DVD Review: Clannad Series One, Part One
Rumours run rampant through the school of a ‘ghost’ or spirit who haunts the halls!
Clannad focuses on the life of Tomoya Okazaki, a delinquent third year high school student who often skips class due to his resentment of school-life since an injury took away his chances to play basketball. Whilst walking home from school he meets Nagisa Furukawa, who is a year older than him but has to repeat a school year due to her ill health the previous year. They soon become close friends and Tomoya helps her gain acceptance with her new class and soon creates a close knit group of students who work together to revive the dram club.
Rumours run rampant through the school of a ‘ghost’ or spirit who haunts the halls and hands students a cursed object, while scenes are often interjected with cut-aways of a small girl building a robot which has yet to be explained in this half of the series. Throughout the first part of Clannad, Tomoya also champions two more students; the starfish obsessed Fuko Ibuki and the genius Kotomi. Each relationship brings Tomoya closer to school life and he slowly becomes included in class activities and the school community.
The first time we meet Tomoya, he is soliloquizing about the mundanity of his life. The English translation of this monologue is clunky, with some poor examples of syntax which make for a laboured read or listen dependent on whether you are listening to the dubbing or reading the subtitles. Consequently, it is difficult to connect to Tomoya or his supporting cast as their speech is often overly serious or lacking in realistic dialect or tonality. They are also highly over-dramatic in the way they talk about ordinary , everyday situations such as school and relationships can lead to deep, meaningful philosophizing, outbursts of rage or even collapsing on the floor in tears! It can be difficult to take such a serious treatment of ordinary teenage lives seriously when they seem so bent on over-emotionalizing even the simplest of sentences.
The voice acting is extreme, with female characters holding overly squeaky and childish voices, while Tomoya holds an adult, macho tone. This is also echoed in the art style used to depict the girls and Tomoya. The girls are wide eyed, small and tiny, whilst Tomoya is taller, smaller eyed and older looking. Nagisa’s parents are also portrayed as very young, with her mother looking no older than the teenage daughter herself, while the father looks like a teenager. This blurred line of age not only makes the series quite confusing but also estranges us from the seriousness of the character’s situations.
The art style is beautiful, playing with soft focus and pastel colouring to show the innocence of the story and the bleary eyed view of nostalgia. This is set off against the occasional breaks into action-based animation for the school confrontations, complete with movement lines and Heads-Up-Display style video game animation. This echoes the mind set of our protagonist, who we must not forget is a teenage boy and sees his life as interchangeable with this style.
The individual characters are well rounded. Each character holds a unique and rich backstory, relationships and history; especially Tomoya, who it is revealed is the victim of an abusive relationship with his alcoholic father. However, although these plots are interesting to the characters’ development, it is the way they are portrayed which distances us from their 3-dimensionality. The characters over-react to every situation from Tomoya asking his father to go to sleep, to which he replies with “I am a burden to you once again”, after which Tomoya screams and runs out of the door! Or, to Nagisa seemingly falling ill suddenly, at which point Tomoya screams her name to the Heavens as if she has just died in his arms. This treatment of their personalities disconnects us from otherwise well written character developments.
The supernatural aspect to the series is subtle and treated wonderfully for the first few episodes, resulting in a highly emotional climax. However, due to the over-the-top ‘acting’ of the cast, the pathos is lost and this beautifully plotted climax is lost to the poor structure of the language and poor voice acting. That being said, the plot and content are admirable, dealing with the characters and relationships of school children in a three dimensional way without over-emphasis of sexualization or violence. Instead we are shown a slice-of-life drama with an admirable intent, sadly marred by the stylized treatment.
While the small excerpts of a future story line containing the young girl and robot that she has created are interesting and beautifully animated, it is not enough to capture the imagination when the acting is so disconnected. The supernatural storyline is also ruined in the second to last episode of Part One of this series, when the character in question is brought back for one episode as a subsidiary, comedic character in an unnecessary cameo. This lightens the otherwise moving plot line which they were a part of in the first half of the series, taking away any sympathy we may have felt before.
Overall this is a series that had great potential but never got realized due to poor voice acting, over-direction and a badly translated script. It tries too hard to over-dramatise what could have been a subtle and interesting look at teenage life, love and relationships causing a series which ultimately jars and is more irritating than it is interesting.
Label: Manga Entertainment
Release date: 28th May 2012
Running time: 280 mins
Genre: Anime, Drama, Romance
Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
Anastasia Catris is a freelance illustrator, writer and actress based in South Wales. After graduating in English Literature from Royal Holloway, University of London she studied for a year in comic book art and design in The Kubert School where she nurtured her love of Japanese animation and cartooning as well as its cinema, video games and culture. You can keep up to date with Anastasia’s activity via her website www.anastasiacatris.wordpress.com or her Facebook page www.facebook.com/acatris. You may also follow her on Twitter at @acatris.