Clannad - Series 1, Part 2 Review

You're going to need to be made of some pretty stern stuff to get through the second half of Clannad without a tear forming in your eye. The first half of the series wasn't one for the emotionally over-sensitive among you, but all the heart-tugging stops are pulled out in the lead-up to the conclusion of the series proper. On the one hand that's a good thing - the series doing no more than building on the very specific direction that it was always clearly heading towards - but on the other hand, it does seem to lose some of its original quirky character as it heads for more conventional emotional button-pushing plot resolutions. I may have been over-confident stating in my earlier review that Clannad looked like it was a High School drama with a difference, but as the storyline progresses, it just seem to fall back more on the traditional format. Just when you think that however, Clannad proves that it still has the capacity to surprise and it leaves things intriguingly rather more open for the Clannad After Story that follows.

The indications that the story is inclined towards more traditional shojo territory are laid out here in the conclusion to Kotomi Ichinose's story in episodes 14 and 15. Science-fiction backgrounds aren't uncommon in shojo material - they often provide effective romantic and tragic twists of fate for protagonists - and there was an intriguing one laid-out in the mystery of Kotomi's missing parents, scientists working on a Theory of Everything. Any such fanciful ideas that this might relate to other dimensions or the enigmatic child with a junk robot otherworldly scenes that recur every now and again, are soon dispelled as the storyline heads towards a rather sickly and over-sentimental resolution that is, frankly, even less credible than the SF one. Yet, at the same time, you have to admire the innocent charm of the optimistic outlook that that the series consistently applies to its subjects here, that there's a reason for everything, that good and bad, happy and sad are all intermingled and part of the richness of life.

The mystic dream-like sequences or fugues that afflict Nagisa Furukawa are indeed the subject of the next storyline and these also prove to be somewhat disappointing in treatment and resolution. Exploring Nagisa's background through her efforts with Tomoya Okazaki to get the High School Drama Club off the ground does make a lot of sense, and it's very neatly handled, but it does slip predictably into the regular High School comedy series routines involving sports contests and School Council elections, mixed in with the usual romantic competition and complications that arise with Okazaki being around all these attractive young girls looking for his attention. What compounds the problem with conventionality overriding the originality of the series is the formulaic sob-story backgrounds of all the characters. When it seems like it comes down to a choice of the Drama Club or the Choir Club, for example, we discover that it would mean a setback for Nishina - a violinist who lost her grip because of an accident which means she couldn't continue with her dream.

There's a similar "tragedy" in the backgrounds of nearly everyone here. We already know that Okazaki has a difficult family background, and it seems that there's heartbreak in the seemingly happy home life of Nagisa Furukawa too. The resolution of these issues is predictably over-the-top and it does veer the series into overly-sentimental territory. Thank goodness then that we still have Sunohara's rather more cynical outlook on the real-world - life's tough, live with it - but that's of course because life has made him hard and he's had to give up on his dreams. Well then, at least we have the kick-ass Tomoyo Sakagami to rely on… - but hold on, there must be some underlying reason why she expresses herself so violently and is such a disciplinarian in her application of rules, doesn't there? Of course, there is.

If the story thereafter then strays into pure shojo will-they-won't-they romance mixed up with some wacky Maison Ikkoku-like wacky humour situations that derive from this, it's at least exceptionally well done in Clannad, with a good balance between humour and imaginative animation sequences and stylisations. The characters look simple with typical big-eye designs, but the animation is surprisingly expressive and subtle, with naturalistic movements and small touches that suggest other depths. It's those kind of depths however that were hinted at in a more original way though the mystical, science-fiction elements. If there are "other worlds" suggested here, those worlds are indeed just the metaphorical interior lives of each and every person, imaginatively visualised.

Just when it looks like Clannad has forgotten how to be quirky and original however with this kind of material, ending with the resolution of Okazaki's romantic inclinations at the end of the school year in the final episode 22, the inclusion of two bonus post-school episodes stir things up a little. Not so much episode 23, which is the usual romantic situation of awkward fumbling and embarrassments, but an "alternate reality" twist in episode 24 shows you that Clannad is still capable of throwing you for a loop, and looking for a realistic ways to consider the complex directions that life can take and a more honest way to bring those tears to the eyes.

Clannad - Series 1, Part 2 containing the first 12 episodes of the series, is released by Manga Entertainment as a three-disc set, with four episodes on each disc. The discs are each dual-layer DVD9, in PAL format and encoded for Region 2.

There's nothing different here from the previous set in the DVD specifications for the series, which are basic but good. There are four 25-minute episodes spread out across each dual-layer disc and no extra features. Menu options are limited then to selecting individual episodes - no play-all option - and selecting the language option. The image is presented anamorphically at 16:9, the transfer clear and detailed and the colour levels are superb. There is some evidence of mild banding but little else in the way of artefacts and nothing that detracts from the overall quality. The audio tracks for both the original Japanese track and the English dub are both Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo only, but both are fine and more than adequate. I went with the Japanese track myself, but the quality of the English dubbing is also excellent and certainly a viable option. Optional English subtitles are in a white font, clear and readable, and are not dubtitles.

If the second half of Clannad loses some of its originality and feels a little more conventional in its sentimental romantic approach to the High School comedy, it's at least one of the better examples of the shojo genre that at least adheres to its own strong central concept more than to a genre style. The closing episode of the series however shows that not every issue can be happily resolved and the future beyond the school is by no means certain for Okazai or his young friends, so the forthcoming Clannad After Story should make for interesting and no doubt tear-filled viewing.

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