Blurbs: CLANNAD (2007)
KyoAni adaptation of a Key visual novel; it’s par for the course for the studio that made Air and Kanon (the latter earned a grudging acceptance from me). A young delinquent, with a heart of gold, wastes away his senior year of high school. One day he bumps into a young woman named Nagisa and all of a sudden they’re changing each other’s lives.
As in Kanon, he meets other girls and he goes around listening to their problems, becoming their confidants, all the while pretending that he’s still a delinquent and not actually the most sensitive, understanding guy ever. At first, I thought I had a handle on what the structure would be. He meets one girl, learns her back story, and solves her emotional problems over the course of a few episodes (this structure, and it’s roots in erotic video games, made it hard for me to take Kanon all that seriously). For the first half of Clannad, that structure remains. But after a certain point, the strands combine, and instead of focusing solely on one character, the show juggles all the main characters at once, finally breaking free of that old tired formula. In Clannad’s latter half, the emotional high points are reached more organically, and don’t feel as manufactured or as crafted or constructed as they do when they’re treated as the lynchpins of an “arc.” In the latter half of the series (specifically post-Kotomi), the emotional scenes come off with a sense of discovery, not a sense of calculation (although that’s exactly what they are).
Clannad, on a pure plot level, is all about repressed traumas, broken families, unfulfilled dreams, unspoken emotions; our main character’s role in the show is about bringing those things out into the open. He’s the audience surrogate; we learn about the girls as he does. But even his role is complicated. At first, he is simply a conduit for our emotions. We wish to take care of Fuuko, or figure out why Kotomi freaked out. But, later on, he becomes a character in his own right, saddled with his own issues about trust, family, and forgiveness. And it is here that the show truly shines: slowly but surely Tomoya builds his own life for himself, outside of his shitty relationship with his dad, outside of his so-called delinquent status, something new that he has created. He has found people who can understand him – warts and all.
Note: None of which would’ve mattered at all if the music hadn’t been there to save the day. The series MVP, by far, is the soundtrack. It’s always there to paper over any scene that’s missing some pathos (tinkling piano keys, moody synthy orchestras, etc.) It’s been a while since I’ve seen so much of the emotional heavy lifting being done by the score (I have lots of pieces on constant replay right now). This is not to discount the grand command that Tatsuya Ishihara, the series director, has over the visual language of this particular kind of melodrama, only to suggest that it would’ve been hard to move me without these magnificent songs.
How To Find It
The series has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks and is avalable on DVD and Blu-Ray.