Kanon Collection (Cert 12)
4 Discs DVD (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 582 minutes approx.
Release Date: June 13th
Stop me if you’ve heard this before – a high school boy returns to a town he once visited as a child to reconnect with a girl he met there, of whom he has vague memories. He then encounters many girls, any one of whom could be his mystery girl and ends up touching their lives individually.
Yes, it’s the basic premise to a number of harem comedies that have proliferated in anime since forever, but this time it is different – sort of. Kanon is another adaptation by KyoAni of a visual novel created by Key, following in the footsteps of Air – which it closely resembles – and preceding perhaps the apex of such adaptations, Clannad.
The male protagonist this time is Yuichi Aizawa, a 17 year-old high school boy moving to stay with his aunt Akiko and cousin Nayuki during a heavy winter. He had visited he town seven years earlier where he met a young girl but has little memories of her and what happened when he left. On his first day, Yuichi is almost railroaded by a petite girl, Ayu, who recognises Yuichi, for she is the girl he has forgotten about.
It’s not over that quickly though, as Yuichi still has trouble remembering Ayu and what happened between them, with fragments of memories returning of their initial time together. Ayu running into Yuichi becomes a daily occurrence but Ayu is not the only girl from Yuichi’s past he needs to worry about – out of the blue, he is attacked by a girl with amnesia who only seems to recall Yuichi betrayed her.
Because the girl then passed out, Yuichi takes her home to his aunt’s place where they let the girl stay, but her behaviour is odd and often childish. They eventually discover the girl is named Makoto and claims to know Yuichi from before. Over time, her memory loss leads to a debilitating health condition and Yuichi is tasked with finding the truth about Makoto and the promise he is said to have made her before it is too late.
Over the past twenty years, thanks to reality TV/talent shows, the term “emotional rollercoaster” has become a hackneyed cliché trotted out by the participants come the end of their journey. Yet, I feel it is very appropriate in describing Kanon, at least this anime adaptation, as it is full of peaks and troughs for the cast which will leave viewers sobbing into their hankies.
Key’s source material is reportedly more adult and steers the action towards romance and more, whereas this version keeps things chaste and the amour monogamous. Not that Yuichi doesn’t end up with a small group of yearning females, but they remain platonic with only one major exception, which I won’t spoil. This means Yuichi is spread a bit thin but in this context, he is a capable lad, until the end when it is his turn to need help.
Prior to this, Yuichi finds himself acting as a paternal figure for these girls each with their own issues that only he is seemingly capable of solving. Viewed through a modern eye, this makes the girls appear needy and fragile, despite them having strong personalities; this was made in 2006 and should be judged as a product of its time, and although not the worst crime anime still commits, this will jar against current sensibilities.
Among the girls in need of Yuichi’s magic are Mai, a taciturn classmate who doubles as a demon hunter at night and Shiori, a girl struck down an illness that forces her to miss school. The latter still shows up every day and sits outside in the snow(!), and through Yuichi gains he strength to return to school before her time is up. Mai’s story is a little more fantastic but has a dark psychological backstory to spice it up a bit.
Maybe there is something in the water of this town that gave all these girls such difficult starts in life, as each one has a childhood trauma to overcome that has shaped their teenage years with melancholy and emotional hardships. In some cases, like Makoto’s arc, the story might be perceived to be quite absurd to western eyes, but in Japanese culture, it is modernising their folklore.
Whilst this adds a peccante smokescreen to the proceedings, it can’t completely disguise the ultimate male wish fulfilment vein running through it – the idea that Yuichi is some sort of sun and the girls are all satellites orbiting him for his warmth. Fortunately, Yuichi is a stand up sort of guy, and isn’t seeking romance, therefore it is his empathy and moral compass that drives him to offer help where needed.
Fans of the aforementioned other works in this particular oeuvre, will be aware of the unique aesthetics concerning the females character with their large sad, desperate eyes regularly shedding tears. This is a deliberate ploy to drag every drop of sympathy out of the viewer (and it works) but also goes some way to infantilising the girls too, an anime trait yet to expire. Incidentally, in 2002, Toei adapted Kanon in a 13-part series where the girls’ faces were 80% eyes, whilst Yuichi’s was 70% chin!
Now in the hands of KyoAni, the character designs are vastly improved but I still can’t shake that insectoid comparison I made in my Air review! The rest of the presentation is truly wonderful however, the winter setting allowing for some evocative vistas; the falling snow used not as a symbol of frosty austerity but of magical innocence. Whether day or night, there is seldom a tableau not worth adoring as a work of art.
Kanon suffers slightly regarding its dated presentation of women, but compensates with its steadily told tale of regrets, repressed memories, and the power of friendship, albeit with a divisive twist in the final episode. The dubiously centred premise isn’t enough to derail what is a decidedly bittersweet experience.
English Language Stereo
Japanese Language Stereo
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black