About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In the Shadows of Clannad

I recently watched Amagami SS Episode 9.

It had slick artwork and solid animation, it showcased mostly good character designs, and it was rather benign. Few people who are already very familiar with anime would find it disturbing in the least, and the only scene that would even possibly raise the eyebrows of even a total newcomer to anime is the flashback scene of one girl giddily gleefully rubbing another girl's breasts.

Junichi may be a bit of a pervert, in the very broadest sense of the term, but he's the most innocent type of one. He gets aroused by even the slightest of physical contact with an attractive girl, even through layers of clothing. There's nothing in Junichi's approaches and reactions to girls that even a shy choir boy at the age of twelve would find alarming, or hard to appreciate. There's also nothing even coming close to the degrees of slapstick violence found in Love Hina!, Negima!, or even your typical Jun Maeda produced comedy bit. So Amagami is incredibly inoffensively innocuous.

But then, while this might be a strength raising Amagami's level of viewer accessibility if it were a greater work, it instead simply serves to make the weaknesses of Amagami that much more glaring and unshielded. After all, controversy and titillation can often serve to effectively veil paper-thin plots, or cardboard cutout characters. This is the main reason why pornographic movies can get away with plots that could be completely summed up on the back of a paper napkin, along with characters about as deep as that same napkin.

Amagami's characters are generally nice, inoffensive, and even charming or sweet. But none so far contain a deep and captivating backstory that can effectively add drama, suspense, and intrigue. Furthermore, the majority of Amagami's characters do not leave a strong impression on me in any sense. Haruka Morishima was exquisitely eccentric enough to get me thinking a fair bit about her, but thus far, the other potential girlfriends of Junichi have done little to interest me.

I don't dislike them, and they're nice enough that I wish them well, but they're a bit, well, boring.

I think that the weakness I'm seeing here is related to something that 0utf0xZer0 mentioned in his response to my review of the Haruka arc of Amagami SS.

"What the seinen romance drama genre needs right now is girls who bring a dramatic story to the table in themselves, not attempts to adapt a romance-comedy storyline into a dramatic one by introducing love polygons" - 0utf0xZer0

And that, I suspect, is the key. And speaking of Key, this is also why Amagami SS is so thoroughly caught in the shadows of Clannad.

In fairness, the Clannad game is a family-oriented game, and not an eroge in the strictest sense of the term. Nonetheless, eroge adaptations into anime are themselves rarely focused on actual sex. And this is why titillating scenes can not save an anime adaptation of eroge games from looking bad, or simply being boring, if the actual characters and plot fail to engross and/or entertain the viewer.

Clannad, it must be said, is like the finest of wines. It truly gets better with age. Its stunning strengths shine more boldly breathlessly brilliantly with every passing day. And the key strength of pertinence for the purposes of this discussion is how the girls of Clannad do bring dramatic stories to the table, in and of themselves. The girls of Clannad are interesting, in and of themselves, irrespective of the presence (or absence) of romance or romantic conflict.

The perfect example of this is Fuko-Chan.

Starfish Girl is truly one of a kind. Her story is both dramatic, and unique, now that I really stop to think about it. I mean, you have to admit that a character that's all about making starfish shaped crafts to give to people to entice them to attend her sister's wedding is pretty darn original. And that's before we even get to the supernatural aspect of Fuko's story (which, now that I think more about it, almost seems excessive; like making Batman a vampire as though a guy dressing up as a bat wasn't original enough as it was).

And that's the basic story of Clannad: Too eccentric and original, if anything. But just like I hold that it's better to overact an important role a bit than it is to give a flat uninspired underacted performance, it's also better for an anime to be downright trippy than to cause viewers to be tripping out over its blandness.

Beyond this, romances, be they comedies or dramas or both, tend to be character driven. And that is why, for romances especially, the characters themselves have to be good and interesting. There ideally should be a real depth and distinctiveness to them.

And making characters that are good and interesting with real depth and distinctiveness is something that Jun Maeda excels at, as the following image demonstrates.

Maeda's weakness is that he struggles a bit when he tries to handle multifaceted complex plots that incorporate serious conflict. However, even amongst the plot weaknesses of Angel Beats!, it's characters are ever a coolly captivating crew, full of winsome quirks, gripping backgrounds, and comedic eccentricities.

With this in mind, I hope that Maeda returns to his eroge/visual novel roots, because he could arguably do more good for anime there than as an actual anime scriptwriter.

In the meantime, I hope that Little Busters finally gets animated soon, as I think it could really help the particular genre of anime that it is based upon.

For now, though, the eroge-based animes are sadly lacking character, precisely because their characters are so lacking. I hope that they don't stay within the shadows of Clannad forever...


  1. Perhaps I should give Amagami SS more of a chance than 3 episodes, but something was severely lacking whilst I was watching it. It is essentially giving me the same vibes as when I watched Kimikiss: Pure Rouge and Hatsukoi Limited, which were both "meh" romance anime at best. You and 0utf0xZer0 pretty much nailed it on the head - the characters although not bad, did not entice much attachment nor was there any sort of serious conflict. Drama needs good character development and good conflict.

    I guess I'll take this time and talk about Angel Beats, as I didn't get a chance to reply on your blog regarding it. If I were to be completely honest despite being generally being a big "Key" fan, I found it to be pretty bad. Why? Let alone the bad plot/story, which can sometimes be cured by good narrative, Angel Beats also had bad narrative. Angel Beats was ALL OVER the place. One moment, there's a typical Jun Maeda comic relief scene, another moment they are dungeon crawling, next moment someone is disappearing, the next someone is being confessed to, next they are fighting "Persona-like" shadows... it was very very inconsistent.

    I'm not saying Angel Beats was all bad, they still had the Jun Maeda/"Key" elements to it in the form of relatively well designed characters and good melodrama at points. Perhaps it was the fact Angel Beats had to be squeezed into a 13-episode series, whilst Kanon had Clannad had 24 and 44 episodes respectively. Or perhaps, as you said, Jun Maeda is not suited for an anime environment. Or perhaps, it was the lack of experience of P.A. Works taking on a big project (their past works True Tears and Canaan, were no where near the scale in terms of production costs compared to Angel Beats). Whatever the reason is, Angel Beats lacked the quality of its predecessor's Kanon and Clannad. I would even probably rate Air above Angel Beats, despite that having flaws of its own.

    Now onto, Jun Maeda, Clannad and "Key". If I were to describe this guy, I would label him as a "prodigy" for adolescents/10-early 20s. And rightfully so because his works (script and musical compositions) have mostly been great tear-jerking masterpieces. However, he lacks the "maturity" and age-experience of the more "mainstream" geniuses such as Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai and Hosoda Mamoru. Perhaps it is unfair to compare Jun to directors, but nevertheless, whilst Jun's work might be a masterpiece to the 10s-20s age bracket, for the other 3 people their works will be at least considered "decent/good" to the general population anime fan or not.

    Take my own mother for example. My mother, like most Asian housewives, watches a lot of sitcoms, drams, soap-operas, "stuff aimed at female audiences". I showed her 5 Centimeters per Second, she thought it was a good movie. Then I showed her a few episodes of Sola and True Tears and the response was "seems like a general soap opera". Then I showed her Clannad and her response was "How can you like this childish s@%#".

  2. So why would Jun Maeda, "Key" works and Clannad be considered to be great for the 10s-20s age bracket, but "childish" to the rest. This in essence goes back to Japanese culture regarding anime/manga. As we all know, Japan's "anime" culture emphasizes cuteness and with any entertainment shares it own basket of stereotypes.

    Let's have a look at Clannad. Clannad, particularly the first season has a substantial amount of slapstick comedy. It also has traits of multiple stereotypes - tsundere (Kyou), moeblob (Nagisa), eccentric girl (Fuko), the idiot sidekick (Sunohara) etc. These stereotypes and substantial amount of slapstick comedy is indeed "childish", but nonetheless it doesn't stop people from enjoying it, at least for its intended target audience (10s-20s age bracket), which includes myself.

    This is how I see "Key" and Jun Maeda. It follows the very trend that Japanese "anime" culture in general made it to be, but the differences between Western/non-anime values and culture and Japan will prevent him from being worldwide known and a genius limited to the 10-20s age bracket, whilst Miyazaki, Shinkai and Mamoru will be considered a “genius” in Japan and at least a “good” director worldwide.

    Think of it this way. Will you consider Clannad to be a masterpiece in 5, 10, 20 years time? Will you consider “Key” and “Jun Maeda” a genius in 5, 10, 20 years time? Then ask yourself, would you consider Miyazaki a genius in 5, 10, 20 years time? The answer will probably be “yes” as the general consensus. Clannad, “Key”, “Jun Maeda” we are going to have to see with time, and whether “anime” evolves and becomes mainstream by then :).

    To perhaps give an illustrated example, watch 5 Centimeters per Second then compare it to Clannad After Story. Hopefully it will illustrate my points with more clarity .

    P.S. I am in no way bashing Jun Maeda, “Key”, Clannad or “anime” generally, but trying to explain/see things from as much as an objective view as possible. As you know, I consider Jun Maeda, Key and Clannad in high regard, at least for now, only time will tell if it continues to be.

  3. It's hard to evaluate Jun Maeda's writing since I've never played the VNs but since everyone's so up in arms about the animes being good adaptations, I'll just go on:

    Key works are generally stories of the heart, they're emotional and stuff though as a story of the mind they often don't make sense. Which is why they so frequently screw up the ending; they just have trouble making a logical progression to an ending. And often, lacking logic, they'll try to force an ending where it didn't belong.

    Of course, if we must talk about Angel Beats; it was a concerted effort to get away from those tropes that have held them back for a while due to overuse; sadly in the end Angel Beats just devolved back into them. It's kinda sad.

    But it's getting better as time goes along still. There seems to be an effort to create drama without causing someone to be dying, but old habits die hard.

    I've often compared a Key story to one of their characters; you have no idea what the fuck they are talking about, but at the same time you can't help but adore her honesty and goodwill, rofl.

    Which is why I look forward to Rewrite, a Key project which involves Ryuishki07 (ala the Higurashi dude) who tends to be a bit of the opposite; a near obsession with logic and stories of the mind though he also has his own set of issues. :D I think they could totally keep each other in check, but I feel sorry for the characters in that, since as you know both seem to have quite an obsession with killing off their main characters, often more than once. :D

  4. Acejem:

    As you may know, I sometimes bring the concept of a “supernormal” response into discussions about moe. Basically, in biology, a supernormal response occurs when something that shares certain elements (visual, etc.) with a real thing draws the same biological response as the real thing itself – only much stronger. I would say that many artistic movements make use of this principle, and that moe definitely makes use of it. I further submit that Key makes far greater use of supernormal stimuli than other creators in the genre. This is, of course, a taste that doesn’t appeal to all because not everyone is affected the same way by such stimuli.

    I’m not convinced that just because someone is older, they’re significantly less prone to supernormal stimuli. Animesuki’s Vexx and Mushi both come to mind as 50+ fans who dig such stimuli (especially Mushi). Your mom might find them childish, but I’ve heard a lot of 20-somethings refer to K-On! as “retarded” and like Clannad, I feel it also makes frequent use of supernormal stimuli. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that the heavy use of such stimuli is the “secret sauce” that explains the success of Key and K-On! So I’m not particularly worried that people are going to look back on Clannad and think it was horrible – although on the flip side, I don’t think the show has much appeal to those outside the moe “movement”.

    BTW, as you may have surmised, this actually does mean that KyoAni’s “moe” is different from that used in a lot of other productions. Shows like EF, Kurenai, Gunslinger Girl, Spice and Wolf, Bakemonogatari – all make use of moe, but in a way that’s less “supernormal stimuli” heavy than KyoAni’s work is.

    The interesting question for me – and one I can’t answer – is whether this heavy use of such stimuli is also what made Key’s games popular in the first place. I mean, how did a bunch of erogame industry guys manage to become some of the biggest players in anime by making erogames with not especially coherent stories, weird characters and artstyle, and almost no sex?

    As a side note, I also feel that to really discuss moe coherently, we need to accept that moe is an artistic movement that contains many different schools, many of which disagree with one another. Hell, there’s probably even schools within schools, like loli-tsundere (Shana) vs. “classic” tsundere (like FSN’s Rin). Furthermore, I think there’s a need to look at moe as being about more than just “fantasy girlfriends” too. For example, there’s a decent number of moe fans out there who are old enough to be the fathers of characters they like. Lolita complex? Quite possibly true for some (even many), but I also remember one nearly 40 year old (and married) Animesuki poster commenting that he wish he could have (Sola’s) Koyori as a daughter. I wouldn’t be surprised if that sort of thing is actually fairly common among older moe fans.

  5. @Archon:

    I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I'm pretty pumped for Rewrite too, just because, well, it's Ryukushi07 and Key. I can't imagine it'll suck even if they're not bringing their "A" game, and consider Ryukushi07 considers Key to be one of his major inspirations, I think he will be bringing it (unlike with Ookami Kakushi...). Plus, some of the other new staff have worked on well regarded games too.

    As for Triple_R’s original point, I agree with his main point if not all of the specifics. For example, I’ve never been all that big a Fuko fan because for me she’s a cross between Makoto (who I like) and Ayu (who I didn’t), although she’s my girlfriend’s favourite Clannad character. And yeah, the Amagami girls have generally failed at bringing interesting stories to the table. I thought they might try and play the conflict between Kaoru and her mother for drama, but that conflict came across as poorly developed by any standard, let alone compared to the best of the genre. And while I’d really love a romance anime that concentrates on overcoming a shy girl’s shyness… I’m not convinced this current arc will satisfy in that regard.

    Moe shows seem to be trending towards slice of life the past few years (likely driven by the high sales many SoL shows get), and Amagami seems to be that approach applied to romance anime. Can’t say I care much for that fact despite the fact I do enjoy the show.

    (Also, I notice Acejem mentioned Hatsukoi Limited. While the show is very Amagami like overall (romantic comedy of many small stories with little dramatic focus), I should not that the first two episodes of the show are absolutely hilarious. And while the rest is no classic, I actually thought it was a pretty good watch overall.)

  6. Wow, thanks for the excellent replies, guys! Let me reply to them one by one...


    I'd actually recommend watching episode 4 of Amagami SS just to finish off the Haruka arc. I've found that most people either sincerely love the ending to the arc and how it consummates a romance.. or find it unintentionally hilarious, if you catch my drift, lol. ;)

    As for Angel Beats!, I largely agree with your criticisms. Watching the major Key-based romance animes, and also watching Angel Beats!, makes it very clear where Maeda's strengths lie, and where his weaknesses lie too.

    And so as it pertains to Maeda himself: my view is that there's two or three very specific things that he does extremely well (creating distinctively quirky and endearing characters with good interesting backstories, creating genuinely heartwarming and suspenseful inner conflict resolution through the help of friends and family members stories, and slapstick/situational comedy).

    Bbuuuuut... that's pretty much it. Thankfully, though, those two or three skills are PRECISELY what seems to be what is most needed to craft eroges/romance games that eventually turn into good or great animes.

    I believe that Maeda is VERY limited in what he can do well, but what he can do well he does EXTREMELY well. It's just not for everyone, possibly including your mom.

    Likewise, Clannad is the best at what it does. Is that enough to make it a lasting masterpiece? I don't know. I think it WILL be a lasting masterpiece unless something eclipses it.

    It is theoretically possible for an animation company to make an anime with all the strengths of Clannad but with a tighter plot and a sexier main romance, but that would basically be a downright flawless romance anime. So Clannad might stand the test of time; we'll just have to wait and see.

    I wouldn't call Maeda a genius in any event, though; just someone really great at a few specific things that he does well. Miyazaki I would call a genius (he shows more range than Maeda), and at least some of his movies are masterpieces.

    And yes, Miyazaki's works are a bit more accessible to a general audience than anything that Maeda helped produced. Clannad is a bit more of an acquired taste; but it's still a top flight taste for those of us (like myself) who like that taste. ;)

  7. @ acejem, continued...

    And yes, Miyazaki's works are a bit more accessible to a general audience than anything that Maeda helped produced. Clannad is a bit more of an acquired taste; but it's still a top flight taste for those of us (like myself) who like that taste. ;)

    @ Archon_Wing

    I agree that Key works are primarily stories of the heart. They're very much character-driven, with plot cohesion a secondary concern at best. Thankfully, Clannad still had a pretty good (but not perfect) plot. Kanon and Angel Beats!, though, had more serious flaws though. I have not yet seen Air, and not sure that I want to, as I heard it's the most depressing of the lot. ^_^;;

    Rewrite sounds intriguing. I do agree that Ryukishi07 and Maeda could really compliment each other well, and cover for one another's weaknesses.


    I agree that most people; even many hardcore anime fans; don't have a good understanding of moe and everything that it entails. They tend to think that it's purely sexual in nature, when that's a small (at best) part of it.

    The key to a moe character is that the moe character is at least most (if not all) of the following: amusing, endearing, unjaded (or at least optimistic), kind, and basically the sort of person that is really, really worth protecting. They carry with them a sort of honesty and goodwill (to borrow Archon's well-chosen terms) that naturally wants you to see them happy, and protect them if needed.

  8. On a completely unrelated note, the first pic was my wallpaper for a little bit. =p