I'm not fond of Key properties.
A couple years back, I watched all of Air in two sittings and was a blubbering mess by the end of it. The intense emotional trauma compacted into a short period of time combined with intense sleep depravation made Air the most meaningful show I had seen up to that point. I head that belief for about a year, until my local anime club started showing it. Watching it the second time, I found that I was not as enamored with it as I was on my first watch. In fact, I found the story to be half-baked at its best and near incomprehensible at its worst. The over-reliance on schmaltzy scenes to garner pity for Misuzu and the other girls in Air grated on my second past. And don't get me started on the character design. I didn't like it the first time I watch, my less the second time.
That's not to say that I'm incapable of understanding what people find good and/or interesting about their properties. I can understand why some dig Key properties like Kanon, Angel Beats and Clannad. I just couldn't get into it, as the things that bothered me in Air were either similar or worse in these properites. However, I decided to give Clannad a try, as I heard that it was different enough from Key's previous efforts. How did I like it? Well, you'll have to hit the jump to find out the specific details, but let's just say that I may be willing to give Key another chance.
Clannad: Complete Collection [BD]
The main character of Clannad is Tomoya Okazaki, a high school senior whose future prospects are dim and ambitions are minimal. He wastes his last year in school by ditching class with his friend Youhei, all the while waiting for time to pass him by. One day, Tomoya sees a girl talking to herself while on his way to school. The girl, a senior named Nagisa Furukawa, is repeating a last year after being forced to miss nine months the previous year due to sickness. The two strike up an odd friendship centered around restarting the defunct theater club. Through their efforts at recreating the theater club, Tomoya helps several classmates with their problems and slowly works through his own problems.
So wait, this show is essentially about a misfit guy who has some sort of relationship with a sickly girl and helps several other emotionally scarred chicks through their issues? Huh, that sounds just like the other Key shows that I mentioned earlier. Well, in a way you are right. In fact, some of the same issues that I mentioned in Air are still present in Clannad. There are quite a few emotionally torturous moments (Fuko's arc in particular comes to mind) that brought me to tears that probably wouldn't have the same kind of impact on repeat viewings. This is definitely stuff you've seen before. However, Clannad's overarching story are strong enough on their own and don't just rely on a maudlin focus on sorrow to make an impact on the viewer. The scenes of Tomoya and his father early on hit just as hard as the end of Fuko's arc, but in completely different and effective ways. It must also be mentioned that the comedy in Clannad serves as a good way to keep the show from being dragged down in depression. It acts as a good pallet cleanser between emotional dishes, so to speak.
Part of what makes the story so strong are the characters that inhabit Clannad's world. Tomoya is a great lead man, in part thanks to Yuichi Nakamura's solid performance. It would've been easy to have Tomoya portrayed as a cynical and sarcastic jerk, but his pathos is balanced with the right amount of humor to keep him from falling into the traps of the past. You can kind of understand his blasé attitude toward the world when you see the kind of home life he has. Nagisa is well done, especially by Key sickly-girl standards. Once again, it would've been easy to make her into a weak and pitiable, but her ailments do not dominate her. You can believe that Tomoya and Nagisa could foster a friendship that leads to something more over time.
The side characters are generally pretty solid. Youhei plays the hapless friend who is always in trouble, yet even he has his moments of lucidity. The requisite cadre of ladies appear, with mixed results. Their stories were pretty good overall, but I found that their personalities definitely were made to appeal to different fetishes. For instance, I dug the nerdy bookworm (Kotomi) and the blowsy older sister (Kyou), but I could care less for the younger classmate (Fuko.) None of them were offensive enough to irritate me, but you'll definitely find yourself drawn to some of the girls more than the others.
In terms of how Clannad looked, it's definitely a step up from previous shows. The (in)famous Key art style is definitely here, but it isn't as exaggerated as it is in other titles. The only character that suffers from excessive Key is Fuko and it has more to do with her being smaller than the other characters. There is an overabundance of purple haired girls, but they look different enough that you won't be confusing them. The backgrounds tend to be bright and colorful, made better by the quality of Blu Ray. Make no mistake, this is a helluva pretty show that is definitely made better by high definition. Unfortunately, since I lack a way to capture screenshots on BD, the screencaps you see are from the the show proper. While they look alright, they're definitely much better looking on the BD, take my word for it!
If you want a good show to introduce somebody to Key, I'd definitely suggest Clannad. It takes what they do best (emotionally moving stories) and makes it more accessible and downplays the weaknesses (an over reliance on tragic situations to get you attached to characters) that plague their other shows. Hell, I'd even recommend this to people that are looking for a good drama overall. It doesn't need the Key name to be good. Watching Clannad has even made me more receptive to Key franchises. Considering my previous distaste, that more than anything else should be endorsement enough!
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