Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 22nd 2007
Teen-aged Yuichi used to visit his aunt and cousin Nayuki all the time as a kid, but it has been seven years and his memory of that time has faded. Now he has come to live with them to finish out his high school career beginning with the winter semester, and winds up in his cousin's class. During his first few days in town he (literally) runs into Ayu, a small girl with a winged backpack that, after some prompting, he eventually remembers he used to know, and starts hanging out with her. An encounter with an amnesiac girl named Makoto, who can only remember that she has a grudge against Yuichi, results in Makoto coming to live at his aunt's house, and he also meets an assortment of other girls, including Nayuki's friend and classmate Kaori, the mysteriously truant Shiori, and upperclassmen Sayuri and Mai. As pleasant as things are, though, mysteries abound. What happened to Makoto's memory? Why can't he remember more? And what other secrets lurk in this town?
To be clear, what ADV calls Kanon is what fans often call Kanon 2006, the 24-episode 2006 TV remake of the original 13-episode 2002 TV series. Both are based on work originally done by Visual Art's[sic]/Key, which should be eminently obvious to anyone familiar with Air, another of their titles. In fact, if Air is Key's summer story then Kanon can be looked upon as its winter counterpart. It can also be looked upon as highly derivative of Air (or Air is actually highly derivative of it, since technically it was animated first) and one the most blatant examples of the current moe fad in anime.
One cannot watch the first few episodes of Kanon without the words “formulaic moe haremfest” or something similar coming to mind, as everything about the designs, personality quirks, and behavior of the myriad array of cute girls populating the story screams characteristic moe traits; you even have two girls, instead of just one, with cutesy little characteristic sound effects! (Ayu's “uguu” and Makoto's “auu.”) Any big fan of moe should be in Seventh Heaven watching the first few episodes of this series, while others may feel like they're drowning in a vat of gooey cuteness. If you have no idea of what moe is all about, watch this volume to educate yourself, as you will be hard-pressed to find a more representative example of the style.
Like Air, the first four episodes can be simply summarized as “male lead arrives in town and kills time interacting with cute girls.” Unlike Air, however, these interactions can occasionally be very funny. Yeah, little of the humor is any more sophisticated than basic slapstick or exchanges of insults, but it sometimes works quite well and can help carry the series for those who need at least a bit more than pure moe content to sustain their viewing experience.
A decided air of mystery, and the occasional hidden detail, also helps. Although these episodes never dwell on it, the storytelling drops too many little hints that there is a bigger picture here than is immediately apparent. Lost memories in anime are usually a sign of serious tragedy in the past, and that coupled with a careful piecing together of various tidbits should allow a diligent viewer to start suspecting what happened seven years ago. The strangely evasive Shiori speaks to another puzzle (is the innocuous background shot of her in episode 1 a clue?), as do brief shots of Mai at the end of episodes 3 and 4, although the preview for episode 5 explains that one. Makoto's odd case of amnesia poses further questions. Still, these mysteries give the series otherwise firmly mired in ordinary slice-of-life territory at least some semblance of complexity.
Additional appeal can be found in the range of character personalities, which mostly fit the standard selection for a series like this but definitely offer something for every taste. It's hard not to like the sensible Nayuki, who goes to no personality extreme beyond being a remarkably deep sleeper, and Makoto's energetically snippy relationship with Yuichi generates a lot of the humor. (But watch for a dramatically, and quite possibly meaningfully, different side of her in episode 4.) Ayu persists on a degree of earnest cuteness that will endear her to some viewers, while others may take more of a liking to the calmly mysterious Shiori or Kaori's level-headed practicality and almost perverse exploitation of her devoted “porter” Jun. Sayuri has not had enough screen time to suggest more than the slight arrogance of a senior, but Mai already gives the distinct impression of being the quiet, businesslike follower with the hidden agenda.
The production also scores visually. Kyoto Animation has built its reputation on attractive, well-rendered and well-animated artistry with a high degree of quality control, and Kanon represents one of their finest efforts to date. They take all of the style and character design standards they used in Air and upgrade them another notch, which results in a remarkably pretty series that shows little weakness in backgrounds, character designs, integration, or animation. Sure, the cutesy character style may not work for everyone, and the winged backpack of Ayu may be a little overkill, but moe fans should find it impossible to resist. Even the winter school uniforms for girls look positively darling. The only place where a significant visual flaw can be found is in the too-artificial look of puffs of frosty breath, but that requires serious nitpicking. Fan service is limited to one very brief scene of a girl in undergarments, but content like this isn't about sexualizing its female characters anyway.
The one glaring weakness to the series so far is its pedestrian soundtrack, whose low-key, innocuous musical numbers do little to enhance the storytelling or effectively set mood and show no spark of creativity. Only in the scene with the jam does it excel. “Last Regrets,” its opener, even sounds like an Air left-over and is more notable for its visuals. At least its closer, which features the upbeat song “Where The Winds Go” set to animation of Ayu running across a snowy field, offers something positive.
The English dub fares much, much better. Normally the lower pitch of female English voice actresses compared to their Japanese counterparts makes it difficult to sufficiently duplicate the “cutesy overload” style used in series like this, but the well-chosen English cast does a remarkably good job of translating the desired effect into American English language terms while still giving their girls distinct vocal character, and Chris Patton does his part by being appropriately snarky, combative, or nice as Yuichi, depending on the situation. The English dub does emphasize the cutesy catch phrases less, but uses them enough that sub fans shouldn't complain too much. The English script is a bit loose but free-flowing, with its only significant flaw coming from actually being too literal at one point. (In one scene it has Sayuri using her own name instead of “I,” which is the way it's done in Japanese but sounds unnatural and pretentious in English.)
In addition to the ubiquitous clean opener and closer in ADV productions, the first volume also includes a seven-minute featurette that offers the first part of a look at the production process for Kanon. It is almost worth watching for its detailed production flow chart alone. ADV also deserves kudos for its especially nice choice of cover art.
Based on the first volume alone, Kanon looks like an improved version of Air, something that director Tatsuya Ishihara admits in the behind-the-scenes piece that he was specifically trying to do. Whether or not that will hold true for the entire series run remains to be seen, but it certainly gets off to a better start. It may be an all-out moefest, but thanks to its mystery, effective humor, and quality visuals even those not into that sort of thing may find it entertaining.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : C
+ Excellent visuals, can be entertaining even for those not into moe.
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