Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
High school senior Tomoya Okazaki suffers from a crushing case of apathy. A recurring nightmare reflects intense loneliness brought about partly by the death of his mother and emotional distance from his father, while a bad tendon injury prevents him from continuing to participate in the basketball club he once loved. His excitable best friend Sunohara, who was kicked off the soccer team after throwing a violent fit, offers no relief, as he is equally listless. Tomoya's view of the world starts to change, little by little, when he meets Nagisa, a girl returning to school to repeat her senior year due to a long illness. Though Tomoya tries fiercely to resist it, Nagisa's cute, cheery determination even in the face of difficult obstacles gradually draws Tomoya (unwillingly at first) into her efforts to restart the school's defunct Drama Club by putting on a one-woman show at an upcoming school festival. As Tomoya associates with Nagisa and her lovey-dovey parents, he begins to understand what a truly functional family can be and comes to realize that Nagisa may be the bright spot at the end of his dark dream. Fate can deliver a bitter pill, he learns, but when things are at their worst it is family – or the lack thereof – which can be a person's salvation or doom.
Anime movies related to anime series generally come in four forms: they are either direct continuations of the TV series, side stories which play as extra-long episodes, condensed retellings of the original story with a small amount of new content, or radical reinterpretations which keep the characters and themes essentially the same but otherwise tell a markedly different story. This movie, which actually preceded the first TV series by a few months, falls in between the latter two categories. It does tell essentially the same story as the TV series version of Clannad and the first three-fourths of Clannad After Story do, but this version is much more narrowly-focused on the Tomoya/Nagisa relationship, to the extent that it marginalizes or eliminates many of the girls and other significant supporting characters (Fuka and Sunohara's sister Mari do not appear at all, for instance) and dispenses with both the “male protagonist solves broken girls' problems” structure and most – but not all – of the humor. What remains is a much tighter and generally more serious story which, in some senses, is better than the beloved series.
Being familiar with the two TV series or original game is not a prerequisite for understanding the movie version, as it is entirely a self-contained story; all a newcomer will really miss are the reasons why certain girls make cameo appearances and why one certain girl goes out of her was to help Tomoya during a tough time late in the movie. Those who are familiar with the series will not feel like they are watching merely a repeat, as numerous important details get shifted around, outright changed, or eliminated; the individual who has the serious martial arts skill and uses it to keep Sunohara in line is different in the movie than in the TV series, for instance, as is the person who gets shown working for the electric company (Tomoya is a past employee in this case) and where certain momentous events take place. The nature of the dreams and alternate-world content is entirely different here, too, and certain bad things that happen to Tomoya's father do not happen here; in fact, he plays a significantly different role in the later stages of the story, one that powerfully drives home how dysfunction within a family can be passed on from generation to generation and how outside influences are often necessary to break such a pattern.
Condensing the story to 90 minutes also requires making certain story and characterization adjustments. One curious consequence is giving the two leads more consistent personalities. Without the need to have him break down and help every girl who comes along, and with the comedy component minimized, the story is now free to paint Tomoya as a more purely jaded and disillusioned young man, one who does not easily succumb to Nagisa's charms and practically has to be forced to expand the range of his relationships. Nagisa, contrarily, comes off as having more of a quiet strength, the kind of person who has suffered and been socially marginalized because of her frailty but still pursues what she wants with a fierce determination, and that include making a connection with the kindred soul she senses in Tomoya. That results in Nagisa's most fateful decision making abundantly more sense here, even if viewers might find themselves disagreeing with it. The movie also portrays events from the latter third of After Story dramatically differently, which results in one key tragedy being a nasty surprise to newcomers rather than building up to it with a steadily increasing sense of dread, as the TV series did. That does not make the approach the movie takes any less effective, just different.
All of that would allow the movie to come out about even with the TV series, but it excels in one crucial aspect: its ending, though abrupt, feels more genuine, as it does not pull the total cop-out gimmick that the end of After Story does. Those who detested that ending may find the movie much more to their liking, while those who found the original ending fitting may still find a lot of satisfaction (even if it is more bittersweet) in the way this one ends.
The overall visual technical merits are a minor upgrade over the two TV series, with the colors seeming a little more vibrant here, while the animation sees a bigger upgrade. Character and setting designs remain the same and the overall visual effect is nearly identical, but the visual gimmicks used – especially in the creative use of camera angles and zooms – mark the influence of the venerable Osamu Dezaki. He may be better-known for directing titles like Lupin III, Space Adventure Cobra, and the Golgo 13 movies, but he has also done more purely dramatic fare like Ashita no Joe and Nobody's Boy Remi, so his ability to handle serious and emotional content and enhance them with compelling visual cues is not lacking, and that shows here; the early meeting of Tomoya and Nagisa is set against a scene of swirling cherry blossoms, a striking visual which has certainly been attempted else where but sees one of its most beautiful and effective uses here. Sadly, this 2007 production via Toei Animation was his final film before his death this past April.
The musical score, which also sports a different director, is distinctly better. Mostly absent are the themes borrowed from visual novel background music, which are replaced with a stronger, more melodic, and more consistent sound which only breaks form in one place and effectively conveys the mood of the content without going overboard. The score does incorporate the opening and closing songs from the two TV series, most prominently “Big Dango Family,” which is both sung by Nagisa and used as a recurring theme in some of the more poignant scenes involving Nagisa and a certain other character. It also appears prominently in the collection of end credit songs.
The Extras that Sentai Filmworks provides are minimal, including only an extensive set of character sketches. This release is dubbed, though, and the dub is a solid one. Luci Christian does not often do purely cutesy voices like Nagisa's, so it is easy to forget how good she is at them; she is an excellent fit here. Greg Ayres was the predictable pick for Sunohara, and Chris Hutchinson is dead-on as Tomoya's father. Andrew Love is an interesting choice for Akio but makes it work, while David Matranga is a reasonably good fit as Tomoya. Issues might be raised about the casting of some of the other girls, but even in the worst case the choices are not questionable enough to be a distraction. The dub script flows along smoothly, changing some lines but never missing a beat. Subtitles are clean of errors and provide translation notes in appropriate places.
The two key factors determining whether the movie succeeds or not as an alternate take on the Clannad story are its pacing and the strength of its emotional impact. The pacing here is smoother than in most alternate interpretations, and while its key moments may not achieve the overwhelming emotional intensity that certain scenes in After Story could muster, the movie does well enough on that front, too. In fact, the movie's only major flaw is its peripheral inclusion of the secondary girls without sufficiently justifying their presence. Even so, it is a worthy complement to the TV series for fans and a good gateway into the franchise for newcomers.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Pretty artistry, strong emotional appeal, eliminates some of the TV series' nuisances.
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