Clannad – Why I Love It, and why it’s probably more than you think

by eternal on January 10, 2009


Clannad: the viusal novel about family. We’ve all at least heard of it, many of us are watching it, and a few of us had the pleasure of playing the original 50+ hours VN. By this point, it’s hard for one to call Clannad cliche, or to accuse it of being a stereotypical Key story – the community, from the forums of AnimeSuki to the blogosphere, has already proven otherwise, with countless debates and predictions about the development of the plot and the constant themes throughout the story. More importantly, however, the show has spoken for itself, declaring subtly yet proudly that it’s only a male-targeted fantasy on the outside, and that in reality it holds a much deeper story about the relationships we have with the people around us and the way those relationships make us stronger.

However, even knowing this, it took me this long to come to a conclusion that I should have come to long ago. Clannad is not truly a visual novel, nor was it written by Key; and it’s about as far from generic harem as a show can ever get. Clannad is closer to being a shoujo than anything else, presenting a heartwarming slice-of-life/romance story more than worthy of the best in the genre, and if you’ll give me a moment, I’m prepared to defend that statement.

To begin, let me take a moment and return to the beginning of the series, where Tomoya was the harem lead and Nagisa was the main character.

Clannad begins with the simple story of a delinquent boy with no direction in life and a lonely, introverted girl that had trouble making friends. Their meeting was one of chance, but it was something that changed both of them; Nagisa’s kindheartedness and innocence showed Tomoya but a few of the joys of life, and in turn, his mental strength and constant encouragement helped her overcome her fears.

Meanwhile, the friends they made on the way there each shared their own unique problems. Fuuko was separated from her family but nevertheless wanted her sister to be happy in her married life; Kotomi was a genius that grew up under unusual circumstances, and was very cut off from her parents; Kyou faced the problem of having feelings for her sister’s crush; Tomoyo’s family had to overcome the issue of divorce, resulting a form of solace that she could only find through family; and finally, Nagisa’s loving parents did their best to help her cope with her weaknesses, even if it meant giving up their dreams in the past. On top of that, we have the stories of the Sunohara siblings, Yoshino and his crushed dream of being a rock star, and countless other miniature arcs that serve as a small yet integral part of the whole.

And now, After Story is reaping the benefits of its predecessor: utilizing the season-and-a-half’s worth of character development and forging a relationship that is both heartwarming and believable.

You know a visual novel is good when even the male characters get their own pictures.

When I began to look at Clannad this way, my opinion of the show changed. It isn’t a question of whether or not I liked it, because as I probably mentioned before, I knew I would love the show the moment I saw Nagisa in episode one. The change I’m talking about is something far deeper, far more profound, not unlike the moment you realize that ef is more than an epic love story and Ghost in the Shell is more than cool cyborgs fighting one another. If you allow yourself to forget about the show’s routes for a moment – forget about Key, about the harem lead, and if you’re male, forget about your favourite girl as well – forget everything that we train ourselves to look at as fans, and instead focus only on the story. I think you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Clannad is ultimately a gender-neutral slice-of-life/romance anime, and I daresay it’s one of the best of its kind. With each character bringing a new personality to the table, be it humorous or  entertaining or even thought provoking, the lives of the characters in the story quickly become real to the viewer, far more so than any other genre can achieve. When watching Hidamari Sketch/Aria/etc., didn’t you feel as if the characters possessed real personalities? Didn’t their situations – and in the case of romance like Honey and Clover, problems – seem real to you? Speaking from personal experience, my favourite aspect of the whole slice-of-life/romance genre is that the characters are believable, and that is why, ultimately, I would prefer a “perfect” slice of life story over a “perfect” visual novel. A VN can have a good plot and a heart-wrenching conclusion, but rarely can it be believable.

This is where Clannad differs drastically from its kin, and where it has made its impact on me: the show is, quite simply, believable.

A mysterious, bare-footed genius sleeping alone in the library, with a book on her lap and the sunset softly highlighting her delicate features…it sounds like a daydream, and it takes a work of genius to make it believable.

The lack of fanservice, the constant presence of comedy that remains practical (i.e. doesn’t involve crazy adventures and said fanservice), the bonds the characters make as they try to help one another with their problems, and ultimately, the romantic development between Tomoya and Nagisa – all of these things illustrate the point clearly. The fact that Tomoya faces his own problems is the final nail in the stereotype’s coffin: not only are the main girl’s parents relevant, not only does the harem lead’s “useless” friend play a role in the plot (not to mention his dorm keeper), but you, the personification of the person playing the game, also faces his own problems. The player’s avatar serves as one of the main characters, with a believable personality and his own share of weaknesses, and no one who has seen After Story up until now can contradict this. Frankly, Clannad is so unstereotypical that I almost wonder why it appeals to otaku to begin with.

…On second thoughts, maybe that’s why.

Finally, with the premise of the story already set, I would like to draw attention to the recent episodes of AS; specifically, the episodes that brought me to this conclusion at long last.

With the cast of characters effectively reduced to two, the themes of the story are able to shine their strongest. Tomoya’s problems with his father, his apathy toward the world, and his general lack of conviction; Nagisa’s reserved nature and her fear of stepping forward; the two main characters, in their newfound relationship, are able to overcome their trials. When it comes down to it, Tomoya isn’t truly a slacker at all, nor is he uninterested in the world: he simply faced a series of bad experiences, and had no particular reason to have faith in a world that seemed so dull. Likewise, Nagisa was never truly weak, mentally speaking: she simply found it difficult to move forward by herself, and faced with her physical illness, she felt as if the world was moving too fast for her to keep up with it.

That’s why, when these two met, everything fell into place.

If I were a girl, I’d probably be in fangirl-mode by now.

Nagisa rekindles the light in Tomoya’s eyes, teaching him the joy of everyday life and inviting him into the loving family that he never had – likewise, he was able to give her that last push that she needed, helping her climb the hill and reach for her dreams. Alone, they would have never overcome their problems, but together, they can become whole.

Perhaps it was this realization that led to their confession in the twelfth episode and subsequent marriage in the thirteenth. The two characters, while incomplete by themselves, were able to give new meaning to the word “happiness” when they were together. Maybe this is what marriage is supposed to be about? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that none of us in the real world can be defined as “complete” – if we were, then we would have no need for social contact. No man is an island, right? The necessities of life can keep us alive as organisms, but we need a deeper form of nourishment – psychological nourishment – if we hope to survive as humans. This is but one of the many ways in which Clannad, and any slice of life story, breaches the boundary between 2D and 3D: the characters face the same problems that real humans face.

And through their relationship, often bittersweet but always beautiful, Tomoya and Nagisa reached the point that they realized that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They both matured along the way, facing the hardships of adult life and overcoming those hardships with one another’s support, and in the end, they realized the depth of their love for one another. The topic can be expounded upon with essays and essays, or simply stated in a single sentence, but the truth remains just as simple, as powerful: they love each other. Just as how real humans hopefully meet someone, fall in love, and decide to spend the rest of their lives together, the characters in Clannad have finally realized that their feelings transcend mere teenaged infatuations, and they made the decision of their lives. It’s such a simple, straightforward truth, something that even a child could understand – and yet, sometimes the most obvious answers can be hidden behind the locker room scenes and the godly OP.

Clannad Daikazoku.

At the end of the day, this is much a plea to the fans of Clannad to look beyond what meets the eye – or technically, the exact opposite – as it is an explanation of my love for this show. Honey and Clover still stands as my favourite anime of all time for its painfully realistic depiction of life, and the rest of my favourites list is filled with ef and Key and the like, with their heart-wrenching drama and well-written moe that sets the viewer up for an emotional rollercoaster rather than pandering in the hopes of selling more figures. Clannad is the perfect combination of these things, appearing at first as yet another male-targeted love story yet actually telling a tale of friendship, family, and romance that bloomed between the two most unlikely people that just so happened to be perfectly fit for one another. It’s an idealistic story, in a sense, but it’s also believable – or at least one that I’d like to believe in.

So if you’ve already come to the same conclusion as me, then congratulations! It means that you beat me to understanding arguably one of the best visual novel adaptations ever made, and that you got slightly more out of the show than I did. On the other hand, if you haven’t thought about this before, then I request you ponder on it for a bit while watching the next episode. I’m not going to tell you what to think, nor will I force you to do it, but in this torrent of opinions known as the blogosphere, I felt the need to stand up and make my voice heard: to state that Clannad is far more than just another KeyAni show, and to state that I love it because of that.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

digitalboy January 10, 2009 at 4:05 pm

not to say that I necessarily agree with you, since this is something more persona than can be agreed with, nor that I read the whole thing since at some point I realized ‘this thing is really fucking long!’ but you have definitely very much piqued my interest. I am of the opinion that anything spoken of with such passion must contain some amount of truth, and I may find this show worth watching just because of your words.

digitalboys last blog post..Shugo Chara and the Legalization of Crunchyroll


Martin January 10, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I’m only nine eps into the AS but still…I’ve been enjoying Clannad quite a lot but could never put my finger on why I was enjoying a VN adaptation that’s clearly pandering to the fanboys. The reason is of course that it isn’t: instead, it’s a good story wrapped up in a superficially moe-fied, otaku-friendly coating. The bottom line is that Clannad is fundamentally a good story, whatever the initial impressions may be.

For sure, I find the character designs to be a bit cutesy and sometimes it’s cliche but TBH those are trivial details I need to overlook in order to appreciate what it does right. Which is, as this post explains, quite a lot. It’s taken a while and one or two moments of doubt but I’ve gradually come around to a similar conclusion about it as you have.

Martins last blog post..What I marathoned because I had too much to drink: Fate/Stay night


IKnight January 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm

If I might play Devil’s Advocate for a moment . . .

I’m not sure that the genres (?) of slice-of-life and romance are particularly unusual for having characters face the same problems that real humans face. Take Casshern Sins, for example: lots of real humans face the struggle to find some purpose in life – if they didn’t, Camus wouldn’t be so widely-read. Missing Sins‘s application to real human problems because it has robots fighting in a post-apocalyptic wasteland is very like dismissing Clannad itself because the (very beautiful, even on YouTube) OP is in part a menu of girls. Or take LotGH: ‘man is by nature a political animal’, and we fail to face up to problems of government (like the third of the British electorate who don’t care enough about their rulers to vote) at our peril. (And I’d argue that a story of Clannad‘s ilk is incapable of addressing political philosophy!)

In fact, couldn’t we accuse Clannad of focusing only on very quotidian problems, that most humans seem to work out in the course of their lives? While they aren’t the only viewers who appreciate them, romantic plots seem most relevant to adolescents and young adults who are doing that working out for the first time. I’m not sure ‘they love each other’ is so simple, or so powerful, for two people who’ve been unhappily married for fifteen years. Political questions, on the other hand, affect us all and, if we live in a democracy, become part of our responsibility as soon as we reach voting age and then remain with us until we die.

I was also going to say something about realism, but you rightly chose ‘believable’, and then the even more spot-on ‘[a story] that I’d like to believe in’, instead. (I’m not sure I see how a fictional character can be realistic, and of course real life occasionally gets away with the kinds of coincidences that we would decry in an anime. I think we approach stories with a desire to collude with the storyteller(s) by believing, not a cynical demand that they hit some nebulous level of ‘realism’.)

You are, of course, free to discard all of the above, since I haven’t seen Clannad. The question of the different relationship that romance on a human scale can have to our own problems seemed to me worth exploring, but I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Clannad is bad, and I’m not sure whether we should asses stories on their applicability to life anyway. The bulk of this comment has been criticism, so I should probably close by saying that your post is an excellent paean for Clannad, and you’ve helped me to understand why the show’s getting the praise it is.

IKnights last blog post..‘On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me . . .’


FlameStrike January 10, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Right, so astro-projecting coma girls and cats turning into humans is believable? XDD I’m just kidding, Clannad is awesome. I’m glad to see some people enjoy this show on a deeper level. I’ve seen way too much OMG KYOUS THIGHS and OMG GIRL X IS BETTER THEN BORING NAGSIA. Nagisa is the reason why Clannad is as good as it is! Clannad is one of my favorite animes/visual novels and your analysis on why it’s awesome is very good. It may seem like a harem at first, but Clannad never had any of the “choose your girl” type of crap like typical VN adaptations. It was about the characters from the start.

Oh yeah, if you haven’t read the Clannad VN I STRONGLY suggest you check it out. I bet you’ll love it.


M12_Vinja January 11, 2009 at 12:38 am

Another detailed post from ETERNAL.

I haven’t studied Clannad as well as you have. To be honest, during the first season, I nearly dropped it! But as the episodes progressed, I got to see the characters become friends, and doing stupid things together. As their bonds strengthened, I became fond of them, too.

And yeah, overall, the story’s very nice. Tomoyo’s backstory moved me a lot. I enjoyed the love triangle deal between Ryou, Kyou and Tomoyoa. Well, I only experienced it in the audio drama. It’s my favourite one out of the audio drama series.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Nagisa a lot. I have a figurine of her, so yeah. Having said that, her history reminded me of characters from old school anime. You know, “a sick girl who’s trying her best”. It didn’t appeal to me a lot. Hey, perhaps that’s retro, which is cool. Anyway, I tried to dive a little deeper, but to be honest, I haven’t found much more.

Then we have the After Story. I remember Sunohara’s arc. Sunohara fought Tomoya in the rain. Is that supposed to be GAR? Why were so many people impressed? I don’t understand. Also, I hoped for more character development from Youhei. I don’t feel like he’s really changed.

Next we have Yukine’s arc. Nagisa fed everyone the rainbow pan. As a result, Tomoya has to fight that other guy. How can a joke influence the plot so much? It felt very absurd to me.

Having said that, I like how AS is progressing now. The story between Nagisa and Okazaki’s good stuff. I love it how Tomoya acts very mature now. It’s really special, because it reminds me of what I’ve been through in high school. You know, when you’re a teenager, you act very immature, etc. So, Tomoyo’s change is very realistic. I appreciate it.

M12_Vinjas last blog post..Departure 3koma – 1


tai January 11, 2009 at 3:09 am

I don’t agree with every single detail you mentioned, but I definitely agree with you on a general level that Clannad is one of the more believable visual novel adaptations and approaching the edge of drama/slice of life. I have watched Honey and Clover too; I like it but not nearly as much as Clannad for one reason:
Honey and Clover is too plain.

It was totally believable, totally imaginable, in fact when I watched Honey and Clover I thought “there is probably a group of people in exactly the same situation feeling exactly the same thing”. And to put it simply, that’s exactly why the show can’t become a part of my favourites.

On the other hand, Clannad is still within the bounds of believability but is definitely trying to push its way out. Individually, each of the characters have a strong, realistic story; they are all exceptional cases yet still have believable histories. But when we put them together it’s clearly a big coincidence.

However, as much of a coincidence as it is, I argue that that is a good thing. In Honey and Clover, we see how otherwise normal students interact and live with each other. I see that every day, why would I want to watch it? I would rather go out and experience it myself; in fact, I do experience it myself. And, strangely or not, it bothers me that I’m watching a story I have already started creating with my own life.

I am somehow reminded of these lyrics from the Kannagi OP theme: “madamada jimidane, kiss mo jimidane” meaning “It’s still plain, even a kiss is plain”
and that’s exactly how I feel about Honey and Clover.

But when it comes to Clannad, I’m forced to think. The believable characters have gathered in the extra-ordinary fashion; how are they going to interact as a group? How is their strange history going to affect their relationships between each other? The limit of my commonplace social analysis has been exceeded, and the new connections I have to make or understand is exactly why I love Clannad. Without these unusual circumstances I would never be able to feel for myself such contrasting emotions, like juxtaposition of pain and relief the Fujibayashi sisters felt during the tennis match in Episode 18. I loved that scene very much in particular, because that was when everything from the previous seventeen episodes fell together and the characters finally came to realize their own place in the Clannad family.

tais last blog post..Nagisa Furukawa vs. Teletha Testarossa


tflops January 13, 2009 at 7:46 am

As far as I know, Clannad like any other Key-related animation like Kanon, Air and etc. which will be loved by anyone, From what I’ve read; story is more believable, well, that’s one thought you’re talking about; second, thinking about the cast on how they put their original personalities, I totally agree with that. This slice-of-life defeats boredom, and simply I won’t skip any second of this.

Also, I like the way the director directs every episode, and every single episode, declares a good story which has good outcomes and warmhearted feeling. All of the anime I’ve watched from the genre slice-of-life, the preview of the next episode outstands me far more greater expectations and want to watch it more.

Except, yeah, I understand what tai’s talking about the Honey & Clover series, it’s way too predictable. I’m sorry they have no chemistry at all. I like Honey and Clover but not as much that I love more of Clannad.

tflopss last blog post..Staffs for New Full Metal Alchemist Anime


ETERNAL January 13, 2009 at 8:08 pm

@ digitalboy: Yes, I have a habit of rambling on for quite a bit; I guess I always figured that it’s better to say more than to say less. A point can be made on a forum like Anime Suki with a single sentence, so being the owner of a blog, I generally prefer to elaborate on my points until I run out of ideas. But anyhow, you should definitely check the show out: the post speaks for itself, but put simply, the show is more than what it looks like.

@ Martin: It’s nice to know that I converted someone :P
But in all seriousness, thanks for reading, and I’m glad the post was able to help show you that. Just make sure to keep watching ;P

@ IKnight: Well, on a slightly unrelated topic based on what you said, I definitely agree with the notion that these stories generally appeal more to young adults. It isn’t a rule or anything, but especially when you’re talking about not only a show but also a blog post, it’s no wonder that much of my praise is due to the fact that the show covers issues that are just out of a teenager’s reach, but still close enough to be relateable: I admit that a large portion of my fandom for this show (and romance in general) is due to the fact that I fit the target demographic. That’s also why I haven’t watched LoGH yet.

But with that said, I agree that “slice-of-life” can mean much more than what one would think. Indeed, some stories target many of life’s more difficult aspects that a wider range of viewers can relate to, and I acknowledge that objectively shows like Clannad aren’t necessarily the epitome of “realistic”. But regardless, as far as opinion is concerned, mine is pretty much set in stone.

(also, I like how you singled out that line about how they “love” each other – logically, your point makes sense, but in my eyes it looks just a bit too cynical to believe in. I guess it just goes to show how diverse the demographics of the ‘sphere can be, and how these things make their way into your writing without the writer even noticing it…but that’s a post for another day :P)

@ FlameStrike: I don’t believe the patch has been officially released (and I don’t think After Story was translated in the leaked version), but I’ll definitely play it when the translation is out. Assuming that I manage to finish Fate/stay night, that is; the game is huge, and I think Clannad is even longer.

@ M12: Tomoya’s development is easily one of my favourite parts of the story as well. Back during season one, I unofficially named him as the “greatest harem lead ever”, but now I think it would be an insult to even compare him to the other harem leads. He’s a full-fledged character, and his development is more believable than any onlooker who hasn’t seen the show would believe.

@ tai: Well, the trick with slice-of-life is that it’s very hit or miss. For example (and I know this would be considered blasphemy to many), but even after three seasons and an OVA of Aria, I still couldn’t get into it. I had the same problem with Hidamari Sketch: the adventures were too plain to be interesting, and they were severely lacking in comedy, so the shows wound up being boring in my eyes. On the other hand, H&C struck me as beautiful because the characters felt far deeper than any other anime characters that I’d seen, and their problems in life were problems that I could actually understand and relate to (unlike falling for a perfect childhood friend, etc etc).

That said, I’m sure many people could tell me the same thing about Aria – about how the main character’s way of tackling life with a smile can be used as a deep, philosophical statement or something of the sort – and even then, I still wouldn’t understand. I hate discouraging discussion with “let’s agree to disagree” statements, but sometimes, it’s the only thing you can do. After all, we wouldn’t make much of a community if we agreed on everything, and clashing one subjective opinion against another rarely yields any results.

@ tflops: I definitely agree with that whole “warmhearted feeling” idea – I always end up feeling like that when watching the show, even just from the OP. I’m not sure how they do it. It probably has something to do with the skillful writing and directing, but sometimes, I find it easier to be a n00b and simply say “it’s the magic of good anime” :P

(that has to be the longest comment I’ve ever written…I think it’s time to start looking into threaded comments ^^;)


Chris February 15, 2009 at 8:25 am

I really liked your meta review of Clannad, while Clannad has it’s otaku and fanboy moments, I think that Clannad has what few anime really have, heart. To me most of the characters showed believable human emotions and reactions to the situations that they are placed in.

But to me the most endearing thing about Clannad is that it just didn’t end with Tomoya’s and Nagisa’s declaration of love, or their graduation from high school. So many slice of life, romance, and harem anime end at the declaration of love or at high school graduation, that’s it, end of the ball game, life stops there, there’s nothing beyond high school.

Real life continues past well past this point, the high school years are just the training wheels for life, and Clannad shows what comes after those brief years. We get to watch Nagisa and Tomoya move their relationship from a high school love to a more mature adult love, a love that has to deal with issues of work, money, living together, marriage, and having children. While Clannad like most anime of it’s type has a lot of over the top melodrama, I find it’s emotional ups and downs, and it’s triumphs and tragedies refreshing when compared to most anime of it’s genre.


ETERNAL February 20, 2009 at 4:41 pm

@ Chris: If that comment was true when I wrote this post (which it is), it’s even more true now. Seeing the development of their relationship after high school was the highlight of the story for me, but seeing Tomoya emerge as a parent is arguably even more beautiful. It isn’t draining the emotion out of me like it did back during Nagisa’s story, but it’s justifying all of the feelings that I have about the show – that it’s objectively good, and that it does an excellent job of covering territory that is seldom explored in anime.


Roy Mustang April 16, 2009 at 4:01 am

Clannad – Why I Love It, and why it’s probably more than you think

Oh please, we only watched Clannad for the hot Kyou on Ryou action. Tomoya and Nagisa agree with me. Look at the smile on their faces.


Nagisa Furukawa ^.^ April 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm

i really do love clannad….i have only 3 or 4 episodes left….i already cried a couple of times…i even though i know theres a happy ending. I just dont know why i even cry. For some reason i guess its just so emotional cuz of the way they put the sad music with whats going on. Im saving the other 3 episodes for early tomorrow. So by the time everyone gets up, I’ll have already have cried and gotten it over with and no one would know. Ugh i just hate how people make such good movies…and then at the ending…which half the time is always the best part, like in Clannad, you just sit there like, “OH COME ON YOU GOTTA MAKE MORE IT CANT BE OVER YET” and BAM ur fantasy is just gone….Thats how i feel..once im done completely with Clannad im probably gonna feel like my life just ended right then, DX its just that i dont want clannad to be over…its too…awesome, and a dream. But once your done..its gone..never to be seen or heard of again. Just like a dream is. You may talk about it once in a while…but eventually you forget and move on. Which’ll be a lot easier for you all than it is for me…im really obsessed with Clannad ._. even my friend thinks ive completely lost it. I dont think i am. I just having a hard time to forget and move on. Cause that movie, well it was special…first movie ive ever cried about. I really wish i could just undo it all..and watch it all again. Just like his wish. To start over….


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