His and Her Circumstances Vol. #1 - Mania.com

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  • Audio Rating: A-
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: A-
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 180
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: His And Her Circumstances

His and Her Circumstances Vol. #1

By paul     August 02, 2002
Release Date: July 23, 2002

The Review!
My very first experience with His and Her Circumstances was listening to a friend's copy of the opening song. Though I could understand little of the lyrics, I could feel emotions welling up within me as I experienced the joy and yearning of it. I tracked down fansubs and watched what I could, when I could, each episode bringing out emotions and memories I had long forgotten from my youth. When I heard that the show had been licensed, I pledged to buy it the instant it became available, though I assumed that it would never be able move me in the same way again.

I was wrong.

This release includes a nice, clear stereo mix, for both the English dub and the original Japanese versions. Though the show is primarily dialogue, the sound effects and music really come together to create mood and tension. This soundtrack is no less involving than that for Neon Genesis Evangelion, and the show just sounds better the louder you play it, so turn it up!

When I heard that there would be six episodes on this disc, with loads of extras and alternate angles, I was worried. My fears were unfounded, as the video mastering from Pacific Video Image looks great. There are a few places where things look a little pixilated, but everything else looks good, capturing the film-like look of the show in rich, warm colors. My only complaint is that the source material appears to have some scratches (mostly in episode 2) and a fair amount of wobble (especially in later episodes.)

Beautiful. This is Right Stuf's best work so far. The series box uses a high-concept school locker design, with screen shots from the show taped up as photos in the locker. The two sides are pink and blue in a "his and hers" approach, one side being Yukino's locker, and the other being Souichiro's.

The keepcase for the first disc is similarly superior. The front cover is a simple, yet engaging illustration of our young lovers, but the back is done in a school notebook theme, with some appropriately subversive humor. My only complaint (and it's not really a complaint, mind you) is that the keepcase used is a clear case, but the cover has no printing on the reverse side. That, combined with the lack of an insert makes the inside of the case look plain, but who really shows that part off anyway? The DVD itself is a picture disc, and the actual image you get may vary, as Right Stuf is pressing several different versions, but my copy of the disc features the cover illustration. I wouldn't have it any other way.

The menus are simple, responsive, and very, very attractive. The main menu features short clips from the show along with a soft, instrumental version of the closing theme. Each submenu features some clips from the show as well as music running in the background, giving the whole thing a really classy feel. Two things I'll mention here: First, the episode chapter menu lets you select from each of the eight(!) chapter stops per episode. (More is better, I say.) And also, be sure to watch the DVD credits. Rather than be content to just list the credits in a plain text screen, the disc producers used one of the show's recurrent visual cues cleverly. It's worth watching at least once.

This is a very rich set of extras, which provide a lot of insight into the show, its creation, and its development into a DVD product for an American market. The character biographies are a nice inclusion, but be warned that they do contain spoilers for the episodes on this disc. The storyboard is a nice view of the show in a raw format. Translator's notes are always nice to see. This time they are done conversationally in a Q&A format, which is interesting and effective here, though I do not suggest it become general practice. What I enjoyed the post are the Producer's Notes and Producer's Journal extras. They provide a lot of excellent information about the challenges in marketing and producing anime DVDs, especially one as complicated as His and Her Circumstances. Though they are included as pages of text, rather than as a documentary video, they are easy to read and quite addictive. The sheer amount of information here is surprising.

(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

Right Stuf has really taken things to a new level with the DVD production of His and Her Circumstances, and, if you'll humor me, I'd like to discuss the technical content of this disc before launching into the artistic and dramatic merits.

First off, let me say, "WOW!"

Rumor has it that this is the most complex DVD ever produced. I wouldn't be surprised. The show itself offers a number of challenges that make its transition into a viable product for the American market a difficult one. The first main problem is the massive amount of Japanese text in the show. The first part of that problem, the titles and credits, is solved through the use of alternate angles. These can be easily selected through the menus or using the angle button on your remote. The unmodified Japanese version is preserved, while the English version is still available. Kudos!

The next problem is that the show itself contains a large amount of peripheral text, both mimicking the shoujo style of the original manga, and humoring director Hideaki Anno's love for multi-format media. For English language viewers, almost every bit of text is translated through the use of DVD soft subtitles. These subtitles are a masterpiece, using a variety of colors and fonts to integrate seamlessly with the show. On my PC player, the DVD subtitles stood out a bit, but on the television setup, the subtitles were so good that I frequently had to pause the show to see if they were burned into the video, or if they were really soft subs.

For the viewer of the Japanese version, the disc offers the option of watching the dialogue subtitles with or without the in-show text translated. This is great, since the number of words on the screen at one time can become overwhelming as Yukino freaks out about this, that, or the other. In addition, a full complement of Spanish subtitles is also offered, dialogue-only, signs-only, and both. Choices and options rule!

The other part of the show that is difficult to do properly is the next episode previews. In the original Japanese version, the voice actresses for Yukino's sisters give the details of the next episode in a neat live-action bit filmed in the recording studio. Rather than just dub over the actresses in English, or keep the Japanese and force the dub viewer to read the translations, Right Stuf used alternate angles to film the English-language actresses reading the coming attractions. I was surprised, but the whole thing was actually incredibly effective.

Of course, the disc would have been Right Stuf's upper-deck Home Run, putting all of the bigger production studios to shame, if it all worked correctly. Unfortunately, the complexity of the disc and its production did allow some bugs to slip through. On my Panasonic RP-56, there were a few places in the show, particularly episodes 1 and 5, where the subtitles stopped showing up, but the video kept running correctly. Rewinding a bit tended to clear up the problem. On my PC player, there were a few places in the first episode and fifth with sticky subtitles, which eventually led to a complete freeze. The controls were still responsive, and a little maneuvering with the fast-forward and rewind button and things cleared up. Though it is a little annoying, none of the errors appeared to be fatal on either setup.

Having covered the technical details, how is the show itself?


At its core is the story of Yukino and Souichiro, classmates in their first year of senior high school. Yukino is a bright student who has carefully cultivated an aura of success around her. The other students have responded to her image and made her one of the most popular girls in school. As she makes the transition from junior high to senior high school, she fully expects to ace the entrance exams, win over her new classmates and set herself up as class representative. This plan comes to a crashing halt when she comes in second in the exams.

The top-scorer of the exams is Souichiro, a wealthy boy feeding in from another school. Suddenly, Yukino finds herself playing catch-up to Souichiro, and has to watch as her meticulous plans fall apart in the wake of this new boy. She doubles her efforts to defeat Souichiro, and take him down a notch to reclaim her position as queen of her grade. We learn quickly that Yukino, instead of being the talented and successful school leader everybody assumes she is, she is really a rather inelegant girl who manipulates those around her to sustain her public image. We see that she actually harbors a terrible self-image of herself, that the face she wears at school is really just a cultivated act designed to keep anyone from seeing her weaknesses. She admits, solemnly, that she has no friends, outside of her family.

Pushing hard to defeat Souichiro, she must come to terms with the horrible person she is rapidly becoming. However, just when she believes that she has defeated her rival, he throws her completely for a loop when he admits that he has a deep crush on her. Suddenly, she must question everything she knows about her life, how she is living it, where she is going. Who is the person Souichiro loves? Is it the public Yukino he loves? Would he hate her if he ever saw the private Yukino, seeing just how average and unbecoming she thinks really is? Through the first four episodes we struggle with Yukino as she attempts to right herself when her carefully planned-out life becomes unraveled.

See, Yukino is a perfectionist. People might be surprised, but it actually is a mental illness. Psychologists often refer to it as the "Golden Child Syndrome", the desire to be the standard bearer for all things. Perfectionists obsess. They overanalyze. They work harder, do more. On the surface, people think they are happy, successful; they envy them. But what they don't understand is what a lonely place the world is for perfectionists. Every flaw is a failure. Left untreated, the messy details of life can become crippling, paralyzing. Every job must be done correctly, so perfectionists take on more than they can handle, constantly trying to put the world in order. They deny themselves the right to happiness because they cannot see the good in their works, only the tiniest blemishes.

I don't know if other people can relate to the condition, but perfectionism is a large part of my daily life, something I personally must deal with. Watching Circumstances, I felt nothing but sympathy for Yukino. Her words were have frequently been my own. Her thoughts, things I have held dear to my heart. I too, have wasted portions of my life on frivolous details that brought me neither happiness or victory. I weep when I watch her pushing away love because it is inconvenient, because it is frightening, because it isn't...perfect. I know. I've been there. And I wish that when I was 15 I could have figured all this out – that I could have seen how destructive some of my best traits could become.

Souichiro is also a perfectionist, but the roots of his fears run deep, to his tragic family history. He is healthy enough to see how to rise above his self-imposed burdens, but he lacks the courage to do so. Yukino has courage and determination to spare, but lacks the recognition of her own condition to something about it. Together, they must face each other, both as the person who completes them, but also as the person who exposes their flaws, brings them to the surface and forces them to deal with the messy imperfections of life and love.

There was an honesty to the portrayal of these characters and their situation I have only rarely ever seen in film, and never in anime. The anime is incredibly faithful to the original manga from Masami Tsuda, and she deserves most of the credit for so accurately documenting the highs and lows of the internal perfectionist.

However, I also believe that the very act of creating a visual work, especially an animated one, must be an exercise in compromise. There are so many creative people involved that the singular vision of one directorial mind can become deluted, lost along the way. Producing a movie or TV series must be an ongoing experiment in glossing over the little details to meet deadlines that makes the fast, the sloppy, and the efficient more successful than the careful and deliberate. I suspect that perfectionists wash out quickly in the industry, and those that remain, like Stanley Kubrick or Circumstances series director Hideaki Anno find their careers characterized by sporadic flashes of uniquely brilliant, and often flawed, output.

But with Circumstances, I am always stunned at how honest the depiction of the condition is. It would have been all too easy to have treated our characters as self-absorbed whiners, or held them distant with the same jealousy and lack of understanding that many people treat perfectionists.

In a way, this show is the logical evolution of director Anno after Neon Genesis Evangelion. He pulls heavily from the bag of cinematic tricks he invented working on Evangelion and puts them to effective work here. Some will complain that these dramatic techniques mask an underlying cheapness, insisting that the static images, the use of multiple animation techniques, and frequent use of text, rather than images to convey meaning, represent a low budget for the show or laziness on Anno's part. These will be the people who found Evangelion's finale to be disappointing or infuriatingly difficult. But if these techniques are meant to reduce cost, why then are they so meticulous, so perfect, so emotionally powerful? Why does this show connect to something primitive within me, things I haven't felt in nearly 15 years?

The answer must lie in the vision of the director. Even looking at the relatively straightforward style of Nadia, we can see the beginnings of the themes that will play out over Anno's more recent works. With Nadia herself, we first become aware of a hero who is incomplete, raging at a universe that seems to exist solely to take advantage of her, to crush her very soul under its very weightiness. She cannot trust, cannot hope, and cannot love. Shinji from Evangelion is an even darker representation of this image, the abandoned child, cast into the world with expectations that can never be fulfilled, eternally separated from the one source of love and comfort.

But where Nadia and Evangelion operated in metaphor and allegory, Circumstances deals plainly. Both Yukino and Souichiro both have happy stable families, who love and care from them. This time, there are no giant robots, or mystical artifacts, or horrific monsters to deal with. The pain and the longing that drives them to the brink lives within their own minds. Unlike those series, however, our heroes in Circumstances find hope, relief, even comfort with each other. They tear down walls between them so relentlessly, so passionately, that we cannot help but be moved by it. Has there ever been a director so attuned to the physical and mental barriers that separate people from each other, or one so effective at capturing that single, pure moment of bliss when the veil is rent and two people see each other as they really are and just love?

There is more to the story, as Yukino and Souichiro eventually start dating and becoming more intimate, but that discovery is something you must make on your own. I won't spoil one minute of the surprise and wonder for you here. But I will say that there is more honesty and beauty in even the first four episodes of Circumstances than an entire, lesser series. This disc is required viewing. You will be tested on it.

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Codefree Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)


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