Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 29th 2008
Mai's destructive battle against the demons at the school dance nearly gets her expelled, after which Yuichi resolves to learn to fight and help Mai combat the demons, whether she wants the help or not. Eventually Yuichi learns both Mai and Shiori's stories and how they met, but even the most mundane of items proves able to spark his own forgotten memories and make him realize that he has a past connection to Mai that may have everything to do with present circumstances. In the aftermath of the decisive battle against the demons Yuichi's attention turns more towards Shiori and Kaori, who seems to be Shiori's older sister even though she won't admit it. As he soon learns, Shiori is far sicker than she has let on, and that lies at the core of a strained relationship between the siblings that he seeks to heal. Yuichi never completely overlooks Ayu while dealing with the other girls, and when her turn comes, the bond between the two of them deepens. A mystery still lurks in their shared past, however, one which could ultimately prove devastating.
Meanwhile Nayuki continues to take a back seat to the other girls but still lingers in the background, resigned that her true affections remain unrequited.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Kanon is how it can piddle along with its cutesy day-to-day activities, gradually lulling a viewer into a stupor, and yet somehow manage to transform those stupor-induced interludes into involving and effective emotional content. This does not happen without some flaws, but Kanon succeeds far better than most other series of its type and looks great doing so. These eight episodes continue that tradition.
After devoting several episodes to pure set-up, the series has shifted fully into “resolve each girl's individual story” mode. The focus on Mai began in volume 3 and continues through the first two episodes of volume 4, drawing Sayuri along as a complementary player since her backstory is at least partly connected to Mai's. During that arc Sayuri explicitly explains why she refers to herself in the third person and the source of the series' title becomes clear. (It is apparently a misspelling of “canon,” a reference to a type of contrapuntal song involving rhythms or verses repeated in offset starting points, which also explains why all of the episode names use musical references and, in a sense, reflects the story's own cycling structure.) Although Mai having a “seven years ago” connection to Yuichi should comes as no surprise, what exactly that has to do with her current demon-fighting circumstances, and the true nature of the demons, are much more novel and complicated twists.
Between the second half of volume 4 and the first half of volume 5 Shiori comes to center stage, though Yuichi's regular encounters with her popped up all through the earlier Mai material. The writing dodges around ever naming her mysterious illness, but by offering her backstory the series finally shows why she does not attend school. Kaori gets firmly drawn into Shiori's story, with the reasons why she refuses to acknowledge Shiori as her sister being especially sad, all the moreso because of how selfish they are. The resolution of that storyline may be more predictable than the others, but that does not dampen its almost tear-jerking poignancy.
Although Ayu has made regular appearances all along, gradually reestablishing the relationship she had with Yuichi seven years ago, with episodes 19 and 20 the focus shifts exclusively to her. As it does so, the story drops hints about the precious thing she has lost that she can't remember and offers further clues about who (what?) she may really be. The sense of foreboding about the truth of seven years ago only grows deeper.
As with earlier volumes, these two certainly cannot be criticized about their lush, pretty visuals, complete with sharp coloring, well-detailed backgrounds, eye-pleasing (if blatantly moe) character designs, and a level of animation which shows some tiny flaws but wins points for its background animation and actually having its characters occasionally blink. The musical score impresses less but is never an obstruction, and the English dub continues to do a perfectly serviceable job, though those who hear the Japanese dub first may have mixed opinions on casting choices beyond Chris Patton as Yuichi. ADV's English script has to take some big liberties in places; one dialog exchange in episode 19 concerning the type of pronoun Ayu uses to refer to herself, and Yuichi kidding her about using an inappropriate one, does not translate to English at all, for instance. While the English script's effort to work around that problem feels awkward, ADV did put fansub-like comments on the screen to explain the original issue and where the issue/joke was with it. In most other places the efforts to adjust dialog proceed much more smoothly, allowing the tone of the original to carry through if not the exact translation.
For all its strong points, the series does have some flaws, and they show as prominently in this stretch of episodes as anywhere in the series. It overplays the mundane cutesiness and moe cards at times, creating long stretches of time where little actually happens, and the quirkiness too blatantly panders to moe tastes. (Of course, if you are a big fan of moe content then this may not be an issue for you.) The plotting has a tendency to ignore other characters when convenient in order to focus on the feature girl of the moment, such as hardly acknowledging the existence of any of the previous featured girls once their turn has passed. Granted, this is attributable to the story being based on a visual novel, but the writing retains too much of the feel of that format without sufficiently transitioning the structure into a more evenly-flowing anime series format. Yuichi's portrayal is a little too erratic to be fully credible, as he bounces too easily between being acerbic and unfailingly nice and helpful and makes much too quick and easy a transition between girls to be believable. On the sum these are not major problems, but they are enough to keep the series from being ranked amongst the best.
Extras between both volumes include clean opener and closer and parts 5-7 of the “behind the scenes” documentary on the creation of the series. (Part 5 is on volume 4, Parts 6 and 7 are on volume 5.)
If you have enjoyed the series so far, these two volumes offer nothing that should turn you away. While not brilliant, the episodes in this span provide solid, pleasant entertainment occasionally punctuated by touchingly emotional moments.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Very strong individual scenes, looks great.
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