His and Her Circumstances
So what do the `interesting' Mr. Anno and the Gainax boys do after the groundbreaking "Evangelion" series? Well, few would have predicted that it would be this piece, which is an adaption of a Shoujo manga. On reflection though gainax have always been interested in strong character work, so there is a synergy there. And the result is not without its strengths...and weaknesses.
The story considers a young student in high school. She's attractive, very intelligent and personable. She carries herself with a sense of grace and maturity and is humble in accepting the praise and admiration of all who deal with her. She is without doubt the top student of the school and an exemplary person. But nothing is quite that simple, in truth she is the strong willed daughter of a middle class family who has become completely addicted to the attention success brings. Behind her facade are monumental efforts and the supression of her own personality. At least this is how things go until she meets a new student, an attractive male who equals and possibly exceeds her in many ways. Her supremacy is challenged, and while her facade is perfect, within she plans her destruction of this competitor. And from such a beginning comes one of the most delightful relationships, and eventually romances, yet seen in anime. It turns out they're both more complex than they appear on the surface, that they complement each other in many ways, and that they've both got lots of weird friends who can easily fill in entire episodes.
I don't think i'm really spoiling anything the intro to the show doesn't make clear. And, like all shoujo, the actual story isn't as important as the events along the way and the things we learn about the characters. And these characters are very interesting, with the female lead being complex, introspective and incredibly intriguing. While I felt she quite over-powered the male lead, who could only manage a bit of angst and posing in return, he had his moments as well. Watching the slow and erratic development of a relationship between them (the first 12 episodes) is a wonderful experience. In addition they seem to be surrounded by rich characters, each of whom seems to have a complex past, making for interesting side trips. If you like shoujo at all, or exploration of interesting characters, then this is potent and classy stuff.
So, given that it is really cool, why doesn't it grade higher? Well, there's a certain looseness to the production that brings it down a bit. The pace is a bit erratic and there's odd patches of angst or aggressive humor which may not be to everyone's taste. It's also, perhaps, a bit over-wrought at times. But the main problem is that this starts to dominate the show. It's as if they ran out of content (possibly true, this was done before the manga was complete) but it also appears they ran of the ability to care. The production quality goes through the floor, the depth starts to drop and the amount of repetition goes out of control. And it's not subtle. There are multiple episodes which are nothing but summaries, long summaries at the start of each episode and some episodes with card-board cut-outs instead of animation. Is it cute? nope, it just reeks of laziness and arrogance. If they ran out of money or material then ending it would have been better than this absurd attempt to stretch out the material to 26 episodes. In the course destroying whatever potential the later stories had. And then, having crawled to episode 26, it suddenly stops (not ends) with a `to be continued' sign.
So the first half of this series is excellent. Gainax's amazing ability to bring out complex characters, intense situations and beautifully clear anime delivering a delightful experience. And these characters are fairly novel and interesting to even the most jaded shoujo fan. And the confidence in using novel visual techniques allows us to peer into the minds of the characters. Meanwhile the second half is testament to Gainax's lack of discipline and uncaring arrogance towards their fans. And also their ability to use novel visual techniques to make really horrible looking anime. If you're going to buy this title, and why not, stop at about episode 16 (the end of Tsubasa's story). Don't worry about missing the end because there's isn't one. There's one more important event in the relationship after this point (I think you can guess what) but, while a nice addition to a shoujo anime, it doesn't end up meaning that much since the story is rapidly spiralling downwards.
This series is also referred to as `Karekano' by some western fans. Lord Carnage lets his shoujo side shine out as he gives a very positive review of this anime. There is also a review at THEM, which takes some cracks at the `gainax' style (not always justified) and emphasises the comedy (which is valid) and ends with a hearty thumbs up. Both reviews compare it to a more mature version of Kodomo No Omocha (Childs Toy) which sadly is even rarer over here than Karekano.