July 14, 2009
Clannad is best examined in reference to Kanon (reviewed here). It's pretty much the same, only different. Which is to say it's very much worth watching. Good, not great, though there are many moments of greatness. The better the idea, the more it should be ripped off. The world hasn't run out of worthy homages to Pride and Prejudice.
As with Kanon and Air, the story and character design were created by software developer Key Visual Arts. The anime version was produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Tatsuya Ishihara and written by Fumihiko Shimo. This team has a good thing going. I hope they keep at it.
Clannad, like Kanon, is on the surface a high school harem melodrama with a wise-guy male lead (Tomoya Okazaki, voiced by Yuichi Nakamura), surrounded by a bunch of eccentric, troubled girls. But while Kanon starts out with a story derived from traditional folklore, Clannad begins as a theater of the absurd.
Tomoya sets out help Nagisa join the drama club. The drama club was shut down for lack of interest. They can start it up again if they can attract a quorum of members. But they can't officially recruit because it's not a club. And nobody wants to join because nobody's interested in joining what's-not-a-club. That sort of thing.
The comic relief is broader. The repartee between Tomoya and Fuko is fall-down funny (though the patter can be tough to follow even with subtitles).
We also find out about everybody's "after school special" problems much earlier. This makes Clannad more by-the-numbers, less dramatically complex than Kanon. Rather than weaving several stories together, the narratives follow one after the other in an episodic fashion, almost independent of each other.
The story arcs thus tend to hang separately than together, and never quite surmount the first featuring Fuko (or address the implicit magical realism). The writer seems to have realized this and has Fuko popping up randomly throughout the series doing a "magical girl" parody that though funny, only serves to remind how much she is missed.
Anybody who's seen Cipher in the Snow will recognize the same theme in the Fuko arc. Both Clannad and Kanon deal seriously with the weight of memory and loss and the burden of guilt--and about disparate people uniting in a common cause largely despite themselves.
The concluding arc featuring Nagisa tries to tie up the lose ends, but raises more questions than it settles--about Nagisa's parents, about the relationship between Tomoya and his father, about the metaphorical significance of the poignant "lonely robot" vignettes--and doesn't quite deliver on the original promise.
If anything, Clannad is cursed by an abundance of good ideas and the inability to choose the right ones to follow through on.
Which is perhaps why, far and away, the best-written episode is a stand-alone short story tagged onto the very end (it expands upon a secondary character and conflict raised during the series). Rather than focusing on group dynamics, it's about two individuals coming to terms with each other and their place in the world.
Essentially, a high school senior slacking his way through life realizes he's not half the man his girlfriend thinks he is and finally grows the heck up. In only twenty minutes, the story comes to a well-crafted conclusion and a satisfying moral point but without a hint of moralizing. It is a superbly directed and edited short animated film.
Although Clannad takes a more meandering and uneven path than Kanon, and the whole doesn't always exceed the sum of the parts, it does begin and end on two very high notes.
Dying for art
Clannad: After Story