Clannad is a Kyoto Animation interpretation of a Key visual novel, making it utterly unique in that it has a different name than all the other Kyoto/Key works; Kanon, Air and Angel Beats!. What? P.A. Works did Angel Beats!? Could have fooled me. Anyway, the point is that Clannad is totally great, and romantic, and Toradorable, and I just tipped my hand as to my taste in romance anime. Frankly, I don’t see much worthwhile in Clannad, except for maybe getting to watch some parts of After Story, and even then you’re best off stopping just a little bit short of the end.
As Clannad is an adaptation of a visual novel, the characters arcs are intimately linked to serval story arcs. I’ll just go over the problem with this briefly, since Clannad’s not exactly unique in this way and there are tons of other articles about this type of adaptation. Since each story arc in the visual novel involves the main character, Tomoya Okazaki, getting together with a different girl by the end, they can’t all be mixed into one story, at least not without Tomoya being a polygamist with a girlfriend for every colour of the rainbow.
Clannad’s approach to this is to make just the Nagisa route lead to a romantic relationship, and pad the way with important, non-romantic elements from other arcs, the primarily the Fuko and Kotomi routes. There are two single episode OVAs, set in alternate universe, which complete the Tomoyo and Kyou arcs. It’s not exactly ground-breaking, but I like that it doesn’t use any stupid gimmick. The show rides this structure pretty well, and could even pass as an original work rather than an adaptive one. But it is an adaptation, and looking back on it afterwards reveals this in all the worst ways.
While beginning his final year of high school, Tomoya, a supposed delinquent who never acts like a delinquent, meets Nagisa, a timid yet eccentric girl. He learns that she wants to revive the school drama club, and agrees to help her. Durring this time, Nagisa tells Tomoya about her mysterious illness which causes her to get very sick very easily, and Tomoya tells her about how his shoulder was injured after getting into a fight with his widower father.
They begin trying to attract potential club members, but get sidetracked by the deceptively short Fuko and her mysterious presence. Eight episode later the Fuko story is resolved, literally forgotten by everyone and only ever referenced again for jokes, and the drama club is no closer to being reopened.
Thankfully now Tomoya has nothing to distract him from finding new members. He goes around asking Kotomi, a quiet supposed genius who never does anything particularly intelligent besides quoting the dictionary, Kyou, a roughhousing tsundere, and Ryou, Kyou’s soft-spoken twin sister, to join. After they all agree, the story gets pulled off on another tangent, this time revolving around Kotomi. Four more episodes and many clichés later, Kotomi’s character arc is complete and she will never important again.
Finally, Nagisa and Tomoya have assembled enough members to reform the drama club, but they need a faculty member to act as an advisor. This leads to Tomoya, his best friend Sunohara, and Kyou playing a basketball match against the school’s team (don’t ask). If it wasn’t obvious, until now I’ve been less than satisfied with pretty much everything that’s happened, but this time it’s different. The previous events have primarily been distracts from the main story, only there to develop characters who ultimately don’t matter. But now the conflict is directly related to the story, and develops worthwhile characters. Tomoya and the others need to win this basketball game in order to get a supervisor for the drama club. At the same time, this means a lot personally to Tomoya and Sunohara, both of whom had their lives get significantly worse after having to give up on sports.
After Tomoya’s father dislocated Tomoya’s shoulder, he couldn’t raise his arm high enough to throw a basketball to the net. Sunohara used to be on the school soccer team until he was kicked out after getting into a fight. Without soccer he had nothing he wanted to do, and started skipping classes. This is presented mostly as a redemption arc for Sunohara, but also starts Tomoya down the path that defines his character later on.
The theme of redemption and recovery continues, as Tomoya and Sunohara start being woken up and dragged in to class on time by a Tomoyo. Despite the confusing name similarity, Tomoyo is very much the opposite of Tomoya. She’s a hardworking student, trying to become the next student council president in order to protect what she finds important. She could be a great character, but the reason I’m only mentioning her now is because this is where her parts from the visual novel are written in. Until now she has been present but not particularly notable. The plot goes off on another tangent, returns to status quo, and the club is finally formed. The last four episodes tell the only part of the story that actually goes anywhere.
Nagisa and Tomoya’s relationship is the central focus, but there’s not nearly enough content there to stretch 22 episodes, so the majority of the show is dedicated to other characters and their arcs. These arcs branch off tangentially, and resolving them just means returning to the status quo, not actually contributing to the overarching story. It’s painfully boring to review, just thinking about how few episodes actually mattered. How few characters mattered.
Kotomi and Fuko could have been left out from the show completely, cutting the total run time in half. And while Tomoyo is a better character, that I couldn’t find any reason to mention her until the seventeenth episode goes to show just how unimportant she is.
And then there’s Nagisa. I didn’t talk about her arc at the end. I couldn’t do it. I would sooner burn my own ears off then to try to explain the complete crap that is the “mysterious illness” driven, emotionally manipulative, cliché filled story of this bland waifu husk of a character.
But the animation and voice acting are good.