Kanon Anime Review
US Release By
24 25-minute Episodes
2006-10-05 - 2007-03-15
A young man named Yuichi waits on a bench as snow gently accumulates. His cousin is supposed to pick him up and she's running late. When they finally meet, Yuichi remembers a little about the time they spent together as children. He then realizes there are a lot of gaps in his childhood memory: why did he stop coming to visit? Why can't he remember much about his time there? Now that Yuichi has come to live with his cousin Nayuki and aunt Akiko he will have time to rediscover his childhood, rekindle old friendships and form new ones. One friendship that is formed is with Ayu, who is searching for something she lost long ago.
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Kanon is a series that does things I'm never going to like--characters with silly noises as catch phrases and forced tear-jerking. However, it still has more going for it than I was expecting. The sense of season--it takes place in a very cold location--and visual language is rich, and at its best the character interaction is genuinely engaging. The male protagonist is also likable, and the low-key pacing and sense of mystery works well. The music isn't memorable, but it looks great, and the English dub carries the spirit of the show.
Kanon isn't exactly tailored to my taste, but it has an appealing setting and some good character interaction. Once you get past the pandering to cute-girl fans and soap opera melodrama, there are enough enjoyable moments in Kanon to keep me watching to the end, and it's pretty enough to entice me to rewatch it some day.
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"Uguu! I fell down again." "Yes," replied the cynic in me. "You sure did. How very refreshing."
I'm going to be upfront and say that Kanon is a series that does things I'm never going to like. I'm never going to like it when characters are ascribed silly noises as catch phrases. I'm never going to like it when characters are reduced to plot devices that actively try to force tender or sad feelings from the viewer. However, in spite of these issues Kanon has more going for it than I was expecting.
Mystery and miracles are two elements that make up the backbone of Kanon's story. It's not the sort of mystery that involves a grand conspiracy; rather, it's about trying to remember a time in one's life. Kanon opens with Yuichi Aizawa waiting for his cousin Nayuki Minase. As snow accumulates, he starts to remember the city he's now in and how he used to vacation there frequently as a child. For reasons he can't recall, he stopped coming, and doesn't remember very much about his time there. As expected he starts meeting other characters of the female persuasion who help jog his memory as he spends more time with them.
It's cold where Kanon is set and yet there's warmth that comes through while watching these characters and how they interact with each other. The series takes a full six episodes to establish itself and I actually liked those episodes the best. The laid back pace of watching Yuichi wandering around town trying to get his bearings as he meets the supporting cast went over well with me. The introductory episodes also contain one of the most entertainingly-directed sequences I've seen in awhile: the effects of eating Akiko's special jam. The hallucinatory visuals and distorted music came together perfectly and gave me a really good laugh.
I have to admit I grew concerned once the first character arc involving the red-haired Makoto got underway. The concept of miracles is introduced but the way the miracle played out felt similar to the manipulative elements that made Kanon's spiritual predecessor Air such a chore to watch at the end. Thankfully, even at its worst Kanon shows more restraint and saves itself from going way off the deep end into egregiously forced tear-jerking. In some ways I appreciated that Kanon was willing to do a bit more with its storytelling. Each character arc unfolds in a slightly different way, with Mai's action-oriented storyline involving supposed demons being my favorite.
Having said that, I felt myself going back and forth on how I felt about Kanon as I watched it. During some episodes I'd be right with the show, genuinely interested in its cast and watching their development. During other episodes I felt a little distanced and alienated, especially when the script unnecessarily condescended to its female characters. For example, Yuichi manages to convince an upperclassmen that she has to respond to people in ridiculously cutesy ways in order to "make herself seem more lovable." Another bothersome example involves Yuichi's interactions with a sickly first-year high school student named Shiori. Without any sense of irony he asks her at one point, "Weren't you resting at home like a good girl?" Really, Yuichi? She's only two years younger than you.
Speaking of Mr. Aizawa, he's generally likeable if you can forgive his minor transgressions. He's sincere but also fun-loving and personable. Although Kanon deliberately takes its time answering the questions about his past, Yuichi is engaging enough, both as a teenager and child, to make him worth learning more about. In some ways I thought Kanon did a decent job developing its female protagonists. The characterizations aren't necessarily unique but they are varied enough so that the girls' personalities do not feel redundant. I actually found myself seeing elements of people I know in some of the cast--even Ayu, once I got past her catchphrase.
Unfortunately, the show's flow and pacing get disjointed when it's time for one of the characters to give a monologue about some tragic event or lost loved one. The transitions for these speeches are about as subtle as the heart-to-heart talks seen on wholesome sitcoms like Full House and Family Matters. Worse yet, once a story arc involving one of the female characters is concluded, she is effectively taken off to the sidelines and barely mentioned again while the next character gets her turn.
The heart of the story is Yuichi's past and his forgotten memories. The mystery elements sprinkled throughout the episodes come full circle for the concluding storyline. As you might expect, there's plenty of tragedy in Yuichi's childhood, although Kanon decides to end on an uplifting note. While there are significant contrivances and conveniences to how the conclusions are played out, I was fearing a manipulative downer ending. Thanks to its decent conclusion I'm actually inclined to look back at Kanon in a more positive light, despite the problems I have with certain aspects of the show's storytelling.
No matter what kind of storyline or character interaction is portrayed on screen, Kanon is undeniably beautiful at all times. The attention to detail in the snow-covered backgrounds is impressive. Even though the city Kanon is set in is no Tokyo, the animation does a good job depicting the hustle and bustle of urban life. Star-filled skies are wonderful to look at, as are the lighting effects, such as those from a color-changing water fountain. Even the hallways in the high school Yuichi goes to are interesting to look at. Kyoto Animation is known for its technically proficient productions and it's clear that Kanon represents some of the studio's very best work. It's the sort of show where you'll notice new details each time you watch it due to all the bits of visual panache. I wish winter was even half as pleasant to be around as it is in Kanon.
Yuichi's animation and expressions are somewhat low-key but effective in conveying his thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, there's a little a lack of variety in the female character models. All the girls look similar in the face, especially with the wide eyes. This is especially noticeable with Nayuki and Akiko; the latter is supposed to be the aunt of the former but they effectively look like twins. Nevertheless, the animation is high quality and fluid throughout, and no one ever goes off-model. There are also nice understated touches to how characters are portrayed at times, such as depicting someone's ears burning when they're feeling bashful instead of just tinting their whole skin tone red.
While the animation production is high quality, I found the editing problematic at times. In addition to the heavy-handed transitions to tragic monologues, some scenes cut away too soon, particularly at the end of episodes. The ending theme would suddenly pop up before the episode's last scene felt finished. The final episode also proved a little awkward by trying to incorporate too many of the show's characters at once.
One might expect music to play a significant role in Kanon (Canon, get it?), but that turns out to be a yes-and-no type situation. A couple classical pieces, such as Pachelbel's Canon, are used periodically to good effect, and musical terms are incorporated into the episode titles. However, the score in Kanon is usually more synthesized and, while fitting enough, doesn't draw much attention to itself. The opening and ending themes fair a bit better; the opening is slow-moving but well-integrated with the visuals, and the ending song is relatively catchy.
Although there was a line or two that I found a bit mean-spirited in the script, the English dub largely carries the spirit of the show quite well. Chris Patton makes for a likeable and sympathetic Yuichi while Brittney Karbowski plays Ayu, "uguu"s and all, with a lot of conviction. Akiko has a good voice for her type of character, but the young-looking design doesn't always mesh with the mature-sounding voice. I also found Greg Ayres was occasionally a little over the top as Kitagawa for my tastes. The dialog is effective in portraying the banter between the characters and making it sound light and fun in English. There are also some rather amusing one-liners and comments throughout the show that work well ("That hurt my head-bone!").
Overall, I can see the appeal of Kanon. It's not necessarily tailored to my exact tastes, but it has an appealing setting and some good character interaction. While the mystery angle is developed relatively well, miracles unfortunately tend to be used as an afterthought to move or conclude storylines. There is also the inevitable pandering to fans of cute-girl characters, and the soap opera drama that frequently ensues, to deal with. Despite these issues there were enough enjoyable moments in Kanon to keep me watching to the end. There's even enough quality, at least in the visuals, to entice me to a rewatch some day.
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For anyone really taken with this story you can check out the spiritual predecessor Air and spiritual successors Clannad and Clannad After Story. Air is generally considered the weakest but Clannad, especially After Story, is very well reputed. For a different interpretation of the same story there's Kanon 2002, but this 2006 version is generally considered to be superior. Toradora! is another high school comedy that involves a likeable male character and the primary female character is also petite like Ayu, but with an entirely different personality. I also recommend looking at Welcome to the NHK for interesting social commentary on people who get too obsessed with the type of visual novel games Kanon is based on.
Notes and Trivia
Kanon is based on a visual novel game that was released for the PC. The first version of the game is an adult title where the player assumes the role of Yuichi Aizawa and, depending on the choices made, can sleep with one of the girls. A general release version was later released for the PC and consoles.
This is not the first time Kanon has been adapted as an anime series. Toei took a shot at adapting the story in 2002. That version is 13 episodes and ended its run in March, 2002. One year later a follow-up OVA episode was released in March, 2003. Both versions feature the same voice actors except for Yuichi and Kuze.
Kanon is the second of Key/KyoAni's "season shows" and represents the season of winter. Air represents the season of summer while Clannad and the follow-up Clannad After Story represent the seasons of Spring and Fall, respectively.
US DVD Review
ADV originally released Kanon in individual DVD volumes, with an option to buy a fairly nice artbox with the second volume to house the whole series. ADV managed to get five volumes out before the show's license was transferred to FUNimation and that company released the final volume to complete the series. The individual volumes feature a series of behind-the-scenes videos called Kanon: A Close Look At An Anime Production House, which detail the show's production at Kyoto Animation. FUNimation has gone on to release the series in lower-priced box sets, with the latest version being part of the company's S.A.V.E. label. Unfortunately, the complete sets don't retain all the extras. The individual volumes feature a rather nice-looking video transfer and crisp stereo Japanese and English audio. The quality should be consistent with the versions FUNimation has released as ADV still produced those DVDs.
The show has also been released on Blu-ray in Japan, with English subtitles to boot, for around ￥60,000. For those of you keeping score at home, that's enough for two Playstation 3s. When the software costs twice as much as the hardware that plays it, something is decidedly messed up, even considering how notoriously expensive Japanese home videos are. The transfer on the Blu-rays is native HD, KyoAni's first hi-def production, and the Japanese audio is remixed to 5.1, with DTS and LPCM options, and the original 2.0 mix is also lossless via an LPCM encode. Ironically, the BD set does not contain all the behind the scenes videos from the DVDs mentioned above.
Despite its adult video game origins there isn't much objectionable content in the anime, so the TV-PG rating on the DVDs is appropriate.
Violence: 1 - The action arc has some fighting and a car accident is depicted at one point, but neither are graphic.
Nudity: 1 - There's a scene of Nayuki changing her shirt and Yuichi walks in on Mokoto taking a bath at one point but neither scene is full frontal.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - The anime takes its cue more from the general release version of the game, so while there's a bit of romance there is nothing explicit.
Language: 1 - I don't remember hearing anything terribly crass in the dub.
Currently available in North America on bilingual DVD from Funimation in a budget-priced complete-series S.A.V.E. edition. They had previously released a box set after picking up the rights from the late ADV films. Prior to that ADV had, briefly, released the series on six individual discs (the 2nd of which was also available with an artbox for the whole series, and the last of which had Funimation's name on the box).