High school student Tomoya is a delinquent who thinks nothing of cutting class and typically wiles his time away with fellow delinquent (and playboy wannabe) Sunohara. A poor family situation leaves him apathetic towards everything until a chance meeting with Nagisa, a girl a year older who happens to be repeating because of a lengthy illness the previous year. Nagisa wants to find a way to revive the school’s Drama Club, an effort Tomoya allows himself to be drawn into. Along the way he associates with several other cute girls, including the fortune-telling class rep Ryou, Ryou’s aggressive older sister Kyou, the martial kicking specialist Tomoyo, socially stunted genius Kotomi, and Fuko, a small girl enamored with starfish. The latter seems both obsessed with, and tremendously earnest about, handing out wooden carvings of starfish as invitations to the upcoming wedding of her sister (a former teacher at the school), although Tomoya and Nagisa soon learn that there’s something strange about her that goes well beyond that. That doesn’t stop them, and to lesser degrees the others, from supporting Fuko’s cause to the end, however. Later it’s Kotomi’s turn for the Tomoya Development Treatment, during which she reveals both a curious “talent” for the violin and a wealth of deep-seeded issues resulting from her own family situation.
If Air was Key/Visual Art’s summer-themed visual novel-to-anime translation, and Kanon was its winter-themed production, Clannad is its spring-themed production. Aside from the seasonal change, the only major difference between it and its predecessors is that it started as an all-ages production rather than being adapted into one from an erotic version, and that is really only a background factor. Otherwise it just offers more of the same well-proven recipe that has made Key/Visual Art’s productions into fan favorites: take a mischievous but basically good-hearted guy, surround him with cute but highly dysfunctional girls whose problems he must solve one by one, throw in a few eccentric adults and side characters, flavor it with supernatural elements, and then drown it in moe sauce. Cook in the oven at 375 degrees for an hour, and voila! Another adorable wonder for moe fans to gorge themselves upon.
And really, if you don’t have at least a tolerance for moe content then this series, like the others, is absolutely not for you. Key/Visual Art’s and Kyoto Animation have had three series now to tweak and tune their recipe to maximum effect, and it shows. Every action and nuance of each major female character, down to the slightest detail, is carefully fashioned to endear the characters to the viewer and inspire those protective feelings that can give moe series such a strong draw. Though none of the female characters have (yet) shown a signature sound effect, each has some other adorable affectation peculiar to her: Nagisa names favorite foods when excited and is enamored with a cutesy anime called Big Dango Family, Kotomi is constantly concerned about whether or not other characters are going to bully her, Fuko gets euphorically dazed when contemplating her beloved starfish, Kyou is shaping up to be the classic tsundere (i.e. tough on the outside, soft at the core) type, Tomoyo can kick those who attack her hundreds of times in a single action, and so forth. Even the way they move and speak tries to invoke the kind of heart-warming lovableness that powers moe titles.
Of course, this can be done to overkill, and Clannad constantly flirts with crossing that line. Not every girl needs to be deeply troubled, sickly, a projected spirit, or have some other psychological and/or supernatural hang-up for such a title to be entertaining, but apparently normal girls are too mundane for such an exercise. For all the practical jokes he plays, Tomoya is entirely too nice, making him practically a carbon-copy of Yuichi from Kanon. (He does, of course, have his own Big Issue, but that has not become a major plot point yet.)
The structure of the story so far is virtually identical to the equivalent episodes in Kanon: spend the first few episodes introducing the cast, setting, and circumstances, generally piddle around as the male lead hooks up with one of the female characters as an ongoing thing, then gradually start cycling through the other girls and their issues. Fuko gets the first treatment, followed by Kotomi, whose story is steadily building as the release ends. These individual stories do, of course, slowly progress towards a big emotional payoff, and that is where the series works its greatest magic. No matter how jaded you might try to be about what the writing is obviously doing, and no matter how many times you might roll your eyes at the inanity of it all, the climaxes of Fuko’s storyline can still hit home with sudden and surprisingly effective emotional intensity. Those prone to sentimentality should not watch the second half of episode 9 without some tissue handy.
The other element which makes the series tolerable as it meanders towards its emotional apexes is its humor. Like Kanon, the first half of Clannad can, at times, be quite funny. Sunohara is practically pure comedy relief, as are the occasional game effects, and the gags that Tomoya pulls at the expense of various characters he associates with (especially Fuko) are sometimes priceless. Also watch for a surprise guest appearance in episode 12 that doesn’t go quite the way you might expect but is nonetheless perfectly in character.
The look of the series is very similar to that of Kanon, save that it has a somewhat flatter color scheme by comparison. (The school uniforms, which have a more mundane design and muted color, could be the chief culprit on this.) All of the female character designs are moe to the max, and while male designs are more typical, they still have their own appeal and distinctiveness. The backgrounds convey a vague sense of warmth and coziness, save in the scenes in Tomoya’s house – a doubtless intentional effect – and watch for some special coloring effects, especially at the beginning. The animation takes some shortcuts but is generally of the quality fandom has come to expect from Kyoto Animation. As with its predecessors, more prurient fan service is almost non-existent.
As good as the series looks, only in the key emotional scenes does its soundtrack make much of an impact, though it works quite well in those cases. Most of the rest of the time it provides a succession of humdrum musical numbers that sound like they were lifted from the background score for a dating sim. Its opener by eufonius, whose other credits include theme songs for Noein and Kashimashi, is of a similar style to the openers for both Air and Kanon, while the closer “Dango Daikozu” by Chata is the same song Nagisa occasionally signs from her Big Dango Family anime. While it may seem silly at first, it can grow on you.
Clannad is another series actually licensed by Sentai Filmworks but processed by ADV personnel. Like Princess Resurrection, it offers no English dub and nothing for Extras beyond a clean opener and closer on the first of two disks. It does, however, offer a plethora of on-screen translation notes to explain certain terms and fine points of language that do not translate well. Sadly, the subtitles are not entirely free of grammatical glitches and some minor irregularities in the sound mixing might be noticed by astute listeners watching it on a surround-sound set-up. (The narration sometimes sounds as if it comes from the wrong speaker, for instance.)
Spread throughout the first dozen episodes are several introductory bits involving a girl alone in a world and a being who comes to inhabit a Frankenstein-like robot to be with her. What, if anything, these scenes actually have to do with the rest of the series have not even been hinted at yet, so that and the truth behind Kotomi’s apparently severe circumstances will have to wait for the next volume. Those who enjoy these stories about a kind-hearted guy helping out broken and secretly damaged moe girls will not need that impetus to continue on, however. This series already offers nearly everything such individuals could possibly want.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : C+
+ Humor, occasional intensely emotional moments, a moe fan’s dream.
− Lack of an English dub, sometimes tedious, flirts with overkill on the moe elements.