Kanon (2006)–Anime Review

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4 Stars
It’s not unusual for me to change my mind while watching an anime series. Sometimes a series starts well but falls apart at the end. Sometimes it takes me a while to understand what’s going on. However I don’t think I’ve ever changed changed my mind as often as I did while watching this one.

Partly it’s a matter of expectations. The early episodes look like a light-hearted comedy. Indeed, the distributor is explicitly marketing it as a comedy. But it is not really a comedy at all, and parts of it are emotionally wrenching to watch. Nor is it a realistic drama. I prefer to think of it as a modern fairy tale; a story whose characters wander down strange paths and end up trapped in an abyss of dispair, but are ultimately saved by the purity of their hearts and a bit of supernatural assistance.

Ultimately it’s the ending that makes all the difference. I think it’s a wonderful ending that justifies the whole series (though I had to think about it for a while before I was sure of that.)

  • Original Title
    KANON (Japanese for a musical canon.)
  • Genres
    Fantasy, Romance
  • Demographic
  • Contents
    26 Episodes on 6 (?) DVDs
  • Languages
    English, Japanese with subtitles
  • Based on
    A video game by Key (Visual Art’s)
  • Director
    Tatsuya Ishihara
  • Series Composition
    Fumihiko Shimo
  • Screenplay
    Fumihiko Shimo
  • Original Character Design
    Itaru Hinoue (game)
  • Character Design
    Kazumi Ikeda
  • Art Director
    Mutsuo Shinohara
  • Chief Animation Director
    Kazumi Ikeda
  • Animation Studio
    Kyoto Animation
  • Broadcast
    BS-i, 2006-2007
  • Region 1 Distributor
    ADV Films

The anime is visually attractive, with the bright, cheerful look common to most shows by Kyoto Animation. (The numerous scenes with sunlit snow make this series seem particularly bright.) Many of the scenes, particularly at the beginning, are light, funny and even silly. But some of the scenes are terribly sad, and the sense of sadness increases as the story progresses. Finally a redemptive ending makes everything seem bright again.

The writing includes clever, subtle elements that will probably only be evident on a second or third viewing.

Parental Advisory

This series contains material that young children would find very upsetting, and it is unlikely that they would understand the ending. Due to adult themes and tragic events, I can recommend this only for teenagers and adults.

Premise and Characters

The TownThe year is 1999 or thereabouts. The place is an unnamed snow-covered town on the northern island of Hokkaido [1]. It is a somewhat insular place with its own distinct traditions and legends. Aside from large quantities of snow, it seems most notable for the many cute girls with really big eyes.
Yuuichi AizawaYuuichi Aizawa is 17 years old and has just come to this town to live with his aunt. When he was a young boy he used to visit here regularly, but he has not been back for 7 years. Oddly, he finds that he does not remember anything about the place.
YuuichiUnlike the typical young anime hero, Yuuichi is not at all intimidated by pretty girls. He talks to them with an easy confidence that they find charming. (On the other hand he tends to tease them, which they probably find less charming.) Still there is something that seems a bit off about him. That business about not being able to remember the town or the people he used to know there suggests that something is wrong.
Nayuki MinaseYuuichi’s cousin Nayuki Minase greets him enthusiastically and says that she hopes he will stay “forever.” Nayuki is very cute and highly motivated, a dedicated young athlete and captain of the school track team. Perhaps because she practices so hard, she always has trouble waking up in the morning. She owns what appears to be the world’s largest collection of alarm clocks.
Akiko MinaseAkiko Minase is Yuuichi’s aunt, a kind and insightful woman who often appears to know more than she is willing to say. She is a good cook, with the exception of her regrettable homemade jam.
Kaori MisakaNayuki’s best friend Kaori Misaka is a cool and self-possessed girl who feels protective of Nayuki. She doesn’t talk about herself much, but there is a suggestion that her home life is troubled.
Jun KitagawaJun Kitagawa is a classmate of Nayuki and Kaori. He has a crush on Kaori and follows her around, fetching and carrying and generally doing whatever she tells him. Kaori treats him with amused indifference.
Mai KawasumiMai Kawasumi is a third-year student at the high school. She is a strange girl, very quiet and difficult to talk to. Sometimes, late at night, she can be seen stalking the hallways of the school carrying a sword.
Sayuri Kurata and MaiSayuri Kurata is Mai’s best (and only) friend. She is gentle, charming, very feminine and an honors student. Her speech is somewhat childish but very polite, as befits the daughter of one of the town’s leading families. She is fiercely protective of Mai.
Ayu TsukimiyaAyu Tsukimiya is a small, clumsy girl who bumps into Yuuichi on the street. Then she keeps bumping into him every day, usually knocking him off his feet.
Ayu claims to be the same age as Yuuichi, though she looks much younger. She claims to remember him from his earlier visits, and she does seem vaguely familiar. She is looking for something valuable that she lost, but she doesn’t remember what it is.
Shiori Misaka with YuuichiShiori Misaka can sometimes be found wandering in the snow near the high school. She says that she is a first year student, but she has been staying home from school due to a persistent cold, or maybe influenza.
Makoto SawatariMakoto Sawatari assaults Yuuichi on the street, then promptly faints from hunger. She is suffering from amnesia. All she remembers is that she has a terrible grudge against Yuuichi. She doesn’t remember what for, but she is determined to have her revenge. Yuuichi can’t recall ever seeing her before in his life.
“Is this town under some spell that makes people lose their memory?” Yuuichi wonders.

DVD Notes

The DVDs include a series of “Making Of” segments. The first one is an interview with the director.

The script for the English dub deviates from the subtitle script, apparently to make the characters sound more American. The effect is to change their personalities. Yuuichi’s teasing ceases to be funny and starts to sound cruel. Nayuki changes from very sweet to rather snotty. On the other hand, Sayuri continues to refer to herself by her first name, which sounds cute in Japanese, but idiotic in English [2]. Worst of all, the actress in the demanding role of Ayu seems completely out of her depth.

This is definitely a show that should be watched in Japanese with subtitles.

Other Versions

The story originated as a visual novel published in 1999. This has never been released in English, but it is fairly obvious that the anime adaptation takes 5 possible paths through the game, originally distinct and mutually-exclusive stories, and arranges them sequentially as part of a larger story. This works pretty well for the most part, but in some of the transitions between the story arcs there is a feeling of a loss of continuity.

In 2002 a 13-episode anime adaptation was made by Toei Animation and broadcast on Fuji TV. This was never licensed for a Region 1 release.

This review covers the more complete 26-episode remake that was broadcast beginning in 2006. This is commonly referred to as “Kanon (2006)” to avoid confusion.


Wikipedia entry. (Spoilers.)

Anime News Network Encyclopedia listing.

My own spoiler-filled notes on the series, including my interpretation of the ending.


[1] However many of the locations are based on the city of Moriguchi, which is located far to the south in Osaka Prefecture.

[2] No doubt the dub retains the first name business because it’s a very minor plot point. However given how bad it sounds in English it would have been better to drop it entirely. Or maybe they could have come up with a different slightly childish speech pattern.