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Clannad Complete TV Series Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

18 min read

A story that still resonates in a strong way almost fifteen years after its debut.

What They Say:
Sometimes all it takes to change your life forever is a chance encounter. Since the death of his mother, Tomoya has distanced himself from his abusive father and seems on a path of self-destruction. Nagisa’s poor health has left her a year behind in school, but she longs to restart the now disbanded Drama Club. In an impulsive moment, Tomoya agrees to help her and they soon find themselves joined by others in desperate need of support and emotional healing.

Join the Club and meet the ambitious Tomoyo, who dreams of becoming class president; Kotomi, a troubled genius with a secret past; and the mysterious Fuko, whose disassociation with the world is so severe that she seems to be fading away as the sentimental, the surreal and the supernatural merge together in the acclaimed anime classic Clannad!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is very strong as it contains both the Japanese and English language tracks in DTS-HD MA and in 5.1 at that. While the show is very much a dialogue-driven one, it works very well in enhancing everything as it uses placement to good effect when there are multiple characters on screen talking to each other. There’s a lot of variation to the dialogue and plenty of emotions that come through on both tracks that are richly captured and come across warmly. The bigger scenes, with the frantic moments and silliness, stand out even more and there’s some good material thrown to the rear channels at times that draws you in with the overall sound design. The opening and closing sequences stand out the best here overall in terms of a really solid full presentation and it was great to just listen to each of them over the course of the whole series rather than skipping through them. We didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2008 and 2009, Clannad is a forty-nine-episode series across its two-season run that’s presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across six discs with three discs for each season with the standard breakdown across them. Like other Key/Visual Arts series from Kyoto Animation, the show has a wonderful look to it with plenty of soft and beautiful colors but also a very good layer of detail to it. It creates atmospheric scenes well but when it wants to put things completely into focus, it’s sharp. Because of the nature of the show, a large portion of it is pretty static as it’s focused on being dialogue driven with little to no real movement. When things pick up and there’s action, the bit rate goes much, much higher and handles it all very well while the quieter scenes are just striking at times with the color depth and quality. The visual design of the series does go in a few different directions and the opening episode in particular has a fair bit of grainy noise to it because of how parts of it operate, but the majority of it is very visually and aesthetically pleasing and it was great watching through it here.

The packaging for this release comes in a thicker than standard-sized Blu-ray case that holds the six discs with four of them on two hinges. The discs are broken out nicely by color so you can tell which season is which and the set as a whole has a nice bit of heft and weight to it. The front cover artwork works a good visual of a lot of the main cast together and just the nature of the highly detailed and colored background in contrast to the character designs definitely sells it well with what kind of show that it is. I really like the look of it and the richness of the blues and the details throughout. The back cover leans into the purple tones from the original DVD releases years ago with some nice character artwork along the left and a good premise breakdown on the right. The top lists out what’s included with the two series and the extras as well as a small selection of decent shots from the show itself. The remainder is fairly standard with some very clear and easy-to-read production credits and an accurate technical grid covering the makeup of the run. No show-related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The extras included in the release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as a commentary track with the two leading actors for an episode as they discuss the series and what it puts you through.

Clannad: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the Key/Visual Arts game series of the same name, the first season of Clannad is a twenty-four-episode series that delves into the moody and atmospheric world of high school students in slightly strange situations. Teaming up with Kyoto Animation, the series fits in very well with what’s come before it with Air and Kanon and certainly feels like a high watermark for the collaboration for many. Unlike those two, however, Clannad wasn’t based on an ero visual novel but it still has very much the same feel as those two anime adaptations. While the show does come across as the same in a lot of ways, it’s the kind of series where if you loved what they did in the other shows, you don’t mind coming back for more of the same with new characters and a different setting.

Clannad revolves around the mildly delinquent student Tomoya, a young man who has some troubles at home that has seeped into his everyday life. With his mother dead for several years, his father has taken to listlessness, drinking, and sleeping a lot. With little work coming his way, he’s always around and Tomoya just resents him all the more for it. At school, he hangs out with Sunohara, another mild delinquent who doesn’t have all that much in the way of ambition or things going for him as it seems. First appearances are of course deceptive but Sunohara has that kind of feeling about him that he’s just killing time until something more interesting comes along. For the two of them, they spend a lot of time together out and about as well as at Sunohara’s dorm room where he lives with what seems to be the entire rugby team that likes picking on him.

Tomoya, naturally, has a number of young women that are in his life. Clannad revolves around a group of about five women who go to the same school as him. Initially, he comes into contact with Nagisa, a girl who is a little sickly as she’s spent some time away since she gets weak easily. Tomoya and Nagisa become unlikely friends pretty quickly and before he knows it he’s actually at her house which is also her parent’s business as they run a local pastry shop. The family life is fairly amusing and they almost seem to take in Tomoya in a way and he’s unsure of it all since it’s so unlike his own home life. There’s hints of what he wanted out of life but there’s also an edge of something there where you wonder if he feels that he doesn’t deserve it.

Nagisa is easily a favorite as she’s quiet but has this desire to start up the drama club so she can put on a play that she’s interested in. That she’s the quiet type but has this desire to be in a play is amusing as is the way she seems to know almost nothing about the whole process itself. And that the drama club has been disbanded for a while now and she’s having trouble starting it up only makes it more appealing. Tomoya also interacts with his class leader, a young woman named Ryou. She likes to tell fortunes with a regular deck of cards and is a generally sweet girl which is balanced by her sister Kyou. Kyou is far more outgoing and protective of her sister so she often shows up to smack others around, often Tomoya, in her efforts to make sure Ryou has a very positive high school experience.

There’s a similar set of parallels in the form of Tomoyo and Kotomi. Tomoyo is a very outgoing and aggressive girl who has a reputation in the area to begin with, enough so that during the festival she wears a bear costume so others don’t see her to cause problems. Tomoyo is often set to trouble by Sunohara which is very amusing since he’s initially convinced that she’s a guy with the way she beats up on him. Contrasting her is Kotomi, a genius girl who skips most of her classes and spends her time in the library reading books and learning. She’s the main focus of the second arc which starts towards the end of this set. Kotomi is a very introverted girl who doesn’t even register other people talking to her for the most part and Tomoya is one of the few that’s actually able to get through and connect with her. Both of these girls get very little development during the first half of the series but their stories are slowly woven into the overall picture in very enjoyable ways.

The first half of the series revolves around the character of Fuko. a very unique girl in her own way, though familiar from other Key properties. Fuko connects with Tomoya rather easily as even though he’s a delinquent of sorts, he’s still a decent guy. When he comes across her several times, he finds himself drawn to her and the way she’s always carving starfish out of leftover wood. Through his time with her, he learns of her accident and time in the hospital as well as her older sister that used to be a teacher at the school and is about to get married. He helps get Fuko to live with Nagisa for a little while as they try to figure out how to help her with her problem all while discovering the real mystery and secret of Fuko is. Admittedly, you can tell what Fuko’s deal is pretty early on if you’ve seen Kanon or Air so there isn’t a lot of surprises here, but it’s still a lot of fun watching the stories get told in the way that they’re designed. It’s about the atmosphere and mood.

Kotomi’s storyline with her past dealing with her parents is something that’s quite nicely played out here, though a bit too sugary-sweet for my tastes when it comes to the end discovery. Her anger at herself with what happened to them has resonated for years and she’s still feeling very responsible for it in her own way. There are some interesting moments about her past that we see, such as how she asks for a teddy bear for a present because that’s what she believes a girl her age would want. Her relationship with her parents is cool but loving in the way it’s expressed, where she feels safe and loved but the moment something goes different than what she expected or wanted, it ends up throwing her off balance completely. Kotomi’s story has a lot of good moments to it, but some of that momentum and interest was lessened by the far too sugary revelations made when the suitcase arrives.

The focus moves on to Nagisa in a way as the group discovers a new way of trying to get the drama club organized and approved. Nagisa’s desire to do the drama side is still very much one of the core storylines of the series and this is another area where they utilize the cast well to bond everyone to make it happen. The idea this time is to get Tomoyo to make a lot of friends and impress people so she can have an easier time running for student council president, which in turn would make it a lot easier for the drama club to be approved with her on their side. Sunohara really gets into this and sets up all sorts of matches and competitions for Tomoyo (and Tomoya!) to get involved in which lets them circulate throughout the student body and interact with everyone to some extent. It’s generally a light piece, but there are a lot of quieter personal moments such as the explanations as to why Sunohara is doing all of this and a small exploration of Tomoya’s problems with his arm and what led him down that path.

The first season of Clannad does really end with its main storylines in episode twenty-two, which really surprised me. You do wonder where they’ll take you with the remaining two and both of them proved to be quite different ways of dealing with it. The first one is the true epilogue as it goes past the school festival and shows how things have changed between Nagisa and Tomoya since then. It’s a perfect epilogue because it shows the sweet side of things and the goodness of the characters after all they’ve been through. As much as I liked it, I really loved the last episode which is an OVA that takes the characters into an alternate timeline. The focus is much smaller and it has a much colder feel to it as it revolves around Tomoyo and Tomoya being in a relationship with each other. Nobody else is involved here outside of Sunohara and it’s a very intense if brief kind of relationship in the Key style. With the focus being so small and the core of the characters still the same, it’s really intriguing to see this interpretation. Enough so that I’d love to see even a twelve episode series about it expanded.

Clannad After Story: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Clannad After Story covers some interesting ground when it starts off, though the first episode left me really wondering how well this season would go. Starting the season off with a baseball game in which Akio draws together the usual gang of characters wasn’t exactly all that compelling. It is cute to see them all playing against a Koshien-ranked team for what’s essentially a street game, and seeing how they deal with it once Akio gets sidelined is fun, but it’s the kind of episode that is as close to filler as I think this kind of series gets. So much of the show is about the interactions of the characters, and dealing with their lives, that having them do something like this feels somewhat out of place. Thankfully, it’s really the only episode that feels like that here as the remainder of the disc really shines wonderfully.

The first main arc of the season involves Sunohara and his sister Mei. One of the reasons that she’s still there, at least from what Sunohara believes, is that she’s certain that he’s not living his life right and he’s going to wind up unhappy. Since Sunohara wants to have her go back home so he doesn’t have to worry about her himself. With Tomoya, they come up with a plan where he’ll get a fake girlfriend to show Mei that he’s actually doing well and growing and maturing and there’s also the potential that the woman he chooses will fall for him and it’ll turn into a real love. Where Tomoya completely messes with him is when he convinces Sunohara that Nagisa’s mother, Sanae, is actually just her older sister.

In great fashion, Sanae actually agrees to go along with the plan and date Sunohara even though he doesn’t know that she’s not Nagisa’s sister. Sanae’s personality really lends itself to this kind of event and the dates that the two go on, with Mei and others in tow no less, is hysterical. Sunohara’s obliviousness is priceless, but it’s watching Mei dealing with this that is a lot more fun. I hate that they’re pushing an almost older brother complex going on here, but it was really fascinating to watch her latch onto Tomoya though he wasn’t aware of it at first. The two of them start spending a bit of time together at one point and when Sunohara finds out, he really takes it poorly, especially because both Mei and Tomoya overplay their hand to a rather cruel level. While everyone usually gets along well, this is the rare time when they push each other away in a rather stark manner.

There is an area of the series that I wish it focused on more and an area where it really surprised me with what it did. The first is that I truly wanted to see more of the romantic side of the relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa. The two of them are in a relationship, but Tomoya spends more of his time helping others than visibly spending time with Nagisa and it feels really awkward, but it falls more to story choice than anything else. There are moments where you really know that they’re involved, but it sometimes feels more like an afterthought. The two do progress through changes in this part of the series because of her illness and the ramifications of it with her school work, and it does set some interesting problems and hurdles that the two must overcome.

What surprised me the first time around with this season is that the main group of kids does end up graduating and moving on with their lives. Most of them go off either to college or try to find a job, or specialized training, but the focus is on Tomoya. He initially gains some work at the bakery working for Akio, which reinforces his inclusion in the family in a way that’s really endearing. With his goal of being a better person, pushed forward by his relationship with Nagisa, he sets to make his way in the world and lands a job with Yoshino in which he really starts getting an education in the world. His persistence is really engaging to watch as he’s mature beyond his years but still has those rough edges of his age. Tomoya really impresses in this arc because of what he has to deal with and the way he goes about it. While all of the characters have grown in the series to some extent, Tomoya has changed the most since the start of Clannad.

While the first half deals with a lot of the cast and then shifts the narrative around a bit, separating up Tomoya and Nagisa a bit, the second half of After Story does follow the progression of events well. Tomoya is working hard at his job, having come to grips with what his position will be because of his father and what he’s done in the past. Life isn’t bad but there’s more he wants out of it and he’s determined to go after it now in a way that he hasn’t in the past. The first thing that has to be dealt with is getting Nagisa to finish out her senior year, something that’s difficult for her as her illness has swung back around again and taken her down hard. Thankfully, she has worked hard over the years and even though this is her third year, she has finished enough days to count toward graduation. Tomoya’s way of watching over her is priceless as he continues to be one of those rare good guys that does everything right, even as he thinks he’s doing everything wrong. Nagisa’s graduation is truly a tear-inducing moment.

One of the best relationships in the series is the one between Tomoya and Akio. When Tomoya decides that he wants to spend forever with Nagisa, he has to do it right in asking for her hand in marriage from Akio and that sadly involves baseball. There’s a real beauty to the determination that’s done here and it really paints Tomoya in a great way that can be understood by others when the reality of it comes out. Nagisa’s a little behind, but watching Sanae understand it and encourage it while making sure that Nagisa doesn’t interfere, is great. The two men have always been similar and butted heads at times, but there was also an understanding that you know Akio had when it came to Tomoya, including the way he let him move in with them for so long. While he wants to protect his daughter, he knows that Tomoya will become the man who will give her what she needs in addition to that protection.

The romance of these two people is at times one of the more awkward aspects of the series. It’s easy to see the love that they do have for each other, but it’s not always represented well. When the two are finally living together, it takes a while before you feel that they’re interacting in the way a young couple would. We barely ever see them kiss and the implication of sex happening at all seems almost a little surreal, though Nagisa has a great scene where she comes out about it with Akio. Their young happy life together is great to watch, though you watch it all knowing that tragedy is just around the corner because of her health. When the pregnancy hits, it’s plainly obvious where the show will go and I was supremely glad and sad that they did follow through on it, making it the kind of tragedy that really does hit hard and deep.

This arc of the show is among the most tragic that I’ve seen in anime, and a lot of it is also because I’ve seen aspects of it in reality. With the loss of Nagisa, Tomoya does exactly what his father did to some extent and withdraws in self-destruction. He’s focused solely on his work and essentially abandons his daughter with Sanae and Akio, where she spends the next five years. The fact that he never spends any time alone with her is profound, but watching the two of them attempt a relationship with Sanae’s less-than-subtle prodding is incredibly endearing. But they can’t help themselves with this story and they start putting young Ushio through the same problems that Nagisa had, putting Tomoya in the horrible position of experiencing everything he lost with Nagisa all over again.

Clannad deals well with these kinds of stories, much as other past Key/Visual Arts shows like Air and Kanon. You know going into a show of this nature that these kinds of things will be a part of it, even if it is just at the end. The supernatural aspect of Clannad here at the end doesn’t sit as well with me though as they run with a miracle that while I know works and fits with what they want to tell, I think it does a disservice to the show. Allowing a reboot of sorts doesn’t diminish what we saw happen, but not having the story continue on from there, to have Tomoya still try and live on with his life, misses something unique that could have been done. It would be difficult to end the show on a down note, so I do appreciate what they did and how they showed Tomoya making things right as it really is very uplifting and you can feel really warm inside watching it as it reconnects things.

In Summary:
Even after watching this a couple of times previously, Clannad with both of its seasons still gets to me in a deep way. It just resonates well because it has a lot more honest storytelling here with are ups and downs, joys and tragedies, which creates a stronger and harder bond with the characters. There are few shows that really make this kind of emotional impact and even fewer shows that take the high school setting and move beyond it, showing the characters growing and changing as they move out into the world. Clannad isn’t a perfect work, but it’s one of those few amazing character-driven pieces that have a lasting impact. It’s definitely not for everyone, but for those that do get into it and let themselves fall into this world, it’s one of the best experiences out there. This new edition puts it all together well with a great looking encode, a strong dub that we’ve heard before, and a kind of heft to the set that reminds you of the weight of what you’ll experience from it. Very highly recommended.

Japanese DTS-HD MA Language, English DTS-HD MA Language, English Subtitles, Commentary, Clean Opening Animation, and Clean Closing Animation

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 21st, 2023
MSRP: $79.98
Running Time: 1225 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.