Tomoya Okazaki is a senior high school student living in the rural city of Hikarizaka. A loner who often skips class and who has been labelled a delinquent as a result, he used to be a promising basketball player; however, after his mother died and his father started drinking excessively to deal with his grief, Tomoya permanently injured his shoulder when his father assaulted him during a drunken rage. As a result, Tomoya had to quit basketball; the two now live as virtual strangers under the same roof. One day, Tomoya meets Nagisa Furukawa and discovers that, although she is older than he, she is in the same year level at school, having repeated due to an illness that kept her out of school for most of the previous year. Because of this, Nagisa has lost touch with her former friends and lives a lonely existence; when she declares an interest in reviving their school’s now defunct drama club, Tomoya decides to help her. Tomoya sets about recruiting his hopelessly inept friend Youhei, the Fujibayashi twins, Kyou and Ryou, and the strange genius student Kotomi Ichinose as club members – along the way also assisting the (literally) kick-arse transfer student Tomoyo Sakagami in her quest to become student council president.  It’s in the midst of all these goings-on that Tomoya and Nagisa meet Fuko Ibuki, a first year student who seems to spend her days at school carving wooden starfish, which she then attempts to give to other students as invitations to her sister’s wedding. Shortly afterwards, Tomoya and Nagisa hear a strange rumour: apparently there was a first year student who, some years previously, was left comatose as the result of an accident, and whose “ghost” has been seen by several students. And when they meet Kuoko Ibuki, a popular former art teacher who wants to get married at the school, and whose younger sister is currently in a comatose state in hospital, they begin to wonder just who Fuko Ibuki might be…

Based on a visual novel created by computer games developer Key, and produced by iconic anime studio Kyoto Animation, “Clannad” first aired on Japanese television from October 2007 to March 2008; a second season – Clannad: After Story – aired in 2008/9. Less a single story than a sequence of interlocking narratives through which we witness the normally aloof and resentful Tomoya build a series of unlikely friendships, this unconventional approach nonetheless enables the audience to learn about the lives of the ensemble cast, and also establishes the foundations for the subsequent relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa. Likewise, a framing narrative focusing on a girl who lives alone on a dead planet, with only a strange automaton she has created for company, while initially confusing, ultimately develops into the decisive thematic thread that drives both series’ denouement.  Presented in Kyoto Animation’s trademark “soft lens” visual style and manga-driven aesthetics, “Clannad” could easily have tripped over into syrupy, adolescent melodramatics; that it doesn’t do so is due not only to the strength of the writing and characterisations, but also the alternating veins of sardonic humour and magical realism that leaven the series’ many dramatic moments. By turns laugh-out-loud funny and heart-breakingly poignant, “Clannad” is an effective and touching exploration of the nature of family, the dynamics of loss, loneliness, and alienation, and the surprising connections that can sometimes arise between the unlikeliest of people. A feature-length film, produced by Toei Animation and reinterpreting the storyline from Nagisa’s perspective, was released in 2007.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.