Thursday, June 24, 2010

THe School's Trees: I'm Miserable, and Wanna Be Happy (Part Two)

So I said I'd only do one post a week, but after looking at the former post I thought something was lacking, and realized that it was a bit of my own story. So much of my own thoughts about Clannad are about the impact on my own life that I can't help but write about it.

I really have trouble with the standard anime format, which takes four episodes to set up any show effectively. In my humble American opinion I think a show should be set up in one episode. Anymore than that and you drag it out. While I realize that, as an American, I have a shorter than average attention span, I do think it's just good policy. People shouldn't have to wait to find out if the show's worth watching, they should know pretty quickly. A lot of anime I've watched does turn out to be worth it later, but there's still the hurdle of the first four episodes.

Clannad isn't like the others. It grabbed me in one. It told me in one episode that there was another world, that it had some form of impact on the world of Tomoya, and that the whole thing would revolve around Tomoya and Nagisa, while still introducing quite a few of the main and supporting characters. While Clannad does follow the four episode formula, it's first episode is able to stand on it's own merit, something that I find isn't the case with most anime. What am I talking about? I'll post a few examples, and may God help me.

Kanon/Air: SLOW. SLOW. SLOW. Part of it is that the main characters just aren't that interesting in comparison to Tomoya (or Ed from FMA), and that definitely doesn't help. It takes a good four episodes for any semblance of plot at all to start forming, and even then it's not necessarily very exciting (Kanon, I haven't seen enough of Air to comment further)

FMA Brotherhood: I know I'll draw ire for saying it, but I hated the first four episodes of FMA Brotherhood. HATED. It was a sped up version of the first show that somehow managed to spit on all the memories I'd had. The Nina arc was especially bad, and I almost got up and left from the sheer inane quality of that episode. How are we supposed to care if this girl dies if we don't get the connection first? Yes, her father's still an evil man but the impact is lessened by the lack of exposure. Does that sound a little extreme? Probably. But that was my reaction to the dribble that is the first four episodes of FMA Brotherhood. (Now before anyone gets defensive, I love FMA Brotherhood, and it really is superior in practically every way to the original. I just don't like the first four episodes, that's all.)

Those are two examples I can think of off the top of my head that make me wanna rage, but I can probably think of more. My point is that any good piece of literature or visual medium should grab you from the first instant you see it. Clannad did that for me, even if that was only because I needed to hear someone say "Go find new memories". For me that was enough of a reason to watch the rest of the show, if only because I'd seen that someone knew what was going on. They knew about how much the past could hurt, and they wanted to go forward anyway. I wanted to see if Tomoya could back up his command "Go make new memories", if only so I could laugh at him in case he failed. I'm happy to say he didn't, otherwise I wouldn't love this show as much as I do now.

Now I'm not gonna say that I had it worse than anyone (I definitely didn't), but it was still pretty rough after the break up with this girl (we'll call her Jamie) that I was referring to. I had sunk a lot of personal time, stress, money, and tears into a really horrible relationship, and had fooled myself into thinking it was going somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I found it wasn't. I was confused, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, because so much of it had been spent in the service of  Jamie. I'd thought that that was all there was to life, and so when the relationship ended it felt like life had ended. I wondered why I was alive.

Yes, that's called pathetic. Moving along.

The opening three minutes of the anime turned that attitude on its head, and showed me what I really was. Selfish, delusional, and in desperate need of a good time or three. But I needed more, I needed to see it work. Clannad moved on to prove that to me, as I'll show in the following weeks.

Does that make me biased? Oh yeah, definitely. But that may not be a bad thing. My bias just might show a different side of what this (and any anime) is capable of. And that can't be a bad thing. Because no matter how nutty I am it'll show you a different side, and you just might walk away knowing a different thing or two.

And isn't that the point?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The School's Trees: I'm Miserable, I Wanna Be Happy! (1st Theatre Arc)

This....(you're supposed to click on it!) the Second Most Important Part of Clannad! 
Real subtle, I know, but I figured I'd say it now. This section decides everything. Everything. Think I'm kidding? You just wait, you lucky reader, you!

The anime opens with a subdued blue hue, putting us into Tomoya's mood and world. Blue is a passive color, indicating that Tomoya has done nothing to change the way things are, and up until this point I don't know if he ever wanted them to change. Tomoya just lives his life passively, waiting for things to happen to him, but nothing will. Until Tomoya asks. He specifically asks for life to get better in this opening, and so God works with Tomoya's desire. How?


Tomoya feels Nagisa's fear. He's just as much at the bottom of the hill as Nagisa is, because he's afraid too. This the first impression of these two that we get, of their fears. But within Tomoya and Nagisa is the courage to break the past and live. But Tomoya actually knows what to do, he just doesn't think about it until he meets Nagisa. Hearing her declaration of love for a place that he wants to love is enough for Tomoya to reach out, and provide the answer that both he and Nagisa were so desperately looking for. I thought for a long time that it was Nagisa who saved Tomoya, but I'll have to admit that I was wrong. It was Tomoya who saved himself, he just needed Nagisa to know that he wanted to.

These opening episodes work off of this premise and show further that Nagisa and Tomoya are really the two closest characters in the whole show. They want to be unequivocally happy, a quality that goes beyond words and beyond all other similarities. As I watched this show the first time I always asked "Why not Kyou? Why not Tomoyo?" Those two have much more surface things in common with Tomoya, and they seem to get along better with him. But their primary interest isn't in being happy no matter what the cost. Tomoya and Nagisa are the only two who actually want happiness for themselves, first, and that's what makes the difference. Don't get me wrong, Tomoya and Nagisa are not being selfish, a point that's made later on in the anime (and that I'll cover soon enough). They're actually being incredibly selfless by focusing on their own happiness. Their focus starts to be fixed with the arrival of Ibuki Fuko, who will be the focus of next week's review. Tune in next time!

A thanks to the Clannad Fan Page (found here), who provided the video clip that I used. Props to Taylor for his commitment!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The School's Trees: An Introduction to Clannad, Me, and Key

Clannad is the third anime based off of a visual novel from the company Key. It's also the best thing since sliced bread, hell, it tops sliced bread. 
What might a visual novel be? A visual novel is the video game equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Players read the text and make choices based upon the options given them by the game. Clannad had a total of 13 endings, with one true ending. While I haven't played the visual novel I've heard that it's an amazing experience, filled to the brim with beautiful stories that make you laugh and cry. There's even some guys who walk away from the game feeling more mature, something that I would have trouble believing if not for the impact that Clannad's had on my life.

About Me
This is the part of the post where I start talking about myself. Not just because I'm arrogant but because I really do think it's important that you guys know a bit about me so that way you can know what to expect of me in these reviews. I'm in my early 20's, am a guy, and am Eastern Catholic. For those of you who don't know what that is click here! I do this, again, because I feel the more transparency in worldview the better. I'm going to review from my gut, and I won't weed out my thoughts on how Christianity and this anime work together and compliment each other nicely, because that's why I find this anime so good. Clannad really is the most Christian thing I've ever seen, and I'm out to prove it. There, you got my mission statement in the second paragraph, how's that for convoluted writing?

I first saw Clannad in my sophomore year of college. I'd just had a really bad break up with a girlfriend, and so one of my friends (we'll call him Marty for now), took me in and started showing me the most positive anime he could find. I'd only seen one anime before (Fullmetal Alchemist), and was more than willing to find out if FMA was a fluke or a sign of Japan's quality. Marty showed me Eureka 7, which I gobbled up in about a week! Hungry for more, I asked what we were gonna watch next. 

What Marty showed me was Clannad. Boy, if there were things that I needed to (and still need to) hear, Clannad shouted them all. At the top of its lungs. With a megaphone. I watched the first half of Clannad, enjoying the incredible character interactions and poignant moments, and cruised right into Afterstory. That's when things got weird. This show stopped being as fun and happy as it had been before, and began a more serious twist on the things that had been set up in the first half. Before I knew, I needed a tissue, and then another, and then another. And then I started throwing things (but that's for later).  What I'm trying to say is that Clannad changed my life, it was a tool that God used to keep me afloat, and I couldn't ask for a better floater.

An Intro to Key
A brief history on Key is also necessary to set up the stage of Clannad. Key is a gaming company famous for its modern day fairytale visual novels. Their preceding visual novels, each with an anime adaptation, are Air and Kanon. Many of the themes from these anime are transferred to Clannad, especially those of dreams and alternate lives and worlds. While I'm not going to get into a full-on review of Air and Kanon here, I will say that Kanon is a good anime in its own right, and that if I could get past the first four episodes of Air I might find it worthwhile. Seriously, that show takes so long to get started.... but I digress. Again.

At first glance Clannad is just like its predecessors. It's a modern day harem fairytale about a young man finding his family. There's all sorts of weird things going on with ghosts, reincarnated animals, and alternate lives. And of course, there's the girls. Those wildly unique, hilarious, and tragic women of the main character's life. All three animes' action center around the guy's interaction with the girls. Some of the characters are so over the  top that I wonder if Key doesn't have a dart board with traits. The writers are then required to blind fold themselves and throw at the dart board. Bonus points are awarded for hitting other writers, particularly the guys who made up the Fox girl arc in Kanon!

Fortunately that's where the similarities ends. First, Clannad is an all-ages visual novel, with no hentai (pornographic) content. Both Air and Kanon have hentai content, so there's two versions of each visual novel, with their respective anime being all-ages. Clannad is the only Key visual novel that was all-ages from the start, much to the chagrin of their earlier fans. Seriously, though, how can the addition of scenes that we'd never see in real life help a slice of life piece anyway? The last time I checked it wasn't customary to set up video cameras in the rooms of people having healthy relationships. Unless of course my friends (married or not) who joke about sex all the time are prudes.  Didn't think so. Perverts. 

I'll give my quick and (hopefully not so dirty) impressions of Clannad, which'll have to keep you until next week. Oh wait, did I mention this is a weekly thing, because I have a life? Yeah, I think I just did. 

Clannad is NOT Just Slice of Life
This is something that trips up people who see Clannad. They get so drawn in my by the slice of life elements that they forget that it's a modern-day fairytale. And I mean fairytale in our modern sense of the word, where everything ends well. Yes, I just spoiled that part for anyone who hasn't seen the show, it's a happy ending!

You Must See Both Clannad and Clannad:Afterstory
While I normally call both shows Clannad what I really mean is the compilation of two "different" shows (Clannad and Clannad: Afterstory). While they have different names it's really Season 1 and Season 2 of the same show, it's just that the arc that's explored in Season 2 was called Afterstory in the visual novel. While it shouldn't be much of a no-brainer that you have to watch this show from beginning to end, I say this because....

Clannad is All About The End
Kinda weird, ain't it? That you have to keep in mind that this show is all about the end? Well, it is. Everything about this show is to convince you that the ending can and will happen. 

"But that's it for this week?" Yeah, that's it for this week. I encourage you to check out the link that I put into this article, and, well, review ME, the reviewer. It'll work out in the long run, and you'll be glad that I took the time to do this little post before all the craziness starts.

Until next week!