Shelf Life Clannad and Clannad After Story
by Paul Jensen, James Beckett,
My daily streaming review shows this season are A Place Further Than the Universe and Laid-Back Camp, which would normally give me a monopoly on all the comfy slice of life stuff. This ain't no ordinary season, though, and there are more shows in that genre than I can even keep track of. Warm fuzziness for everyone! Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Clannad and Clannad After Story
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Shelf Life Reviews
Clannad and Clannad After Story
Nothing this week.
Nothing this week.
Clannad and its sequel come up a lot in discussions of dramatic romance anime, and now the whole series is available in a single set. James watched the whole darn thing for this week's review.
Enter Clannad and its sequel, Clannad After Story. Based on the visual novel of the same name by Key/Visual Art's, I'd long heard of Clannad's power to inspire wistful nostalgia and earnest tears in equal measure, but I'd never had the chance to dig into the series until getting my hands on Sentai's 6-disc blu-ray box set of all 49 episodes. While I was definitely interested to see what Clannad had to offer, I was more looking forward to Clannad After Story, which delves into the struggles of adult life that most romance anime either gloss over or neglect completely. Despite the mixed experiences I've had with previous visual novel adaptations, my hope was that Clannad would be the series to finally break down barriers and deliver the saccharine melodrama that my inner romantic can't resist.
The first season of Clannad follows a familiar visual novel formula: Teenage troublemaker Tomoya Izaki is coasting through life when one day he runs into the shy and soft-spoken Nagisa Furakawa, who lives with her parents in the cozy bakery they operate as a family. Nagisa is dead-set on reviving the high school's defunct drama club, so Tomoya is reluctantly recruited to help her in her mission. As the two go about their work, Tomoya forms relationships with a number of other girls at his school: the headstrong class president and her sweet sister, the school's local genius, a fighter with a reputation for beating down dozens of men at a time, and even a girl who may or may not be some kind of ghostly astral projection.
The friendships and possible romances that bloom from Tomoya's different relationships eventually follow him in his transition to adulthood, which is the focus of Clannad After Story. The toils of struggling to find work, figuring out independent living, and even taking on the challenges of marriage and fatherhood all take center stage in the story. Also weaving through both Clannad and Clannad After story is the story of the Illusory Girl, a mysterious figure who exists in a lonely world with a sole robotic companion; her relation to Tomoya's life and adventures is one of the series' key mysteries.
To say that the Clannad franchise left a strong impression on me would be a massive understatement. Clannad and After Story both take the tropes and traditions associated with their genres and push them to their absolute limit, telling a story that encompasses a lifetime of love, loss, regret, and redemption. While Tomoya occasionally suffers from the malleability that comes with being the leading man of a dating game, he has a clarity of personality and an interior life that other visual novel protagonists have lacked, and even Clannad's more traditional fare is bolstered by the strength of his character. The supporting cast is similarly strong, with each girl getting her own small arc within the larger plot of rescuing the drama club, allowing all of them to leave their own mark on Tomoya's story. Of the main cast, the tough-as-nails Tomoyo makes an incredibly strong impression, despite not getting quite as much to do as she probably should. The mysterious Fuko Ibuki is the focus of a long and emotionally affecting arc in the first season, and I would be lying if I said her story didn't cause me to shed some tears by its conclusion. Nagisa is another figure of central importance, and I was surprised at just how much I ended up loving her role in the story. Normally, I grow tired of the “clumsy, shy, eternally crying” type she represents, but her character is handled with precisely enough care and affection to make her as endearing to the audience as she is to Tomoya.
Not to be outdone, all of Clannad's strengths are amplified in the exemplary sequel series, Clannad After Story. While it does feel a little aimless in its early episodes, the last two-thirds of After Story offer some of the most heartbreaking and authentic explorations everyday adulthood pains I've ever seen in an anime. The melodrama never goes away, of course, but it is balanced out by a sense of realism and painfully relatable emotion that runs throughout the series. As a teenager, I would have undoubtedly been more interested in Tomoya the Bad Boy Who Gets All the Girls, but the 2017 version of me was often shocked at how much I related to Tomoya's journey into adulthood. The conversations he has with his loved ones explaining his exhaustion and anxiety over his new job and his eventual marriage felt almost scarily accurate to what I've experienced as I've entered my late twenties, and I imagine many other viewers will feel the same way. The love and loss he experiences became more painful as I thought about what I would do in his situation, if my family were put through the same struggles. This wellspring of empathy and emotive storytelling is reason enough to consider Clannad and Clannad: After Story resounding successes.
Neither series is perfect, of course. I've tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible in this review, but the very existence of After Story does make some of Clannad's first season feel markedly less impactful, because we know exactly who Tomoya is going to end up with. The relationship dynamics also never venture far outside typical anime territory either. While I appreciated how much emotion was instilled into Tomoya's love for his friends and his eventual spouse, I often felt like their interactions could use a more realistic approach to young love and the early days of marriage. Some aspects of the characters' relationships felt too chaste for the story Clannad is trying to tell, and the extremely traditional way it depicts romantic relationships may not work for every viewer.
Outside of its over-reliance on slice-of-life filler in its first half, After Story also makes some story choices that are guaranteed to be divisive, especially in its final moments. While I personally loved these turns, I can see how many people would see them as a cop-out, especially after 48 episodes of buildup. To reveal too much would be to ruin things, so let me just say that if you do not have any patience for magical realism or deus-ex-machina-esque elements, Clannad's resolution might not work as well for you as it did for me.
Technically, Sentai's release of this collection is a pristine package. Kyoto Animation had existed for years before they adapted Clannad in 2007, but this was when the studio was finally starting to emerge as one of the medium's premier production companies, and their work on this series really shines with the benefit of a high-definition presentation. While the Key art style won't be to everyone's liking, the lushly animated and colorful visuals looks fantastic in motion, especially the scenes that follow the Illusory Girl in her mysterious other world. The audio is also excellent, featuring crisp tracks for both the Japanese and English dubs. The English dub suffers from inconsistent pronunciation and some side characters that sound noticeably amateurish, but the lead performers acquit themselves well, especially David Matranga as Tomoya and Luci Christian as Nagisa. The two performers also provide the set's sole extra feature, a commentary track for one of After Story's most pivotal episodes.
If I had seen Clannad back when I was a teenager, it likely would have earned a spot in my top five favorite anime of all time. As an adult, I have a few more reservations, but I can't deny the profound impact the series still had on me. Its particular brand of high-stakes melodrama won't be to everyone's taste, especially given how much it leans on tropes and familiar clichés, but I feel that the overwhelming empathy that bleeds through the series helps it transcend its own limitations. This is a romance story that goes beyond the simple infatuation of high-school puppy love and tries to explore the real pain and pleasure that comes from growing older and starting a family. It doesn't always hit the mark, but when it does, this show comes at you like a freight train. If you want to indulge in the best kind of cheesy romance that anime has to offer, you owe it to yourself to experience Clannad. I know I won't soon forget it.
Since we don't have a Shelf Obsessed entry this time around, that wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send photos of your anime collection to [email protected] if you'd like to see them featured here!
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