The anime Clannad and Clannad After Story are the types of anime you would categorize as a slice of life high school story. It can also be seen as the usual harem genre anime where you have one guy surrounded by various gorgeous women to choose from. One guy amidst pretty girls with different types of personalities to potentially have a relationship with is a common plot device found in anime. Except when you watch both seasons of Clannad and Clannad After Story in its entirety you realize that this series goes much deeper than what is first presented on the surface. I’m going to review the first season of Clannad in this post and in a later post I will review Clannad After Story and give my entire opinion of the series as a whole in the later post.
The entire Clannad series is based on the Japanese visual novel game of the same name. The main character of the series is Tomoya Okazaki, a third year high school student who is a bit of a loner and considered a delinquent in school along with his only friend Youhei Sunohara. Tomoya goes through his high school experience not caring about anything and resenting the life he currently lives. He hates his school, his town, and his father. Tomoya is biding his time until graduation when he can finally move onto the next phase in his life.
One day on his way to school Tomoya encounters a girl named Nagisa Furukawa. He finds her lingering at the bottom of the hill leading up to their school surrounded by cherry blossom trees. Nagisa for some reason is rooted to the spot she’s in, unable to continue the walk all the way to their school. As Tomoya walks past Nagisa he overhears her mumble, “Anpan,” to herself. Her strange mumbling is then followed by a little speech, not noticing Tomoya who stops just beside her. She talks about how she loves her school and what she hopes to get out of it. She ends the speech with a question without really expecting an answer for it. Tomoya, without thinking, answers Nagisa’s question which alerts her to his presence. He gives an honest but helpful answer to her question and urges her to come with him to finish the rest of the walk to their school.
This little, seemingly insignificant encounter between Tomoya and Nagisa becomes very important throughout the series and even more so in Clannad After Story. When Tomoya decides to talk to Nagisa that day, he finds himself also opening up the possibility of letting other people into his life he wouldn’t otherwise have done. This is where the typical harem part of the anime comes in. Tomoya meets all these batch of other girls who are obvious candidates for Tomoya to pursue a potential relationship with aside from Nagisa.
You have the identical twins Kyou and Ryou Fujibayashi whose personalities are as different as night and day. While Kyou is unabashed and a straight to the point kind of girl, her twin sister Ryou is quiet and a little shy. Kotomi Ichinose is the school’s girl genius who spends her entire time at the library studying other subjects at her leisure as she is exempt from attending any actual classes in the school because of her insanely high scores in the standardized exams. Tomoyo Sakagami is the tough and intimidating transfer student who has to demonstrate just how strong she really is whenever Tomoya’s friend Youhei insists on doing a battle of strength with her which usually ends with Youhei beaten up and flying to the other side of the hallway. And finally, there is Fuko Ibuki who spends most of her time alone carving starfish out of blocks of wood.
All these girls have their own individual story arcs and problems they have to go through or deal with, which Tomoya happens to be the guy to help resolve their issues. Although this anime may look like the protagonist is presented with the issue of, “Which girl do I choose?” type of plot it actually has a focus. It becomes very obvious that the canon couple to root for in this series is Tomoya and Nagisa.
Rather than let the encounter on the hill be the last time they ever interact with each other, Tomoya finds Nagisa again sitting alone in the school courtyard eating lunch. He finds himself approaching her again to talk to her. Tomoya learns how Nagisa is actually one year older than him and she had to repeat her third year because she fell gravely ill the previous year. Her new third year sees Nagisa lonely and without any friends because all the friends she made last year had already graduated from school. She’s also determined to try and start a drama club where she would put together and perform plays for the school.
The entire first season of Clannad is about how Tomoya encourages Nagisa to make her high school experience the best one she could ever want, and helps her re-establish the drama club at school with the help of the other girls in the series. Along the way you get to see Nagisa’s family life in contrast to Tomoya’s life. He experiences what it’s like to be a part of a normal (maybe a little eccentric at times) and loving family through Nagisa. Tomoya slowly starts to warm up to others and drops his attitude of “me against the world” and actually starts to care about others.
The best part of this season is the friendship you see unfold between Nagisa and Tomoya. The two of them are quite different. Both have their own issues to sort out which they do together. Nagisa has self-confidence issues and a fear of thinking she may not be good enough to do anything. Tomoya has issues with finding something in life to care enough about and finding happiness among the sadness in his life, such as disappointments with his father and the blame he puts on his father for the injury that halted Tomoya’s basketball career in school. These two help and encourage each other to see the potential in themselves and then draw it out. Tomoya helps instill the confidence Nagisa needs to make friends and put together a wonderful play for the school. Nagisa shows Tomoya that life isn’t all drab as it appears to be. She proves to him that there is beauty to be found in living life. Of course, the friendship eventually turns into one of love.
The deepening of their friendship into something more progresses naturally and with plenty of subtlety. I like the slow progression into the next stage of their relationship. It takes both of them a while to realize that their friendship is transforming into something else, but the viewer already knows what’s coming based on actions you see. In Episode 18 of the anime, Nagisa accidentally gets hit by a stray tennis ball. When the player approaches Nagisa to see if she’s all right and attempts to lend her a hand to help her to the nurse’s office, Tomoya who is already tending to Nagisa slaps away the player’s hand with his arm. The reaction surprises himself, Tomoyo, Ryou, and Kyou. Tomoya, without addressing the player about his reaction to the offered help from the guy, turns back to Nagisa and tells her that they should go to the nurse’s office to have her leg checked out. The scene ends with Tomoya slowly helping Nagisa to the nurse’s office. It becomes clear to Tomoyo, Ryou, and Kyou that Tomoya has fallen in love with Nagisa even though he doesn’t see it himself.
There are other little scenes like that one scattered throughout the anime, but I definitely like the scene I described from episode 18. Tomoya’s overprotective side kicks in and he’s the first one to come to Nagisa’s aid. I think Tomoya pushing the player’s hand away from Nagisa not only shows how much he really cares for Nagisa, but just how much the idea of seeing Nagisa hurt by someone else angers him without expressing it vocally. He really wants to shield her from everything in that moment.
Tomoya and Nagisa as a couple really compliment each other. They need each other without realizing just how much they depend on one another for support. It isn’t just one individual who is the rock in the relationship. The two of them are equally each other’s rocks. Nagisa at times sees herself as the weakling, but Tomoya thinks the opposite of her. He sees her as the strongest person he has ever known and really is in awe of her. Just like Tomoya doesn’t think highly of himself, Nagisa sees a warm and caring person who doesn’t give himself the chance to show it to people more often.
This is why the opening scene of the anime where Nagisa and Tomoya meet for the first time is significant. The surroundings from Tomoya’s perspective is all gray and drab. His world is bleak and depressing. You kind of see Tomoya living his life as if he’s a robot. No emotions and no feeling. Then he meets Nagisa and the colors flicker behind his gray world to suddenly become vivid and beautiful right before his eyes. His gray world is now saturated in color. The cherry blossoms are a lovely shade of pink and the sky is the bluest he has ever seen it been. It’s fitting that their first encounter with each other happens in the spring. It’s literally a new beginning for both of them and the experiences that are waiting for them are done together. Seasons also play a huge part in the series. The anime is heavy with symbolism and it’s quite easy to want to analyze this anime to death.
Overall, the first season of Clannad is a joy to watch because of the relationships developed in this series. There are so many joyous and sad moments in this anime. It pulls at a viewer’s heart strings, and I know I have teared up quite a bit during some of them. At first when a friend introduced me to the series, I didn’t think I would like it. The few slice of life animes I have seen haven’t really caught my interest. I usually ended up bored with a series before dropping it all together. I’m really glad I gave this one a try. If you enjoy animes with good character relationships, watching friendships turn into love, and catching subtle symbolism in an anime and how it relates to the bigger story then you may want to add this anime to your list of things to watch. I highly recommend this moving anime series.
Reviewer Rating: 10/10