Tomoya Okazaki is a third-year high school student who doesn't like school and lives with his father (whom he fights with often, and is responsible for paralyzing once of his arms). One morning on his way to school he meets a girl named Nagisa Furukawa. Out for a year due to being sick, she feels awkward and alone at school as her friends have since moved on. Over time she opens up to Tomoya and finds herself spending more time with him, changing him in the process.
The third Key / Visual Art's animated project from Kyoto Animation, Clannad mostly discards the magical aspects of Kanon and Air for a more down to Earth story about a boy, a girl, and the numerous people they encounter in both school and outside of it.
At the same time, it's also about family, as every character's arc in this series revolves around their family members in some form (and even some of the side characters do as well). Whereas Air and Kanon felt like separate stories with a theme that loosely tied the cast together, Clannad has no such disjointed feeling, and is part of the reason that I think this is (arguably) the best written of the three Key animated adaptions by Kyoto Animation to date.
Even the main heroine is more fleshed out than the typical Key heroine. Though Nagisa is more than just a little bit clingy, shy, and introverted, she's generally a likable heroine who actually looks and acts like a girl her age would. (Which means she doesn't end her sentences with cutesy suffixes like "gao" or "ugu".) Mai Nakahara does a good job of making her sound cute without being cutesy, and it makes the rare scene where Nagisa shows a slightly more mischievous side to her character that much more amusing. Tomoya is also a nice change of pace among the typical dime-a-dozen male leads these days: nice yet not afraid to raise his voice, funny without being mean-spirited about it, an outcast and yet not unapproachable. Almost any scene involving the duo together is a winner, and Nagisa's wonderfully amusing parents only help in that respect.
There's also Youhei Sunohara, a once delinquent friend of Tomoya's whose big mouth often gets him into various situations, especially with that of another girl in the school: Tomoyo. An old friend of Tomoya's, Tomoyo is one year younger than him and has a reputation as being a violent girl (early in the series she beats up some boys from a local school). There's a running gag in the series of Sunohara claiming that Tomoyo is not a girl, only to have him get beaten up in turn when he "challenges" her. This results in a fighting game-esque combo counter appearing at the bottom of the screen as she beats him up, which actually adds up over time during the course of the series. Despite her sometimes secluded nature, Tomoyo is probably the most normal, down to Earth girl in the entire series and Veteran actress Houko Kuwashima (Miyako, Bamboo Blade) does a great job in that regard. She even got her own spin-off game and OAV after the release of the game and anime respectively, the only Key side character to date to obtain that honor.
As for the two side girls and their arcs: it's such a crying shame that the supporting cast of this series is not as strong as Tomoya and Nagisa. In typical Key / Visual Art's fashion, we have a gaggle of girls running around the plot in and out of this series, and after episode 4 the series drops the concentration on the main cast and spends half the series developing two characters: Fuko, a short girl who loves starfish and whose sister is getting married soon, and Kotomi, a shy bookworm who spends most of her days in the library reading books barefoot. While not bad characters, the way the series goes through their arcs only distracts from the main couple, who are regulated to helpers throughout both arcs. Whereas Kanon spiced things up with supernatural themes and Air came and went through its small cast's arcs pretty swiftly to not overstay its welcome, Clannad does not have those luxuries.
Unfortunately, much like in Kanon, Clannad puts characters in front of you and then reveals to you their pasts and background later. This holds true especially for Fuko, whose one-note personality of her lobe of starfish wears thin after a couple of episodes, much less the 6 episode arc she has. (Her subsequent appearances after the end of her arc, in which she makes cameos during the middle of conversations to proclaim her love of starfish yet again, do little but distract from the scene she's in.) To quote another person from a forum I go on: "It's like backwards character development". I'm all for unique storytelling in animation as the next guy, but shifting focus from the main characters to focus on another character's story for several episodes on end is kind of annoying to those who want to learn more about the main characters. It wasn't a big deal in Kanon because the side characters were often just as interesting as the main cast, but such is not the cast here. Poor Nagisa spends nearly half of the series tagging alongside other characters, kind of like Mickey Mouse did in the Mickey, Donald, and Goofy cartoons made in the 1930's. Considering that Nagisa has top billing over the other girls in this series, that's a little annoying.
Still, though, even in the series' weakest moments there are some cute scenes here and there to pick up the pace of the show. And although they drag from time to time, the two girls' arcs are still more fleshed out than they ever were in Air, and are handled in a realistic fashion as well. It's really the little touches here and there that made this series for me, such as Tomoya and Nagisa throwing Fuko a party for her sister's marriage, Kotomi's struggle to play the violin, Nagisa's attempt to bring members to the Drama Club with pictures of cute little dangos based on a show from her youth, that make it all worth it. And much like in the last Key series, there are surprise twists here and there that you won't see coming until they happen.
After Kotomi's arc ends, the story focuses back again on Tomoya and Nagisa's relationship, as well as that of twin female classmates from Tomoya's class: Kyou Fujibayashi, a rough-spoken friend of Tomoya's, and her sister Ryou, a shy girl who can (inaccurately) predict people's fortunes. Kyou's the obligatory flustered, violent girl, while Ryou's shyness is milked at times for all it's worth (including a funny scene where she is used to confuse Fuko into thinking Tomoya turned into a girl, swapping places with him to do so).
Although there are plenty of cute moments in this series, Clannad is not without its dramatic parts. The revelation of Fuko and who she is, Kotomi's not so pleasant childhood, Kyou and Ryou's struggling feelings for a certain someone, Tomoya's fighting with his father, and even Nagisa's struggle to re-start the drama club are handled in a somewhat serious manner (even if the series takes it quite a bit too far in times). These are nicely balanced out among the more humorous moments, such as the numerous RPG parodies, Nagisa's parents' "fighting", Kotomi's inability to play the violin, and the Fuko cameos in the second half of the series (one episode has her showing off her "crane game" skills, when she has actually none).
And now for the visual aspects of the series. It's much like that of Air and the Kanon remake: beautiful scenery amongst not so beautiful characters. A little nicer than in Kanon, Clannad's character designs take some time getting used to (the eyes in particular). The music, taken directly from the game, has a few nice themes here and there, but they're recycled endlessly and heavily synthesized (though the ending theme is cute, though also sad). The voice acting's solid and includes big names like Mai Nakahara as Nagisa, Noto Mamiko as Kotomi, Kikuko Inoue as Nagia's mother, Ryou Hirohashi as Kyou and, one of my series favorites, Daisuke Sakaguchi (Shinpachi, Gintama) as Sunohara.
I'll admit that Clannad is not without its slow parts or eye-rolling moments. Heck, I stopped watching the series for six months out of complete disinterest, and I still have yet to see an episode of the sequel series After Story. At the same time, though, I can't remember the last visual novel anime adaption that left me with remembering so much of its cast and their quirks, as opposed to wondering how cute its flavor-of-the-month heroine is. (I'm looking at you, Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka!) I really do like Tomoya and Nagisa as a couple, and the series' cute, charming aspects more than make up for its shortcomings. It's the most fleshed-out and real Key animated adaption to date, and if you even sort of liked Kyoto Animation's last two Key animated adaptions, you'll definitely enjoy this one as well.
I debated between three and four stars for a while, given that the series slows down a bit in the middle. However, it makes up for it at the end just enough for me to give it four stars. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Unlike Kanon, there aren't too many supernatural themes going on in this show. However, as mentioned in the review above, some characters' pasts are not the happiest out there, some bordering on the downright tragic.
Version(s) Viewed: Pre-license fansub
Review Status: Full (23/23)
Clannad © 2007 Visual Art's / Key / Hikarizaka High School Drama Club
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