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Anime Reviews: Clannad: The Motion Picture
While not the best adaptation, Clannad: The Motion Picture still boasts some nice visuals and carries enough dramatic weight to at least merit a viewing or two.
Title: Clannad: The Motion Picture a.k.a. CLANNAD
Production: Toei Animation
Film Length: 95 minutes
Air Dates: 9/15/2007
Age Rating: 7+ (dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Throughout his high-school days, Tomoya Okazaki has been plagued by a series of strange dreams--dreams of an empty wasteland, dreams of a barren room dominated by an imposing window, dreams of a great, dead tree towering above him. In his waking hours, Tomoya is shiftless and distant; ever since a shoulder injury ruined his promising basketball career, he has given up on fitting in with school life or putting any effort into socializing with others, with his friend, Sunohara, being his only companion. All of that changes, however, when Tomoya meets a timid and beautiful girl named Nagisa Furukawa, whose goal is to reinvigorate the school's defunct Drama Club. As time goes on, Tomoya learns that Nagisa has the same dreams that he has, and begins to think that maybe, just maybe, this dreary life of his might have some meaning after all...
The Good: Lively art and animation; well-developed lead characters; very effective use of themes, given short runtime
The Bad: Ending lacks the punch it desperately wanted; neglected side characters; iffy cinematography; some changes don't jive well with fans
The Ugly: Has the same mediocre English dub from the TV series
Oh hey, how have I neglected to mention the fact that Clannad had a movie tie-in as well as a TV series? Well, okay, I guess it's because the TV series (especially ~After Story~) far eclipsed it in both quality and memorability, but to entirely dismiss it is a bit unfair because it really isn't a bad little movie. In fact, despite what my somewhat angry first impression from a year or so ago tells you, I'd say this actually is a good introduction to the franchise, even if it is a bit different from the rest of its family. Stop babbling and get on with it, you say? Alright, alright, no need to be rude. Ya jerk.
First of all, it's rather refreshing to see such a radically different art style being employed in the film. The designs are all still very recognizable for fans of the visual novel, but while Kyoto Animation would embrace the moe elements and run with them all over town, Toei Animation takes the more traditional high-school-romance anime art style when approaching Clannad, and it works surprisingly well. The artwork is nice and clean, the colors range from lively and vibrant to harsh and dark when the scene calls for it, and the lighting is really great for setting the tone for each scene. I'd say the film's worth watching for its artwork alone--it's nothing groundbreaking or mind-blowing, but if you just want some eye candy, you can't go wrong here.
Likewise, the animation is quick and fluid, and definitely would be great to see on the big screen. From the slapstick comedy to the more...serious moments, Clannad: The Motion Picture runs the gamut of emotions, and you kinda need your visuals to work hand-in-hand with them to make the experience smooth for the audience. Yes, even a romantic comedy/drama needs to worry about animation quality, and while it's not quite up to Kyoto Animation standards (which are ludicrously high), Toei Animation does a fine job anyway.
Just to touch on the sound assets, they're nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible, either. Some tunes from the visual novel carry over, but most of the soundtrack was written specifically for the film. It's alright. Sets the mood well enough. Can't complain. Same goes for the Japanese voice cast, who do a good job at conveying emotion and delivering dialogue. Nothing great, but still good. The English dubbing, however, is largely the same as the Clannad TV series, so it's pretty intolerable.
This kind of material is tricky to dub anyway, but mispronouncing names and giving teenagers clearly-adult voices just doesn't help you out. I wish it were better, because I'm a pretty big fan of dubs, but not this time, sadly. Oh, well. This time you'll just have to switch on the subs (if you don't already) to enjoy some good audio.
With that out of the way, let's talk about what the film does best: the handling of both its time and its key themes (the right people will see what I did there). The main characters, Tomoya and Nagisa, are developed near-perfectly, and their romantic chemistry is great right from the word "go." Their relationship is what forms the foundation of Clannad's themes of love and family, and to put it simply, the entire backbone of Clannad is exploring what family is and how it affects us ("clannad" is Irish Gaelic for "family," after all).
The great bulk of the original story was spent exploring that theme, so, of course, the TV series did a phenomenal job following suit. But how could a 95-minute movie possibly even hope to capture even a glimmer of such a huge theme? I have no idea, but apparently someone on the team did, because they accomplished it. Despite such tight time constraints, the importance of family and togetherness (as well as the effects of its absence *cough cough spoiler alert cough cough*) are given ample time to blossom in the story, and the result is pretty great. Not quite on the level of the TV series, but then again, what is?
While the film handles its time well, it most certainly doesn't do it perfectly, and there is a lot of proof of that. First of all, the ending. This is where the film is supposed to kick you in the face with raw emotion and force the twin-waterfall tears to burst forth, and the premise for the ending was pretty much flawless; the execution, however, was not. Because it was rushed, because it was too short, and because one of the chief characters involved wasn't given much introduction, the whole ending just falls flat. It should be the crowning moment of the film that rips your heart to shreds, but that's not what we got. And that's a damned shame. Just two or three more minutes to expand the scene and add a bit more closure would have made it a powerhouse of an ending. That's all it would have taken. But now that potential is lost, and what should have been a masterpiece of an ending is just a rushed mess, instead. I hate it when that happens.
Likewise, many of the side characters either get shoved into the fridge or get shoved on-screen for a few moments before being swiftly forgotten. Once again, a few more minutes to give us some insight into these characters (because I'm pretending this is my first exposure to the franchise, as it was to most audiences) would have been greatly helpful to make them feel more like family. You know, that thing this film is about? Bah. More wasted potential.
There's also this weird tendency for the film's many still shots (which are quite lovely, by the way) to randomly zoom or spin around, and it can be tricky to sit through if you're the type who gets dizzy or motion-sick real easily. It just feels like whoever was lining up the cels to be animated got bored and played with the zoom and rotate options a bit too much. It's not a big deal, but it's a huge distraction at times.
Finally, I know some changes had to be made to the story in order to make the transition to film possible--hell, I even liked the new dream sequences, despite that largely being an invention of the movie--but there are a few that just feel wrong, almost on a fundamental level. Kouko having a different personality and knowing martial arts, for example. That's just bizarre. But by far the most unforgivable betrayal to fans of Clannad is making Sanae a good cook. Okay, that's a bit of exaggeration on my part, but when it came up, it was distracting as hell. This whole paragraph is largely just a nitpick, but if you're already a fan of the franchise, just be aware that some changes will catch you off guard (and, because of it, there will be no scenes of Akio shoving Sanae's awful bread into his mouth and shouting "I LOVE YOUR COOKING, SANAE, COME BACK!!" in comedic fashion, much to all of our dismay).
In the end, while the Clannad TV series may be the definitive adaptation, dismissing Clannad: The Motion Picture comes across as a bit unfair. It makes some big changes and most fans don't consider it as part of the canon, but that doesn't make it bad--rather, on its own merits, it's a decent film that does extract an emotional response from the viewer. Just know that the TV series is better in advance.
Final Score: 6.5 out of 10. Though its vibrant visuals and well-developed leads are weighted down by a rushed ending and neglected side characters, Clannad: The Motion Picture is still worth a look for those interested in exploring the franchise.