Clannad is one of those romance anime that you had to have heard of at some point. It got really big back in its day after all as one of those shows that would get really emotional. Well I’ve finally gotten to check it out and it’s definitely a solid title. From the big 3 I would say it beats Air but loses out to Kanon. Ultimately the ending is probably the most satisfying out of all 3 but Kanon executed the mystery elements and ominous snow the best. You always felt like something crazy could happen at any moment and it did have someone fighting off monsters so it wasn’t afraid to get supernatural. This one gets supernatural as well but in a different way.
The show starts off by introducing us to Tomoya who is your average student just trying to enjoy his life to the fullest. He suffered an injury which prevents him from playing Basketball though and this has caused a big rift with his father who was seemingly at fault for this. So Tomoya is still bitter at this whole circumstance but tries to bury this beneath his carefree personality. His best friend Sunohara is even more carefree so the two of them get along just fine. As the show goes on Tomoya befriends 5 girls at the school and helps them deal with their own personal challenges and trials. Perhaps in helping them he will be able to get past his own issues as well.
So at its core this is a bit of a slice of life. Each story arc will focus on one girl in particular as Tomoya gives her his full attention. There are overarching plots throughout these arcs though and it’s not like the girls vanish. The main story is really about helping Nagisa get the drama club up and running. It’s tough though since the Student Council is all powerful and there aren’t enough members. That’s the general focus. So there’s always a lot going on but you can clearly tell who is the focus at any given point even while the main plot is going on. I would also consider this to be part harem as well since inevitably everyone seems to like Tomoya and you have to guess which girl he ends up with. It’s done in a classy way though where they’re not all trying to seduce him or anything like that. Plus the show is very tame with the fanservice.
I would say the amount of fanservice here is close to 0. Perhaps not at absolute 0, the ultimate technique of the Cygnus, but it’s close enough. That’s definitely a good thing, the show is going for a very mature vibe where the characters actually have real interactions with them and the drama isn’t forced. The show never has to try getting really edgy or flashy to keep the audience’s attention either which helps out quite a bit. In general this is what I expected though because this company is always good with that. I also appreciate that the series isn’t quite as depressing as something like Air which would absolutely have hurt the score here. Instead while not everyone gets a happy ending, nobody gets a terrible one either.
So lets go through each character and I’ll touch on their story beats. First we should start with Tomoya. His plot is ongoing as he talks to everyone else but perhaps because of this, his plot feels the most rushed and the one that doesn’t really get to end. Of course he doesn’t get along with his father which is a big plot point but surprisingly this doesn’t really get resolved. The final scenes with them give you the hope that things will start to change but it’s not really confirmed.
We don’t really see enough to truly get why Tomoya is so upset with the father though. Not being able to play Basketball ever again is definitely rough but was the father actually a vicious person back then, was it more or less an accident? You can make some good guesses based on how we see that he’s a full alcoholic now but it doesn’t seem like Tomoya really tried to help either. My interpretation was the show used this to tell us that Tomoya was actually the unreasonable one here. The contrast would be that he’s always ready to help everyone else out and be a super nice guy but he was too bitter to solve his own issue.
It’s an interesting angle and every scene we get in the show is the father trying to reach out and rekindle their relationship while Tomoya acts out. I just wish this could have gotten more closure. It’s the only part of the show that isn’t very satisfying. It didn’t need to show more of the flashback but just give more of a final conversation between the two of them. They didn’t even have to get along, having Tomoya decide that he just can’t do it would still work. Just something more than what we got.
As a character Tomoya is otherwise very solid though. While I didn’t agree with how he handled his personal issues, he was really helpful to everyone else. Tomoya was always willing to stick his neck out and try to improve a situation. He saved a lot of lives in that way and he was also quick on the uptake and always ready with some banter. The only times he would go too far with his teasing was with Fuko. He definitely should have eased up on messing with her while she was zoned out and it felt more mean spirited than funny. So as a main character he probably loses to the other two big KEY protagonists but there are more positives to his character than negative.
His friend Sunohara is a good character to talk about next because he doesn’t get much of a character arc. He’s the comic relief character of the group so as you can imagine things tend to be rather dicey for him. Unfortunately he’s the kind of character who is obsessed with girls the whole time and so most of his scenes fall flat. He’s easily got to be the worst character here and I think he should have just been cut out. I know a lot of times you need a second guy around so all of the characters can compare him to the lead and make their choice but this guy just isn’t needed.
At best he has a bit of a character focus in that he doesn’t like when characters make up excuses not to try so hard. He takes it extremely personal and uses that as extra motivation during the Basketball game. At his core he’s not a bad person as most of his scenes are just for laughs but even then I just wouldn’t say that I was a big fan. His sister Mei also doesn’t have a lot to do here and comes across as one of the more random characters. I guess she’s nice enough but since Sunohara already doesn’t have much of an important role here, you can probably guess that her role is really small as well.
First up is Kyou and she’s probably the most selfless of the heroines. She likes Tomoya but basically buries her feelings because her sister Ryou likes him. As a result she does her best to try and ship them together at every point. Unfortunately Ryou just isn’t able to capitalize on this and I’ll get into that more on her section. Kyou is easily one of the standout characters of the series and kept on fighting with Tomoyo (Not to be confused with Tomoya) as the best character in the series. She doesn’t really have a big character arc compared to the other girls. At most you could say that she had to come to terms with her feelings more directly as the series went on but she had no inner demons to conquer.
This is part of why she is such a great character. While everyone else was dealing with things, she was just putting others first and intentionally staying in the background. She’s also a very high energy character who is always acting really confident and getting the ball rolling. Kyou adds a lot to the dynamic in every scene and so you always appreciate having her around.
Now her sister Ryou just isn’t as solid. Of course you probably know that I’m not really big on the very shy characters. They just aren’t as entertaining and Kyou basically set her up with the bases loaded several times and Ryou messed it up every time. Even if Ryou is super shy, you’d think that she would at least honor Kyou’s constant sacrifices and try to talk to Tomoyo right? This is the main reason why I could never root for her. You’ve just got to give me at least an inch here. If Ryou isn’t willing to work towards her goal at all then it’s game over.
Just about any scene with Ryou is one where she is getting saved by Kyou. So I give Kyou full credit and top marks here but I have to give Ryou the big 0 if this was a test. She’s easily the least interesting of the heroines as well because there isn’t anything more to her than being timid. You could have her missing from an episode and I wouldn’t even notice.
Back to the high quality characters though, next up is Tomoyo and she aspires to be the student council president. She will help make a difference in the school and the current school council isn’t very good anyway so they really need to be bumped out. She’s a straight A student and top of her class but unfortunately her association with Tomoya may start affecting her reputation. She doesn’t care though and still brings in her best effort to not just be a guiding light to the best students but to the worst ones as well.
I liked her drive and she definitely went the extra mile. I think part of what makes her a good character is that she wasn’t just helping Tomoya because she liked him. I think she would have done the same thing for a number of other characters. I also appreciated her putting Sunohara in his place time and time again. That guy was definitely asking for it. She also gets more of a backstory than the others as she used to be a school delinquent which is where she learned to fight. This reputation has followed Tomoyo around to the point where it is hurting her future prospects as well.
So she has to try and get away from her past. The tough part is choosing between following her ideals or worrying about her self image. Of course she’s also got the romance plot to consider as well. I thought the show did a good job of making her a very well rounded character and someone that you could root for. She doesn’t hang out with the rest of the cast quite as much so in terms of full screen time she may have a bit less than the others but she does get a full epilogue episode in the what if scenario so that’s impressive.
Yes, past the final episode there is a what if episode about a different timeline and she’s one of the main characters there. That has to be fun for the fans since it seems rare that you would actually go far enough to check out another route like that. I’d say she earned it though, like I said she was always in the mix for being the best character here.
Another really good character was Kotomi. She probably has the toughest backstory to get around. Basically she was a child genius but the problem is that her parents were geniuses too and always had to balance a very difficult career. They were never home and so she was often neglected. One day they died in a plane crash and it really stunted her emotional growth to the point where she can’t really talk to people normally. That’s Tomoya’s queue to step in and talk to her. Gradually she learns to open up more and also confronts her past which she had been intentionally avoiding.
Now as a kid she did make some pretty big mistakes like a certain burning scene but as she was a kid it’s hard to blame her too much there. The oblivious character type isn’t often my favorite but the show doesn’t go too far with it. There’s also a twist about her knowing Tomoya back in the day which didn’t really help her recovery either. It’s easy to sympathize with Kotomi which is part of what helps her be a strong character her. I’d also say that being oblivious also helps a bit in the romance sense as she isn’t really trying for Tomoya. You can still sense the romantic undertones but it was nice to have someone who was really more of a friend the whole time.
Then there is Fuko who feels younger the whole time so it’s hard to see her as a romantic rival either way. Now she’s close to being dead so in a way you could say that she had it hard as well but living in a spirit body isn’t so bad. I’d say that the show doesn’t play this up as a super sad affair the whole time and the emotional parts are really about people not remembering her at times. It makes a case for being the saddest arc in the series. To counter that, Fuko is also the most cheerful member of the cast. Her arc is all about getting starfish to people and that gets tricky.
See, people don’t tend to remember her after a while. The rules of the supernatural follow the same ones as in Noragami where you need to constantly be around or have a powerful tie to the world or you will be forgotten. This arc definitely does get emotional with that because in a way you feel like there’s no way she can win in the end. In fact, the arc is even sadder in hindsight as the show goes on and the characters actually do forget her.
Again, the show doesn’t dwell on this so it’s not played up as a big tearjerker moment whenever she’s around but it’s definitely sad when you think about it. Until her real body wakes up, she is doomed to just wander the town for eternity with nobody recognizing or acknowledging her in any way. Only once a while when she charges up enough energy can she quickly catch someone’s attention but it’s always a very fleeting moment. It was always fun to see her although I think the show could have done a little more with her cameos down the road.
I wouldn’t say the show completely dropped the ball but there’s a lot of fun they could have had with this but all of her scenes basically end up being filler each time. That’s part of the gag but I think having a good heart to heart moment or something would have been nice there. Or maybe have the show end with her showing up and saying hey to the cast in her real body. Perhaps it would have taken some of the focus away but it would be worth it since I’d say that she earned her moment.
Finally we have the main heroine Nagisa. Now there’s a lot of pressure on being the main heroine. I’d say that goes without saying and it’s definitely the case here. Nagisa is a good character even if I would only put her 4th among the 6 girls. Nagisa really wants to be in a drama club but as for why that is, the show takes a little bit to build up to it. She can be a bit spacey and really likes the big Dango family. It tends to distract her and of course Tomoya is always distracted in helping the other girls so I guess they have that in common.
As the show goes on we naturally get a big backstory for Nagisa and it’s a sad one although not as sad as Kotomi or Fuko’s. Nagisa always feels like she did something wrong back in the day and as a result she is always acting very cautiously. Nagisa thinks her parents are hiding this so she never really confronts them. (They are hiding some secrets but nothing that they blame Nagisa for) So you’ve got a little drama there. Ultimately this works as a big trial for Nagisa but I would say it’s a bit harder to connect with it. She takes the situation rather hard but I just didn’t find it nearly as emotional.
Nagisa tends to fall for a lot of Tomoya’s gags the whole time but always means well. She tries to defend him when things get tricky and she fights hard to get her own club. So there isn’t anything really bad to say about her. She does well as the main heroine and gets her moments to shine. I can’t say I’m super on board with the romance angle but it’s not bad either and I’ll go more into that later on. I think something that could have helped her here would be to have had some kind of big moment outside of her arc. Mostly Tomoya did the heavy lifting in each arc and that makes sense as the main character but maybe having Nagisa come in with a clutch assist in one of them would have been good. Something to put her ahead of the pack.
Akio and Sanae did well as the parents. Now this is a subplot that the show really executed well as they initially start out as very gimmicky side characters but their plot actually gets rather serious. We learn more about their past and see why they are so protective. I also like how close they are even after being married for so long. You could make the very strong case that they have the healthiest relationship in the whole show. Akio may end up saying the wrong thing a lot and getting himself into hot water but he is always looking out for Sanae. He also has a very critical moment in Nagisa’s character arc.
It’s rare to see the parents actually getting a quality role like this so I was all for it. They also got to show Tomoya what a healthy family dynamic looks like which helped him in his own character arc as well. Sanae should probably start baking more to improve her cooking skills but low key I think she likes the attention since it gets Akio to chase after her. Again, it’s just a fun dynamic and even more so if you think she’s trolling him a bit there. He certainly likes trolling Tomoya a lot so it just runs in the family.
Now there is one plot that I found to be really pointless though. So at the beginning of every episode we start with a dystopian future where a girl is talking to a little robot she created. See, this kid had the power to create life but only once and so she created a robot but now he’s lonely and she’s sad too. The two of them are doomed to live forever in a world without life which is kind of depressing. The story feels like a very vague meta commentary on something and you’re just trying to figure it out. By the end of the series it makes sense but I just didn’t think it added to anything. It was just a bit boring and the only part of the series where I could even say that. Remove this and just keep the series on the main characters. That would be for the best.
The animation is pretty good. There isn’t much time to show off because this isn’t an action anime or anything like that but we do get a few action scenes with Tomoyo once in a while. The show never looks sloppy or off model so that alone is enough to fit the bill. It’s good enough for the title. The soundtrack is a bit more on the forgettable side though. The opening is one of the weakest ones I’ve heard in a long time. It’s just way too soft. This may be an emotional series but I feel like you could still add a little more energy to it. It’s one of those openings you probably would never re watch. Then the ending is even weaker. I appreciate the dedication to the Dango gag but this isn’t the place for it!
At the end of the day Clannad really succeeds because it’s really good at every genre that it tackles. It’s a really good slice of life title as you actually have time to see the characters hanging out and just relaxing in all kinds of settings. It’s a good way to build up some character development and the characters can hold their own so it doesn’t get boring. On the drama front the show manages to build up a lot of emotional scenes and get things sad for everyone without overdoing it and making the whole thing try hard. It never gets to be too traumatic or gritty while still keeping the emotions high.
Then for the romance, well that’s always a little trickier but I will say that on average it did the romance better than most. One of the key staples to a good romance is that it needs to take place over a long while. Any romance that is instant will be a weak one guaranteed. Likewise you don’t want rebound romances and that’s one advantage that harem titles actually have. Usually the lead doesn’t pick anyone until the end and all of the girls liked him from the start so there is no rebound. Some of the less classy ones would mess this up but not Clannad. The show cheats a bit by showing an alternate route but since it is expressly an “alternate” path it did choose one girl in the end so I’ll give it props there.
I won’t say which girl wins out but it’s probably pretty clear from the start. Some shows can actually keep you guessing right to the end like Lull of the Sea, but this is one where you can just tell based on who gets the focus and everything. The show isn’t trying to be very secretive about this at all. The main romance takes place over a long time and develops naturally so yeah I’d be able to confidently say that it’s one of the better romances. That’s a good thing because the show is part romance after all. I still didn’t ship the characters but if it happens then I guess I’m cool with it. I did like some of the other characters better than this heroine though.
During the show there is one Basketball game and it kind of made me wish we could have gotten some more sports. The game itself was very interesting because of course Tomoya can’t really lift his arm to play the way that he used to. So he’s at a disadvantage the whole time and has to try and win with pure strategy alone. I think making that a full episode would have been a blast even if it may not have really flowed with the rest of the show. Hey, sports and tactics are always a great mix and the show got me invested so it’s definitely a complement. I wonder how bad the injury was that Tomoya doesn’t feel like he can ever rehabilitate it though. The show doesn’t go into specifics and surely there’s a way to rebound. At least I figure there would be.
Overall, Clannad is a title that I could safely recommend to just about any anime fan as long as you aren’t looking for an action title. It’s just a well written title all around with a lot of strengths. Perhaps it isn’t as funny as it wishes it could be but there are still scenes that will make you smile here and there. Perhaps not laugh out loud funny but I did like a lot of Tomoya’s witty comebacks from time to time. It also never hurts to see Sunohara get beat up. The voice actor does a good job with the reactions.