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Anime Reviews: Clannad
At times hilarious and other times touching, Clannad works only if you enjoy all the characters, and it serves merely as an appetizer for its sequel series.
Title: Clannad a.k.a. CLANNAD
Production: Kyoto Animation
Series Length: 25 episodes
Air Dates: 10/4/2007 to 3/20/2008
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language)
Summary: Okazaki Tomoya is a self-proclaimed delinquent who hates the town he lives in. All it stirs up are bad memories; memories he feels he'd be better off without. While making the climb up the cherry blossom-lined hill to school, Tomoya sees a girl mumbling to herself while standing perfectly still, seemingly afraid to go to school. With a bit of encouragement, he coaxes her into walking up the hill with him (only because he didn't want her to look like a delinquent like him, of course). For Tomoya, this was the starting point for a great change in his life, but in another world in another time, the world has already come to an end. In that empty world, a voice says that only he and the young girl who made him inhabit this world. The two seemingly unrelated stories, with entirely unrelated people, soon weave together as one as the nature of the worlds they live in are eventually revealed.
The Good: Kyoto Animation's typical breathtaking art and animation; visual novel's excellent music adds a touch of familiarity for fans; involving and organic characters
The Bad: Character arcs strongly depend on your liking that character; moe art style won't appeal to everyone; hugely dependent on its sequel series to tie up loose ends
The Ugly: Some of these girls' hairstyles would not be possible even with gallons of hair gel
If I hadn't gone to GenCon 2011, this franchise would have never even been a blip on my radar. I am not usually a romance anime kind of guy unless there's something else to keep me intrigued in the show (Kare Kano with its hilarity, Fantastic Children with its epic fantasy elements, etc.), and this kind of cutesy-looking melodramatic-looking high-school romance was the furthest thing from my Interest Bubble--that is, as mentioned, until GenCon 2011, where I attended a "Best Anime Ever" panel, where 4 dudes presented us with their picks for the 30 or so best anime of all time, and sure enough, Clannad was there. I knew something was wrong, because at least one of the dudes at the panel scrunched their face in a "I'm not gonna cry" manner, and the leader told us solemnly, "This series will make you cry. I guarantee it."
So, did it? Not really. Because he failed to mention the "guaranteed to make you cry" moments are in the sequel series, Clannad ~After Story~, not plain ol' Clannad. But nevertheless, that was enough to pique my interest, and so I took the dive into Clannad.
Right off the bat, I knew I was in for at least something decent, since both series were produced by Kyoto Animation, or KyoAni from this point on, which is a pretty solid guarantee that whatever the project may be, it will be freaking gorgeous to look at. And unsurprisingly, Clannad boasts incredibly lively and colorful artwork with animation both smooth and nuanced. In a spectacular array of color, characters will twitch and shuffle and gesture and fidget and, generally, move like real people, very rarely standing still, showing off KyoAni's animation prowess with very few cut corners.
In addition to the animation, the audio side of things turned out great, as well. The Japanese voice acting is incredible and, like the animation, nuanced and lifelike, and I wish I could say the same for the English dub (because I love dubs), but the dub is just extremely flat and dull by comparison, if not in general. As far as the music goes, aside from the opening and ending themes, it all comes straight from the original visual novel. Considering KyoAni's considerable budget, writing new music would have been a trivial task, but the decision to use the original soundtrack was most likely deliberate. The music matches every scene and is quite lovely to listen to on its own. For new viewers, this is all you need, but for veteran fans of Clannad, the music also reaffirms a connection to the visual novel, adding a great deal of familiarity to this adaptation.
Now, where would a series like Clannad be if its characters weren't interesting enough to keep you involved? (The answer is nowhere.) It doesn't take long for the cast to be fully introduced, and each member has their own traits and quirks (Tomoya claims to be a delinquent yet seems to be a nice guy, Sunohara is his goofy sidekick, Nagisa is shy yet wants to be an actress, etc.), and as the series progresses, we see them rise from their archetypal molds and become fully fleshed-out people who interact with one another naturally. My favorite characters are Nagisa's parents, Akio and Sanae, who show us that being married for 20+ years does not have to mean the spark of everyday married life has gone. They're also two of the funniest characters you'll ever see in anime, so that helps.
So what could possibly be wrong here, you ask? Sounds like a perfectly good deal to me, you say? Technically, you're right--there really is no concrete flaw--but there are a few, more opinion-based things that will draw in some people and push away others. For example, the various character arcs that provide wonderful development for that particular character. Let's say we're watching Fuko's arc. She grows as a character, we come to learn about her, and we have some heartfelt moments...but if you don't like Fuko, you're gonna be left out to dry for about 3-4 episodes with very little to enjoy, because the main focus of that arc isn't doing anything for you. So if you find yourself outright hating the character who's become the focus, you're not gonna have a lot of fun for a while.
Next up is the art style. I may not like 'moe' anime, but it's not because of the cutesy artwork; it's usually because the characters in those kinds of shows annoy me to no end. Luckily, Clannad's art is the only really 'moe' aspect in the series, but for many people out there, that's more than enough to send them packing. Cutesy character designs rub many people the wrong way, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.
Finally, there's the fact that the series' ending serves mostly as a sequel hook to get you to watch the next season. For me, that's no problem, because I was planning on it anyway, but for others, they've probably already put in all of the time they wanted to put in, so the idea that the story doesn't end until after another season may turn them off to the series entirely. It's such a shame, too, because the second season is when everything gets really interesting. For all of these subjective flaws, all I can say for those who jump ship early is "It's your loss."
Clannad is, by itself, a nice little series with fun characters and great animation about going through high school and facing the challenges that await there, but you'll most definitely want to tune in for ~After Story~ afterwards, which is where the franchise goes from being 'good' to 'freaking outstanding'. And I wholeheartedly recommend not just this series, but its sequel as well, but more on that later. I myself am still not a fan of high school romance anime, but Clannad serves as the shining exception that spits in the face of the ironclad rule.
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. Some aspects of Clannad may turn people off immediately, and it's not a standalone series by any means, but there is more than enough charm and heart to this story to keep your interest if you give it a chance.