Clannad Blu-ray Review
Okazaki Tomoya is a delinquent who passes his days skipping classes and not paying attention to school. One day he meets Furukawa Nagisa – a timid and fragile girl who was forced to withdraw from school due to illness and now must redo her second year of high school. The two’s alienation from the rest of the students pull them together and Tomoya decides to help Nagisa realize her dream of creating a drama club and performing a play. Of course this is easier said than done. In order to create a drama club they need to recruit members and all the girls Tomoya seems to run into have peculiar family problems that need to be solved first. Thus Tomoya finds himself occupied in helping all the girls solve their family issues while consciously ignoring the fact that he himself is drifting away from his dysfunctional family.
Clannad is a series that pits one guy against several girls, some
of which harbor romantic feelings for him. However it is impossible to classifying Clannad as a harem show. Clannad is a series about overcoming personal struggles, of acknowledging one’s weak traits and augmenting them with the help of friends. The series is split into several story arcs with Tomoya helping a different girl in each arc. After his initial meeting with Nagisa he turns to help the petite and childish Fuuko, the unsocial genius girl Kotomi and the sport powerhouse Tomoya. Each girl has her own problem which Tomoya helps solve by intervening and forcing the girls to take a more direct, or indirect, approach. Not all problems are directly related to family matters but the importance of family is a recurring theme throughout the show. In visual novel tradition all the girls have a sad past and a hidden secret of two which are revealed as time goes by. All the arcs are competent and interesting, but they are not equally powerful. I found the Fuuko arc to be both funny and emotionally powerful, while the Kotomi arc was a little forced and not that touching. The relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa serve as the overarching plot device and are developed slowly over the course of the entire series. Through this relationship we are exposed to Tomoya’s dysfunctional family and to Nagisa’s very unique family structure. The rest of the characters are either amazingly entertaining or background fodder. Tomoya’s friend Sunohara and Nagisa’s parents are both funny and lovable characters that I enjoyed watching. Other characters, like the Fujibayashi sister and Sunohara’s sister Mei, are one-line support characters that contribute by most just being in the background to help make a room more populated.
The most attractive factor in Clannad is its uncanny way of showing drama and sadness. The entire series is shrouded by an eerie air of sadness and a sense of loss reflecting the lives of students who could not achieve their goals on their own and are stuck in place. However, the bigger the hurdle Tomoya and the girls face the greater the satisfaction they (and we the viewers) feel in return when the hurdles are removed. Despite featuring some characters who clearly don’t portray realistic high school students there is a pronounced sense of emotional reality to Clannad. The emotional turmoil some of the characters experience is painstakingly real and thus causes you to ache or rejoice alongside the characters. Not all the problems are equally solvable and not all stories come to a happy ending, which just goes even further to show this is not your randomly-generated harem or school show. That is not to say that Clannad is without its fair share of comedy though. There are quite a few funny bits that revolve around intentional or unintentional misunderstandings. Some of the jokes are verbal and stem from subtle nuances between Tomoya and the rest of the crew. At no point will you find yourself laughing out loud from something you observed in Clannad, but be prepared for some memorable sentences that might cause you to snicker.
As far as the plot goes this is a consistently engaging and relatable series. The biggest flaw in the plot is the inclusion of the other world segments. These are segments in which we get short glimpses into the life of a girl living alone in a “world that ended”. The other world segments use full animation, as opposed to the rest of the series that make use of the traditional limited animation technique. The superior visuals are accompanied by moody music for an overall enchanting experience. However the story surrounding the girl and the robot that accompanies her remains vogue and is not explained in its entirety during Clannad. Instead it spills over to the second season – Clannad After Story. This is a noticeable issue because the rest of the story of Clannad is very much self-contained and the entire series can be enjoyed without continuing on to Clannad After Story.
For this review I watched the Blu-ray version of the complete first season collection. The series looks good and sharp on Blu-ray but the differences between this and the DVD version are subtle. I found the colors to be a bit too bright, resulting in human faces appearing a bit pink at times but otherwise the visuals have aged quite well. The series is presented in a native 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio and looks consistently better than the old (inferior) 4:3 aspect ratio that was used when the series originally aired in Japan.
The Japanese voice acting is superb. Clannad is a conversation-centered, and conversation-heavy, series so every sentence must carry a precise weight and feel. The Japanese cast does an amazing job at making the characters compelling. The English dub on the other way is disastrous. This is one of those series in which the English actors reckoned the most effective way to dub the series would be to go overboard with their respective characters. As a result we get a watered-down appalling English adaptation that should be evaded. Sadly this is not the only problem in this Blu-ray. The English subtitles used for the better part of the show are lacking. They tend to provide a shortened version of the Japanese sentences, sometimes at the cost of dropping details and nuances. For some reason or the other the subtitles magically improve in the last ten episodes or so. Some episodes contain notes that explain cultural references. These notes suffer from simple spelling errors and are not always needed or appropriate. Just to be fair I’d like to point out that even at their worst the subtitles are serviceable and better than the English dub.
As for the audio, the Blu-ray comes with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for both the English and Japanese audio tracks. Just like the visuals I found the improvement in audio to be minimal at most. Despite being recorded on an HD format the audio still sounded lossy to my ears.
The Blu-ray extras include textless opening and ending themes, some trailers for other Sentai Filmworks shows and the two extra episodes: What Happened During Summer Holidays and Another World ~ Tomoyo Arc. The former is a sweet romantic episode that happens a few weeks after the main story concludes. The latter is an alternative storyline in which Tomoya becomes Tomoyo’s boyfriend. The extra episodes are the same length as the regular episodes and are worthy additions to this collection.
Clannad is a rare series that does not focus solely on the mundane daily activities of its characters or their outward appearance. Instead it takes us on an emotional journey into their inner selves and in doing so exposes us to a touching tale of human relationships and personal strife. Clannad will show you naked raw human emotions and will dare you not to feel for its characters. By the time this series ends you will have experienced profane sadness, intense struggles and the well-deserved joy of accomplishing an important goal. Saddening at times, joyous at others but always touching. Clannad is one emotional journey worth undertaking.
- An emotional journey.
- Real character depth and development.
- The subtitles are lacking and the English dub is bad.
- The other world storyline does not conclude during the series.
Final Score: 9/10 (Amazing)
Product Information: Clannad Blu-ray Complete Collection. Published by FUNimation Entertainment. Release Date: November 8, 2011.
Review Equipment: A Samsung 32-Inch LCD HDTV (LA32B530) connected to a PS3 using a ver. 1.4 HDMI cable.
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