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Review of Clannad

SubjectClannad
ByVote: 3applemons on 2021-01-18
ReviewClannad is an overrated bloat of a VN. I've heard from others that the anime is better, and I'd be inclined to agree despite having never watched it - it directly addresses some of the problems I'll be mentioning below. Regardless, I think I would hate the anime even if I watched it before playing the VN. Most of all, my issue with Clannad is its length, and while two seasons of an anime is better than a ~50 hour behemoth of a read, it's still far too long for the story it's actually trying to tell here.

When you ask that sort of time from a reader, they should expect something damn good or at the very least consistently entertaining out of it. A short, terrible read is something you can forget about afterwards and say "oh well". A longer read, especially one where most people say the best parts are more than halfway through the game (which is the case with Clannad and its "After Story"), needs to give a LOT to not make the reader think "was my time really used effectively?". And, unfortunately, Clannad is a story filled with simple slapstick comedy designed to try and endear the characters to you - a nice enough novelty, but one that isn't worth what it adds to the completion time.

Sometimes, Clannad was quite entertaining, but only sometimes. It would barely justify a 10-15 hour read to me, and to some people it seems like it would have been worth it even if it took hundreds of hours - a fact that makes me wonder if I even read the same VN as these people.

With that first point out of the way, let's go over what's good about Clannad. Many characters have strong basic concepts and fundamental struggles they face. Tomoyo is a reformed delinquent looking to fit into mainstream society despite finding herself longing for a more simplistic, idiotic life. Nagisa is a kind-hearted person trying to maintain optimism and confidence in the wake of a world which seems to be punishing her with sickness and misfortune for no real reason. Misae finds herself regularly complaining about others getting her involved with their own business, but keeps compulsively helping people clean up their messes regardless.

Even with characters that have less compelling introductions, there is usually another layer beneath their outward actions which makes them more interesting later on. Sunohara may be the main source of slapstick comedy for most of the game (regularly getting beaten up due to his own stupidity or gullibility), but there are a precious few scenes where he shows that he's more than capable of taking his life into his own hands. Yukine initially seems like a straightforward carer type, but her affiliation with questionable individuals makes the reader understand that she's been grappling with a less clear-cut morality than just being unconditionally nice to others. Ryou may start out as awfully shy for a class representative, but the closer the protagonist gets to her is the more she gains impressive amounts of self-confidence.

I've heard others praise the art and soundtrack, and given how I'm not particularly snobby about either topic, I'll go ahead and say it's probably high-class.

That's the last good thing I have to say about Clannad.

Visual novels are a heavily text-based medium, and often as a result find it difficult to convey a sense of scale. This is partially why mystery VNs are so popular when compared to their peers; all you have to be in awe of are displays of wit and intelligence rather than supposedly gruelling physical feats that are difficult to describe in a meaningful way using only words. Clannad has its protagonist, Tomoya, go through intensive work multiple times which leaves him exhausted. To him, he may have spent a full day gardening or doing construction work. But to the reader, they just clicked maybe fifty times at most, making it difficult to empathise with struggles that are often the focus of the plot. In one particular route, I was baffled that the writers thought giving me three separate choices of "give up" or "continue" when the MC was physically exhausted would make me think the job he was doing was harder.

Effort isn't the only sense of scale Clannad fails to convey. The other is a sense of time. I'll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but late into After Story, something terrible happens to Tomoya, the protagonist. It sends him into a dark period of his life, where he takes up drinking and smoking while neglecting his personal relationships. How do you find this out? Not through actually seeing him change over the course of several abridged years, but through a sudden time skip and about a dozen lines of text talking about what his life is like now. The reader doesn't get to see him transform into this wreck of a man, but just gets to see the incident which started his downward spiral and are told "okay, fill in the blanks".

The name "Clannad" is apparently taken from the Irish word for "family", and as you might expect, that's the main theme of the work. When I think of family, I think of people who are stuck with one another, fighting on occasion even if they may love each other deep down. This made it all the more disappointing to see none of the main characters' relationships ever take a turn for the negative (even though some start out negative, they only get better over time rather than worse). None of the romances present in the game seem to encounter intrinsic friction - if there are problems with a relationship, they're the result of social pressure or some other external factor. If romantic partners in this game ever yell at each other, you're in a comedy scene rather than a drama scene. In Clannad, love is an infallible cure-all for your stress and anger, which makes the story feel like it's looking at its main theme from a very childish and cherry-picked angle.

The following paragraphs contain spoilers in regards to only the premise of After Story, so if you don't know that already and don't want to know, just skip over them.

After Story is commonly referred to as the best part of the game - a brave transition from a high school harem story into a romance story which is based on post-graduate life and adulthood. While it certainly takes some guts to change genre like that, effort alone doesn't make something good (and Clannad does at the very least have a lot of love put into it).

The most pressing concern with the idea of this is that the first half of the game doesn't set up After Story well at all. Nagisa's route is relevant in its entirety since After Story is just a continuation of that route, but other than incredibly minor theme reinforcement, the only other route that's relevant is Yukine's (which is purely because the epilogue gives some more context to the "lights" the player has been collecting). To make matters worse, you have to do all of these irrelevant routes before you can start After Story. It is not some grand culmination of everything that came before it like with many other true endings in VNs - it's the culmination of some stuff but not others, which coupled with the length of this story gives a pressing feeling that the writers don't value your time.


On the topic of endings, this story suffers from most of its story arc conclusions feeling hollow, like they weren't earned. The best example of this is the overall ending, which is disappointing beyond words and happens for no good reason. This isn't even an outlier - common solutions to route-defining problems are supernatural intervention or simply waiting, assuming there even is a problem at all.

Lastly, Clannad has little to no takeaways. All I could particularly say at the end was that I liked some of the characters - which is representative of the fact that Clannad is entirely reliant on its readers getting very attached to the cast. Harem VNs get to benefit from sheer excess - as long as the reader was very attracted to one heroine, they can consider the story as a worthwhile read since they really liked what happened in one route. Clannad requires you to go through routes for the characters you hate, and when the time comes for After Story, you had better be fond of the core cast, or even one weak link will leave you wanting. I liked the vast majority of the characters when they were introduced, but given how this VN is so long, those characters became highly predictable and bland. By the end, the core cast had far outstayed their welcome, even though their welcomes were warm ones. I found myself more fond of the first half rather than After Story just because they hadn't milked some of its characters completely dry.

Characters aside, what are the thematic takeaways here? What is Clannad's message, a message which apparently needed around 50 hours of my time to properly convey? According to what I could see as the general consensus online, it delivers messages related to family, karma, love and redemption - so here's what I learned about these topics from Clannad. Mild spoilers ahead, so I'll mark them even though they don't go into the specifics of how these messages are told.

Family: Having a loving family is good. Even if a family has fought in the past, they can make up with each other if they try.
Karma: Fate may just randomly punish people who are trying their best, but if you were nice to people in a bunch of parallel universes, you might just have supernatural forces intervene to bail you out.
Love: Love is perfect and heals any mental wound either immediately or over time. The only reason you should fall out of love after falling in it is if you're an unnamed backstory character.
Redemption: If people hate you for something bad you did, just wait until someone else tells them about all the good things you did previously and they'll come around to forgiving you.

With a spread of aesops that range from broken to egregiously obvious or simple, Clannad has little ground to stand on in regards to payoff or lasting appeal for those not content with cast alone. Fans of the story will likely say that I just didn't get invested enough in the characters, and I guess that's true. Clannad is an expensive gamble that I personally lost - if you play it, you had better hope all of these characters click with you, because there's absolutely no consolation if they don't.

Comments

#1 by funnerific
2021-01-18 at 16:57
< report >Despite having rated the game 7/10 myself (and said to go for the anime), I pretty much fully agree with this review. Although 2/10 seems a little harsh, but okay. I think what happened is most of us let it tug at our heartstrings, while you successfully, and unfortunately, managed to avoid that.

Fully agree in regards to the true end. It's one of the worst parts of the game, in my opinion.

...late into After Story, something terrible happens to Tomoya, the protagonist. It sends him into a dark period of his life, where he takes up drinking and smoking while neglecting his personal relationships. How do you find this out? Not through actually seeing him change over the course of several abridged years, but through a sudden time skip and about a dozen lines of text talking about what his life is like now. The reader doesn't get to see him transform into this wreck of a man, but just gets to see the incident which started his downward spiral and are told "okay, fill in the blanks".

On the topic of endings, this story suffers from most of its story arc conclusions feeling hollow, like they weren't earned.
I would say the anime fixes these two issues, but it's possible you wouldn't find it satisfactory even then. I just think it's a really well done omnibus.Last modified on 2021-01-18 at 16:57
#2 by forever-here
2021-01-18 at 17:09
< report >This is one of my first VN ever. and looking back, yeah I kinda agree with this. only Kyou, Tomoyo and Yukine routes are worth reading and the rest is trash.

and I hated Nagisa with a passion. she's scum really. hiding your disease, right? totally not scummy.