Caitlin, Dee, and Meru begin their watchalong of the GAINAX-produced, Anno Hideaki-directed shoujo anime, Kare Kano!
Editor’s Note: This series of episodes was recorded before Meru changed their name and pronouns; the transcript will reflect both in their updated form.
Date Recorded: October 24th, 2021
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Meru
0:01:19 Background, production, and distribution
0:12:26 Personal history
0:17:50 Dubs vs subs
0:22:42 Plot synopsis
0:24:39 Yukino and Arima
0:30:29 Their families
0:36:05 Japanese academic culture
0:46:46 Men are wolves
0:53:16 Side characters
CAITLIN: Hi and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. This week we are starting a watchalong of His and Her Circumstances, also known as Kare Kano, the beloved 1998 shoujo anime by Studio Gainax. My name is Caitlin. I am the technical editor for Anime Feminist, as well as a reviewer at Anime News Network. And today I am joined by Dee and Meru.
MERU: My name is Meru, and I am also a reviewer at the Anime News Network as well as an editor at Anime Feminist, and someone who is overworked way too much. You can find me on Twitter @pixelatedlenses, where I talk about being overworked too much because I need a nap.
DEE: Take a break! Don’t burn out! Don’t do what I did! Learn from my mistakes, Meru!
CAITLIN: Take care of yourself, Meru.
DEE: Yeah, please!
MERU: I will.
DEE: Good, good, good, good. I’m Dee. I am one of the managing editors at AniFem. And you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
CAITLIN: So, as I said, today we will be talking about Kare Kano. Which, I will probably be calling it that even though it’s not the official English name, because (A) it’s very well known by that name and (B) His and Her Circumstances is a mouthful and there is no convenient abbreviation for that.
DEE: Yeah, it takes forever to say, and I think the manga was localized as Kare Kano, so a lot of people know it by that.
CAITLIN: Yes. Yes. So, it originally aired in Japan in 1998 for 26 episodes. In the US, the series was released on DVD beginning in 2002, 19 years ago, by The Right Stuf, also known as Nozomi Entertainment, and the manga was one of the first unflipped series by Tokyopop. So, if you want to feel old… I think it was also one of the first new DVD releases for The Right Stuf that had never gotten a VHS, and it is a heck of a DVD for the time. Might talk about that if we have time. That’s one of the less important things, though.
Why are we talking about this today? Because we should talk about shoujo as a feminist anime podcast. It’s important.
DEE: Yeah, that seems legit. Well, and this is a big one. I don’t know if it’s necessarily one that’s withstood the test of time and been one that newer readers are necessarily familiar with, which is also because it went out of print with Tokyopop, I’m pretty sure. So it’s not as easy to track down as Fruits Basket, which is getting a re-release. But as far as big, popular shoujo titles of that first manga boom in the early ‘00s, Kare Kano was… I didn’t read it, myself, because I wasn’t a big school rom-com person, but I remember it was big. It was that one, Fruits Basket, Fushigi Yugi… You had these titles that were hits, and it was a big one for sure. So, I think it has some historical significance because of that as well.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And they released the whole long series, which was not always the case with Tokyopop. They were not afraid to cut series loose if they weren’t selling.
So, Kare Kano does have a very storied production, which I personally researched for an article on Anime News Network a couple years ago. So, I actually know a lot of this stuff offhand, off the top of my head.
DEE: Teach us, Caitlin-sensei!
MERU: Teach us, teach us!
CAITLIN: It is Hideaki Anno’s follow-up to Evangelion over at Gainax, and it was a big departure from their usual subject matter at the time. They were generally best known for high… well, not necessarily high-energy, but for science fiction, mecha… they had Nadia of the Blue Water [sic], they had Gunbuster, of course they had Evangelion. And Hideaki Anno decided to take on something completely different because he wanted to avoid getting creatively stagnant, as he stated in conversation with Ikuhara, actually, because those two were buddies!
DEE: I know. This is hilarious to me in retrospect now that he has spent the last 15 years just remaking Evangelion! But props to him at the time for being like, “I’m gonna do a shoujo rom-com.”
MERU: Wait, so this came after Evangelion?
MERU: That’s interesting.
CAITLIN: This was Anno’s immediate follow-up to Evangelion.
CAITLIN: So even though it was meant to be something completely different, it does still have commonalities with Evangelion: a discussion of trauma, about the sense of self, self-actualization for teenagers… It’s just the trappings are very, very different, about as different as you can get, because this is a mundane high school series. He interviewed high school students to reconnect with what it was like to be that age, what it was like to fall in love for the first time. And personally, I think it really paid off because, while at this point in this series it is still very faithful to the manga, a lot of the directorial flourishes, a lot of the adaptational choices really emphasize that.
It does have a lot of contention around the production history and what exactly happened with that, but we’ll get to that later. As is the case with Gainax series of the era before they just completely fell apart… Well, they fell apart for the first time and started making series like He Is My Master, and then they fell apart for the second time when everyone left to make Trigger. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: But in the ‘90s Gainax had a lot of names that, if you pay attention, you are probably completely familiar with. Tadashi Hiramatsu did the character designs. I think the thing he is currently best known for is Yuri!!! on Ice. Hiroyuki Imaishi, who is the best-known Trigger person. He did Promare, he did Gurren Lagann… Well, Gurren Lagann is Gainax, but [that’s] besides the point. He did Kill la Kill. He storyboarded several episodes, including, in this segment of the watchalong, episodes 1 to 3. And it has a very distinct visual style. It uses a lot of manga panels, on-screen text, the animation is very limited—which, I don’t know how much of that is a conscious choice!
CAITLIN: There are a few episodes here that are basically slideshows, even early into the production.
DEE: Yeah, I was thinking… I was like, so, was their budget a sandwich?
CAITLIN: I don’t know.
DEE: [They] pitched this show… “We will feed you. Go!”
CAITLIN: It is very much an Anno production. It has a lot of his signature styles, his sound design. Oh, it has a score by Shiro Sagisu, who did Evangelion and has done a lot of other very well-known stuff.
DEE: Caitlin, can I ask real quick? While we’re on the subject, you’ve read at least some of the Kare Kano manga, correct?
CAITLIN: Yes, I have read the whole thing.
DEE: Okay, I wasn’t sure if you’d read it all or if it was a synopsis, but I knew you were familiar with it. Yeah, okay, perfect, so we can talk about that as we go, as well.
CAITLIN: Yes, we will talk about… I don’t actually remember the early volumes very clearly.
DEE: Yeah, that’s fine.
CAITLIN: At this point in the series, I do know that the anime follows the story pretty closely. Just the style, even the manga-style art that you see on the screen in the anime is not directly from the manga.
DEE: Okay, that was actually going to be my question: if their sandwich budget was like “We’re just gonna lift panels straight from the manga.” But they actually did redraw those for the series to match the character designs.
CAITLIN: I think.
CAITLIN: I’m not 100%. It’s been a very long time since I read the manga, like I said. And people get really, really up in arms if you get anything wrong about Kare Kano’s production history.
CAITLIN: Well, because there’s been a lot of—
DEE: [crosstalk] Because Gainax?
CAITLIN: There’s been a lot of speculation and wrong names assigned and all sorts of stuff. But we’ll get there when we get there.
It is also one of the series that is most commonly named as something that people want a remake of. I’m personally very against this idea for reasons that we will get into later. But I’m wondering if you guys think that… at this point in the series, could it use a remake?
MERU: [Hums in puzzled thought] This is my first time ever engaging with Kare Kano, so I don’t know if I can say yes or no, because I kind of went in completely unknowing.
DEE: I mean, yeah, at this point, we’re not far enough in to necessarily make that call. I can see the impulse for people to say that just based on the sandwich budget that we’re currently seeing. I can see people being like, “Man, I wish this had really dynamic animation, a really bright fancy remake,” because that’s what everybody wants from their favorite series, right? And I know Kare Kano, the manga, a lot of people, it really resonated with them. So I get the impulse there.
To be blunt, I think that it feels like a show of the ‘90s and I don’t necessarily think it needs a remake now. Like, maybe if they’d made it in the mid-‘00s, but I feel like that time has probably passed. I think there are other shoujo— I think there are other manga that could be adapted instead, at this point. And again, we’re only seven episodes in; I could change my mind. That’s kind of where I am right now.
CAITLIN: All right. I will say… So, my opinion, at least at this stretch of the episodes, I am opposed to a remake because Anno is such an incredible director and a lot of the energy of it, the on-screen text, so much of that does a huge favor to creating a sense of mood that when you take that away, it is a lot less special.
DEE: Yeah, and see, I’m not familiar with the manga. I think I read the first volume and it just didn’t grab me because I read the first volume of dang near everything because I was working in a bookstore. But I didn’t… so I can’t necessarily say what this adaptation has done in comparison to the manga and what a more faithful adaptation would look like and et cetera, so I will absolutely take your word for that.
Stylistically… Again, I’m joking about the sandwich budget on the animation, but stylistically, it is a show that has very little animation, but I think a lot of modern directors could take some cues from directors from the ‘90s in terms of how to make things visually engaging even if you don’t have sakuga out the wazoo, because I was never bored watching— Well, there’s a moment in one of the last episodes where it’s just a bunch of manga panels, and I was like “Uh-oh!”
DEE: But for the most part, I think the cinematography is active enough and interesting enough that there doesn’t have to be a lot of movement for it to still be engaging and visually interesting.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and there’s a lot of squash and stretch in the character animation, especially in those Imaishi episodes.
DEE: Oh, I love me some ‘90s chibis. Love me some ‘90s chibis!
MERU: Ah, it’s so good.
CAITLIN: A lot of exaggerated expressions. I love it. I do.
So, let’s talk about personal histories. I don’t know if you guys have anything remotely of personal history. This is probably my fourth or fifth time watching it all the way through. I bought the first DVD with the fancy box in 2002. It’s funny: I bought it because someone I was on a forum with had it in their signature and I thought it sounded really interesting, but I had no idea how to go about getting fansubs. So when the DVD came out, I bought it pretty much right away. Right Stuf’s DVD production is absolutely incredible. They basically made an entirely different visual track for the on-screen text and subtitles like that. In the Japanese, the voice actresses for Kano and Tsukino do… it’s the camera on them when they’re doing the next-episode preview; for the dub track, they do it for their English voice actresses.
DEE: Yeah, I thought that was a neat touch.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Jessica Calvello and someone else.
DEE: Megan Hollingshead! I know my Pokémon voice actors.
CAITLIN: I think this was before she ruined her voice doing Excel.
DEE: Oh no!
CAITLIN: But at the time, everyone was like, “Oh, it perfectly captures the feeling of falling in love [for] the first time,” and I didn’t date in high school, so I watched it, [and] I was like, “Yeah, this is really good.” And then I watched it again after I had fallen in love with my first boyfriend. I was like, [Gasps] “This is amazing!”
CAITLIN: And this time around, I ended up trapping Jared into watching six of the seven episodes with me, which was really nice.
DEE: That is fun.
CAITLIN: So, do you guys have any kind of history with it whatsoever? Dee, you said that you read the first volume and it didn’t grab you?
DEE: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I read the first volume, but the shoujo premise of girl and boy are rivals in school because boy has better grades… that was not the only series to do that that was coming out in the US at the time, so I might have been reading something else, but I feel like I tried Kare Kano because it was a big enough title that it probably was one that I would have tried out. School rom-coms… Well, first of all, the impression that people had given me about Kare Kano was that it was like a drama, a serious drama! And that was not my jam at all. I had at that point been pretty solidly burned on Hot Gimmick, and so it was gonna be a hard sell for me anyway.
And typically, I love shoujo fantasy; I had a harder time with the mundane series, like I couldn’t get into Hana-Kimi. There’s probably some others, but those are the two that come to mind: that one and Hot Gimmick. So yeah, it was never really something that I was that into, and then I kept getting that feeling that it was this very serious school drama. And I love a good romcom. Stuff like My Love Story? Yeah, absolutely. Put it in my eyeballs. But because I kept getting that impression from it, I just sort of felt like, “Eh, this probably isn’t my jam.” So I never gave it a try. And then we started this watchalong and I was like, “Oh! This is silly! Why did nobody tell me that this show was silly?” So, that was a pleasant surprise going into this, for sure.
MERU: Mm, mm, mm, mm.
CAITLIN: And Meru?
MERU: Yeah, so my history with it is that I watched it over the course of this week, and that was my first time engaging with it. I know I saw the manga and Tokyopop was putting it out, but I was too young when it was first coming out to actually probably read it. And so, I was definitely more of a Hot Gimmick tween and teen than I was… Yeah. That’s a big oof! That’s a big oof.
DEE: So the opposite experience that I had. That’s great.
MERU: I mean, I’ll admit, teenage me was ride-or-die for Hot Gimmick.
DEE: Hey, listen, I will judge nobody’s trashy shoujos of their childhood because I liked Angel Sanctuary. So, no judgment.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, no judgment. This is a safe space.
MERU: Yeah. But I never engaged with the series, and honestly, I think, like I said, I wasn’t the right age because I also did not date in high school, had zero interest in high school, and little did I know that meant that I was aromantic! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: So, wait, wait a second, though. So, you were too young for Kare Kano but you were the right age for Hot Gimmick?
MERU: Here’s the thing.
DEE: They weren’t, but that’s how it happened, because manga.
MERU: Long story short, back when Borders Books used to exist, a friend of mine picked it up and we passed it around and we were like, “Oh, this is so salacious!” and “Oh, it’s got adult stuff like flirting and romance…”
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, the forbidden manga! Like I said, it was your Angel Sanctuary. I get it. [Chuckles]
MERU: I mean, it was like when I first discovered boys’ love except Hot Gimmick has comphet in the worst way maybe.
MERU: But you know, I feel like Kare Kano might have been a better gateway. And now I’m finding that out. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: The version of Kare Kano I grew up with was the dub. Love the dub. And you guys watched the dub because you were watching it on the Nozomi channel on YouTube (which is legal!) and they only have the dub.
DEE: Yeah, I know other regions have access to the sub, but in the US it looks like it’s basically dub only, so that’s what we did.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So I came into this, I was like, “Well, I guess I’m gonna watch the sub this time,” even though I love the dub. Have always watched it dubbed. Yukino was Atsuko Enomoto’s first major role, and she was good in it, but I really, really love Veronica Taylor’s Yukino. She’s having so much fun. But I was gonna watch the sub. But then I started watching with Jared, and for accessibility reasons, because DVD subs at the time weren’t very good, we ended up watching it dubbed, and then we kept watching it together and I kept watching it dubbed.
DEE: So we’re all watching it dubbed.
CAITLIN: So we’re all watching it dubbed.
DEE: So we’re all here for Ash Ketchum as Yukino. Hell yeah!
CAITLIN: Which was Liam O’Brien’s first major role, and the scripts are written by Crispin Freeman.
DEE: I saw his name in the credits. That made me smile.
DEE: I wish he’d showed up to play Arima because boy howdy, there weren’t a lot of solid male voice actors back in the day, were there?
CAITLIN: He would have been a really good Arima.
DEE: He would have been a good anybody! But yes. [Laughs]
CAITLIN: [Laughs] He would have been great as Kano! [Chuckles] No, Arima’s voice actor gets better.
MERU: Does he?
DEE: Eh, okay.
CAITLIN: I think he’s better by the end of this stretch of episodes.
DEE: I feel like all the girl voice actors are having such a great time, and then all the guys except Yukino’s dad, who is also having a great time, are like they just aren’t quite sure what to do, so their performances are a little stiff or, in Arima’s case, very stiff. I think I called him Wooden McBoyface in our group chat, so that’s where I am.
CAITLIN: Okay, I want to defend Liam O’Brien’s Asaba, though.
DEE: Okay. Yeah, I mean he’s fine.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I love it.
DEE: I feel like I haven’t heard him talk enough to have a strong opinion about him.
CAITLIN: In the more serious scenes, he’s a little stiff. Like I said, this was probably his first big role. But when Asaba is being silly, I think he really lights up and he starts to have fun. The part where he’s… [Chuckles]
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, I give you that, for sure, for sure.
CAITLIN: The part where he’s in the bathrobe, just shows up in Arima’s backyard, and he’s like, “Yeah, we slept together…”
DEE: Wink! Yeah.
CAITLIN: I thought it was very good. I enjoyed it.
DEE: Yeah, no, he’s fine. He’s not as notoriously stiff as Arima is, for sure, for sure. Hey, Caitlin, question. And you can cut this from the episode if you want. Is Asaba the one who falls in love with the baby?
MERU: [alarmed] W-What?
DEE: Because that’s like the one thing I know about Kare Kano: is, I’m pretty sure somebody falls in love with a baby at the end. It’s like the OG Twilight. Am I wrong about this or is this correct?
CAITLIN: No, you’re not wrong. You are correct.
MERU: No! No!
CAITLIN: I didn’t want to bring it up! [Chuckles]
DEE: Although Meru’s reaction is so good, maybe we won’t cut this part.
MERU: God, I’m suffering! Oh!
CAITLIN: Yeah… Yeah…
MERU: Okay, well… Okay, well… Oh no. [Chuckles ruefully] Oh no! A baby?
DEE: In fairness, I think that’s just in the manga. I don’t know if that’s in the anime. But I do know it’s a thing that happens.
CAITLIN: No, no, it doesn’t. The anime cuts off way before that.
MERU: [relieved] Okay.
DEE: Okay, so see, Meru, you don’t have to worry about a grown-ass man falling in love with a baby. That’s only in the manga!
MERU: I’ll take it.
CAITLIN: Now, in fairness, she’s not a baby when it happened.
MERU: [crosstalk] I tell ya, manga giveth and manga taketh, and when it taketh, ooh!
DEE: Sometimes it’s okay that adaptations don’t fully adapt a material. Sometimes you get Soul Eater or Kare Kano out of the deal and it’s okay—or famously, Bunny Drop—and then it’s okay!
CAITLIN: We will talk about this. We will talk about this.
DEE: Yeah, I figured that would come up in conversation eventually, but I was like, “Is this the one? Is this the infamous Asaba?”
CAITLIN: [through chuckles] This is a conversation for a different episode!
DEE: Okay, okay, excellent.
CAITLIN: I did just realize I never gave the full plot synopsis.
MERU: [Laughs] You didn’t.
CAITLIN: Which is… Well, it’s a very well-known story. But if you do not know it, it’s actually a fairly basic rom-com story. Yukino Miyazawa puts on a performance as being a really, really perfect girl at school. She gets amazing grades; in middle school, she was always in the top of her class, because she loves praise. She is addicted to praise. It is her favorite thing in the world. Getting praised is her driving force in life. And then she starts high school, and she’s no longer the top scorer. The top scorer is another boy in her class, Soichiro Arima. Arima, of course, falls in love with Yukino just like everyone else. He falls in love with her perfect persona. And then, one day he comes to drop off a CD at her house, and she, not knowing it was him, thinking it was going to be her little sister, kicks him in the stomach in her sweats with her hair done up and wearing glasses.
DEE: [deadpan] Gasp!
CAITLIN: She is so sure that he is going to completely ruin her life. But he doesn’t, until he starts blackmailing her. Blackmailing her by making her do things like help out with his student council work, not Hot Gimmick–level blackmail. Together, eventually the two decide that they are going to work on becoming more of their true selves in public as well as at home. So, it is a love story between these two teenagers who are trying to figure out how to be true to themselves. That’s kind of long and short of it.
Because Yukino and Arima and their relationship are the main focus, let’s talk about them. How do you guys feel about Yukino and Arima?
MERU: Yukino is my queen. This teenage girl knows she has a garbage personality and fully embraces it, and I love it. Me too, Yukino. I, too, wear my middle school sweats when I’m just kicking it at home. I, too, want people to love me.
MERU: And I love it.
CAITLIN: I’m wearing sweats right now.
MERU: Arima is… human.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] He is not a robot.
MERU: [crosstalk] He’s not a robot. He could pass one of those Captcha things on a website.
MERU: You know what? Okay, the first few episodes, I was like, “I’m not into it.” And then we got his really tragic backstory episode 3, and I was like, “Oh. Oh, this explains a lot.” And then I was like…
CAITLIN: “Oh, he’s a sad boy.”
MERU: I was like, “Oh, he’s not mean boy or bad boy; he just sad boy now. He’s very sad.”
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] He not bad boy; he sad boy.
MERU: And then I was like, “Okay, I guess he’s okay.” And then they held hands and I was like, [Gasps] “I’m here for it now!” So that’s kind of the mood swing I went through with that. That’s the movements, the layers to my like of them.
CAITLIN: Aw, I love that scene.
DEE: Which scene?
CAITLIN: The scene where she finally just reaches out and takes his hand during the meeting.
MERU: It was so romantic because, instead of saying “Yes, I want to date you” or “No,” just holds his hand, and I was like “Ah!” It’s so good! I love it!
DEE: Yeah, I agree: Yukino’s great. She’s a very… I think Kare Kano has that… It’s a similar problem that a lot of shoujo school rom-coms… Maybe “problem” is not even the right word. But the female characters feel very relatable and true to life and like believable disasters, which is terrific, and then the boys are romantic ideals to an extent, which is… I mean, that’s the genre. That’s the concept behind it, so I get that that’s why it operates in that space. But they tend to be less interesting because of that. And so my favorite parts with Arima are, honestly, when he’s being a little bit of a shit, when he awkwardly is blackmailing her because he wants to spend more time with her and doesn’t know how, so he’s like, “I guess I’ll just… I mean, she’s a troll, so I guess if I’m a troll back, that’s how we do things, right?”
And then when the two of them are giving each other crap during the sports festival and stuff, I find him a lot more endearing during those bursts of high school… I feel like “shittiness” is a little too strong of a word here because, again, in those moments he feels like a believable high school disaster, which Yukino is 24/7. Yeah, so I find him a lot more endearing in those moments. When he’s being sweet, monotone Arima, he very much just feels like that sort of romantic hero ideal, which doesn’t interest me at all. I mean, he’s a nice boy. I don’t hate him. The other trap of the shoujo manga is asshole romantic interest, and he’s not that, so that’s terrific. I can get behind the nice sadboys. I feel like I should like him more than I do because usually when you get to the twist where it’s like, “Oh, but they’re sad,” I’m like, “Oh, now I have to protect you.” But I don’t know. I’m not there yet with Arima. Maybe I’ll get there eventually.
CAITLIN: Maybe it’s the voice acting.
DEE: It could be the voice actor. Honestly it could be!
MERU: Yeah, because right now, if I wanted to protect Arima, it would be like protecting a plate of bland white rice.
DEE: A little bit. Well, and I find it—
MERU: With some parsley put on top. I’ll give him that. He’s got some parsley.
DEE: Well, I’ll give the manga credit, too, because that’s kind of the concept behind him, right? He has put on this perfect, flawless persona because he doesn’t want to be like his parents; he wants people to not reject him. So, it fits into his character that he is acting perfect and therefore kind of boring. And he has some moments, especially in the later episodes, where you can tell he has very low self-esteem about the fact that he doesn’t think he’s very interesting. And he’s not wrong.
DEE: But that’s part of his whole persona, right? He has made himself to be flawless to the point where he’s scraped off all the sharp edges. And those are the things that make people individuals instead of just ideals. And so, I think that the fact that the manga is kind of engaging with that… I mean the manga, now the anime… is engaging with that as an interesting way to talk about romantic ideals in fiction and the personas we put on in high school, which—we’ve talked about this in the past rom-com podcasts we’ve done—is a common conceit that shows up in these shows, and I always find it really interesting when they talk about it. So I’m hoping that as he opens up and shows Yukino more of himself and gets to have more moments where he kind of shoots the shit with Asaba, that he will become more of a rounded character instead of that romantic ideal. But I’ll give the series credit for engaging with that concept and sort of calling it out, going, “We know. We know he’s weirdly perfect. But that’s sort of the point.”
CAITLIN: Right. Because Yukino has this sense of self from her family. They’re a big, boisterous group of people.
DEE: [crosstalk] They’re so good.
CAITLIN: They have a big family. Do you guys have big families?
DEE: So, 50%. [Chuckles] I’m an only child, but my mom remarried when I was like 12, and then I got three step-siblings who were there half of the time because they bounced between their parents’ houses. So, 50% big family, yes.
CAITLIN: Okay! [Laughs]
MERU: I, too, am an only child.
DEE: Okay, yeah, so, quieter household.
CAITLIN: Well, I’m one of five.
DEE: Yeah, I knew you had a big family home, yeah.
CAITLIN: My family… our conflicts were less playful than that. When they are playing around, there was a more genuine anger with my family, but a lot of the dynamics are the same. It is very relatable. They were loud. They will start talking about stuff while you’re in the other room, and you’re just like, “What are you doing? Why? Go away! You are making me crazy, but I don’t have another private space!” But because she has this big family, Yukino, despite her performance at school, she does have somewhat of a sense of self.
DEE: Yeah. Well, and a big family who… I think it’s worth noting she has a good relationship with everybody in her family. I mean, they give each other crap and she rolls her eyes at her dad a lot, but they all genuinely care about each other. And Arima’s adopted parents… they clearly all care about each other as well, but the dynamic there is very different because of the history, so there’s more of a layer of distance there, whereas Yukino gets to go home and just fully be herself and Arima doesn’t feel like he really has a space where he can do that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So Arima doesn’t really know who he is at all. Yukino… She doesn’t know where her talents are or who she is as a friend, but when she’s at home being Yukino, she’s just being Yukino. And Arima doesn’t have that. He feels like he has to put on the same performance for his adoptive parents as he does at school. And that is why he doesn’t have a whole lot of personality!
DEE: Yeah, like I said, I think it makes sense in the story proper in a way that a lot of series that have the too-perfect romantic leads maybe don’t. I think it tracks for his character. And yeah, I’m curious to see what they do with him going forward.
I really like the… I think it was episode 6 or 7—it was one of the later ones—where they had the parallel monologues of the two of them thinking about each other, and Yukino’s like, “Man, Arima’s perfect, but I feel like he doesn’t open up to me and I hope I can understand him. But God, he’s so perfect!” And then Arima’s like, “Yukino’s so weird. I love that. Why can’t I be weird?”
DEE: And it was just a really sweet way to see how they see each other and then also themselves, because they both have some self-esteem issues, which I think for Arima a lot of that comes from trauma; for Yukino it’s partly because she’s put on this persona her whole life, but also she’s, what, 16? 16-year-olds have self-esteem issues; they just do. But I like the way the series starts to bounce between the two of them and you get a sense of how they’re… they’re very different but they also have a lot of core similarities and neither of them really understands why the other one likes them, which is kind of sad but also sweet and sort of high-school-relatable.
MERU: I was gonna say, it’s really relatable, right, because in high school you just kind of inexplicably like people and you’re never really sure why; you just do. You’re like, “That person. That’s who I like.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, you just vibe.
MERU: You know, maybe they got their nachos a certain way from the lunch line. Maybe they vended from the vending machine. Or maybe they had that cool belt-buckle belt that was a seatbelt buckle.
MERU: I mean, it’s kind of inexplicable stuff like that. And I think it’s cute that they’re into each other; they don’t really know what, but they just are. And that’s great. That’s great.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and like I said, I watched several episodes with Jared, and when Yukino was monologuing about how Arima was just so perfect, Jared looked at me and he goes, “That’s how you think about me, right?”
CAITLIN: And I’m just like, [ironic] “Uh-huh! Sure, yeah, yeah!”
CAITLIN: And then when Arima was monologuing about how Yukino is weird, and when she is being unguarded she’s actually kind of a slob and he does not understand why she does the things [she does], I look at Jared and I go, “Is that how you think of me?” and Jared goes, “Actually, yes.”
MERU: I do feel like Yukino is the ideal woman that I actually grew up into, which is… likes sweatpants, playfully smokes chocolate cigarettes—
MERU: —and is living my best life. Love it. Love it for her. It’s great.
DEE: I like that they’re both like— And again, we’ve still got quite a bit of series left, but they seem to be loosening up as the story goes, and I hope that that continues and they’re both able to, because there was… I think this came out late ‘90s, which was when a lot of the issues with the stresses put on high school kids in Japan were really starting to come to light in the media. Wasn’t it the early ‘00s that they cut Saturday school because they were like, “We need to start giving our kids… We need to start letting them act like kids a little bit more”? I think it was the early ‘00s that that started happening. Maybe it was later. But yeah. And I feel like you can definitely feel… A lot of series in the ‘90s.
I mean, I think Fushigi Yugi, just to bounce back to one of our old watchalongs, talks about this a little bit with Miaka having all these pressures about getting into the right high school and cram schools and everything. I think a lot of the shoujos in the ‘90s are engaging with the massive amount of stress that was put on students. And you definitely see that with Arima and Yukino with, first of all, the way they feel like they should be perfect in front of others so they will be praised, but then in those last episodes where their grades start to slip because, gasp! Oh no! They’re starting to have social lives. And their teacher goes off on them!
CAITLIN: [ironic] Oh no, 13th place!
DEE: Yeah. Both of them still doing fine, and their teacher comes at them basically like, “Your social life isn’t important. All that matters is your grades,” and talks about them as their value like they’re objects that the school can tout out and demonstrate like trophies to other people. I was like, “This is gross, dude. These are children.”
MERU: What’s so funny, though, in a very black comedy way, is that that’s still a thing.
DEE: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, there was…
MERU: I’m just like, did the Japanese teachers not watch Kare Kano and realize the kids need to be kids?
CAITLIN: Yeah, when I was teaching English in Japan, I definitely had at least one student who went to Saturday school regularly, every week. And she was like, “I want to marry a foreign guy.” I’m just like, “Why?” And her English was very good, so she felt like she was able to explain this fully to me. She’s like, “Well, I really like light-colored eyes, and also, I really want a guy who will come and take me away from Japan.”
DEE: Oh no!
CAITLIN: Because… And there were a lot of… That was not uncommon because the amount of pressure put on them as teenagers was so intense and they knew that things weren’t necessarily going to get better.
MERU: Yeah. Well, yeah, because I guess you look at the Japanese workforce, and you’re like, oof! You get told all these things and I guess you get money?
CAITLIN: “I don’t want that life.”
MERU: The treat is money. You get treat.
CAITLIN: But when do you spend, when do you enjoy that money?
DEE: Well, except you don’t because they’ve been in a recession for the last, like, 25 years! I’ve been reading up a lot about gender roles and family structures in Japan recently and boy, does that come up a lot. Yeah. But yeah, I do think a lot of… and you see that with, again, various shoujo. I mentioned Fushigi Yugi. Ouran High has a nice arc with Haruhi where it’s like, “Grades aren’t the only thing; it’s also having a nice time and enjoying your high school life.” And you sometimes run into this very obnoxious romanticization of high school in shows like this where it’s like, “These are the best years and it’s never gonna get better!” But I like that Kare Kano sort of does push back, like, “Look, our grades are fine, and we are not going to stop dating each other because we shouldn’t be miserable, fake versions of ourselves. We also need to be humans, in addition to being students.”
And I also really appreciated that both of their dads are very supportive. The image of the strict, distant father is so permeated into Japanese media. Especially in the ‘90s was when they really started to address that and try to get away from it. So I like that Kare Kano was kind of… you know, the pushback of them both being like, “Well, no, our kids are happy with each other and we trust them to make their own choices, so it’s okay that their grades fell a little bit. You can calm down, Teach.” I really liked the way they handled that episode and the way both their parents came in to support them.
And even the teacher eventually… There are some dramatic face-turns in this show. Asaba, one minute he’s an asshole and the next minute it’s like, “And now I’m your friend!” And the same with the teacher, where the teacher’s like, “I’m the worst,” and then walks out, is like, “Hey, you guys think for yourself and that’s cool, so I’m not mad at you anymore.” Like, okay, I guess. Cool, man!
CAITLIN: Yeah, it did feel a little easy, especially with the teacher, where he was like, “I don’t get kids anymore, but have fun.” But I loved Yukino’s dad, and he’s talking about his letting daughters be able to make decisions for themselves.” And that is a style of parenting— Well, it doesn’t work for every kid because every kid has different needs, but…
DEE: Well, and they’re kids, so there are certain decisions they shouldn’t make on their own because their brains haven’t fully developed. But…
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, it seems like they have fair boundaries. Dad’s a little protective.
DEE: Yeah, no, he’s got that…Yeah.
CAITLIN: When he got the character for “father” on his forehead, I was like, is this a Fushigi Yugi reference? Is that like a Tamahome thing? Or is this just a symbolic motif that I don’t understand? And I have wondered about that for 19 years. I don’t know.
DEE: I couldn’t tell you; you’ll have to keep wondering.
DEE: Could’ve been. Could’ve been. Fushigi Yugi was extremely popular. I don’t know when Kare Kano started running. But maybe.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So even if Arima is a little bit of a potato, [he’s] not a total potato. And I do really enjoy just the way their relationship develops. That, in principle, I feel like, is very strong. You know, the episode where Yukino is trying to figure out how to confess and she knows that he still likes her. She’s aware, but still, putting herself out there is really hard and scary.
DEE: Yeah. I really liked that scene.
CAITLIN: The moments where he brushes up against her and her heart thumps. Her heart is dokidoki…
MERU: [crosstalk] Oh, so relatable!
CAITLIN: So good! And after they start dating, the first time they get to be alone together, there’s kind of an awkward moment because it’s like, “Okay, well, that tension is gone. Now what?” And it takes them a little bit of a conversation to be able to find themselves back in their groove. That all felt very, very real to me. [Chuckles] Historically, when I have started a relationship, the next day my first impulse is to run away and never talk to that person again. I don’t know why I’m like this. Please help. Hopefully I will not be starting any new relationships…
DEE: I was gonna say, you’re married now, so hopefully this won’t be a problem going forward. Well, and I really liked the moment where she’s like, “You know what? Maybe we should just stay friends. Maybe that’s better because if we date and then we break up it’ll be bad, and I want to hang out with him, and I don’t want to not hang out with him anymore. So maybe I shouldn’t say anything after all.” Yeah, and I really liked the moment when she has that realization of… Well, because neither of them have ever really… and this part is wild to me, that neither of them really have had friends up until now.
So, they’re both… as far as experience goes, it’s not just that they don’t know “How do relationship?” Not just romance, but any kind of relationship. So there’s very much that attitude of “Oh, I can actually get hurt now because I’m being sincere, which I’ve never done before. This is terrifying!” Yeah. Yeah, and Yukino’s monologues throughout that, of her starting to maybe chicken out and then deciding she should go for it anyway… Oh, and then the moment where it’s been like three days and she’s like, “What if he doesn’t like me anymore?”
CAITLIN: [imitating deep worry] “What if he moved on?”
DEE: And here’s the thing, though. Here’s the thing: it’s high school; he might! He might not like you anymore after three days! [Laughs]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, I know! Exactly! It’s true!
MERU: I feel like as an adult, there is that tension, because that is kind of how relationships just are.
MERU: And I’ll say, I’ve been in a new relationship now for just shy of two months and I’m still like, “Maybe they’ll just stop liking me. Maybe they’ll just go away and I’ll never see them again.” And it’s nice to see—
CAITLIN: Sometimes you do!
MERU: Oh gosh, I hope—
CAITLIN: Sometimes you do just stop liking [somebody].
MERU: I certainly hope that’s not the case for me because I really like this person.
CAITLIN: No, I hope so, too.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, of course.
CAITLIN: You seem very happy.
MERU: But it is nice to see a young woman have to grapple with that. And also, they talk, which is great, which is great. More anime where people talk about the problem.
DEE: Yeah, and I like that there are believable communication issues where they have trouble communicating different things to each other. I think the scene that probably got the biggest belly laugh for me is when Yukino’s following Arima down the hallway and she’s like, “He doesn’t notice that I like him back!” and she kicks him in the back and shoves him–
Notice!”– and then runs away.
MERU: It’s great.
CAITLIN: That was relatable to me.
DEE: No, it was such a good representation of that feeling of “Why won’t the person I like just realize it, and I don’t have to say it and they just know?”
CAITLIN: That was perfect! I loved that moment so much.
DEE: [crosstalk] Really well done.
MERU: Big high school energy. It’s very good. It’s freaking good!
DEE: This show can nail, yeah, that first high school crush feeling very strongly when it’s on. Absolutely.
MERU: I have to say, it’s good to know that high school feelings have not changed from the year 1999 to now because I was like, “Yep! Yep!” It’s the same! It’s the same. It’s good. It’s very good. It’s very, very good.
CAITLIN: Do we want to talk about some of the secondary characters? How are we doing on time?
DEE: We can. We’ve got like 10 minutes. I did want to… Because we were talking about their awkwardness as they first start as a couple, can we take a moment to address the “Men are wolves” song that starts going through Yukino’s head?
DEE: Because apparently, that’s a real song by Pink Lady called “S.O.S.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yes. It is. Yes.
DEE: And that was frustrating! [Chuckles] It’s one of those… It’s kind of… I mean, we talked about this with other shoujo that especially came out in the ‘90s, when there was very much a pushback against the taboo… To me the ‘90s is very much when shoujo started actually—well, I guess it probably started in the ‘80s—started actually engaging with the concept of teenagers having sexual relations with one another and it not just being like flowers and dokidokis. And part of that was kind of breaking these taboos about what young ladies should be interested in. But, and so it ends up… There’s very much this give and take between “Yes, girls have sex drives and this is good and we should engage in this,” and also—God, again, to call back to another famous ‘90s shoujo; you see this in Fushigi Yugi a lot—this idea of “You can’t ever let your guard down around a man because secretly they’re all rapists!” And it makes me so angry!
CAITLIN: [Obscured by crosstalk] But not Tamahome!
DEE: And it sucks because… I mean, we all grew up as AFAB young people, and we probably were taught similar lessons because there is that caution and that sort of rape culture built in. And it’s so frustrating that it shows up in shows, but I get why it’s there! So, that moment, I was angry, but also I got it, you know?
CAITLIN: Okay, here’s the thing.
DEE: [crosstalk] It’s complicated.
CAITLIN: Here’s the thing, though. Here’s the thing, though. I think that was actually really well handled, because it’s not that the song was actually playing or that the show was making a statement about Yukino being in danger in it. It’s that she realized she was alone and that song that she had been hearing started playing inconveniently in her head. And I don’t know about you guys, but I’m the kind of person who gets songs stuck in my head really easily, and that seems like the exact sort of situation. Also, the song was being sung by her sisters, [Chuckles] which was fantastic.
But there was no point where it seemed like she was in danger or where Arima was thinking about crossing a line. So, if it was meant to be a commentary on the situation, it was like a metacommentary where it was like, “Oh, I’ve learned all of these things, and now I have this song stuck in my head and it’s making me crazy at such an inconvenient time,” which, like I said, very relatable. But at the same time, she’s not in danger. This is when a lot of other shoujo would be going, “Oh, yeah, no, there’s going to be a moment where the boy pushes her down and is like, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have let your guard down.’”
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I super appreciate that that’s not actually what happens. And then Arima runs away and is like, “Oh, man, did I cross a boundary? Maybe that was too much.” So I’m like, “I think you’re okay.” But the fact that they were both engaging with that concept of “Now we’re in a relationship and now we have these boundaries, and how do we be respectful of one another?” No, no, I think the show itself handled it well, but just that moment very much sent me back to that. It is that— [Sighs] I’m trying to figure out how to put this. The fact that that is the song that runs through her head is, I think, again, another kind of true-to-life sense of the cautions and worries that a lot of teen girls feel growing up and engaging in this first relationship. Even if the person you’re with is super nice and would never take advantage of you, I think that that fear is still in your head no matter what because…
MERU: It’s very latent, right?
DEE: Yeah. And so, when it came up, I was just like, “Oh, no, please don’t go that route, Kare Kano.” And I appreciate that it didn’t. But it definitely shot me back to a lot of…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The fear is now ingrained in your head.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah.
MERU: Because I’ll say that for all of the things that in my own notes I personally nitpicked about like, “Oh boy, wow, this is really a 1990s anime, huh,” I was also like, you know what, at no point was sexual harassment in the way that you can find in a lot of late 2010s or 2020s anime.
CAITLIN: Or in Hot Gimmick.
MERU: You know what? You know what? I should’ve never said I liked Hot Gimmick!
MERU: I should have never said I liked it!
DEE: Oh, Meru. Meru, Hot Gimmick was going to come up no matter what because that to me… it is a good comparison point for this series based on the time period…
MERU: True. True, true, true. True.
DEE: … in terms of actual unhealthy toxic relationships versus teen awkwardness. Yeah.
MERU: Right. And that’s what I have to appreciate here. Going in unknowing, I kind of had prepared myself where I was like, “Okay, this is from 1999. I know it was a different time and I know I’m going to encounter different tropes,” and I was actually kind of pleasantly surprised. It was like, you know what? It’s just two kids who are really awkward.
MERU: And at no point does Arima ever invade her personal space in a way that comes off as hostile or sexually aggressive. He’s just a good kid.
DEE: No, there’s a very nice focus on, yeah, just two human beings trying to fumble through relationships and consent and communication and act— It is engaging with those things in a way that is a lot healthier and more aware.
CAITLIN: The blackmail is just extremely awkward flirting.
DEE: It is, and he’s just like, “Oh, you know, you could help me with my schoolwork because I’m overloaded, or I guess I could tell everybody you’re secretly a slob.” It’s just high school shittiness. It doesn’t come across as… And it gets dropped so quickly and he apologizes for it and I’m like, “Yeah, okay. I mean, teenagers make mistakes.”
CAITLIN: And the Hot Gimmick comparison would have come up with that no matter what.
MERU: [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
CAITLIN: So don’t feel bad.
MERU: Oh yeah. [Chuckles] Yeah.
DEE: But yeah, you wanted to talk about the supporting characters for a hot second here, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: Yeah! I mean, now I’m just like, “Yeah, they’re good.”
DEE: There’s that many of them yet. I was surprised there wasn’t more supporting cast. Again, my experience with shoujo romcoms is you tend to have… each character has their friend group and then you have some subplots with each of them. But because our main characters came in without really having friends… I love her sisters. They’re great.
MERU: They’re very good.
CAITLIN: They’re awesome.
MERU: I like that her—
CAITLIN: It’s kind of a Greek chorus. Kano always just being like, “Oh yeah, I’m gonna say something really insightful… because I read it in a shoujo manga.”
MERU: I like that her sisters give her grief constantly, and they’re just like, “Oh my God, what a dysfunctional sibling we have.” And I love it! I like their relationship because I feel like a lot of times in anime, there’s two modes your siblings can be: you can either be distant from them and not like them or, as we saw a lot in the 2010s, if you’re AMAB, you can want to have sex with them. And that’s uncomfortable and gross.
DEE: Yeah, uncomfortably way too close. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, and this—
MERU: It’s just sisters being what I think actual siblings are like. I don’t know. Like I said, [I’m an] only child, but this is what I imagine.
CAITLIN: It depends on the family. There are families like that. I wasn’t like that with my sister. We didn’t like each other.
DEE: Yeah, I mean, some siblings don’t like… I mean, talking about my stepfam, a couple of them did not get along at all but the others did, and there’s different dynamics, for sure. But they’re sort of like that “We give each other shit but we’re here for each other.” Absolutely, I’ve had that with some of my step-siblings and I’ve had other friends who have had that. So it feels more realistic than a lot of the perfect “Onii-chan! Onii-chan!” stuff that pops up in anime a lot of the time, for sure.
MERU: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s just nice to see a female lead who has (A) a family and (B) is in this family that, like, everyone loves each other. That’s really nice to see.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Rachael Lillis mom.
MERU: I just have to say—and I meant to say this when we were talking about voice actors—it’s real great to hear Ash Ketchum emoting. I did not realize that Yukino’s voice actress was the voice of Ash Ketchum. And at times Ash Ketchum kind of comes out a little bit, and I was losing it!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah! She slips into the boy voice a little bit.
DEE: Well, and see, also, as a big fan of Pokémon but also Slayers growing up, Veronica Taylor is Amelia in that and this is more her Amelia voice, so as soon as she started talking, I was like, “Veronica! What are you doing here?” I did not know that she had other major rules outside of those two because, I mean, you had a job like Ash Ketchum and that’s your job now.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Lisa Ortiz comes up later.
DEE: Yay! Of course Lisa shows up. We’re getting all the Pokémon ladies in. Rachel and Megan are there; of course Lisa has gotta show up. So, that’s terrific, and it makes me happy.
CAITLIN: I don’t see any Pokémon guy actors on here, though.
DEE: No, well, Ted Lewis is playing one of the side students because I would recognize… I know all their voices, Caitlin. [Whispers] All of them!
DEE: Ted had like three lines and I was like, “Oh, hey, Ted.” But no, Eric Stuart has not shown up and he’s most of the guys in Pokémon, so that means there won’t be a Pokémon dude in this one. So, sigh. That’s okay, though.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Let’s talk about Asaba next time.
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. He really just showed up and I’m not sure what to think of him yet, so…
MERU: I don’t like him. That’s my take.
DEE: I mean, he seems like he wants to sort of OT3 this couple, is my vibe on Asaba right now.
CAITLIN: Yeah, a little bit. [Chuckles] Yeah, no, I mean, there’s definitely an energy that he brings that I could see being hit or miss. Personally, I really like Asaba, manga developments notwithstanding. We’ll talk about that later. [Chuckles] But I really enjoy him. I think he brings a lot of energy. He and Yukino have a really fun dynamic. For a long time, I thought he was in love with Arima. I thought that was going to be a thing, that he was romantically attracted to Arima.
DEE: I mean, he does kind of give off that vibe with the constant flirting. He’s always trolling Yukino and he’s always flirting with Arima, which is why I said I think he would like this to be OT3.
MERU: All I’m gonna say is when he said, “I’m going to use him to get girls,” I was like, “Are you? Or are you just trying to get close to him? I’m not really sure where this is going.” Either way is okay. All sexuality matters. But I’m not sure. So that’s just kind of where I sit. I’m like, maybe he does want to OT3 this. Which, I don’t know if that happens. [Chuckles] Wait, no, is he the one that falls in love with a baby?
DEE: [Whispering] Yes.
MERU: No! God!
DEE: [Laughs] But only in the manga. Only in the manga, so it’s not a spoiler for the anime.
MERU: Ah, God.
CAITLIN: Okay. And Kare Kano is a very visually distinct anime. I think we talked about it a lot. And a lot of the symbolism, honestly, at this point, it’s kind of on the nose, like all the mask stuff, all the symbolic traffic signals and signs. But one thing that I really do like is all the on-screen text because it captures your head just going a mile a minute in a way that just an internal monologue can’t. And the use of fonts and the text moving around together… I love the extremely late-‘90s CG text stretching and contracting with the squeegee sound effect. So, yeah, I really enjoyed that. Like Dee brought up earlier, the part where Yukino’s like, “It’s okay if we’re just friends,” and there’s text flashing on the screen… I thought that sort of captured that feeling of panic so much more than just an internal monologue would have done.
Okay, all right. I think it’s time for us to start wrapping up.
DEE: Play us out, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: Yeah, well, first, before we do that, though, do you have any predictions, any final thoughts?
DEE: Uh, they’re gonna smooch in the next stretch. There. That’s my prediction.
MERU: You know what? I think they’re gonna have to break up at some point, because I think the love is gonna be too intense and they’re gonna go off in different directions. They have to separate. They’re gonna come back together. It’s all right.
MERU: That’s my prediction.
CAITLIN: All right. Thank you for listening to this episode. Next time, we’re going to be watching episodes 8 to 13 for six episodes, and we hope you will join us. So, if you were listening and you just stumbled on this podcast on iTunes or whatever, you can find our website at animefeminist.com. Our Twitter is @AnimeFeminist. We have a Facebook, technically, at AnimeFem—
DEE: [crosstalk] Eh, don’t follow us on Facebook. That won’t be there for much longer.
CAITLIN: Don’t follow us on Facebook. And we also… animefeminist.tumblr.com. If you really enjoy our show, you can donate to our Patreon at patreon.com/animefeminist. By the time we air this episode, we should have some new tiers announced that I hope people will be really excited for. Even $1 a month helps a lot. Thank you, AniFam, and remember to take breaks and drink water.
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