Clannad. Made as a visual novel by Key, made into an anime by Kyoto Animation. This combination has been seen twice before, in the series Air and Kanon. Both are well-known among anime fans, and mostly positively received. And anyone who has watched either or both of the two previously mentioned will definitely have their expetations of what Clannad will offer. These expectiations will probably, in a way, be fulfilled; yet Clannad is certain to sweep you along and astound it with its gripping tale.
The story itself is set to a small Japanese town, and a select few inhabitants of that town. The first person to note is Okazaki Tomoya, a high school senior notorious at school for being a tardy delinquent; always late for classes, if he shows up at all, and he surely doesn't care for anything. And while that is true, he isn't the kind of person who goes looking for fights and has a foul mouth. The reason for his current life situation is a complex one, but can be summarized as such: He's simply bored. Of going to school. Classes. The town he lives in. His home and drunkard father.
That however, changes drastically one day, when walking to school. he hears a girl mutter the word 'anpan' to herself. This draws on his curiosity, and before long, the two of them are talking to each other. The girl, Nagisa Furukawa, evidently mutters names of foods she likes, to give her the confidence to get through the day. She is currently repeating her senior year due to illness, and she has one thing she absolutely must do: Re-establish the school's drama club.
To do this she needs members. And before long herself and Tomoya are looking around the school for new members. And here the somewhat-standard harem cast is built up. The soon-to-be drama club members are for the most part girls, each with their distinct personality and quirks which probably aren't unknown to someone slightly experienced with this kind of anime.
The route it takes from here is, at its bones and skeleton, a standard visual novel approach. There are several story arcs covering various amounts of episodes; each arc focusing on a specific girl. Of course, this means that the girls have their problems and issues which they have to deal with. And our main characters do just that, by valiant effort to help their newfound friends. And a little bit of Dr. Phil mixed in. One of my pet peeves with this anime.
But from what we now know, it sounds like any other anime of this type. So what is it that sets Clannad apart from the rest, and elevates it above them?
The first answer would be the characters. Yes, they start out a bit cliché, in some ways, but that's not really a bad thing. Making totally original characters personality-wise nowadays isn't that easy after all. What Clannad does with the characters after their introduction, however, is amazing. Not only are their struggles portrayed excellently and grippingly, they develop into strong induvidials who are there for their friends, who can face the world and its hardships more openly.
The second answer lies in its themes. Here it completely blows everything else out of the water, because what the producers want to tell us through Clannad is realistic and believable what concerns both actual plot execution and message. What the characters do, I can belive. What they learn from their struggles, I can learn and take with me to real life. That's how strong Clannad's message is.
Mostly it's about family. What is a family? Who can be family? How important are bonds? What if you don't have proper family at home; only jerks with no right to call themselves your family? Clannad tells us that a family can be found anywhere; not only in our own home. The main characters of the show may just find their own little family together, as they work with the drama club.
A character which I think deserves extra mention is Sunohara. He is in many ways the comedic relief person; when you see him around you expect something funny to happen. Or well, at least that's what you're supposed to do. But Sunohara isn't just a blond, shallow klutz. At times he really shines through with his deep character, proving that he, too, can be a capable supporter among his friends.
As most would expect of Kyoto Animation, the animation budget is all but slim. One of the things which makes Clannad so lifelike is the animation itself, through sheer quality. Lucid, vivid and soft colours makes sure the eye is pleased through gentle contrasts and lifelike static and non-static objects on-screen, be that walls, characters, cityscapes or other such things. The detail level is exceptionally high, which again contributes to that feeling of the series being alive. Clothing, furniture, decorations, it's all there and looking truly neat. But what contributes most to this feeling of being alive lies in the character motions. Not only are they fluid and pleasant to watch, they're abundant. You've most likely watched a series only to find that the characters walk stiffly, and when they talk they remain static during the whole conversation, save for maybe one or two motions. In Clannad, they swing their arms to be dramatic and to prove their points. They aren't static when jsut standing upright speaking. They do things during conversations which ensures that they seem more like real humans standing there than 2d anime characters.
And what would a show be without its music? Just as the animation contributes to the series coming alive, the music does an outstanding job at amplifying the emotions portrayed. Many of the themes are dramatic, sad; this to reflect the overall sadness of Clannad. Yet there are other themes too which fit right in. The standard new day at school theme, some comedy-like themes, they are all there. And they are composed beautifully, making sure every mood swing and feeling sweeps your heart away, gripping at your innermost feelings of empathy and compasion for the characters. The opening theme, remixed from the game's counterpart, is a lovely upbeat theme mixing strings, a neat bass and percussion all mixed into an allegro which has interesting lyrics as the topping. The end theme is basically a metaphor for what goes on; the dango family representing Nagisa and the caring people around her. It is a very bittersweet tune, offering cuteness and melancholy all the same.
And parallelling all that happens is the story of a girl in a world that has ended. A strange, mysterious world, where she is alone. All alone, savefor a doll she built from scrap metal. What this symbolizes and means, you can watch for yourself. Though, this side-story's relevance to the main plot is not revealed properly before the second season.
All in all Clannad offered a very pleasant surprise to me; offering both enticing themes, a fresh plot and interesting, deep characters. Once during the season I also had to experience a tear making its way down my cheek. That's the kind of anime this is. If you haven't watched it, you should definitely give it a try.