Reviews: Kanon

Things to remember, places to go, pretty maids all in a row...

Sad girls in the snow?

Kidding they are not.

Watching any of the three Key Visual Arts cry 'em up adaptations by Kyoto Animation (Air, Kanon and Clannad) is an experience best described as a sugar rush cut with varying quantities of quinine; Kanon of 2006 is no exception, although it's handled with a lighter touch than its siblings. It's safe to say that you'll only enjoy this if you like the aesthetic, or at the very least are prepared to tolerate eyes the size of angry universes, angel wing backpacks and onomatopoeic verbal tics, among other manifestations of cute.

The show is divided into several arcs, each focusing on one or two of the female leads: the arcs generally stay faithful to their visual novel counterparts, although the endings have been compromised or otherwise tweaked to circumvent the romantic mutual exclusivity of the girls' routes in the game. This, for the most part, is rendered into something quite believable, mostly due to how the girls relate to Yuuichi, the protagonist (and originally player avatar): while they are all undeniably sweet on him, they are also all mature enough to concede that his heart belongs solely to only one of their number, and gracefully bow out accordingly. Well, there's Makoto, but she's...uh...different.

Much of Kanon's appeal lies in the fairytale atmosphere of the narrative, with its subtle supernatural flavourings. The physical setting is itself a contributing factor, a strange subversion of Capra's winter wonderland; the omnipresent snow, however beautifully animated, is as benevolent as it is not.

Alas, it falls short of being a heartbreaking work of staggering genius by a noticeable, if forgivable margin: the relentless succession of tragic events (albeit leavened by suprisingly deft comedy) often feels contrived, and occasionally traverses Deus Angst Machina territory. But unless you're made of stone, you'll probably be too busy bawling and reaching for the hankies to either notice or care much because ultimately, the heart of Kanon is a simple promise of hope and redemption, unabashedly worn on its sleeve: when the snow finally melts, you get your chance to make good.

Great drama, mediocre slice-of-life

Kanon is easily one of the most famous and influential visual novels in existence, spawning many copycats and racketing Key, its producer, to otaku-culture stardom. So does it live to the hype? Well...yes, it does, for the most part anyway.

The novel's plot revolves around Yuuichi Aizawa, your typical "average high-school student" eroge protagonist, going back to a town that he visited many moons ago, where he established varying relationships with several girls. He goes back to the town after his parents go to Africa for business reasons, and ends up in relations with these girls yet again. The game is mostly a slice-of-life drama, with a few magical elements thrown in. The girl themselves have pretty interesting personalities, if a tad too archetypal, and Yuuichi himself can be pretty funny at times, although he's rather bland and boring on the whole. So what, exactly, is wrong with this game, you ask?

The non-dramatic stuff, that's what. While the non-serious scenes aren't horrible, they're nowhere near great and tend to be ridiculously repetitive and tedious, particularly on Makoto and Mai's path. If listening to archetypal characters blather on and on about the exact contents of their bento boxes isn't your idea of thrilling plot, you definitely won't enjoy the majority of this VN. The humor is also pretty hit and miss, with some gags running on way too long, like the "can't wake up" joke on Nayuki's storyline.

The actual drama, however, when it rears it's head, tends to be bloody fantastic, if a tad melodramatic. Makoto's story, in particular, actually succeeded at making me cry, a rare feat for any work of fiction. I played the original adult version of this game and found the sex scenes to be pointless and really un-sexy, so I advise you play one of the "bleached" versions.

Many folks will shrug off the idea of playing Kanon due to it's dated artwork and inane conversations, but beyond that lies a elaborate tale of love and miracles, one that should surely be read at least once by any fan of the eroge/visual novel genre. Overall score: 8.5/10.