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The works of Key/Visual Arts have always held a special place for me, with their mixture of the mundane with the surreal. While Clannad might err more on the mundane side compared with other works of theirs, it also helps it become their most universal work, making the emotional gutpunches Key is also known for that much more effective.
The first section of the visual novel (the first season and first few episodes of the second for you anime viewers) follows the typical "one dude chooses between several gals, helps said gals confront emotional issues" format that many of these visual novels follow, and which Key practically patented. From there, a tale is spun of friendship, regrets, and tragedy, with just a dash of the fantastic sprinkled in there. The characters are well-rounded, the dialogue is funny, and the routes/story-arcs themselves are always rooted in universal emotions, even when the scenarios themselves become overwhelmingly tragic and/or somewhat surreal.
However, it is in Clannad: After Story (the rest of the second season) in which this work truly shines. Following after the conclusion of the Nagisa route in the first section, Clannad: After Story almost completely forgoes the fantastical elements of the first section in favor of a simple story about the hardships of growing old and raising a family. This portion of Clannad is notorious for being heartbreaking, and it certainly is that. However, it is also funny, warm, and, once it reaches its enigmatic yet beautiful ending, borderline transcendental.
Of course, Clannad isn't 100% transcendental, and there are some minor complaints I have about both the original VN and its anime adaptation. In the VN? The Kappei route is absolutely atrocious, and I can barely forgive it for existing in this otherwise great work. Kappei spawns a lot of "is he a boy or a girl" jokes that I always find irritating, his backstory is sort of cliche in a work with plenty of genuine tragedy, and the resolution is reached in an incredibly problematic way. That being said, it's like a bird shitting on the Eiffel Tower; it doesn't detract from the majesty, but it's still shit. Luckily, the anime does away with this route. However, due to the obviously linear format the anime is forced into, the multiple routes of the VN are smashed into one, causing the anime to feel almost *shudder* harem-esque in places. Ultimately though, it still tells the same story as the VN, while also expanding and contracting bits in an effective way so that the anime flows naturally, rather than feeling cobbled together from several different storylines.
Overall, whether you read the original VN or watch the anime adaptation (or do both, I don't judge), Clannad is a story that is well worth experiencing. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you think, but it certainly won't waste your time.
Clannad is one of those series that makes you cry. Its pretty much KEY's agenda since Kanon is to make the audience cry. And I sure as hell love it. Each "arc" is nicely fleshed out, focusing on one girl per arc. With KEY's patented "Make 'em laugh, then make 'em cry like hell", Clannad is a beautiful story about the joys of having a family and what it really means to care about someone. I would like to make a point about series that fall into the Romance Drama doesn't float my boat usually. In fact, I normally rip on the Romance genre whenever the topic comes up. But with Clannad, I was enamored, crying my eyes out numerous times throughout the entire series.
I love how everyone comes from such different backgrounds and pasts to form such beautiful relationships and at the end of the day, create such a beautiful "family" it makes me cry. Clannad is indisputably one of my all time favorite anime ever. I personally don't have anything negative to say about Clannad. The only thing I can think of that might not fly with other people is that Clannad may come off as cheesy and unrealistic, though thats definitely not my opinion on this fantastic series
I actually first came across CLANNAD in an Internet review counting down the top ten saddest anime deaths, so I was naturally spoiled. However, I didn't memorize the title (and I can't find the video anymore) so I forgot it shortly afterward.
Then I was on a forum, and someone posted a .GIF of MC Akio, and it caught my interest. I wanted to know who it is, and another person posted a link to a scene from the first episode. I recognized the animation and art style of Kyoto Animation, so I figured "Why not?", and went ahead to watch it.
I got hooked immediately.
And then before I knew it, I cried.
And I watched it again a few more times, just to cry some more. And then I viewed it with my family, and cried even more.
I may not look like it, but I don't really cry. Well I do, but it's over stupid trivial things that looking back on them now didn't deserve to have tears shed over, and I do it when I'm alone. The last cry I've had had nothing to do with any of the aforementioned. If anything, it opened my eyes and heart to it as I embraced my mother, something I hadn't done since I was a child.
This is what CLANNAD does. It takes you inside yourself and analyzes what you did with your life. It makes you want to become a better person, and to run to your parents, or anyone you consider family for a hug and tell them you love them. There are almost no words to describe it. To quote an Amazon reviewer, "the only fictional work... ...that can take you to the lowest points of your soul to a happy ending".
And even then, there's not enough words for it.
There is one thing, though. Don't let the ending turn you off. Just because it's confusing doesn't mean it's not explainable. There is an article that explains everything if you are still confused linked on the main page. And even then, multiple viewings help if you don't mind the river of tears.
Give it a shot at least once no matter who you are. I promise you will never forget how you felt going in and coming out.
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