It’s been over two years since I first saw Clannad. Back then, on all the anime sites that I frequented, popular consensus treated it as an unquestionable classic, a masterpiece that every anime fan who finds the romance genre even vaguely appealing, should see. Nowadays, I mostly see it in the same sentence with the word “overrated”, with seemingly everyone being sure that everyone else but them is mindlessly worshipping it.
I’m not saying that as a rant against the fandom. First of all, I don’t even know if the fandom really “changed it’s opinion”, or this feeling is only caused by me constantly getting deeper and deeper into more cynical communities, while the first “popular consensus” that I felt, only came from naive newcomers like myself, hanging around on “gateway” fansites. And even if things did change, no one reading this is a personification of the whole fandom. No one would personally identify with being responsible for these vague trends that I feel, so I would be ranting against no one in particular. But I thought I should still start the post with this, because regardless of whether it only happened in my perception, or if my perception happened to be accurately reflecting a larger trend, it’s an important part of how my mindset changed about Clannad.
When I first saw it, I was still at the point of being amused by the whole concept that romance, a traditionally feminine genre, has this male-oriented anime subgenre. And not just “stories with romantic subplots” like what any novel or movie has, but unapologetically cutesy, sugar-coated melodrama, that somehow still ends up being obviously different in it’s themes from western cutesy, sugar-coated melodrama. Also, even if by being a troper before an anime fan, I already recognized the character archetypes being used, I wasn’t truly bored with them. I enjoyed the whole show, some arcs less than others, I laughed at the laughing parts, cried at the crying parts, and joined the crowd in my certainity that Clannad is a masterpiece.
After that, it was inevitable that in in the next months and years, I felt more and more strongly that I was just tricked by the wisdom of the old saying: “Every joke is new, for a newborn”. As the smaller elements started to fade from my memory, and only the larger plot points and tropes remained, my mind somehow filled the blanks with genericness. The character of Kyou, was slowly turned into “The Tsundere”, something like a mix between that one from Infinite Stratos, and that one in To-LOVE-Ru. Nagisa turned into the “annoyingly childish nice girl”, like that one from Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, and Tomoya himself turned into the Yuuji Everylead, The Wry.
It’s an old truism, that it’s the execution, and not the originality, that really matters. Compared to that, it’s unfortunate, that we are (or at least I am) prone to forgetting exactly that for first. The little touches of the execution, that mak something enjoyable.
I remembered to rewatch Clannad, after I bumped into this video:
When I saw this, and found it incredibly cute, I was surprised how is it possible that I didn’t remember of it. Now I’m 10 episodes into the first season, and there are several scenes like that: Clannad is moe.
I mean, that sounds obvious, right? I remembered that much from my first viewing. Hell, I even knew that much before watching it at all, even for the first time. Bun no, I don’t just mean that it’s following the moe tropes, or it is “in the moe genre” whatever that may be, in the same way as something can be a comedy, a horror, or an action-centric story. What I’m talking about, is that it really feels moe, just like quality shows in the above genres can feel funny, scary, or exciting, but only if they succeed at their goal.
The second thing that I noticed, was how much stuff is happening in the first few episodes. All the characters are introduced in these elaborate situations, there are long time cuts between scenes, etc. Two years ago I found it perfectly enjoyable, and I also enjoyed it now, but now I found it just complicated enough that I wouldn’t recommend it to a newcomer. That says more about me than about the series. Apparently present!me has an unfairly negative view of newbies’ comprehension abilities, including the abilities of past!me.
The third thing I noticed, is that Tomoyo more of a moeblob, and less of a typical Kuudere, than I remembered. That’s not criticism, just… strange.
Overall, I can now see better how all the little things, the successfully executed cuteness, the jokes, the characterizations, contributed to the later emotional climax of After Story, that wouldn’t have worked with any other show preceeding it. Clannad is not an otherwise generic show made memorable only by emotionally manipulative twists. It’s emotional manipulation is made memorable only by the execution that makes me truly care about the characters, even if that execution itself is what gets forgotten first.