Dai Gurren Dango Dai Kazoku: Kyoto Animation’s Clannad

Oh, Furukawa

More than any other company in the world, Key associated with the concept of moe. It is responsible for revolutionizing the visual novel with its heavy emphasis on tragedy and empathy. The heroines of Key games are deeply flawed (some might say too flawed), and to care for them is to feel the pain of your own existence. Their fantasies come with a price.

Kanon and Air, two of Key’s most famous works, were adapted into animated series by Kyoto Animation with great success. They remained faithful to their original source material while adapting them to fit the needs of the television series format. In 2008 they took on the third of the “Seasons” tetralogy (each major Key game takes place in a different season of the year), Clannad.

Clannad is the story of Okazaki Tomoya, a young man in his senior year of high school, whose aspirations in life have been rapidly fading away ever since he had a falling out with his father a few years ago. A chance meeting with Furukawa Nagisa, a shy, soft-spoken high school girl with a love of anthropomorphic snacks, and her desire to re-establish the defunct Drama Club puts Tomoya on the path to rediscovering what it’s like to have hopes and dreams.

The gentle Furukawa Nagisa, the starfish-obsessed Ibuki Fuuko, the introverted genius Ichinose Kotomi, the athletic and aggressive Fujibayashi Kyou, and the dangerously powerful Sakagami Tomoyo comprise the main heroines of Clannad with significant story time devoted to all of them. Behind them is an even larger cast of secondary and minor characters, chief among them being Sunohara Youhei (Tomoya’s best friend), Fujibayashi Ryou (Kyou’s twin sister), and Nagisa’s parents. However, don’t take my brief descriptors as evidence of the characters being shallow or underdeveloped. They are all given time and room to express the many facets of their characters, even the minor ones.

Delving into the characters’ pasts can at times become overly reliant on exposition, and though I am a fan of exposition in general I’ve found the best moments in the show come from when Clannad does not present you with all of the facts. The most notable example that comes to mind is a moment where Youhei, in an angry outburst, hints at the reasons why he and Tomoya became best friends. No more explanation is necessary to understand Youhei’s character at that point in the story.

Clannad is Key improved through years of experience. It doesn’t break any genre conventions, as it is still, at its heart, an anime based on a relationship-heavy visual novel, and it has its cast of cute, moe female characters, but it and the people at Kyoto Animation did try some new things to set it apart from the other Key adaptations.

Clannad, while still very much a conventional Key-style moe drama, does do a few things different from its predecessors. Aside from a few exceptions, there is less emphasis on the supernatural. Also, Kyoto Animation structured it differently compared to Kanon and Air. While there is a strong focus on each of the main heroines and the series can be divided into chapters, the girls do not suddenly stop mattering when their story arcs finish. Nagisa’s story is the most notable, as it is developed throughout the series, from episode 1 on. It clearly puts her in the position of the Clannad heroine, though based on any remote amount of information or even the events of the first episode this should not be a surprise or a spoiler to anyone.

The character designs in Clannad are much like the ones used in Kanon and Air, and they are the most prominent aspect associated with Key, even more than their penchant for supernatural tragedy. There are no surprises in this regard, though the school uniforms are much better designed compared to the ones worn in the previous two major Key works, and the spring-time setting of Clannad results in a more subtle atmosphere for backgrounds and overall artwork. The series also has a surprising amount of animation for a show so heavily based on words, but at this point it’s par for the course with Kyoto Animation.

Clannad is not entirely based in sorrow and anguish, and in many respects it is lighter on the tragedy than the previous Key series. It has more than its fair share of comedic moments, most notably with Fuuko, and it blends the lighter and heavier sides of its story with a sort of deftness that’s not easy to achieve. More than likely, this is the result of both Key and Kyoto Animation gaining experience working with these types of narratives.

If you’re not a fan of the Key-style moe, then Clannad is probably no exception. Clannad is the flavor of Key distilled and refined, and those who treasure its taste will be pleased.

6 thoughts on “Dai Gurren Dango Dai Kazoku: Kyoto Animation’s Clannad

  1. >>the girls do not suddenly stop mattering when their story arcs finish.

    Kotomi and Fuuko definitely did not stop mattering when their stories finished, not at all. *rolls eyes* Also Tomoyo and Kyou didn’t have their own story arcs in the show as they were just piled on top of Nagisa.

    No, I’d say that every girl in the show who got her own story arc and had that story arc complete stopped mattering instantly. Just like in Kanon. Just like in AIR.

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  2. I think you’re confusing what I mean when I say that the girls do not suddenly stop mattering.

    Yes, their stories are resolved and generally they do not invite any more tragedy. But there’s a difference between no longer being center stage and not mattering, and while both Fuuko and Kotomi were not the central focus after their respective arcs they still offered something to the show, be it something as simple as showing how much Tomoya has changed. You can’t have too many characters hogging the spotlight after all, or your story collapses.

    And just because Tomoyo and Kyou did not get quite as much exclusive screen time as the other heroines does not mean their story arcs were simply “piled” onto Nagisa’s. They were integrated in such a way that I think it strengthened all of them overall for the purposes of the anime. Maybe if people are fans of Tomoyo and Kyou they were a little upset, but as I mentioned in my comment about Sunohara, sometimes less is more. After all, it’s actually a mistake to believe that less screen time means that a character is less important, though not a surprising one to make.

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  3. I personally liked how the show dealt with Kyou and Tomoyo. They just didn’t get seven episodes each; they were never in the spotlight alone. As such they didn’t get their own story arc and as such the point of ceasing to matter after the arc is moot with them. But Kotomi and Fuuko…

    Kotomi had maybe 2 lines after her arc was over and Fuuko contributed nothing to anything after hers. Yes, less can be more, but they didn’t do anything—Kotomi became a prop and Fuuko became a gimmick. I don’t think that that’s “more” in any sense of the word, unless we’re talking “more discreet” and “less of a distraction.”

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  4. It’s hard to do a Kyou or Tomoyo arc when the real arc is Nagisa’s. You can’t go deep into Kyou or Tomoyo’s arc when those arcs would severely conflict with other arcs.

    It’s all a shame really. Kyou’s arc was pretty good.

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  5. I just felt that they gave too much time to Fuuko and not enough to some of the others, some feeling rushed… it was like Makato and Kanon all over again. But still, I like how they have done quite alot of it, and it has been enjoyable…

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