Graphic Arts As Literature

Love grows out of hate for Souichirou and Yukino.

Romance sizzles
with rapid-fire gags

By Jason S. Yadao

IT's not often that you can move from a sweeping epic with big honkin' fighting robots to a simple tale about love in high school without skipping a beat in quality.

But "His and Her Circumstances," a lighthearted comedy about the struggles of a first romance from the makers of "Neon Genesis Evangelion," manages to pull this off. And in some ways, "Circumstances" may even be better for general audiences than "Evangelion."

Yes, "Evangelion" has legions of supporters and detractors, all ready to dissect every millisecond in 26 episodes, two movies and a manga series. But much of this attention is in trying to decipher a complex plot steeped in philosophical mumbo-jumbo. "Circumstances," by comparison, is a much more straightforward series.

The "his and her" of the title refer to Souichirou Arima and Yukino Miyazawa, high school freshmen with brains, athletic skills and fabulous good looks. Despite all that, Yukino burns with jealousy. Ever since she was young, she had carefully cultivated her reputation as being the best and most popular student, period. Souichirou threatens her superiority, so she sets out to one-up her rival.

But when she finally does beat him on an important exam, expecting him to grovel at her feet and admit his inferiority, he has the audacity to say, "Congratulations." Oh yeah, and he likes her, too.

This throws Yukino for a loop. How can she hate him when he likes her? Still, she seems ready to move on with her hatred when, out of the blue, Souichirou visits her home and discovers the formal, glamorous girl at school is actually a laid-back slob at home.

As it turns out, the two are more similar than they realize, and both use masks to hide their true selves. And as they learn more about each other, Yukino's heart starts to melt, and she finds herself starting to fall for Souichirou.

Many of the rapid-fire visual gags are based on Yukino's perspective of events. If Yukino is confronted with a crushing truth, the odds are high that a boulder with the word "truth" will come crashing down. If she's saying something that's a blatant lie, the words "convenient interpretation" pop up on the screen. These frequent, often unexpected asides keep the story moving briskly.

Also of note is how many of the characters are comically overdramatized. This is most effective in a scene where Yukino brings Souichirou to her house to study for the first time -- her mom screams, "A MAN! A MAN!," her dad shatters both a pencil and a door while running to the front door and her sisters come running. But once Souichirou bows and says, "Pleased to meet you," everyone freezes and formally bows back, saying, "Please take care of our daughter," as steam comes out of Yukino's ears.

This DVD also utilizes the rarely used alternate angle feature in DVD players. In the DVDs that have used this so far, viewers can watch scenes filmed from camera angles that are different from what made it into the film's final cut.

"Circumstances" uses this feature in a more subtle way. Pick the Japanese audio, and one angle plays with the title and credits in Japanese, and footage of the Japanese voice actresses who play Yukino's sisters. Pick the English audio, and the angle switches to English titles and credits and footage of the English actresses.

Several flaws on the Japanese audio angle mar what would be an otherwise perfect package. Near the beginning of the first episode, the subtitles don't change even as the on-screen action continues. This is likely a problem with the DVD itself, as has reported the same problem on two of its machines.

Equally aggravating is the return of a problem that plagued "Evangelion": At times, so much information is flashed on screen in the form of Japanese text, translated Japanese text and subtitles that it's impossible to process everything without frequent pauses or previous experience in speed-reading.

While a switch to the English audio track takes care of the subtitles, it introduces a new problem: The voice actor who plays Souichirou has the emotional range of a rock.

Still, with six 30-minute episodes on the first volume, it's a bargain that shouldn't be missed. A second volume is scheduled for Dec. 3.

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