Before anyone asks, no, this column has nothing to do with the Irish folk rock band of the same name. This column is about an anime, originally based on a video game, and personally speaking is one of the best anime I have ever seen.
Clannad is arguably part of the harem genre, as the central character is a male lead who spends most of the series surrounded by female characters. But while the harem series I have covered before tend to brash and sometimes bawdy affairs, Clannad is not like that. There is much more to it. There are fantasy elements, comic moments, romantic encounters and gut-wrenching tragedy. Indeed, this is only TV series I have seen that makes me laugh out loud as much as it makes me cry tears of sadness.
Clannad was originally a “visual novel.” A kind of video game popular in Japan which is, in some ways, an interactive work of fiction. Originally released on the PC in 2004, there have been print novels, manga adaptations, and two anime series which were broadcast between 2007 and 2009, the second series known as Clannad: After Story.
The central figure is schoolboy Tomoya Okazaki, who is dubbed a delinquent at the start of the story. He hates the town he lives in, speaks his mind and is loyal to his friends such as Youhei Sunohara, his best friend who serves as a comic foil. When he arrives at school he meets a girl called Nagisa Furukawa, a nervous girl who has been forced to repeat a year due to illness. She lacks confidence and self-esteem, but desires amongst other things to set up a drama club in the school she and Tomoya attend.
As the story progresses we meet other characters: the Fujibayashi twins, two girls of differing temperament. Elder sister Kyou is quick-tempered while younger sister Ryou is calmer. Then there is Kotomi Ichinose, a reclusive genius that Tomoya tries to befriend and make more social. Another girl, Tomoyo Sakagami, is an aggressive girl who frequently beats up the annoying Youhei and who has plans to stand on the school student council. Lastly there is the strange and somewhat otherworldly Fuko Ibuki, who spends all over her time making wooden carvings of starfish and giving them out as presents.
Tomoya becomes close to all the characters, becoming friendly with them and trying to help their causes, especially Nagisa’s drama club. The story spans several years, sees the characters grow up, have new relationships, and experience joyous love and hope, as well as terrible loss and heartbreak.
The appeal of this series is the emotions that the viewer is swept up by. This is the perfect tragicomedy, in that both the tragedy and the comedy are ideally balanced. Regarding the humour, this comes in various ways. Youhei often has bizarre ideas that fail and is the subject of cartoonish violence, whether it is from Tomoyo or the entire school rugby team that live in the same block of flats as him. Kotomi may be a genius, but she is oblivious to the fact that she is terrible at playing the violin. Fuko gets blissed-out whenever she thinks of starfish too much. Then there are Nagisa’s parents, Akio and Sanae, who run a small bakery. Sanae makes inedible experimental breads which Akio insults, but when Sanae overhears him he scoffs them down to say sorry.
Then there is the tragic element. There are plenty of supernatural sections which relate to this. For example there is a girl in a coma whom is related to one of the central characters directly in some form astral projection. Nagisa’s illness is always a constantly worry. In the After Story series, the relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa grows even more, but this is not just romantic as results in new relationships being created, and ones being lost in the most terrible way.
Clannad is one of the most wonderful anime series ever made as far as I am concerned. When writing for MyM Magazine, from whom I work as their manga critic, I voted for Clannad as the best anime DVD release of 2012. That same year another choice listed was a different tragedy, Puella Magi Madoka Magica (See No. 4), but I would argue that while that series was indeed ground-breaking in many ways, Clannad is the better of the two because even though they both have fantasy elements Clannad is more realistic. Some parts of the humour, and certainly most of the tragedy, are events that you will experience in your lifetime.
Both Clannad and Clannad: After Story are available on DVD, released by Manga Entertainment.