to stop their romance for fear it will interfere with their studies and lower their test scores.
As the story progresses more of the students from the school are added to the mix. First there is Hideaki Asaba, a friend of Arima. Asaba is a cool dude, vain about his appearance (he wears an earring which is rather unusual in a Japanese high school), and is a ladies' man. However it is Arima who naturally attracts the girls, so Asaba hangs around him. At first Miyazawa is annoyed by Asaba and his teasing, but eventually the three of them form a trio. Then there is Maho Izawa, another student in Arima and Miyazawa's class. Although she is seen in the very first episode, it is not until episode 9 that we really meet her. She has long been jealous of Miyazawa's popularity and high grades, so when she notices the change in her after she begins dating Arima, Izawa begins a gossip campaign against her. In episode 10 we meet Tsubasa Shibaki, another old friend of Arima's. She has had a crush on Arima since junior high, but missed the first part of the school year because of being hospitalized after an accident. When she returns and finds out about Arima and Miyazawa, she becomes jealous and very hostile towards Miyazawa. But when Shibaki has trouble with her own family, ironically she turns to Miyazawa for help.
The only complaint about the show from the fans was the ending, or rather, the lack of an ending. GAINAX and Anno were only contracted to do 26 episodes, but the show was produced while the manga series was still going. (In fact it is currently still running in LaLa.) Rather than force an ending that would be different from the manga, they chose to simply quit in the middle of the story and leave the viewers hanging. Given that GAINAX and Anno have moved onto other projects, it's highly unlikely there will ever be a follow-up series.
Kare Kano is being dubbed in New York City at Headline Studio with Right Stuf using several well-known voice actors from their earlier show Irresponsible Captain Tylor and other anime series. After numerous auditions Thompson chose Veronica Taylor (Shia Has in Tylor, Ash in Pokémon) to play Miyazawa and Christopher Nicholas to play Arima. Additionally Jessica Calvello (Honey in Cutey Honey) and Megan Hollingshead (Nurse Joy in Pokémon) were cast as Miyazawa's younger sisters, Tsukino and Kano. Rachael Lillis (Utena in Revolutionary Girl Utena, Misty and Jesse in Pokémon), Lisa Ortiz (Lina Inverse in The Slayers), Liam O'Brien and Carol Jacobanis also contribute their voice talents. The hardest part of casting Kare Kano was making sure the chemistry between the two actors playing Miyazawa and Arima works just right, particularly since the two of them comprise over two-thirds of the entire series! You can have two actors who individually do wonderful interpretations of the character but, when combined, simply do not match. This was the dilemma Thompson faced as he came down to a choice of four actors for Miyazawa and two for Arima. Of the two choices for Arima, one had a voice and delivery which was very close to the original Japanese character, but the other one, according to Thompson, had "a very 'young' sound that, while not all that close to the Japanese actor, worked incredibly well in that role." Ultimately the decision was made by taking the auditions tapes from all the actors and trying all the combinations of Miyazawas and Arimas, then picking the pair that matched the best.
And Thompson has been particularly impressed with Veronica Taylor's work as Miyazawa. Hers is easily the hardest character in the series to play because, as Thompson says, her voice and acting has to be "all over the place" compared to Arima's more "smooth and textured" delivery. "One of the biggest surprises I had," recalls Thompson, "was when Veronica came into auditions and, without ever having seen the show, totally nailed the character. She was able to synthesize the script and distilled that in what probably took her five minutes. I gave her some hints on the character (the first audition was done in another facility and without pictures), including the most critical one: to not be afraid to do this big and in a style that would normally be way over the top."
So will Kare Kano be a success over here like the other GAINAX shows? Thompson thinks so. "Every time I show it to someone who has never heard of the show before, they have always asked to see more of it," he says. "This is even the case when the people I show it to are not really anime fans. Underneath the chaos is a remarkably poignant love story, but it's the chaos that's a central part of its charm."