Monday, June 8, 2020

Anime Monday - Clannad

Clannad is something special. It’s a series I’ve told many people to try out, and it’s one I’ve actually watched multiple times. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call it one of my all time favorites, yet it’s also a show I almost didn’t even give a chance. This is my story of how I came to know Clannad, how it changed my life, and why I think everyone should check it out.

Last week I mentioned in an Armored Core 4 post, the story of how I hurt my back in school. Basically it was my senior year of high school, we were playing baseball in PE, and I did something really stupid. I was in the outfield when the ball was hit in my direction, and as I ran over to pick it up and throw it back home, I moved in a way the human body wasn’t meant to. My whole body twisted around, my leg went out, my arm moved awkwardly, and I threw the ball in the completely wrong direction. Yeah, it sucked, but the pain that set in was worse. It got so bad that I couldn’t even move, yet alone walk, and I ended up being confined to a chair because of that. In my Armored Core post I talked about how AC4 was how I spent most of my time during that week of pain, but that was actually only half the story. The other half of that time was actually spent on Clannad.

I came across Clannad as I was browsing this “newer” anime site called “Crunchyroll” (yes). Back then it was filled with fan subs (as anime wasn’t quite as popular back then), and I would often just pick something at random, to see if I would like it. Well that’s when Clannad caught my eye. I didn’t know anything about it, but the summary sounded interesting enough to check it out. So I started it up, and then almost instantly dropped it. The moment the main character entered the classroom, and the classroom rep pulled out fortune telling cards, I was out. I didn’t want to watch anything with “occult” themes, and stupid me thought that’s what Clannad would be. Well, about 10-15 minutes later, I had a funny feeling that I should go back and give it a chance. I’m not sure how to put it, but I felt as if I would regret it if I didn’t take the time to watch it. So I made my way back to the series page, restarted episode 1, and before I knew it the hours had flown by. I was hooked.

Later on this “random anime” would actually have a big impact on me. I still remember the day that I was standing at the locker of one of my friend’s at school, and I heard some random girl yell “THE BIG DANGO FAMILY!” The Big Dango Family is a “series” within the Clannad universe, and considering how niche anime was at the time, I never expected anyone else to ever reference it. So of course I ran over to her and said something along the lines of “DID YOU JUST SAY THE BIG DANGO FAMILY!?” And after that we became friends. Not just me and her, but basically a new “group” had formed, with a mix of new and old friends joining in. It was pretty crazy how things worked out, but during our time together (high school, and even our college years), we had a lot of fun. A lot of memories were made that would’ve never happened if I hadn’t given Clannad a chance.

But, what is Clannad?


The Story of Clannad:

Unknown to me at the time, Clannad was actually an adaptation of a visual novel of the same name. It was created by Key, and followed in the footsteps of games/anime series such as Air and Kanon. The story revolved around a young man by the name of Tomoya, who is struggling with his current daily life. He hates school, only really has one friend, and the two of them are known as trouble makers among their piers. Although Tomoya technically lives at home with his dad, the two don’t get along, and even talk to each other using formal speech (which in Japanese there are multiple “dialogue” styles depending on who you are addressing). Basically Tomoya feels like a stranger when he’s around his own dad, and their past fights and his drinking doesn’t make things any better. Because of this difficult home situation, Tomoya stays out late at night as much as possible, and wakes up in the after noon after his dad has already left. Of course this also makes him late for school, but that’s exactly how he meets Nagisa.

Nagisa is a young girl who Tomoya is unfamiliar with. He’s never seen her around the school, and she seems to be a little bit strange. She stands at the bottom of the hill leading up to the school, and out of nowhere she asks Tomoya a simple question. “Do you like this school?” He’s not sure why he answers her, or if she was actually even speaking to him, but his reply sparks an awkward encounter that will shape both of their lives. Tomoya isn’t attached to the school, nor the town, but Nagisa is different. She used to love it all, but as life changes, the good times fade away as well. Unknown to Tomoya at the time, Nagisa is a very sick girl, and due to her condition she’s missed many months of her life. Everyone she once knew and cared about, have now left her behind, and the only thing she has to look forward to at school is the food. It’s not much, but it’s something to keep her going.

Moving forward, Clannad becomes a lot of different things. Tomoya continues his talks with Nagisa, and along the way he convinces her to find a new goal in life — that being the reformation of the drama club. While Tomoya himself has no interest in such a thing, he agrees to help her, and over time we see the two’s relationship start to develop. But that’s just one small part of the overall story. During his final year of school, Tomoya meets a lot of different people, and each person has their own goal or issue they are currently working through. Every story arc in Clannad tends to focus on one of these other characters, and, more often than not, the stories themselves are very heart breaking. Clannad doesn’t pull it’s punches with it’s drama, and it’s not afraid to deal with real world issues. While there are some fantasy elements in the series, such as the fact that Tomoya is haunted by dreams of “another world” constantly, most of the series is in fact grounded in reality. That only helps make the drama feel even more real, and helps the viewers relate to the characters and their struggles. It’s a unique series, and it’s really no wonder that the original visual novel became so popular. And thankfully, it doesn’t stop there.

After Story:

While the original Clannad series covers the main story routes of the visual novel, the second season titled “After Story,” focuses on the second half of the game. In the original VN, each character would have a story route you would go through, and by the time you got to the end you would unlock a “romance” option for said character. Of course this doesn’t apply for everyone (there are many side characters who never become anything more than a friend of Tomoya’s), but for the most part all of the main female main characters can possibly end up with Tomoya once their stories are resolved. After Story however, was something that unlocked once you viewed all other story paths, and then went down the “true” route and followed it to it’s conclusion. As the name implies, this follows Tomoya’s life after he finishes high school, and moves on into adulthood. It focuses on his struggles in the “real world,” and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that life outside of school pulls no punches. Again, the series keeps itself grounded for the most part, and because of that it is easy to relate to Tomoya — especially if you’ve already been in his shoes. It’s something that is rare to see in a “school life” based series, and is just another reason that Clannad stands out above the others.

Should You Watch It:

If you’re into “realistic” stories, or slice of life, then yes. Stop reading this, and go check it out! Or heck, go play the visual novel. It has been released on Steam, PS4, and even Switch at this point, and is well worth the time you’ll have to invest into finishing it. If you don’t want to go that route however, then the anime is still perfect. Clannad is actually one of the few visual novel adaptations out there that manages to maintain it’s main story, without cutting out a lot of scenes for time. In fact, the Clannad anime actually adds to some of the visual novel’s existing scenes, and puts the story in order of events, rather than having different timelines for each route (which is what the visual novel does). So one might argue that the Clannad anime is actually the way to go, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from getting the full experience of the game as well. Basically both options are great, and if you play or watch one, you’re also want to go check out the other as well. That’s just how good Clannad’s story is, and you’ll most likely find yourself wanting more even after you finish both. Thankfully there are some side stories out there as well (also released on Steam), and an alternate timeline sequel (Tomoyo After), but even those might not be enough. Assuming you like this type of story, then you really shouldn’t be missing out on it.

Just, do yourself a favor and avoid the dub at all cost... The changes to character’s personalities really feel off, but the real killer is the fact that most of the voice actors can’t even pronounce their own names. It doesn’t help that there’s a character named “Tomoya” (the male main character), and a girl named “Tomoyo.” It can get confusing enough as is, without the voice actors constantly mixing them up as well. But if that doesn’t bother you, then by all means, do whatever it is you’re the most comfortable with. (But I still strongly recommend the sub.)