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.
Tomoya Okazaki is a third-year high school student who is generally bored with life and doesn't take his studies, future, or anything else seriously. One day, however, he meets a lonely-looking girl in the school courtyard, Nagisa Furukawa. She explains to him the source of her loneliness: she had missed a lot of the previous school year and thus is repeating her third year; everybody that she knew has already graduated, and she is lonely. Tomoya is rather indifferent at first, but decides that he has nothing better to do and spends increasingly more time helping Nagisa restore the school drama club. As his relationship with Nagisa grows, Tomoya begins to open up to various other people around the school as well...
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!