Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 8th 2008
Late one night at school Yuichi discovers a quiet girl wielding a sword. It is Mai, who professes to be a demon hunter and warns Yuichi to stay near Makoto, for she will soon need him more than ever before. Further encounters with all the girls, including a date with Ayu, start to stimulate Yuichi's memories of the events of seven years past, but mysteries still linger, including the presence of a new girl who seems to have some sense of Makoto's situation. As Yuichi spends more time with Makoto and her physical and mental abilities start to deteriorate, he gradually pieces together who she really is, but will the shocking truth come out in time to save her from her fate? And can he also save Nayuki from her (literally) unhealthy attraction to cats? Later, Yuichi turns his attention towards Mai, and an invitation to an upcoming formal dance may be just the ticket to help her break out of her shell.
The story Kanon tells can fairly be accused of being more a collection of events and scenes specifically designed to pander to fans than an actual linear plot. The first three volumes represent pandering done right, however. They may suffer from plot holes and an improbably and inconsistently kind-hearted male lead, and the whole “Yuichi spends time chastely interacting with numerous cute girls” scheme already starts to feel tired and artificial by the third volume, but the series is too darn adorable to hold any of its flaws against it for long.
So what makes a series like this work in the early going where a series like Shuffle, which also focuses on a basically kind-hearted guy interacting with numerous girls, bombs? Vastly superior production values aside, it primarily comes down to one thing: Kanon's characters endear themselves to the viewer (whether you want them to or not) far better than what Shuffle's do, and surprisingly, they do it without going entirely overboard. As almost unbelievably nice and accommodating as Yuichi can be, he also has a delightfully mean streak in the way he has fun with, and pokes fun at, the various girls in his life; his snarky attitude may disappear when the situation with Makoto comes to a head in episodes 9 and 10, but it returns in full force afterwards and is certainly present through most of volume 2. Nayuki's weird sleeping habits and obsession with petting cats despite being badly allergic to them are just too cute to deny, watching Ayu struggle to cope with a horror movie will draw most viewers in even if her basic cuteness does not, and Makoto can be thoroughly lovable when not trying to play tricks on Yuichi. (Even the darling cat-on-head thing never gets to be too much.) Sayuri and even Mia also have their moments, the latter especially in the formal dance episode, as does Nayuki's aunt Akiko with her charming motherly cuteness and abrupt decisiveness. Less effective are Kaori and mystery girl Shiori, although subtle hints are finally dropped about the latter's disposition.
Effectively transitioning between humor and serious content also makes a big difference. Kanon can be terribly funny when it tries to be, such as one scene in episode 12 where Nayuki has trouble staying awake at the breakfast table or some of the Makoto/Yuichi antics involving night attacks in volume 2. It can also drop the normal comedy routine and ratchet up the tug-at-your-heart drama when it needs to, as it shows from late in episode 8 through the end of episode 10, or simply just be cute in its exploration of Yuichi's daily encounters with one or more of his array of girls.
Still central to the series' plotting are the various mysteries surrounding the girls, and like with its predecessor Air, the writing seems intent on focusing on the girls one by one while sorting out their peculiarities, although because this is a longer series it must throw in extra “Yuichi interacts with girls” content to fill out some episodes. Makoto's story is the first to be concretely dealt with, as episode 8 reveals the stunning truth behind who she really is, why she's here, and why she can't remember anything, while episode 9 suggests why her initial reaction to Yuichi is to think she should hate him for some reason and why she says “auu” as her trademark cutesy affectation. Her real identity is a revelation which no one will see coming, the kind of thing which angles the series in a different direction by its very presence and implies that the secrets of the other girls may also be extraordinary. Mai seems to be next, as the focus partly shifts to back to her beginning in episode 11 after revealing her demon-hunting side in episode 5, but new hints also get dropped about both Ayu and Shiori, too. The more Yuichi remembers, the more, it seems, that he has had past ties with most of these girls in one way or another.
The sharp visuals that typify Kyoto Animation's work once again shine through here, producing two attractive volumes of animation. Facial designs for the girls, which take the “big eyes, small mouth” principle to extremes, may not suit everyone, but the appealing designs and costuming capture just the right amount of cuteness without resorting to sugary overkill. (Well, except for the almost obscenely cutesy scenes of certain girls eating.) Background detail never lacks, but nary a hint of fan service will be found anywhere in this span of episodes. Nudity or panty flashing-based service would, in fact, run contrary to the overall tone of the series.
Despite faring slightly better in the more heavily dramatic content of episodes 9 and 10, the soundtrack remains the weakest link. The English dub generally hits the mark, though, with Chris Patton turning in some especially fine work in the more emotional parts of episodes 9 and 10; he is not normally called upon to do such content, but handles it impressively well here. The voices of the girls may not always be a perfect match for the original performers, but little complaint can be had with the actual performances. The same can be said about the English script, although hopefully an explanation will be coming soon about why Sayuri always speaks in the third person in English.
For Extras, both volumes include clean opener and closer, while between them they offer parts 2-4 of “Kanon: A Closer Look At An Anime Production House.”
Not everything Kanon does works, but even when just being cutesy its second and third volumes still manage to be quite entertaining. That will take a series far.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : C+
+ Can be both effectively funny and effectively sad, looks great.
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