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Clannad #1 PDF Print E-mail
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R2 DVD Reviews
Friday, 11 May 2012 00:00
Clannad. 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 combination of characters and emotional manipulation 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 - the 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 of comic relief & punching bag. He's far shallower, but also far more entertaining. 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. After a whirlwind tour of the girls, this volume settles down to focus on the stories of two of them: Starfish-obsessed Fuko, who 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; and genius girl Kotomi, who's 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, which are delved into in some depth in their individual arcs. Some are definitely more interesting than others. I've had the benefit of seeing the series before, and sadly my personal favourites - 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 - will have to wait until the next volume for their turns, which by elimination leaves this outing probably the weaker half of the first season.

Although you do need to pay attention, even when you may think you're watching irrelevant filler. Fuko's antics are a good example of this - they're fun as far as they go, especially when she hits clumsy-magical-girl mode, but without the benefit of foresight they may seem to serve no purpose - except that there's some foreshadowing going on for future events that you need to keep an eye on. The end of her arc is also the show's first attempt to pull on the heartstrings, and if you find yourself falling for Key's manipulations there, you're going to have great 'fun' later in the series when the real heartbreaks play out. Kotomi's arc similarly starts off fun and lighthearted, with her woeful attempts at a violin recital being something the whole cast will remember for a while, but by the end of this set she's suffered a mental breakdown and been thrown into the darkest of emotional places, with Toyoma set to be the only one capable of pulling her out of it. The resolution of that arc will have to wait for next time.

I've seen a few Key shows over the years, and I seem to be slowly building up a natural immunity to them - Clannad was probably the first one that didn't make me shed manly tears, even on first viewing when it's a bit harder to see these things coming. While it does have moments where it's clearly going for the heartstrings, in these episodes at least 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. It's starting, perhaps kowingly, with its weakest characters, getting them out of the way and clearing the decks for the main event.

Which isn't to say that this volume is bad, of course, just not quite as good as the storylines that are yet to come. The series is showing its visual novel roots here, working through the girls as you would work through the novel's routes, and in places the pacing seems glacially slow - but the characters and situations they're in are interesting enough to counter any sense of "seen it all before" that the format may make you feel. That said: Clannad is, for some, one of the best anime series out there - I wouldn't go so far myself, particularly with these episodes. It's not a show that you throw on just for a bit of fun, that's not what it's trying to be - but I never felt the urge to drop it or that I was wasting time watching it, either. Worth checking out? Absolutely. Just temper your expectations, for now at least.

Rating - ****