Clannad is the third in a series of shows from Kyoto Animation adapted from visual novels from Key/Visual Art’s. (The other two were Air and Kanon (2006).)
Kanon is my favorite of the three. It has the most likable hero and the bravest heroine. I admire Air but it’s a bit too grim for my taste.
Clannad is a bit different. It is split into two seasons, the first of which can stand by itself as a gentle, upbeat and very funny harem comedy, though with a rather sad backstory. I’m going to focus on the first season in this review since it can be enjoyed by itself.
UPDATE: my review of the second season is here.
As with most KyoAni shows, the character designs are cute and the animation quality is outstanding.
Clannad (Irish for “family”.)
Fantasy, Comedy, Romance
24 Episodes on 4 DVDs (2 mini box sets.)
Japanese with subtitles
A video game by Key/Visual Art’s
Original Character Design
Itaru Hinoue (game)
Chief Animation Director
Region 1 Publisher
Creating an anime from a visual novel poses special problems. While someone adapting a series of light novels or a long-running manga series may have to deal with the problem of not having a real ending, a visual novel gives you multiple complete stories which contradict each other. The first half of the Clannad game is a traditional dating sim in which there are multiple girls and a hero who can. at best, only end up with one of them. Each girl represents a possible storyline; the hero would have to overcome a different set of obstacles to win her.
It would probably not be satisfactory to just pick one of the stories. To fully appreciate a visual novel you understand all the possible outcome, like a player who has played the game through to all the possible endings. But a satisfactory television series needs to tell a single linear story. A bunch of contradictory stories would tend to annoy the audience.
From a writer’s standpoint I think that Kyoto Animation did a good job of converting Kanon into a coherent linear story, and an even better job with Air. I don’t think the adaptation of Clannad is quite as good. In particular the first season DVDs end with an episode that gives an alternate ending. Some fans actually like this (because they prefer it to the “true” ending) but I find it annoying.
The first season includes comic violence and some very mild sexual humor. While the main story is gentle and upbeat, there are backstory elements that are likely to be very disturbing to young children. Age 10 is probably a good minimum.
The second season is darker and is probably best reserved for teenagers and adults.
is a senior at a private high school with a good academic reputation, but he isn’t happy there. Lonely, alienated and embittered, he is regarded as a trouble-making delinquent by most of the teachers and students. Deep down however he has a basic decency. Though he doesn’t seem to know it, he is also handsome in a dark, brooding way that some women find fascinating.
His best friend Youhei Sunohara
is fellow delinquent and a loud-mouthed idiot. He’s short, with dyed-blond hair and a combative disposition. If he isn’t getting beaten up by a bunch of jocks he is probably being beaten up by some girl that he just insulted. He is a reliable source of bad ideas guaranteed to get both of them into trouble.
On his way to school Tomoya sees Nagisa Furukawa
talking to herself, perhaps rehearsing lines from a play. A shy, timid girl, she wants to join the Drama Club, but finds that it is defunct. On a whim, Tomoya offers to help her re-establish it, which will require recruiting other members.
Like all the girls in this story, Nagisa is drawn to look very cute, but based on the reactions of the other characters it seems clear that she is not physically outstanding. She’s a quiet, mousy girl whom people tend to overlook. Even the lecherous Sunohara dismisses her as “plain and dull.” Tomoya offers to help her more out of sympathy than physical attraction (and also, we learn much later, because he feels guilty about something.) She may have “loser” written all over her, but Tomoya thinks of himself as a loser, so that’s something they have in common. She actually has an inner strength that he only gradually comes to appreciate.
, Tomoya’s class representative, worries about his poor attendance and hopes to get him to reform. She is a sweet and gentle girl, rather shy and clumsy.
Her twin sister Kyou Fujibayashi
has a very different personality. She is loud, arrogant, impulsive and sometimes violent, a classic tsundere
, though very protective of Ryou.
Kyou’s pet pig Botan
often follows her to school.
is a young genius with autistic tendencies. Since she always aces her exams the teachers allow her to spend the school day studying by herself in the library. When reading she seems totally oblivious to everyone around her, but for some reason she seems to respond to Tomoya.
Tomoya finds Fuuko Ibuki
sitting in an empty classroom carving wooden starfish. She is an odd girl with a childlike manner who never seems to go home. She is totally obsessed with starfish. Initially she is suspicious of Tomoya, but she is nevertheless willing to give him a starfish.
Transfer student Tomoyo Sakagami
is quiet and soft-spoken, but she should not be underestimated. She is smart, competent and exceedingly strong. In fact she is rumored to be in the habit of beating up delinquents. She is no tsundere
; she only uses violence when she is forced to, but she always wins. Her goal is to become president of the student council so that she can use her influence to preserve a nearby grove of sakura trees.
The old library room is used to store obscure books and forgotten records that are not wanted in the main library. Yukine Miyazawa
has made this her personal domain. She is always ready to offer tea and potentially dangerous advice to any students who drop in.
Tomoya lives in an unkempt apartment with his father Naoyuki Okazaki
, who is a good-for-nothing drunkard. Tomoya despises him, not without reason.
Nagisa has an odd but close-knit family. Her parents run a bakery. Her mother Sanae Furukawa
is very pretty and sweet. She often seems silly, but she is actually very smart and insightful, and always seems to know the right thing to do in an emergency. Her main fault is that the bread she bakes tastes terrible, a serious failing in a baker.
Nagisa’s father Akio Furukawa
is loud, arrogant, overbearing and impulsive. He is also utterly devoted to Nagisa and Sanae.
is the resident manager of the dormitory where Sunohara lives. She is an attractive young woman who tolerates no nonsense from the students. When she was in high school she was the first girl to become president of the student council, which makes her a role model for Tomoyo.
Misae’s cat Shima
hangs around Sunohara’s room and seems to pay close attention to the conversations.
is a dour electrical worker who is given to oracular pronouncements.
Fuuko’s older sister Kouko Ibuki
used to teach at the high school. She is engaged to Yoshino.
is a wise old teacher who is always willing to go out of his way to assist students.
Youhei’s younger sister Mei Sunohara
comes to visit her brother. She is obviously worried about him.
Nagisa is haunted by the memory of a story that she thinks she heard when she was little. It tells of a girl who was living alone in an empty world, who constructed a doll out of pieces of junk.
Miraculously the doll came to life and became her companion.
The story sounds oddly familiar to Tomoya, but he’s not sure where he heard it.
Toei Animation released a movie version of the story in 2007. I have not seen the movie and I have no desire to, having seen the awful movie version they made of Air. (They seem to have based that movie on one of the game’s bad endings.)
ANN Encyclopedia entry.
Wikipedia entry (spoilers!)