Clannad is a 2007 anime series based on a popular Japanese visual novel created by the folks at Key studios (a company not unfamiliar with anime adaptations having previously seen their PC releases Air and Kanon get turned into cartoons.) The show’s two seasons are currently available to buy, across four DVD sets, courtesy of the UK’s premier anime distributor Manga Entertainment. Series One Part One, which I am reviewing today, is made up of a trio of DVDs containing the show’s opening twelve episodes. At the time of writing the set will set you back around £26, which is a tad pricy (for the same cost multi-region owners can grab the U.S release containing the complete first season as opposed to just half of it.)
The series follows the adventures of a delinquent named Tomoya Okazaki who is about to commence his final year of high school. Tomoya is disinterested in his studies, regularly cuts class and is merely going through the motions after having his dreams of a basketball scholarship evaporate due to a shoulder injury. His aimless life gets turned around when he befriends Nagisa Furukawa, a lonely girl who is repeating her graduate year after missing too many lessons in the previous term due to illness. Nagisa would like more than anything to restart the school’s defunct drama club, but can a timid lass with no friends recruit enough members to revive the club and stage a play? Hopefully with Tomoya’s encouragement she can.
Nagisa’s drama club erm drama takes a backseat to other stories once the main cast is introduced in the opening episodes. The first, of two story arcs, revolves around Fuko Ibuki a scatterbrained girl who is obsessed with starfish. Fuko spends all her free time carving out wooden starfish, which she gifts to the student body as a means of inviting people to attend her sister’s upcoming wedding. Tomoya and Nagisa end up giving Fuko a hand with her mission before realizing that she may in fact be the campus’ fabled ghost. Fuko is allegedly the younger sister of a former teacher who tragically got hit by a car. Given that the Fuko in question is presently lying comatose in hospital could the girl before them actually be an imposter?
Following on from that spooky tale, Tomoya returns to his goal of recruiting drama club members on behalf of Nagisa. With that in mind he sets his sights on enlisting Kotomi Ichinose to their cause. Kotomi is the daughter of two scientists who have investigated the existence of parallel worlds. Given her parentage it is no surprise that she is blessed with a genius level intellect and spends most her time hidden away reading in the library. Tomoya uses the drama club as an excuse to get the reclusive Kotomi to come out of her shell and make friends. Things go well in that regard, aside from moments when Kotomi’s terrible violin performances cause anyone in the vicinity to flee in terror. When episode twelve ends Kotomi suffers a mental breakdown, which seems to be tied to a tragic event from her past. To find out more details on the incident viewers will have to buy the next DVD, which continues the story. Don’t you just love cliffhangers?
Despite being labeled as a delinquent, Tomoya is a nice guy whose reputation as a troublemaker mainly stems from his poor attendance record. He cares for his friends and is normally level headed, only losing his cool when forced to interact with his alcoholic father who injured his shoulder during an altercation. Tomoya cannot resist a good prank, whenever the opportunity presents itself, with the victim of his gags normally being his bleached haired pal Youhei Sunohara. Youhei’s combination of a big mouth and small brain is a good source of comic relief, especially whenever he shares the screen with Tomoyo Sakagami – the reformed female street fighter who is trying to become the next student body president (let’s just say an annoying kid mixed with a gal who can kick hard is not a good combo for Youhei’s health.)
Nagisa is a heroine who is hard to dislike. Her sweet personality, polite manners and fragile constitution gives us an adorable character viewers can root for. She’s got some cute traits including an unhealthy obsession with the big Dango family (a group of circular animated characters used to promote dumplings.) Along with Nagisa, Clannad boasts a fairly large female cast including the Fujibayashi twins. Ryou Fujibayashi is the class rep in Tomoya’s class and has a passion for fortune telling. Despite having a crush on Tomoya she is unable to confess her feelings due to her chronic shyness. Kyou Fujibayashi on the other hand is more boisterous. She looks out for her vulnerable sis, often using her knack for hurling textbooks with deadly accuracy to clobber anyone who rubs her the wrong way.
Two other characters worth mentioning are Nagisa’s parents Sanae and Akio. Sanae is the sweet mother blessed with youthful good looks that often cause strangers to mistaken her for Nagisa’s older sister. Despite working at a bakery Sanae is terrible at creating dough based products as evidenced in a recurring gag were she overhears people lambast her pastries resulting in her running out of the shop in tears. Sanae’s baseball loving other half Akio is another interesting character. Often he comes across as a wind up merchant, who spouts off silly lines to get a reaction, but when the chips are down he can man up and get serious to offer some sound fatherly advice.
Clannad is a show that is hard to categorize. From the early episodes you are given the impression that the series is one of those slice of life high school comedies that are heavy on laughs and thin on plot. At the drop of a dime the tone can however drastically change with the narrative going into a dramatic story arc that tugs at your heartstrings. The conclusion to the Fuko storyline, for example, serves as an early warning that Clannad’s reputation for being a tale that can reduce the manliest of men to tears is well earned.
The series has a predominately female cast, who all are attracted to Tomoya, but it still manages to avoid becoming a mindless harem show. It’s pretty clear that Tomoya and Nagisa are destined to be together from the offset. Once that becomes apparent to Nagisa’s rivals in love they maturely accept defeat rather than hurl themselves at Tomoya to make him reconsider, as a lesser show would. The romance angle is handled well. Typical to many animes the leads act embarrassed whenever the subject is brought up, but gradually the relationship grows in a realistic manner. If you prefer one of the other girls over Nagisa don’t worry, the creators have you covered with a few out of continuity stories showing us what would have happened had Tomoya ended up with one of the other ladies.
Due to the girly synopsis and box art I wasn’t sure that Clannad would appeal to me, but good word of mouth convinced me to give the series a chance and I’m glad that I did. The show is packed with memorable characters that are a joy to spend time with. The presentation is slick with Kyoto Animation hitting the ball out of the park in terms of animation and artwork. Visually the series ends up trumping the Clannad animated movie produced by Toei Animation (which is no mean feat given that films tend to have higher production values when compared to a TV show.) The soundtrack, which is mostly lifted from the original Clannad visual novel, is also beautiful adding extra punch to the show’s emotional moments.
I highly recommend Clannad to anime fans that aren’t totally averse to mushy stuff. If you decide to pick up a copy of the series I would however recommend that you also add a box of tissues to your shopping cart. Whether it’s tears of joy or tears of sorrow, you can be sure that you won’t be watching the screen with dry eyes.