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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

CLANNAD Revisited

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It seems someone has been hijacking and misusing my blog by making a post unrelated to visual novels, though if Umineko's taught me anything it's not to mess with bored witches, so I'll leave it there...

As for myself, I've got something bigger to talk about.

So in case you didn't know, I spent the better part of the last three months rereading CLANNAD, my first visual novel. Technically Ace Attorney was my first, but back then the concept of a "visual novel" still went way over my head; CLANNAD was the first VN I'd read being fully aware of its genre.

So with it having been my first visual novel, back then I looked at it rather differently compared to the way I do now. Mostly, I see things it did very well that didn't hit me back on my first read. So for this blog post I will be re-evaluating CLANNAD from the perspective of a more experienced visual novel reader. If you'd prefer a simple review, I encourage you to check out Pumpkin's Video Game Diary entry on it.

Let's start with the fact that CLANNAD is smurfing huge. Like seriously, it's the biggest single-part visual novel I've ever read - not counting episodic ones like When They Cry, or full series like Muv-Luv. Even rereading it took a good 60 hours, and while those 60 hours involved going back for bad ends and different possible routings in search of pointless Dangopedia terms, it involved none of the aimless searching for routes and frustrating hitting of bad ends I went through my first time. And the most impressive thing is that it managed to keep my attention for its entirety. There was a lot of complaining going on about the $50 price point, but from my point of view it's definitely worth that amount, especially compared to other games with a similar price.

And how come CLANNAD is that big? Well it has a whopping 11 initial routes and an After Story that concludes the main story. This leads directly into the first thing I realized about CLANNAD on my reread: it's not monotonous at all.

A lot of visual novels I've read use the same formula for nearly all of their routes over and over again: guy meets girl, they start liking each other, drama or backstory hits, guy helps girl get over it, they get together, the end. That's not to say that formula can't be done well, but regardless, CLANNAD managed to surprise me with the sheer versatility in its routes.

There are routes that don't involve romance at all. There's a route centered around a romance the main character is not a part of. There's a route that's just about friendship. There's a route simply about appreciating the effect a rather minor character had on the main characters. There's a route where the main character strings along the girl he's officially in a relationship with while secretly loving someone else. There's a route where the main character and the girl in question get together early on, end up breaking up, and eventually get together again. And then there's one of the single best-written romances I've ever seen, where you can watch the relationship grow naturally and witness first-hand how both parties involved become stronger people because of it.

And with all these bases covered there's bound to be at least *some* routes you end up liking.

Not to mention a GLORIOUS cast of supporting characters.

Not to mention, very few of the characters of CLANNAD are confined to their own routes; many of them play some sort of role in another character's route as well. I like it a lot, as it makes the individual stories feel more interconnected, although it comes at the cost of making the 'spider web' even more confusing.

The 'spider web' is what I call CLANNAD's common route, the initial story from which all the routes branch off. 'Spider web' because the way certain events and choices affect each other are practically impossible to see through. If you spend too much time with character X you won't get to meet character Y again. If you don't get to know character A you'll get a bad end in character B's route. If you're a completionist and/or you're just out to read the story, it's pretty ridiculous. If, on the other hand, you're out to explore what the world of CLANNAD has to offer, and you're perfectly fine with hitting dead ends along the way, well... let's say CLANNAD is the closest to a "sandbox" visual novel I've ever seen. If you're looking for a VN where you can just do random trout and see where it takes you, CLANNAD probably works pretty well for that. Otherwise I have to recommend using a guide.

Something I can't help but bring up in regards to CLANNAD's story is how great of a protagonist Tomoya is. Having neither a sprite nor a voice you'd think he'd be a self insert, but he absolutely is not. He's one of the most interesting characters in the whole VN, and watching him grow and deal with his own problems is great. You can even see how the different events of different routes shape and affect him in different ways, which is something I always appreciate a lot in visual novels.

I've grown more appreciative of Nagisa's route this time around. She's in kind of an unfortunate position as most of the complaints from people who don't like CLANNAD are based around her, mostly. I mean yeah sure, she's quiet, shy, apologizes a lot, is not proactive at all, and seems to be a magnet for drama (no pun intended), but I'll be damned if she's not both wonderfully likable and well-written. Her romance with Tomoya easily makes all others besides Tomoyo's pale in comparison, and it only helps that her parents are two of the very best characters in the whole novel, making every scene they appear in a total joy to read. Then again I don't think even Nagisa haters contest this fact.

I suppose many of the Nagisa complaints also stem from the anime, where Nagisa's route is cut up like crazy, placing her development all over the place and having her become pretty insignificant for several episodes in a row. The visual novel has a massive advantage in this regard of course, being able to pace things however it pleases and not being forced to randomly switch focus to something unrelated to advance other plotlines.

*cue beautiful musical direction*

Speaking of which, at this point I can't honestly recommend the anime anymore. I've called it a superb adaptation of the original VN, but I don't think that highly of it anymore. Sure, when you look at it as a whole pretty much all the elements are there, but not being told in the visual novel fashion it's not easy to wrap your head around it all. I myself only really started to love the CLANNAD anime *after* I'd read the visual novel, because the anime characters are doubtlessly the same as their VN counterparts but I came to care more for them through reading the original... if that makes sense?

Anyways, if there's one thing that still makes CLANNAD unforgettable to me, it's After Story. The premise alone is something you basically never see in anime culture. Like, what the hell kind of anime romance continues into adulthood? Describing the trials and tribulations of becoming an independent member of society? I couldn't think of another one. And I simply love the way it progresses, how Tomoya grows as a person, how naturally the romance grows and aaaaaaaah it's just so goooooood. I'm not even going to talk about the rest of it, it's something you have to experience for yourself, preferably without being spoiled any of it. And that's already hard enough as it is!

So the end result of my re-evaluation of my first visual novel is that it absolutely does stack up. For me, even now, CLANNAD remains a 9.5/10, being surpassed only by my two absolute favorites. I'm on the fence regarding Tomoyo After, I love it every bit as much as I do CLANNAD but the two are so hard to compare and they are inextricably connected anyways. For now I'll say they're about equal.

A very well-spent three months.