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Tuesday, 13 December 2011 00:00
ClannadClannad. It's a Key show, which implies rip-your-heart-out scenes; and it's probably the most highly-regarded of their titles, which has me fearing a lynch-mob if I give it anything other than 5 stars. I'll start building the barricade now, shall I..?

After years of living in a town that he really doesn't like, Tomoya Okazaski's life begins to change on the day that he meets Nagisa Furukawa. A fellow student who's been held back a year in school because of absenteeism, she and Tomoya soon become close friends - but it's when he first meets her parents that things start getting strange...

Small copy'n'paste from the official blurb, there. As with all Key shows, it's the characters that make it, so let's see what we have here. I'll admit to being a bit uncertain about Tomoya, to be honest - not the best of starts when he's clearly the lead character. Described as being a bit of a delinquent, that's a part of him that you simply never get to see on screen - he's kind, polite, helpful to a fault, and clearly caring for the small army of girls that gather around him as the series progresses. I wish we did get to see the delinquent in him, as it would've made him a far more interesting character. In that department, the show's other main male character - irrepressible Sunohara, who would love to get himself a girl but just can't work out how to - is far more entertaining, despite being used as combination comic relief & punching bag. He's far shallower, but also far more interesting. Go figure.

As for the girls... as you'd expect, they're all created to worm their way into your heart with their attractive character designs and backstories. That's the Key way, and they're at the top of their form in this series. Starfish-obsessed Fuko is trying to bring attention to the wedding of her sister, a former teacher at the school, but has a small problem that's making it rather difficult. Tomboy Tomoyo wants to become Student Council President (for purely unselfish reasons), but aspects of her past may make that impossible. Twins Kyou and Ryou may look the same, but couldn't be more different in personalities. Nagisa's living a happy life with her parents, unaware of what they gave up to be able to be with her. Genius girl Kotomi is just about ready to break from the burden of guilt she carries, relating to the deaths of her parents. Those are not-very-spoilerish pen-pictures of them - there's a lot more to each girl's story, and with most of them getting their own arc they're delved into in some depth, but some are definitely more interesting than others. My personal favourites are Tomoyo, who has a take-no-sh*t attitude (especially to Sunohara's attempt to alternatively woo her, or try to prove that she's really a he) that's great fun to watch; and Kyou, who takes all that's good about Tomoyo, cranks it up to 11, and adds a great sense of humour and mischief to really be the character that steals the show.

At the other end of the scale, Fuko's antics are fun as far as they go (especially when she hits clumsy-magical-girl mode), but ultimately serve no purpose - there series could have done without here and been none the worse off for it - while "lead" female Nagisa comes across as too serious when compared to those around her. That may be a little forehadowing for the sequel After Story series, which heavily focusses on Nagisa, but it leaves her as one of the least interesting characters here.

I've seen a few Key shows over the years, and this is probably the first one that didn't make me shed manly tears. While it does have moments where it's clearly going for the heartstrings, it never quite managed to connect enough to tug on them that strongly. In a way, that's a good thing - I see it as a flaw with Key shows that they try so obviously to make you bawl, with no attempt at subtlety, and it means that Clannad is able to play up its comedy side a little more, which for me is where it's at its best. When it's good, it really is very, very good - but that doesn't apply for the full run.

So. Rating. Clannad is, for some, one of the best anime series out there - I wouldn't go so far myself, because some of the characters are lacking a bit and because, when it's trying to be serious, the pacing is almost glacially slow. It's not a show that you throw on just for a bit of fun. Five stars, best show ever? No, there are quite a few above it on my list. Good viewing? It's long, it's often slow, but I never felt the urge to drop it or that I was wasting time watching it - so yes, it is worth checking out. Just don't believe all the hype.

Rating - ****