Region: 2 - UK
Volume: 1 of 3
Length: 280 minutes
English 2.0 Stereo
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Tomoya Okazaki is a third year high school student resentful of his life. His mother passed away from a car accident when he was younger, causing his father to resort to alcohol and gambling. This results in fights between the two until Tomoya's shoulder is injured in a fight. Since then, Tomoya has had distant relationships with his father, causing him to become a delinquent over time. While on a walk to school, he meets a strange girl named Nagisa Furukawa who is a year older, but is repeating due to illness. Due to this, she is often alone as most of her friends have moved on. The two begin hanging out and slowly, as time goes by, Tomoya finds his life shifting in a new direction.
I'm a bit of a mush. See, I'm not a person that breaks out in a daze whenever something cute happens but simple little things affect me. Like many people hitting their thirties, I look back on my teenage years and what could have been. I'm mature enough now to see choices where I, in the words of Captain Kirk, "turned left when I should've turned right." But unlike fiction, a misstep wouldn't have had a happy ending, not in the place where I grew up. My teen years were a time fraught with decision and indecision. So when I came to Kyoto Animation's adaptation of the visual novel CLANNAD by veteran visual novel creators KEY, I found a certain amount of relatability to the characters and also a little "suspend my disbelief" as well.
Tomoya Okazaki is a 17 year old high schooler going to school in Tokyo. His home life is a disaster: his father, after the death of his wife and Tomoya's mother, drinks all the time and wanders aimlessly in life. At school Tomoya drifts from class to class not caring about anything. His life as he sees it, is one of endless repetition. One day, he meets a curious girl in his class year called Nagisa Furukawa. After striking up a slightly weird conversation with her, the two become friends and the story of CLANNAD is about their relationship and the relationships that form out of it. The plot aside, I'm going to weigh the pros and cons of the episodes I've seen. I'll give my conclusion and leave you to form your own opinion.
Little acorns grow into decent trees in this series. What I mean by that is that the series does a good job at relationship construction. We can see as Nagisa and Tomoya interact with each other, that he wants to see her get ahead in life. She has a nice home life with two wacky, if doting parents but illness has forced her to repeat the year so socially she's awkward. Tomoya, on the surface at least, seems to treat Nagisa as an experiment, not pushed but interested to see what happens. But his attitude towards others, and especially Nagisa, starts to change as the episodes progress. As Tomoya brings in more people in for Nagisa to interact with, ostensibly for her benefit, they in turn bring Tomoya out of his shell and and force him to start thinking instead of just reacting. Also the supporting characters are interesting for their eccentricities. Sunohara for his delusional belief in himself, Fuko for her dazes around cute things, Kotomi as she reads in the library and is, just, there but not there. Nagisa's parents and their overreaction to absolutely EVERYTHING makes me laugh every time they swing into gear. Together with the rest of the cast, they serve as excellent foils to bounce against Tomoya and Nagisa.
The voice cast is good with Mai Nakahara (Nagisa) and Yuichi Nakamura (Tomaya) performaces being the best and allowing the rest some latitude. In the English track, Sentai Filmworks has outdone themselves by reuniting the Harada sisters from DNAngel, with Luci Christian as Nagisa and Hilary Haag as Fuko. They really play earnest and cute to a tee. David Matranga as Tomoya is good playing him quiet and understated for the most part. Two final things about the English dub: firstly, it's great that Greg Ayres is playing Sunohara. Every time he gets bashed by one of the girls, his squeaky, put upon voice always does the trick. Finally, the voice of Tomoyo Sakagami (Kaytha Coker) sounds slightly too old for the role but otherwise gives a flawless performance. The show also does an amazing trick with how characters get framed in camera shots, where still moments have the cast in the corners or the bottom of the frame. This draws your attention away from the cast and on the backgrounds as the characters audibly imprint their dialogue onto your sub-conscience.
Oh, boy. The only con as far as I can observe is the sheer level of audience manipulation going on. The creators of both the show, and its original material, know full damned well which buttons to push in order for me to like the show. Nagisa is cute but shy, Tomoyo Sakagami is full on, Fuko is small and earnest, etc. I watch the show as it turns the screws on me and as a rational, thoughtful person I can see it happening! But there's nothing I can do about it (other than not watch it). To prove my point, how's this? I watched as a particular character started to make their exit from the storyline. I knew this was going to happen way in advance because I read the markers and hints the show was making. Yet when the episode arrived and the cast figured out what was going to happen, I was still in tears at their exit. On one hand, it's only an animated show, it isn't real. But on the other, KEY got me to care about these characters after I'd only been watching for a few episodes. I'm afraid that too much manipulation on the show's part would leave the viewers (namely me) a blubbering mess and unable to see the good in the show happening. Also, the end song "Big Dango Family" always makes me sad for some reason. Don't know why, can't tell you.
In the end, CLANNAD changed my opinion on visual novel adaptations. I had previously disparaged people who cried about them or got upset by them. So I must apologise to the unseen multitudes whom I scorned. Sorry. I give fair warning to the unprepared: this show will mess with you if you're not ready. It therefore won't be for everyone, and I'm still not a fan of the genre it's in due to the level of strings being pulled, but I would recommend the show nevertheless for the brave.