Clannad - 5/10
Clannad is a slightly above average representative of its genre. Based on a video game in which the (male) player navigates different situations and stories of the (female) characters he encounters in a high school setting. First romances, teenage antics, and school activities form the backbone of the adolescent plot devices. The series structure is also heavily influenced by its roots, as it takes turns focusing on each of the female characters and their stories, only to move on after a predictable number of episodes.
Where I found Clannad to both excel and flounder was its more sentimental moments. This is where it was a mixed bag, because it had an uneven hand on its "emotional volume." It would be relatively even-keel, dipping up and down as the scenes passed, but then would suddenly attempt to blare feeling at you at maximum levels. The problem is that these moments were often excessively contrived, as one thing was laid on another to try and reach a fever-pitch of feeling.
When the series stuck to realistic situations and did not try to overawe us with emotion, it had several scenes that were genuinely poignant. What made them successful was their down-to-earth nature and connection to the meaning of family and friends. A few that were particularly well done were:
- The opening scene. Clannad begins with a remark that these events were just the first steps on a long journey. This simple statement stuck with me. It just slightly broadened the horizon of the series, putting the events in a greater context.
- Kotomi's desperate house search after her parents had died. The way that scene was directed, with her outer frantic search mirroring the internal hunt for answers, was both touching and insightful into her mindset.
- Tomoyo's talk about her family. Her story itself was not what was most moving, but what she took away from it. It's an old theme, but she realized that no person was an island. Her reckless behavior was affecting those around her, and when this realization came to her it was with such strength that she immediately changed her direction in life.
- Akio's speech at the play. This is another case where the message was better for not having any frills. It wasn't that Nagisa's parents had lost their dreams, but that their daughter had become their new dream. Her feelings of regret and guilt were misplaced, for her happiness had become theirs. Again, not an original insight, but also no less genuine.
As was mentioned up top, the series has no gain control on its sentimentality. This results in some of the most vapid, contrived scenes I have ever had the misfortune of viewing. Disregarding any sense of restraint or realism, the series would pile on element after saccharine element until one could only gag at the artificial sweetness. The worst offenders that come to mind are Fuuko's older sister getting married and the story of the suitcase traveling around the world to return to Kotomi, although there were many lesser disasters along the way. All told, it made the much of the viewing simply painful.
Beyond this, there was the innate mediocrity of the genre. The slapstick comedy, obvious gameplay-based rotation of female characters, and protracted "will they/won't they?/they will after exactly 22 episodes" romantic routine are all in full force. I tried not to judge this too harshly, as it is simply the nature of this type of show, but still as one who rarely views them I couldn't help but be put off.
Finally, I must remark on something which, even after acclimating to, I never completely stopped noticing: the eyes. There are normal eyes there are anime eyes, and then there are Clannad eyes. I am confident that the girls of this series could see 200m on a moonless night like barn owls, with Nagisa also using her antennae to navigate.
Having finished Clannad I can check it off my list. Overall it is a cute but mediocre series, with a few highlight moments which make it worth mention. Its connection to After Story helps it, but overall I found Clannad forgettable. The primary benefit to having seen it is now I can answer the question that plagues all discussions of the series: Tomoyo was best.