It is a belief I strongly hold that anime in its many shapes and forms is a medium that has the potential to do much good for people, should they let it. Now, this is a philosophy that holds true for music and traditional film as well, but anime in particular strikes a peculiar chord in my heart. With that in mind, let’s talk about Clannad.
Clannad’s title comes from an Irish Gaelic word meaning ‘family’. Indeed, I can’t think of a more appropriate title to describe this series. Clannad is as simple, precise, and understated as its title suggests – but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Clannad is the story of Tomoya Okazaki, a 18-year-old delinquent in his final year of senior high school. He hates his town, his father, and pretty much everything but his best friend (who he still hates a little bit). One day, however, on his way to school, he meets the frail Nagisa Furukawa, another senior repeating her final year due to illness. She’s struggling to pluck up the courage to go back, but Tomoya uncharacteristically offers some words of encouragement and they set off for school together, starting a long chain of events leading to love, heartbreak and redemption.
The first season of Clannad follows a simple premise – Nagisa wants to restart the school drama club for her final year, and put on her favourite play. Trouble is, nobody wants to join the club and help, leaving her and Tomoya bound together to try to get things off the ground. This lays the basic groundwork for the plot, and other plot threads bounce off of that.
Now, Clannad being based on a romantic visual novel, most of the rest of the cast are female. Not that that’s a problem – they’re are all fleshed-out, likeable characters who serve an important role in the plot. Whether they be hard-nosed but jovial Kyou and timid Ryou – the Fujibayashi sisters – ass-kicker Tomoyo Sakagami, or Kotomi Ichinose, the brainiac in a world of her own, they’re all fascinating, well-rounded characters, with great personalities and stories.
Now, much as it pains me to say this, despite having a great cast of characters, Clannad is, to be frank, only a ‘good’ series. It doesn’t break the mould, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The dialogue is good, but typical of the genre. The plot threads are interesting, but ultimately predictable – the very first subplot involving a comatose girl being a great example of a plot thread that should have been a little bit trimmed. As it stands, it’s basically the same episode for about 2 hours of the series.
However, it’s easy to see why this is the case. Being based on a visual novel, with branching paths and alternate endings, it would have been impossible (not to mention wrong) not to cover the multiple plots of the game. But still, it says a lot that the best episode of Clannad – in my opinion – is the very last episode, the only one that is non-canonical. It tells a three act love story in 20 minutes and despite that it’s extremely well paced.
Which brings me to the major sticking point, the direct comparison I can make between Angel Beats and Clannad – both written by Jun Maeda with characters designed by Key. What elevates Clannad above Angel Beats (again, in my opinion) is pacing. Clannad takes its time. When you have an interesting cast of characters whose backstories the viewer wants to know, you let the viewer know, unless it’s for a very good reason. You can’t just set up characters and not capitalize on it, and capitalize Clannad does. There’s a fine balance in the picking of which characters to explore and which to not, and I felt that it nailed which ones just right. There are still a handful of obnoxious ‘FEEL SAD’ moments, but they’re thankfully kept to a minimum.
Now then, I’ve not been overly kind to Clannad thus far, and I feel a little guilty about that. But take solace in this fact: Clannad is still good and is essential viewing to give context to what comes next – Clannad: After Story.
I find it hard to come up with the words for After Story. I honestly do. Just bear in mind that since this is the second half of a story, there will be some very minor spoilers. You have been warned.
After Story takes place following the events of Clannad, after Tomoya confesses his love for Nagisa. It’s a very different tale from Clannad, eschewing the harem aspects of part one to instead focus on Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship after Tomoya’s graduation, in the next few years of their life together.
Tomoya in particular goes through a lot of very natural character development in After Story, evolving from a generally good guy who just struggled to give a damn to a responsible adult determined to TRY to give a damn, now that he has something worth caring about.
What follows is a soulful musing on the ideas of change, employment, marriage, and even fatherhood. The trials of a life everyone – and yet no-one – wants to live. To say any more would be a betrayal of the effort gone into making this such a personal story.
Hence, for the sake of major spoilers which would ruin the storyline, I will stop right there and instead go over the technical details that make Clannad that bit more special.
First off, much like Angel Beats, the art in Clannad is utterly gorgeous. I wasn’t a fan of the doe-eyed, half-moe look of the character designs, but it’s a very aesthetically pleasing style in motion, especially when coupled with the warm colours and beautiful environments the characters inhabit – just look at this:
The musical score of Clannad is also one of the best I’ve seen (heard?) in recent memory. Personal highlights include Dango Daikazoku – penned by Jun Maeda himself – and Toki wo Kizamu Uta, performed by Angel Beats’ theme song’s singer Lia.
The voice acting, too, sets an incredibly high bar for other acts to follow. Familiar voices David Matranga, Brittney Karbowski, Greg Ayres and the wonderful Luci Christian do fantastic work and do Clannad the justice it deserves.
But most important in After Story’s success is, of course, its writing – it’s a pure-hearted, meaningful love story, free of the manipulative trappings of ‘this is the sad bit’ writing. When you feel sad, you do so because it IS sad, not because it wants you to be sad.
And it is sad. You will take the hits, you will cry. After Story pulls no punches in its portrayal of the hardships of life, but it never does so to depress. Rather, it serves as an example to keep going, to keep striving to make things better. To enjoy life no matter what might happen. To think of the losses you’ve taken and hold them in your heart. To learn from them. To make the ones you love proud.
I’m not lying when I say Clannad affected me on a deeply personal level. Watching it has made me re-evaluate certain parts of my life – it’s made me see myself and others in a different way, a new way. A better way.
Clannad isn’t just good for your entertainment, it’s good for your soul. It will make you a better person.
Clannad is life, it’s love, it’s loss. But most importantly, Clannad is family.
A stirring, heartbreaking, beautiful masterpiece from start to finish. Though the initial season of Clannad is somewhat predictable, After Story more than makes up for it, and with interest. It receives the highest praise I can possibly give, and I stand by my words wholeheartedly.