Kanon: The Complete Series - S.A.V.E.
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Yuichi hasn’t seen his cousin Nayuki in years. Now that he’s back, all knowledge of ever visiting has vanished. He tries to adjust to the vaguely familiar surroundings, but the gaps in his memory haunt him as time grows short. The pieces of the puzzle have appeared – an eerily silent beauty with blazing tresses, the mysterious girl with the winged backpack, and the sword-wielding demon slayer – but it’s up to Yuichi to discover how they fit together.
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As this review's title suggests, Kanon is equal parts mystery and drama, with a good dose of comedy thrown in. There are also elements of the supernatural and romance genres present here, however, it's important to remember that Kanon is, primarily, a mystery drama. The reason it's important to remember that is this: I've seen many fans of the more popular anime Clannad (which substitutes the mystery for more of a focus on romance) come to Kanon expecting a similar experience, only to find Kanon lacking because the romantic relationships aren't as fully explored as those in Clannad. Since these people have seen Clannad first, and Kanon is made by the same company and shares many superficial similarities, they naturally try to watch Kanon as if they were watching a different version of Clannad. This doesn't work, because the real strength of Kanon doesn't lie in the romance area. Don't get me wrong; Kanon has romance, and does it well enough, but if you're watching it with the mindset of "this is primarily a romance story" you're going to be disappointed when you compare it to Clannad.
Kanon's strength lies in its mystery. Why can't Yuichi remember his last trip to this snowy town seven years ago? Are the legends of the hill overlooking the town being a magical place true, and if so, to what extent? Is the demon hunter actually fighting demons, or is she just insane? Who is the lonely, mysterious girl Yuichi sees outside his classroom window every day? And how does this all tie into his original problem of memory loss?
So, yeah. Clannad is a romance/drama with comedy and some mystery. Kanon is a mystery/drama with comedy and some romance. In many superficial ways they are quite similar, but if you try to watch them the same way you'll be doing one of these shows a disservice, and will probably end up preferring the first one you watched. I've seen both shows, and I prefer Kanon by far (Kanon is my favorite anime ever), but I recognize that Clannad does its own thing and that some people prefer its more romantic approach.
If you're not familiar with Clannad, forgive me for talking about it this much. You have to understand that many (most, actually) of the impressions I see from new Kanon watchers come from people fresh off Clannad, drawn to Kanon because the two shows are made by the same company. They almost always unfairly criticize Kanon for not being the romance it never tried to be. Part of the reason I'm writing this review is to prevent more people from going into Kanon with the false preconception that it's trying to achieve the same goals as Clannad. Like I said, you can't watch them with the same mindset. An example of that is this: since each of the main girls in Kanon represents a mystery, the girls don't become friends and associate with each other like they do in Clannad. The girls in Clannad all get to know each other because that plays into the function of the romance genre, creating a harem so that the male lead has to choose who will be his girlfriend. In Kanon, however, that same approach would downplay the mysterious nature of the girls. Instead, Yuichi interacts with them more or less alone. The girls do cross paths with each other from time to time, but they pretty much keep to their own separate cliques. Many Clannad fans claim this to be a flaw of Kanon's, when really it was a conscious choice the writers made to focus on the mystery genre. And Kanon pulls this off naturally. Just think about your own high school days - it isn't uncommon for a high school kid to have friends from various cliques, keeping those friends separate from each other. Since Yuichi is the new guy at school, this is even more appropriate, since such social drifters are often the kids who haven't established themselves firmly in one clique or another.
Kanon's visual theme is very pleasing. If you have a soft spot for snowy landscapes, you're going to love the look of Kanon's little winter town. The comedy is laugh-out-loud funny, relying on witty banter and an overload of cuteness. The comedy gives way to the drama in the second half of the series, and be warned: the drama can get pretty intense and depressing. If you don't want to be depressed, this show is not for you. Much of the drama stems from supernatural origins, and some of the supernatural explanations are derived from Japanese folklore. You won't have to know the folklore to understand, since the show explains things, but you may think the explanations are a little out there if you don't know anything about Japanese mythology.
I need to give a special mention to the English dubbing. It's superb. Often times with anime shows, I'll find the English voices grating and switch to Japanese voices with English subtitles. The English dubbing for Kanon is so good that I didn't even think about watching it in Japanese (though I'll probably do it in future viewings, to see how much the dialogue was changed). I love the voices for all the major characters.
Kanon is a series full of wonder, joy and heartache. I'm in my upper 20's, just old enough to have become jaded about my entertainment. Watching Kanon made me feel like a kid again. I can think of no higher praise for a show, anime or otherwise, and I know I'll be watching it again and again in the years to come. It's my favorite anime ever.
The protagonist (Yuichi Aizawa) moved to a large suburb under the care of his aunt (Akiko Minase) and cousin (Nayuki Minase). The last time he was here was ten years ago, when something tragic happened which wiped out most of his childhood memories. As he meets new people around the town and the school, his memories begin to return, prompting not just one trauma but several.
Like the VN, each female heroine has their own story or past trauma which Yuichi is required to fix. As such, it is kind of like watching four or five different anime instead of only one (the same can be said of "Air," "Clannad," and other Key works). Whether or not you like the series will be dependent on how many of the arcs you enjoyed, or whether you enjoyed specific ones or not.
I thoroughly enjoyed the arcs for characters Mai Kawasumi, Shiori Misaka, and any side plots pertaining to the Minase family. However, I did not enjoy the arc for Makoto Sawatari, and hers is most vital to the main storyline's heroine (Ayu Tsukimiya). I do rewatch the series from time to time, but I tend to skip the Makoto arc entirely each time. Your mileage may vary.
All in all, it's a good series if you want something emotional and touching. I would say find somewhere that streams it legally first, and if it hits home for you, consider buying the collection.
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