Kanon vs. Air: why I loved one and not the other

Is this image even necessary? Not really, but since a picture is supposedly worth a thousand words, it effectively doubles the length of my article.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to rave about Air, but since I didn’t really think I could turn it into a coherent blog post, I had to leave that idea on the backburner. Then, more recently, I decided to review Kanon (old) and rant about Kanon (new), but neither of those seemed quite worthy of their own post either. The solution- combine all three into one article and pretend that’s how you meant to do it in the first place. Thus I present “Kanon vs. Air”, an attempt to explain why I enjoyed Air so much and yet couldn’t reproduce the effect with Kanon (bear in mind that I haven’t played either of the games so I can’t comment on how the anime series compare to the original material).

In principle, Air and Kanon should come as a combined set; both series are based on Key H-games in which a young man arrives in a town filled with girls and proceeds to have sex with them uncover their secrets and background as he gets to know them better. With so many similarities between the two series, it almost seems impossible to love one whilst not thinking highly of the other, but perhaps that just goes to show that even the most obvious of assumptions can be incorrect.

Right from the start, Air had me ensnared; the beautiful character designs and hauntingly powerful opening theme drew me in even before I realised that the series had a strong story to back up the exceptional presentation. Here was a world so aesthetically pleasing that each episode was a feast for the eyes, whilst the soundtrack encompassed a range of gentle and melancholy themes beyond the usual run of looping visual novel filler.

It wasn’t just about visceral qualities, however, for behind its fair façade, Air had more than enough substance to accompany its style. Despite only having twelve episodes in which to convey as much of the story as it could manage (recap episode thirteen is hardly worth mentioning), Air did an admirable job of animating the game’s three arcs; yes, there were questions left unanswered and stories left untold, but the series could hardly be accused of meandering or dragging its heels at any point.

At the heart of the series is male lead Yukito, a traveller who makes his money by putting on a show with a puppet he can bring to life. Far from being the typical irritating harem lead whose only concern is conquering as many girls as possible, Yukito is a likable character whose life becomes entangled with the female protagonists not through harem building, but by the more natural process of settling down in a new town. It may not be perfect, but the progression of events is oddly addictive from start to finish, not least because of the three arc approach.

The series begins with the Dream Arc, a tale similar in structure to Kanon in which Yukito meets various girls and discovers the often tragic secrets that they carry. Unlike Kanon, however, Air restricts both the amount of girls and the level of tragedy which it shoehorns into their lives, making for a compelling and poignant tale.

In a slightly unusual move for a series (although in keeping with the original game), the next arc (Summer) takes place several centuries in the past, telling the tale of the previous incarnations of some of the present characters. Although this does break up the flow of the series a little, it also presents an interesting change of pace that prevents the story from becoming stale.

Rounding out the trio, the final arc (Air) takes us back to the present, and concentrates solely on Misuzu. Where Kanon is a checklist of one girl after another, the tight focus on one character in this arc allows for a far more developed story that provokes far more emotion than the most heart-rending part of Kanon can even hope to manage.

Naturally, no mention of Air would be complete without the finishing touch that brings everything together- the mascot. Furry and fluffy animals have long been the highlight of many series (and in the case of Mai-Otome and Stratos 4, quite possibly the only reason to watch them in the first place), and Air manages to deliver even on this front with cute dog Potato. A minor point, perhaps, but perhaps the icing on the cake for a series filled with strengths.

Kanon (2002)
Compared to Air, the first incarnation of the Kanon was clearly at a disadvantage when it came to looks, but as the senior of its sister series, there was still the possibility that it held a raw brilliance that would justify its dedicated following. Unfortunately, as the series progressed, it seemed as if Kanon owed its fan base more to the game’s sex scenes than to any discernible merit.

To be fair, at first the series appeared to be entertaining enough; at no point did it have the oddly addictive quality of Air, but neither was there anything seriously wrong with it. Yuuichi was a rather more average and uninspiring lead than Yukito, and there were perhaps a few too many girls to keep track of, but nonetheless, the first few episodes seemed as good a way as any to pass the time.

Unfortunately, as the series progressed, its charm wore off. Where the drama of Air had been touching and poignant, Kanon was more a case of going too far. Each and every girl had some kind of tragic back story, more often than not linked to the events of Yuuichi’s previous visit to the town some seven years earlier. After an episode or two highlighting the problems in their life, Yuuichi’s magical main character powers would kick in, and in an “oh by the way, this is how it is” style scene or flashback, he could almost invariably make things right again. At any point where this was inevitable, his failure would be heralded by the ultimate in cheese, a “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” style calling out of the girl’s name.

Amidst all the drama, Kanon did have a handful of moments when the drama hit home, but as if to compensate for these, there were an equal number of plot contrivances. Finding yourself moved by Ayu’s situation was no guarantee that you wouldn’t end up laughing when a convenient and previously unmentioned character randomly shows up to explain the truth behind Makoto’s past. Of course, by that point in the story, you may have simply been pushed over the edge into apathy by yet another tragic tale of doom and gloom.

Kanon (2006)
When I first started watching the new series of Kanon, the prevailing opinion seemed to be that if I hadn’t watched the original, I should give it a miss and just enjoy the inevitable greatness that the KyoAni version would bring. With that in mind, I approached the series with no small amount of anticipation, but when it proved unable to deliver I was forced to turn to the 2002 version anyway, just to get to the dramatic part.

At almost twice the length of the original, it was clear that Kanon-new was going to have to take things at a more measured pace than its predecessor, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing- after all, it would give more time for character and story development. Unfortunately, however, it seemed that KyoAni had their own ideas of how the characters should be, and the changes they made were not always positive ones.

Never a particularly noteworthy character at the best of times, it was Yuuichi who would face the worst alterations; backed by the VA who brought Kyon to life in Haruhi Suzumiya, Kanon’s lead was about to reach new lows. Now armed with an almost cruel sense of sarcasm, Yuuichi became an arrogant and dominating personality, constantly teasing and browbeating the girls around him as if they existed for no other purpose than to become subservient members of his private harem. Poor Makoto got the worst of it as Yuuichi continually ‘disciplined’ her for attempting to play pranks against him, but in time he came to expand his influence, using his domination tactics on Ayu even as he tried to prise open the legs of the other girls.

That being said, the girls can hardly be said to be inspiring cast members either. There’s Makoto, the prank-player who says ‘auu~’; Nayuki, who spends most of her time half-asleep; Ayu, the loli-moe component who overuses ‘uguu~’ to the point of annoyance; strong but silent Mai; friendly Sayuri; sick girl Shiori, and ‘efficient best friend’ Kaori. Beyond these simple descriptions, the girls seem to have no additional substance, whilst older woman Akiko apparently exists solely for the purpose of aiding Yuuichi’s harem building efforts.

At the time of writing, Kanon-new still has almost three-quarters of the series left to air, and whilst it may seem a little harsh to come down on the series so early in its run, it nonetheless felt necessary. For a series that promised so much, the initial episodes have been generally disappointing, and whilst it is not impossible, it seems highly unlikely that the rest of the series can recover from this shaky start.

Final Thoughts
Where Air struck the balance almost perfectly, Kanon ends up so drenched in drama that it becomes hard to care. Whilst I will always regard one with fondness in spite of its flaws, the other simply couldn’t live up to the hype that accompanied it.

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14 Responses to Kanon vs. Air: why I loved one and not the other

  1. kacpy says:

    I’ve not seen the original Kanon and I’m not enjoying the new Kanon too much so far, but I’m stil giving it a go.

    I think what had me hooked in AIR was:
    * episode 1: animation, chara-designs, style, Poteto.
    * episode 2: wtf? why’s she choking him? – this scene was pure perfection with the music and art. I couldn’t stop watching the show ever since that scene.

    AIR had mystery right from the opening episodes (and not just one case) and a much more interesting pre-opening monologue. Kanon is slowly…. slowly… slowly… developing something… but god knows what…

    AIR also had WAYYYYYYYYY better episode endings, like the already mentioned choking sequence. Even though that scene ended already before the OP sequence in the next episode, the cliffhanger worked fabulously. Now take a look at Kanon, let’s say episode 2 – Mokoto appears, and that’s when they should’ve ended the episode, not after she faints. Weak.

    The girls… well… Misuzu owns them all.

    And then we have Yuuichi and Yukito… no brainer choice on who’s the better character (in case you didn’t know: Yukito :P).

    I do hope Kanon develops into something that the hype keeps suggesting, but so far its quite boring…

  2. dsong says:

    Air was immediately more mysterious and intriguing at the start; we immediately see the the loneliness and despair in Yukito as he strives to find a purpose in life. It’s easier to sympathesize with Mizusu as well, as we learn that she has a mental illness and a mother who doesn’t seem to care much about her…

    In Kanon 2006 we don’t get the necessary character development and background, though KyoAni burned 6 episodes for that purpose. We do learn things about the characters, but there is little depth – AIR manages to cover a lot more ground in 2-3 episodes than Kanon 2006 does in 6.

    I’d have to say that the Kanon manga is “Kanon done right”. There, each girl immediately develops distinctive personalities, and we learn more about them as we go through each arc. And the girls’ appearances are done within the flow of the story. Kanon 2006… has no flow.

  3. omo says:

    I think in essence Air and Kanon are radically different. The similarities are really just superficial.

  4. kacpy says:

    I don’t think anyone said they were smiliar (or maybe I missed it in the text). They (Air and new Kanon) are just both games and animes from the same people.

    I think about this post as a sort-of rant against the hype that surrounds Kanon and I totally support it at this stage. I don’t see why ANYONE who doesn’t know the whole story would be as super excited as many people seem to be.

    Then again… I’m loving Red Garden which not many people seem to be enjoying… maybe I just don’t know what’s good. 😉

  5. Karura says:

    omo, my point was really the same as yours; you look at the basic descriptions of Kanon and Air (as I said in the second paragraph) and you think “these look similar, if I like one I should like the other”, but then the whole point of the article is to say that actually that isn’t the case (and, as kacpy says, to rant a little about how Kanon doesn’t really live up to the hype after all).

    kacpy, dsong, in some ways you’ve summed up my feelings better than I was able to. I’ll have to give the Kanon manga a try sometime (although I understand there’s several different versions).

  6. Retsgip says:

    Very nicely written piece here. I too was considering going back to the 2002 version just to find out the story without all the new shit. In the end I decided to just give it a chance and not ruin the story, which could possibly ruin the story for me (weird?). Right now I’m keeping my mouth shut after my thoughts on yuiichi, but I’m still honing my weapons for mass destruction of this anime.

    Be strong brother. Be strong. I’m proud of you for going against the grain so adamantly, especially on an anime so highly approved of. If I could write like you I’d help you out more ;p

  7. Tallon says:

    This is why i just bought both games years ago! I win. Anyway, as for the animated ones i like the original Kanon the best even though it is pretty damn ugly. Then Air, then new Kanon. New Kanon is only good cuz it sticks to the game more…other then that, its just trying too hard to rely on ‘im pretty so im good’.

    And Akiko is win.

  8. Danny says:

    Argh Air brings back so many sad memories…I can’t believe all the main characters died! TT_TT yet I still thoroughly enjoyed that show. However, I have to say I’m enjoying the 2006 version of Kanon more than Air.

  9. Anga says:

    I don’t have anything to add to this post and comments so I just say that Potato is awesome. =)

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  11. omo says:

    Karura: Well, my point is probably different than yours even if I may be saying the same thing. You could read it the same way that you’re trying to get across, but I think the two should be compared not as is, but as franchises. The similarities are superficial, but it sets up to explain why they are different. I think until you go that far, it’s just someone saying “I like Air and I don’t like Kanon.”

    Which is fine, if that’s ALL you are saying.

  12. Karura says:

    Well, I guess we aren’t making the same point since I don’t really understand about 60% of your above comment, but what I was getting at is this
    – Kanon and Air are from the same people, and the basic premise is similar. It isn’t uncommon to be a fan of one artist/creator/studio and have expectations for their work based on what you’ve already been exposed to.
    – That being said, I really enjoyed Air but I dislike Kanon enough to want to rant about it (despite all the “you’ll love this, it’s better than Air” hype that I heard)
    -With that in mind, I wanted to try to figure out (in this article) what it was that Air that made me like it so much, and what Kanon did differently that meant my opinion of it was so very different. Clearly my analysis is centred on my enjoyment and not on any more objective factors, but at the end of the day I wanted to write about I felt, and as I said in the first paragraph it made more sense to me to combine these three topics than have three very short blog posts about Air, Kanon 2002 and Kanon 2006.

    Everyone else, thanks for your comments, and Anga, I think you make the most relevant point of all- Potato is truly great.

  13. kacpy says:

    OK… so… I just wanted to say NO to fox-girls. Thank you.

    And so the hype around Kanon keeps being a big mystery to me…

  14. Reika says:

    I agree with Omo, but don’t take words to heart. You guys are reading way too much into this. Please don’t judge Kanon 2006 yet, mainly because it’s not even done subbing for you guys.

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