Since my first experience with Air some three years ago, I've found myself continually impressed with Kyoto Animation's visual novel adaptations. Though their works all retain the basic harem elements of their source material by means of large female casts, the studio has proved, yet again, that a great anime does not need to be guided by them. At its core Clannad is only superficially a harem, as its touching romance, solid drama, and clean humor all distance it from the genre norm.
In many ways, Clannad follows a structure very similar to Kanon (2006), so fans of the its predecessor (myself included) will likely feel right at home in its first episodes. Indeed, Fuko's arc bears an enormous number of similarities to Makoto's arc, down to even episode count, and the only real difference comes with its tradeoff of a bit of drama for more humor. This certainly is no detriment, as both arcs prove quite enjoyable, but it inaccurately portrays Clannad as a mere rehashing of the same plot with different characters. As soon as Fuko's arc closes, the series spins off in a different overall direction, emphasizing the romantic developments between Okazaki and Nagisa instead of drawing out different dramatic arcs with different girls. It still touches upon many of the girls' in a minor context, but ultimately it uses them to direct the central romance as the series' staple point. This methodology works a bit better in my opinion, as it allows for stronger bonding between the main characters while still incorporating all the girls and the full side cast to great effect.
In this manner, Clannad establishes itself as a worthy successor in Kyoto Animation's line of work, and certainly avoids merely dwelling in Kanon (2006)'s shadow. Its narrower focus along with its heavier romantic undertones give it its own unique flare, which makes it satisfying in its own right. The series balances its charming and dramatic airs in a way that, overall, gives it a more lighthearted appeal than its predecessor; combined with a general lack of magical surrealism, I think this works wonders if harmonizing all its different elements to work well together. Being that it also incorporates a solid and satisfying ending, I can't find any major flukes with its pacing - it sets out to be a fun series with a tinge of drama on the side, and it certainly succeeds.
Of all the sections in this review, this is probably the hardest to write about. Kyoto Animation continues to lead the industry with its gorgeous visuals, and their work has very notably inspired an upward trend in overall quality. Character designs are splendid and vividly detailed as usual which, combined with exquisite backgrounds and scenery, make for some of the best animation short of Miyazaki. Though it lacks a bit of realism by sticking true to the visual novel designs, by no means is this really a fault, as everything looks amazing regardless. Simply put, for those familiar with any of the studio's previous works, expect a continuation of the trend that doesn't disappoint.
If there's one thing that impresses me as much as Kyoto Animation's consistent visual brilliance, it would have to be their ability to compliment it with perfect musical and audio scores. Clannad's basketball match in its latter half is exemplary proof, as it leaves no stone unturned; it's lavish with detail, covering everything from the dribbling of the ball to Sunohara yelling "nice shot!" in the background. In addition, the voice actors capture the emotion and enthusiasm of the characters with great finesse, which plays perfectly with the energetic background music.
And, in essence, this same level of intrigue and mastery is present throughout. On its own the Clannad soundtrack showcases a large number of, simply put, beautiful tracks, so this certainly provides for one of the series' greatest merits. All in all Clannad is an audible treat, and given the top-notch voice acting, it's nothing short of impressive.
Personally, I'd say Clannad's cast is the best yet of the Kyoto Animation lineups. Though it may just be a result of me liking this particular group more than the others, I think the high level of interplay and symbiosis the characters share with one another supports this claim. Okazaki and Nagisa's budding romance is easily one of my favorites in quite some time, as its simple charm and innocence makes for a most endearing watch. This stems largely from its brilliant pacing, as it builds up slowly but resolutely, keeping true to the their individual, and generally romantically reserved, personalities. As a result, the end of the series proves enormously heartwarming, and even now it still surfaces a smile or two every time it comes to mind.
Yet, as engaging as the Okazaki-Nagisa romance is, it definitely doesn't stand alone in terms of quality. Sunohara, Okazaki's close friend, is probably one of the best male sidekicks in the genre, as I found myself chuckling with just about all of his appearances throughout. His amusing antics never get old, and serve as a great tool in constantly keeping the series fresh and entertaining. Furthermore, Nagisa's parents also fill a similar role, and are especially likeable given the tactful balance of their comedic and dramatic roles in Clannad's latter half.
As I mentioned briefly before, where Clannad does stray substantially from the harem norms, though, is with its lack of a large assortment of arcs devoted to specific girls. In essence, it has only two major arcs (three if Kotomi's is included, but it's very brief), and instead incorporates most of the girls as subplots in Nagisa's arc. Though this somewhat limits their individual growth, none of the girls seem shunned or undeveloped at the end, so I think it was a wise decision for the writers to make.
It took me about half a day to decide, but ultimately I think Clannad deserves an 8.0 and not the 7.5 I originally intended for it. Nagisa's arc is undeniably great, and while I don't consider Fuko's arc to quite break that threshold, it comes close enough for me to merit the bump up; I know many people who thought it to be the superior arc, actually. Regardless, Clannad's masterful mixing of drama, comedy, and romance make it a most charming watch if I've ever seen one, and I have no reservations in giving it a strong recommendation to fans of any of those three genres.
The success of Kyoto Animation and Key's last collaboration, Kanon (2006), has brought about the fourth adaptation of a Key game: Clannad. Being the fourth Key game to be adapted (and KyoAni's third) means the pressure is on for this to scale the heights reached by Air and Kanon before it.
So, does it achieve this? The difficulty I had with Clannad is that the series found it hard to step out of the shadows of its predecessor Kanon (2006). The first few episodes almost felt like a continuation, to the point where Okazaki's scenes with Nagisa reminded me largely of Yuuichi and Shiori, but luckily, complex character motivations and some good character progression managed to drag me out of this perception. Nagisa's ambition of performing a play at the school festival becomes central to the plot, and it's actually the character development in these situations that become the focal point of the series.
What surprised me most when I reached the end of the series, though, is the noticeable lack of magical realism, which is generally present in most Key titles. While Kanon relies on it heavily, Clannad plays out much more like a high school drama, and in this area, it excels. It flirts with harem clichés but never crosses the line into being stagnant, and the comedy helps the series along nicely. The dramatic scenes are very touching at times, and the episode where the play is finally performed is one of those classic episodes that makes you hold your breath all the way through (though I found the resolution a little over-the-top).
My major problem, however, is with the ending. While the preview at the end of the series promises an "after-story" (an excuse for a second season), there are a lot of plot points that just aren't addressed. Several characters are left largely unresolved and the dreamlike sequence involving the girl alone in a world that has ended never appears to have a motive, remaining an enigma, even when the series ends. The series itself also seems a bit scattered - the Fuuko storyline is a strong one, but after it finishes, the series seems to lose its purposeful drive (which isn't a bad thing, merely somewhat offputting).
What can I say about KyoAni animation that hasn't already been said a million times? While not having as many awe-inspiring landscapes as Air (the school setting is a rather limited one), Clannad still manages to impress with memorable character designs as well as rich colour tones, especially in Kotomi's arc, which deals with a number of night-time scenes. KyoAni is still, in my opinion, the most consistent art studio working at the moment. Fortunately, they never appear to suffer from the budget problems that plague other studios' series.
One word: Dango. This recurring theme is impressively interwoven by KyoAni, with the subtle idea of having the Dango song that Nagisa loves so much as the ending theme -- meaning that the viewer is already aware of it before it becomes an important character motivation.
The seiyuus are of top quality too. Each emotion is expressed with accuracy and conviction, and in particular, Nagisa's seiyuu stays away from the "annoying" label that plagues previous Key heroines. The seiyuu for the other characters are also memorable, in particular Fuuko and Sunohara.
The only thing that lets Clannad's sound rating down, is the opening theme, which is frankly uninspiring and in an unnatural-sounding key, with the singer not having a strong enough voice to make the song work.
As with any Key adaptation, Clannad has a huge supporting cast. Each character that has a plot devoted to them seems to spawn several other characters (an example would be Fuuko's storyline where we meet a classmate of hers, her sister and her sister's fiancé), and it's actually a good thing that only a couple of characters have their own arcs, otherwise we'd be looking at a mind-boggling amount of characters.
As it is, the number of characters is just bearable, with some receiving a lot more screentime than others. Nagisa is my particular favourite (which is rare for a central heroine in a Key adaptation) as she seems the most rounded figure -- though, I found it slightly odd that her weak disposition isn't mentioned after the first few episodes when it seemed like a major plot point (after all, she's repeating a year because of it).
Other memorable characters are Fuuko who is much too cute to be true, Nagisa's parents, and Sunohara who provides most of the comedy in the series and is one of the best KyoAni characters since Kyon in The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. Unfortunately, Okazaki falls into being a Yuuichi-clone at times (from Kanon), while some characters are never fulfilled, like Tomoyo and Kyo.
This leads to a haphazard amount of character development. The development between Nagisa and Okazaki is fantastic, drama-inducing stuff, and one of the best budding romance situations I've seen in anime, but beyond that, the other characters can be hit-and-miss. I personally liked how, after Kotomi's arc, the supporting cast became more focussed on one goal, rather than slipping into the background as usually happens in Key series. Even Fuuko reappears in cameo appearances after her arc has finished, which adds an extra element of comedy.
However, as I've said, some characters aren't developed at all, and seem to be removed from the plot to a large extent, leading to fans of particular girls becoming very frustrated with the direction of the series. Unfortunately, this is exaggerated by fewer arcs in Clannad; which means that, while in other Key adaptations, each character is largely focussed on to the same extent because they have their own arcs -- in Clannad, characters become overlooked and the equivalent of background noise.
Clannad is definitely a worthwhile addition to the KyoAni-Key canon and even though it has a relatively unsatisfying ending, with a number of points left completely unexplained, it's an enjoyable series to watch through. I recommend it for any fans of KyoAni's previous works, and anyone who wants to see how a high school anime should be done (Screw School Days and it's overhyped violence nonsense). Both dramatic and comedic at the same time, Clannad's step away from the magical scenery of its predecessors is a welcome one that will probably gain it more fans.
Clannad is a cheap bunch of simple tricks in order to emotionally manipulate the viewer. It doesn't try for a second to be subtle about... wait a minute... *sob* it's just... the onions I'm cutting... *sob*. OK damn it, it frickin' works, all right?! I admit it. I said it. Yes, I know what it is doing and it still manages to do it all the same.
This is a touching anime that would move the heart of a skeleton. Clannad does it without resorting to character deaths, kisses, or betrayals. It does it with clean, simple, elegant drama. It is character driven, and the characters hold everything on their shoulders with ease and comedic lack of grace. Oh yeah, what really makes the show stand out is the humor.
I may have stated at times that I dislike school life / harem combinations. And by dislike, I mean deep rooted loathing with an extra serving of spite. And yet, the is a careful dance between humor and drama as the tone evolves throughout the series is just impressive. This is masterfully executed, giving extra emotional punch to Clannad where other shows fall flat. The visual themes and gags are just a bonus. There are multiple arcs for multiple characters, and perhaps the second one is the weakest of the bunch, but it still fits well with the tone of the series.
Sometimes there is just a need to gush a bit. Clannad is one of the strongest shows that dares to attempt depth in a school life / harem / romance combination. The drama is strong, if at times simplistic and building on cliche backstories. The forcefully angsty tales of some of the characters aren't that annoying, and the way those backstories shaped their personalities isn't understated nor overstated. While the show doesn't break new grounds, it executes what it tries extremely well.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Some people have stated to me that Clannad is perhaps the single most overrated show of all times. I beg to differ. The choice of topics may not be everyone's cup of tea, and it isn't mine either. But from a strict writing perspective, the technical level is well above the norm for anime. The juggling of light hearted and serious tones, evolving from sharp contrasts to the themes melding together is done with subtle maturity one wouldn't expect to something with "harem" as a descriptor.
While the story is built upon cliches of character driven anime (from teens with angsty backstories, all the girls love the male protagonist who happens to be just a normal guy, et cetera), it is structured carefully and manages a superb balance. At no point does the bounce between depth and sillyness seem forced, and the characters manage to hold it up very well. Most stories focused on teens fall into one of two categories: where the teens are loathesome caricatures of adults, or where anyone can identify with them. While most are the former, Clannad is definitely the latter.
This brings us to the cast. First, extra points for making the bumbing sidekicks (male, girl from the first arc) not annoying but actually charming and fun. The cast manages to be well balanced, each character gets at least some depth through diverse means: interaction, exposition, development, or backstory. And more than that, not one of the characters made me hate them. Also, any combination of any two characters has the potential for both humor and drama, which is a sign of extremely well crafted character writing.
A character driven story is measured by how much the viewer feels for the characters at the end. As such, it is a resounding success... which is nearly unheard of in a semi-harem story. Also, extra credit for the protagonist not being a tsundere's whipping dog but actually having a spine. There are some lines which are extremely touching and it is hard for me not to quote some of the subtly tragic ones. Clannad's The writing manages to be stronger than the sum of its parts, and that is a rare thing indeed.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Whereas most character driven shows with the school life / harem discriptors to them have animation that is barely workable or average. Clannad is obviously outside the mold. The artwork makes the inept sidekicks both adorable and hilarious, and brings loads of life to the writing. There are minor technical issues, but overall the artwork manages to be excellent.
The animation is wonderful. There are very few issues, and the visual themes and gags (stars for spacing out, street fighter animation for kicks combo/count, etc) are downright brilliantly used. There are moments where the dialogue is used an excuse for keeping a scene static, but it isn't usually a noticeable problem. More than making up for these issues are the snappy character designs, bright and clean palette, and intelligent backgrounds - all which match up to the writing style. Overall the animation is not just excellent, it is in the top tier.
I'll get this out of the way fast: Dango Daikozoku is the best ending theme in anime history. The rest of the soundtrack is good and is used aggressively enough to set the mood rather than just get pushed into obscurity. The sound effects are cleverly used to add just the right amount of punch to the visual gags, and there is even some clever use of stereo positioning to add a lot. The voice acting is nearly without issue, which is a rarity for such a great cast... but is not flawless as some of the characters lack a very distinct voice. Still, with all issues, the audio is great and does a good job at bringing the animation and writing together.
Not only a foil to the writing, the artwork in Clannad actually adds to it. There is a distinct feel to the world, which is so desperately needed considering the dominance of school settings and teens. Elevating the humor from "funny" to "hilarious", giving each character their own personality through things other than script, the art pushes the show from "good" to "excellent". Nothing more could be asked.
Recommended to anyone and everyone who wants some character driven drama with a dose of humor. Don't expect it to get too dark, expect a load of fluff, and you'll have a memorable show ahead of you. Oh, and Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango diakozoku.
Story: This was probably the most boring anime I have ever seen ever. I couldn't get past 5 episodes of it when I tried to rewatch it, so I went on Wikipedia to see what happens and nothing happens in this entire anime. It's all dramatic, yet nothing worth being dramatic about happens. The attempts at humor throughout the anime aren't funny at all, either.
Animation: I don't really know a lot about animation but everyone's eyes were so huge and so far apart on their face made them look alien.
Sound: The opening song sucks, but everyone loves "Dango Daikazoku".
Characters: None of the characters are likeable or even distinguishable. The main character is annoying, his male best friend is even more annoying, and all of the girl characters are horrendous. Nagisa adds nothing to the series and she manages to make every problem in the story about her. And the "strong" female characters are boring.
Overall, a really terrible and boring anime. Only worth watching for "Dango Daizoku".
This was an anime that made me cry so much and the emotions that ran through me were so real. No other anime has managed to make me feel the way this anime did.
The storyline was unique and perfect and though some of the things in this anime aren’t really seen as realistic... you have to think... are you sure this isn’t happening in real life?!
The animation was fantastic and amazing and especially the points where the girl is kicking a certain boy all the way and the kick count is shown on the screen.
The sound is fantastic and the dubbed voice actors are very well done and suited for each character.
The characters are perfect and flawed at the same time which makes this whole thing so real and amazing. Not one of the characters has nothing wrong, or is in need of help. I love the fact that it shows that friendship is so important.
My overall opinion of this anime is it was perfect and amazing and I was so glad that my friend managed to get me to watch it.