Get up, go to school, go home- day in, day out, this is the sum of Okazaki Tomoya’s existence, a dull routine broken only by the occasional practical joke. But when he meets Furukawa Nagisa, a senior who has to repeat a year due to illness, everything slowly changes. Despite the hurdles in her way, Nagisa is determined to revive the defunct Theatre Club, and despite his stated indifference to it all, Tomoya finds herself slowly drawn into her life and goals.
Take Kyoto Animation, have them adapt a Key visual novel, and you can be sure that hype and attention will follow. And, truth be told, even I let myself be caught up in it a little- I may not have got on well with Kanon, but after reading Hinano’s spoiler post for the game, it seemed as if there was plenty of good material to make this a hit. Unfortunately, what we got, whilst mildly enjoyable, was nowhere near as worthy as the likes of my beloved Air.
As with its predecessors, Clannad had several girls to get through throughout the course of the series, and it was in fulfilling this key need that the series faltered. After coming under criticism for treating each girl separately in Kanon, KyoAni tried to mesh together the various storylines, but what they ultimately ended up with a badly paced and even slightly messy mishmash of themes that turned off more viewers than it satisfied.
First up to receive attention was Fuuko, the obligatory underdeveloped high schooler who is committed to giving out wooden starfish as invites for her sister’s wedding. There’s just one problem- Fuuko has actually been unconscious in the hospital for the last two years, her sister has postponed the wedding, and the Fuuko we see is just a projection of her spirit. Sadly, even though I actually quite liked Fuuko when I started reading the manga, the anime took all that away- not only was her story too much like Ayu’s for me to care, but any poignancy it might have had was effectively erased by Fuuko’s ‘comic’ cameos after she was supposed to have disappeared forever.
Next on the harem list was Kotomi, a genius who spent most of her time in the library cutting up books and shying away from human contact. Naturally, Kotomi’s quiet façade and normal (for an anime character) behaviour concealed some darker secrets relating to her past. Several years previously, Kotomi’s parents discovered some kind of theory of everything which related to describing the world in terms of invisible, vibrating harps (I assume they were talking about atomic, nuclear or spin resonance as the whole “microscopic harp” theory of reality has yet to catch on in scientific circles), only to die in a plane crash, apparently taking the theory with them. From then on, Kotomi has lived in fear of a generic man who keeps coming after her for screentime, even going so far as to burn what she believed to be a copy of the theory that was left in her father’s study.
As it turns out, the burnt document was just a letter from her parents, and all generic evil man wanted to do was given Kotomi a teddy bear her parents had bought for her (rather sadly, she only asked for a teddy bear because she thought that’s what kids should want). As if that wasn’t enough tragic backstory, her one and only childhood friend was Tomoya, who once tried and failed to get anyone to come to her party- just stop it, I can’t take any more misery!
Having spent so many episodes on Fuuko and Kotomi’s respective plights, the series had no choice but to switch from one extreme to another in terms of pacing, with the next section of the series not being a particular girl’s arc, but more of a “miscellaneous others” section. Nagisa was sent away for an episode or so due to illness, whilst Tomoyo, Kyou and Ryou all have quick moments in spotlight- Tomoyo runs for student body president, Ryou gets ‘just good friends’ compatibility and Kyou bursts out crying because she hasn’t had enough screen time. As laboured and drawn out as the earlier episodes are, these events happen too quickly for us to really care.
Eventually, however, all other girls have been dealt with in one way or another, and the time has come to focus on the destined relationship- Tomoya X Nagisa. After many trials and tribulations, as well as a three-on-three baseball match, the Theatre Club is finally good to go, and the first order of business is to put on a play. Unfortunately, having waited so long to see some action between the one couple I was really supporting in the series, the actual specifics of the play weren’t of particular interest to me, and even tragic past revelations couldn’t do much (“oh no, we must hide our past from Nagisa so that she will be even more upset when she abruptly finds out we changed our careers to be with her”). What I really wanted was a developing relationship between the two lead, but what we got was rather watered down and tame- all the good (if most likely depressing) stuff has been saved for the After Story anime.
The girls aside, all too often it is the harem lead who can make or break a series, so what of Tomoya- is he a worthy Yukito, or a hated Yuuichi? As it turns out, despite being laid back, apathetic and something of a practical joker, Tomoya is actually far more likable than I expected, perhaps because his slightly evil sense of humour matches my own. The title of favourite characters, however, must surely go to Nagisa’s parents Akio and Sanae, who despite being one-joke personalities, always manage to bring a smile to the face with their sheer enthusiasm.
As expected from KyoAni, the animation is up to its usual high standard, with the distinctive ‘soft and detailed’ look given to all Key adaptations; there’s certainly plenty of eye candy for both character design and background image fans, even if the fans became irate at having to wait a couple of extra weeks after the initial airing for the proper widescreen versions of each episode. Music is the usual “easy on the ears but not really meant to be listened to on its own” visual novel style themes, with the OP becoming increasingly catchy as the series progresses, and the ED being reserved for dango enthusiasts only.
Although it was mildly entertaining and more appealing to me than Kanon, ultimately Clannad shot itself in the foot with its inconsistent pacing, uneven focus and generic back stories overfilled with sadness. Far from being the legendary series I once hoped it would be, it was merely another average series that only stands out from the crowd by virtue of having the names Key and KyoAni attached to it.