Kanon Anime Review
US Release By
Multi-girl romance comedy drama
13 25-minute Episodes
2002-01-30 - 2002-03-27
When his parents go to work overseas, Yuichi Aizawa goes to stay with his cousin Nayuki Minase and her gentle mother Akiko. Returning to a town which he hadn't visited in seven years, Yuichi finds his childhood memories strangely clouded. As he settles in, he meets a number of girls--the lively, if ditzy Ayu Tsukimiya, the shy and frail Shiori Misaka, the childlike, mischievous Makoto Sawatori, and the silent upperclassman Mai Kawasumi. As Yuichi's memories slowly begin to return, he finds that there is something he can do for each of these girls, some special way he can help them. But there is something else lurking in his memories--something from seven years ago which he tried to forget...
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Kanon, based on the popular game, is a one of a kind romance which will make you feel really wonderful. Although a series revolving around one guy and his dealings with 5 different pretty girls, it has nothing in common with the more basic and predictable "harem" anime and pushes the genre to its limits. With lovable and well-written characters, engaging plots and solid (if unspectacular) production values, Kanon is series well worth your time. Although not without its flaws, Kanon's virtues outweigh them considerably, and you should go out of your way to watch it all. HIGHLY recommended.
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Every so often, an anime comes along which can just touch you somewhere special. Not a thrilling or jaw-dropping anime, but one which just defies description simply because it feels special. For me at least, Kanon was just such an anime. A wonderful romance story, Kanon takes the outward appearance of a generic romance comedy drama, but accomplishes so much more than I ever imagined it would, stretching the genre to its limits. This was an anime which made me smile, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me feel just wonderful inside by the time I'd finished all 13 episodes.
Although the only proper way to classify Kanon is as a romance drama (with a bit of comedy to liven things up) it does not follow any of the archetypes found in other romance comedies. Although Yuichi interacts in a major way with no less than 5 girls throughout the series, there is no resemblance to the "harem" genre whatsoever. Despite a number of tearful plot twists in the series, there is not even a trace of shoujo angst. And despite being based on a H-game (albeit a light one) there's barely a speck of fan service throughout the entire series.
Although not totally devoid of action, Kanon is a series based totally around its characters. There are six main characters--Yuichi, Nayuki, Ayu, Shiori, Makoto and Mai--and a few supporting characters such as Akiko, Kaori and Sayuri. Although the girls are, without exception, unbelievably cute/pretty/beautiful they also each have their own unique personality traits and personal habits, as well as each having their own private story in the Kanon narrative. This is only to be expected in an anime based on a dating game, but as a result characterization suffers for a lot of the other characters. Sayuri is undeniably an important character in the context of Mai's story, but we actually know nothing about her except that she makes great bento lunch boxes and is Mai's best friend. Kitagawa gets the shaft almost completely--although he's one of only three male characters in the entire series (including Yuichi) he only appears in a small number of scenes in a few episodes, has minimal characterization, no background and no significance. Even Yuichi himself is not immune to this. Although he has a well-developed personality we don't know anything else about him--all we know about his parents is that they aren't here (they're overseas somewhere) and his only hobby appears to be sticking his nose into the business of cute girls. However, the five main girls are wonderful and even without a background, Yuichi makes for one of the best protagonists I've ever seen in a romance anime. He's hardly displays all the typical qualities of male leads in romance stories--he can be somewhat abrasive, loves to tease the girls, and although he has the traditional qualities of kindness and sincerity (although in his case, only when necessary) he's anything but another "nice-guy loser." Best of all, he's ordinary (apart from a touch of selective amnesia)--just your everyday high school boy. Other romance comedies may have normal main characters, but Yuichi was not just normal but realistic--somebody you could actually imagine knowing in real life.
Characters aside, the multiple story of Kanon is told in a series of overlapping narrative threads revolving around each of the primary girls. The series had to juggle the 5 plots from the original game almost simultaneously and did so admirably; however there were a few shortcuts taken. For example, Mai's entire story was handled in a single sequence of episodes--her story was the last to begin and the first to finish. Although Shiori appeared in several episodes, she was only really relevant to the plot of one--the one which was dedicated to her. Makoto was handled in a similar fashion, but got a somewhat better share of episodes. The series also had one overriding plot which tied together Ayu and Nayuki's stories with Yuichi's to provide the series with its climax and conclusion. All of the plots maintained a tight continuity (regrettably by dishing out most of their material in large doses) and told stories which captivated me, from Makoto's search for identity and a place to belong, to Mai's supernatural trials. However it was Mai's story which, while one of the most engaging in the entire series, was also clearly the weakest. This was largely due to the distinct edge of fantasy which added an extra layer of complexity to the plot and sadly managed to make things far too confusing.1 However, the problem was more than just that--most of the "what the %#@* was that all about?" in this section was due to simple weak storytelling, with things happening in a manner which left things as clear as mud. However, on pure emotion, the story was just as good as the rest. Each of the stories made me feel deeply for the characters involved, and one or two even brought tears to my eyes in places (something which has only been done by about 4 other anime). The series' ending and conclusion of the central storyline especially did an excellent job of bringing together all the bits and pieces of plot which had been offered during the series into a fantastic and well-structured whole. There were still a few bits that make you go "Huh?!"2 but it was still a wonderful story. Make sure you don't miss the bonus episode, "Kanon: Kazahana" which fits in between the climax and the final scene--you won't be fully satisfied unless you do!
Technically, Kanon scores well. Although it is very simple and not particularly high-budget, the animation is clean, colorful and very attractive, especially the character designs. Some people may admittedly be turned off a bit by the designs of the girls (most of whom have eyes the size of dinner plates) but they are all undeniably attractive, from Mai's striking classical beauty to Shiori's gentle fragility and Ayu's hyper-genki cuteness--definitely some of anime's prettiest girls ever. Even secondary female characters such as Akiko, Kaori and Sayuri have a lot of effort put into their designs. The male characters (all three of them) are fairly standard by comparison, and have the distinction of wearing possibly the worst school uniforms I've ever seen (those trousers are just terrible). Still, they aren't unattractive designs, and convey plenty of character. Backgrounds are basic but do a good job of portraying the small, cold Hokkaido town where the story takes place, with all the shops, parks and the like which make it look like the kind of place which would come from childhood memories. The music is simple and not outstanding in the Yoko Kanno/Kenji Kawai manner, but romance music rarely is, and the music in Kanon is very nice, gentle stuff--piano, strings, harp, guitar, some soft snare/cymbal, a little keyboard and some outright beautiful vocal work, especially the opening ("Fluorescence") and ending ("Flower").
The voice acting was somewhat varied. A lot of the performances--Yuichi, Mai, Kaori and Makoto especially--were quite exceptional, especially Yuichi's kind-yet-vaguely-cheeky voice. Most of the other characters were perfectly satisfactory--Ayu, Sayuri, Mishio, Akiko--but a few of them were slightly weaker than the rest--notably Nayuki and Shiori. Still, the voice acting is generally excellent and maintains the standards of the rest of the series. Since this series has not been acquired for western release there is currently no dub, and there probably never will be, which is probably a good thing since I'd be willing to bet anything that a dub would come out sounding awful.
Kanon really is a unique series in the romance genre and also probably one of the best I've ever seen. Despite minor flaws, this is one series which is worth every moment of your time. As far as multi-girl non-harem romance stories go (a regrettably small but worthwhile genre) things don't get much better than this. Great fun, pretty girls and essential viewing for all fans of romance. It'll really earn its place in your heart.
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I really can't think of anything quite the same as Kanon. Fans of more intelligent romances like Boys Be and KareKano may get quite a lot out of it, or maybe if you liked Marmalade Boy.
Notes and Trivia
Kanon is based on a 1999 adult visual-novel style dating sim; an all-ages version without the adult content was released about a year later, along with a series of light novels. There was later a short manga adaptation, followed by this 2002 single-season anime adaptation, which has not, as of this writing, been officially released in North America. Later, in 2006, there was a second short manga adaptation published alongside a two-season (24 episode) TV anime, which did see a North American release. The later anime series is, notably, not a sequel--it retells the same story from the start.
Footnote 1: Warning: This is a spoiler. Mai's story was just a headscratcher. Okay, was she creating those monsters? What did this have to do with her childhood self? Why did cuts appear on her when she got angry? Why did she want to kill herself? (To be bloody frank, why didn't Yuichi fall in love with her instead?) Maybe I'm just thick, but even on repeated viewings I still don't get it. When this happens, it's usually a sign of either bad writing or REALLY bad translation, and the translation was fine. Don't get me wrong, Mai's story was possibly my favourite (Mai was probably my favourite girl) but it was a bit of a mess.
Footnote 2: Warning: This is a spoiler. Ayu's story was a bit confusing as well. It made sense up until the very end when we find out she isn't actually dead after all. This was actually a bit weak, but the alternatives weren't too pretty. Either a) Yuichi gets over Ayu and hooks up with Nayuki (good for Nayuki, but a little lame considering that it WAS Ayu he actually fell in love with), b) Yuichi leaves, carrying Ayu in his heart forever (realistic, but leaves an ashen taste in the mouth) or c) Ayu miraculously returns from the dead (HORRIFICALLY cheesy). But as a result of the angel scene, the ending we got leaves us wondering "who the hell WAS that girl?" Was the Ayu who appeared throughout the series a wandering soul disconnected from the comatose body? A psychic projection? A person created out of Yuichi's subconscious memory, aged 7 years? As with Mai's story, there are a lot of questions unanswered.
US DVD Review
Has not been released in North America as of this writing; all the DVDs from ADV and Funimation are of the 2006 series.
Quite harmless, but some stories might confuse pre-teens.
Violence: 1 - Only in Mai's episodes, where it's light on.
Nudity: 1 - The girls ALL wear short skirts and there are some nice shots of Mai's legs, but otherwise...
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Wonderful romance, nothing more.
Language: 0 - Nothing.