DVD Review – Clannad: Series 1 Part 1

Release Date: May 28th 2012

When it comes to indulging in anime set in schools, I will admit from the outset that my experience is limited. From those that focus on the development and continuation of a Kendo Club (Bamboo Blade) and to the trials & tribulations surrounding a light music club (K-On!!). Even high schoolers fighting for their very survival while only being able to trust a certain few individuals and at the same time having their ideals being questioned on many an occasion in the process (High School Of The Dead). My experience with them is very sparse, yet quite diverse at the same time. On each occasion I have enjoyed myself tenfold. Be it because of the over the top personalities, the unique situations facing the characters, even just the charm that comes with what was presented in front of me. However I can safely say I have enjoyed them. When the opportunity to experience a new series of similar ilk (at a casual first glance anyway) with Clannad presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Whenever the name Clannad has been mentioned in conversations I’ve been apart of it had always sparked a new lease of life into a conversation. Almost like a sugar rush of enthusiasm was suddenly brought to the forefront. Now I had the opportunity to see why this enthusiasm was generated, and I would ultimately share that same enthusiasm, with the Manga Entertainment release of Series 1 Part 1 on DVD.

Let’s begin with the plot. Clannad focuses on the life of Tomoya Okazaki, a high school student who relishes in the opportunity to be nowhere near his home life due to family tragedy and circumstances that have resulted from it. He has a chance meeting with Nagisa Furukawa, a year older than Tomoya, she is repeating the third year of school due to illness through the previous academic year. The two strike an unlikely friendship that sees them trying to reform the schools Drama club. Though Tomoya wants nothing to do with it, he allows himself to be drawn and assist Nagisa. Along the way we are introduced to a wonderful cast of characters. From Tomoya’s very outgoing & girl chasing friend Sunohara, to sisters Ryou & Kyou (the latter of which is brash and quite aggressive unlike her sibling who is quiet and reserved). There’s also the very acquainted with martial arts Tomoyo and Fuko, a shy first year student who has a deep (and sometimes very over the top) fascination for stars. Put all of these elements into one school and you have a series that will take on a journey of varying emotions that made Clannad an absolute pleasure to watch.

What Clannad has the ability to do through its beautiful visual design and story telling is take you on a journey through all kinds of feelings. Be it laughing out loud or even sadness it really is a rollercoaster of a series, but one that is done in such a way you feel so happy to have watched it. This collection of twelve episodes is essentially split into three sections. The first is a platform to introduce you to some of the main characters and the general surroundings to help paint a picture of the world in which they are all growing up in. Then we’re presented with an exploration driven more toward the presence of Fuko Ibuki, leaving the remaining episodes in this set to have a focus on another character who by this point, has been previously introduced but had had minimal interaction with the established names up to that point. All in all each episode in this collection is a wonderful demonstration of how a viewer can become so attached to characters and situations that may present themselves, because of the way they are integrated into the story.

Staying on the subject of characters for a moment, the development throughout is done in such a way that come the end of final episode in this volume, you are left desperately wanting to know what is going to happen next. While the series is generally set within the school grounds, we are given the chance to see how many of them act outside of the classroom and how they interact with each other in different situations. This provides more exploration into not only the characters themselves, but how thire surroundings affect them and make them into the people they are. This is also driven by the varying emotions invoked, which builds up wonderfully on multiple occasions to a crescendo and giving you a payoff that is very satisfying, all the while emotionally drawing you in too.

I’ve put a big focus on the character development contained within Clannad and while this is a very integral part as to what has made this series so engaging, it is only a part of the formula to what makes this stand out. I’m going to use this opportunity to explain how the comedic elements work so well in this show. Comedy in general is meant to be funny (obviously). When it comes to a series set in a school, with a varying degree of personalities and potential situations, you could call this series a gold mine for potential comedy moments, be them little or large. Clannad utilizes some of the fundamental basic rules of comedy to the fullest and does it splendidly. Some of the best jokes in this program are from traits established early on in the series. Little quirks that sometimes get lost in the moment of what is going on in front of you and completely forgotten about. However because a character brings up this detail in a timely manner, you laugh out loud because it fits so well. One of the running gags in the show is Sunohara wanting to demonstrate he’s a powerful guy, this in turn convincing a girl to like him. Yet he regularly fails in this quest because of someone perhaps best described (for the purposes of this review) as a rival. But the comedy element comes in with how he ultimately gets crushed. Every time it builds up in a unique fashion so that when you are prompted you’ll be getting another round (so to speak), you can’t wait to see how it unfolds. They even manage to get a few beat ‘em up video game references in there that adds a nice little extra ingredient to an already great moment.

The series is very Japanese and because of this it does feel a bit alien watching it with an English voice cast. Though the English actors have done a great job of trying to capture the moment for those who prefer to watch in that way, I would suggest watching this with the Japanese audio to get best experience of what the series is putting across. Funnily enough the default language setting on the disc when I watched it was Japanese with English subtitles. This isn’t normally seen in bilingual releases in the UK, so one does wonder if that is perhaps a hint or maybe a requirement in the licensing agreement given how much of a following the series already have.

Sticking with the audio discussion, the soundtrack is so complimentary to the series, it is sublime to say the least. I will flat out admit that things do get quite emotional in this collection of episodes and the music playing in the background only added to the wonderful story telling and the tears rolling down my face. It’s a wonderful demonstration of how the music can add so much to an already poignant moment in a series.

In conclusion Clannad Series 1 Part 1 is easily one of the most enjoyable volumes of anime I’ve watched in a long time. Going in I had no idea what to expect and I’m so happy that a series has invoked this much emotion from me. I was thinking we might get overly cute girls, perhaps conveyed in overtly fictional way combined with lots of fan service. What we actually got was overtly cute girls depicted in a very real to life way while incorperating some traditional anime moments of madness and some very fictional, but very amusing, comedic moments. All this while growing up in school and encountering life changing situations along the way that make you, the viewer, become fully involved in the story and allowing you to be emotionally connected at the same time.

While this won’t be for everyone, if you’re looking for something very unique to the moe genre of anime set in school, you cannot really go wrong with this at all.

Clannad: Series 1 Part 1 is released on DVD on Monday 28th May by Manga Entertainment. You can pre-order this at Amazon UK HERE.

– Jeremy Graves

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