I tend to have a soft spot towards shoujo (girl oriented) anime. Don't ask why, but I feel that those kinds of anime tend to have a better writer since the production team can't really rely on gratuitous violence and action oriented scenes. Yes, shoujo anime tend to be slower and sappy, but drop that glock for a while and indulge yourself in a little "slice of life" story.
Clannad is an anime based on a bishoujo game. (edit: I seem to have written hentai simply out of habit. I didn't notice that I wrote that till someone pointed that out....) This is really not a big issue as animation teams seem to be doing that now left and right. Fun fact #1: Clannad, Kanon, and Air were all visual novel games made by the same company: Key Visual Arts. Coincidentally, the animation team who also took all these games and turned them into anime was Kyoto Animation. (A note about Kanon should be that Kyoto Animation made the second adaptation of the anime) Once you've seen all three anime, you get the feeling of nostalgia as you get used to Kyoto's/Key's character design. But I digress.
Clannad is about Tomoya Okazaki, your typical delinquent, whose generally bored of school until he meets Nagisa Furukawa, a girl who was held back a year. Nagisa wants to resurrect the Drama Club and Tomoya, with free time on his hands, decides to pitch in.
It's a pretty basic story, but the execution is what I find to be well done. It isn't that the episodes progress at a slow pace. They do bits of character development in each one and pace the story pretty well. If you've seen any of Kyoto Animation's other productions, such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, you'll know what I'm talking about. The anime has bits of comedy placed in between everyday school life and if you remove the "unnatural" parts, it looks almost like real life.
Clannad happens to also have a story that's running in the background as the main story progresses. And bits of those are also shown as the episodes run on. It's confusing as they reference that other story, but it gives the sense that there's something afoot besides your normal school day.
What I like the best is how Tomoya is really just the "typical" delinquent. He's not some badass who gets into ridiculous fights, and cuts class everyday and speaks in a rough tongue. He's a normal kind of guy who just doesn't like school. And that makes the story much better in my opinion. I'm personally sick of bikers turned effeminate guys or Yakuza who have crushes on the most innocent girl in school and can't bring the courage to say so. I don't think those kinds of cookie cutter characters are really that good and that's why I feel Clannad has a better sense of school than other kinds of anime.
The entire premise of Clannad has a supernatural feel to it. While everything seems normal, there's always something lurking between the background and foreground pulling the strings. Now, having watched Air and Kanon, I'm kind of used to this and it feels a bit cliche to me. I'm not really surprised considering the basis of these anime have been derived from different projects of the same company. It's really no doubt that there would be elements of the story that one can say can be a certain company's "signature." It's still airing in Japan and I haven't heard of any US licenses, but I suggest you watch this and perhaps buy the DVDs later once they're localized.
My other favorite in this type of setting would be Kanon, and while I would recommend Kanon over Clannad, I feel that Kanon has many cultural references that wouldn't appeal to "first-timers." That isn't to say Kanon isn't recommended. It's just that if you were to see Kanon, I would like to place an advisory sticker that certain scenes would make no sense at all unless one has learned a bit of the Japanese culture.
P.S. If you haven't heard already. Higurashi no Naku Koro ni season 3, The second season of Suzumiya Haruhi, and Zero no Tsukaima 3 have been given the go for production.
Apparently, the second season may be an adaptation of the fourth book "The disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya," but not enough details have been given.
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