In all honesty, Clannad was a treat that I totally wasn't expecting. Prior to its appearance in America I heard good things about the series, but didn't really jump at the chance to check it out upon release here. Man, do I wish I did! This show turned out to be a real charmer and it quickly became one of the best series I've seen in a long time!
Clannad originated as a PC game by developer Key, who also worked on Air and Kanon (two other successful franchises). Since I haven't played the game I cannot compare the anime version to that title, though I must say that when stacked up against the other aforementioned animated works by Key, Clannad is every bit as good. It would seem that the developer has a real knack for creating characters and drawing you into their worlds. As you watch you come to truly care for the kids here and the atmosphere is truly a cut above the rest.
For its American debut, Clannad's first series has been broken up into two DVD releases by Sentai Filmworks. The first (reviewed here) features twelve episodes on two DVDs, while the second includes the remaining episodes on two discs as well. Both feature their own shifts in storytelling and focus, but one constant that remains between both is the unparalleled quality. I fell in love with this series from the very first episode and it's highly recommended. But, just what makes the show so darn good?
For starters I do have to say that Clannad's focus isn't exactly a new concept. I mean, it's a show about a bunch of school kids and it takes place mostly on campus, though there are a few bits in each episode outside of the school's grounds. The show also concentrates on the exploits of a male lead as he befriends a bevy of female classmates, so there are some extremely light harem elements. While these two bits of background on the series are undoubtedly center stage most of the time, the thing that sets this one apart from those with similar concepts is the characters.
I cannot stress enough how adept Key is at creating and developing characters. We saw the same thing in Air and Kanon. The quality of the direction for the stars of Clannad is truly exemplary and through the slow maturing of relationships you'll learn more about each personality and literally see the bonds of friendship forming. The characters are so complex, mysterious, genuine, simple, misguided, and loveable at the same time that they truly come to life.
For instance, the lead character of the show, Tomoya, is regarded as a delinquent at school. He's frequently in trouble and most of his classmates think he's a loser. The only person who really spends time with him is his buddy, Sunohara, who is a mischievous troublemaker that pairs well with Tomoya. Well, early on in the show it would seem that Tomoya is boring, or a goon. After the series gets rolling we learn that his home life is more or less shattered. His mother died in an accident, his father turned into a gambling alcoholic, and because of that he seeks attention in non-constructive ways. He even begins to question life until the day he meets Nagisa, who is a girl from his school that he's never met.
Nagisa seems aloof at first. She's flighty, strange, and painfully quiet and shy. Once Tomoya is introduced to her, you gradually see both characters change for the better. Nagisa comes out of her shell and makes more friends, and Tomoya even starts turning his delinquent reputation around. We see that he's really a good guy, though he loves to cause trouble once in a while, and he helps people out on several occasions with no thought about being thanked or rewarded. It's through this end that he meets Fuka, and thus the show's first major arc is born.
Fuka is a young girl who is rumored to be a ghost due to the fact that a girl named Fuka was involved in a terrible accident a few years ago. Students rumor that she walks the halls trying to give people cursed presents. When we meet Fuka it's clear that something is up with her, but the plot revolving around the character unfolds over the course of several episodes (much like the relationships do). It's a complex tale that will leave you guessing right up until the end, and I have to say that it was masterfully played. It really tugs at the heartstrings and speaks volumes about the show's atmosphere.
Aside from the main mysterious plotline backing this first volume, Clannad also is imbued with an incredible sense of humor. Tomoya has some great lines and some of his actions are truly hilarious, and the rest of the cast is just as charming and funny. I think the real aware goes to Sunohara, whose spazzy nature livens things up a bit. Watching Sunohara confront a girl named Tomoyo, who is incredibly violent and skilled at fighting, all because he thinks she's truly a boy is priceless.
From start to finish, this volume of Clannad is truly a winner. The show pops with so much energy and such originality that it should be a crime to let it slip by you. Key proves time and time again that they are masters at their craft, and this one is no exception. Highly, highly recommended!
Clannad is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The show's production from 2007 leaves the series looking very sharp, clean, and attractive. I'm not sure exactly how much effort had to go into this transfer by Sentai Filmworks, but dare I say the discs are virtually flawless. The colors are vibrant, the lines are clean, and all around there is hardly a thing to complain about. I will say that some grain does permeate some scenes, and a few miniscule bits of compression artifacts can be spotted at times, but both of this occurrences are rare and hardly worth mentioning.
Where Clannad disappoints a little is its audio package. This DVD ships with Japanese 2.0 stereo as its only option. An English dub was left out of the equation, though optional English subtitles are available for those who aren't fluent in Japanese (*raises hand). The quality of what's here is good, but not exactly a homerun. With the 2.0 presentation the sense of immersion just isn't strong at all, however, in all fairness this isn't a show that necessarily needs more than what it got. Clannad is dialogue-driven and there isn't much in the way of effects to exploit, so minimalism isn't really a bad thing.
Some trailers and clean animations are all you're going to find here for bonus features.
Clannad floored me. Honestly. I fell in love with the show from the very first episode and each subsequent episode just drew me in even more. Everything from the characters to the atmosphere and the story is simply spectacularly portrayed. The pacing of the series is slower than most shows, but that works for it somehow. I savored every minute of it and cannot for the life of me get the closing theme-song out of my head. You'll laugh, you'll feel your heartstrings tugged, and you'll come back for more. Clannad is highly recommended.
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