Clannad and Clannad: After Story are, ostensibly, separate works, but they aired off the backs of each other, using the same art styles, and as a direct continuation of the previous series, so I feel like I should review them as the same series.
Clannad is a bit of a weird specimen. At times it appears to be following the same basic structure of a Harem Comedy series, but then it takes abrupt turns for the dramatic. The main character is Tomoya, who is a despondent High School student with a bad relationship with his father. When he meets a frail, but kind girl named Nagisa, he ends up striking up a friendship, and eventual romance with her. Interspersed with their budding relationship, however, are various stories, many of which have vaguely supernatural subtexts, that run in parallel.
I’ve already ranted about how Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship interactions felt artificial, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to clarify that when I say that their interactions felt artificial, I mean exactly that: Tomoya and Nagisa are a good pair, they have great chemistry, and it makes sense, both in a narrative-sense and in terms of their character for them to get together; they just don’t *act* like two people in love, even well after they get married. Kind of a failure of “Show, don’t tell”, I suppose.
The series has great humorous moments, and great dramatic moments. Indeed, the main reason this series has had so much staying power in the collective psyche probably has to do with the gut-punch that occurs late in After Story. I’ll endeavor not to spoil any big plot details here, except to point out that I was crying heavily when it came about, and I had already had it spoiled myself (too much wandering on TVTropes, FYI) when I got there, so suffice to say, it’s NOT hyperbole to say that this show strikes with one of the hardest emotional blows I’ve seen a series manage.
About six episodes before the end, actually. The unfortunate part being that the show never really manages to get back up to that level again before the end, so the show ends less powerful than it started, but I guess that’s alright.
As I said, when the show was trying to be funny, it usually succeeded very well, with many of the character interactions being very charming, especially in the first half of the series. Having said that though, it needed to strike a much better balance between the drama and the humor. Yes, the dramatic scenes were suitably dramatic, and the comedy scenes were suitably hilarious, but either—especially the drama— had a tendency to run on far too long, and ended up souring the effect considerably. I’m willing to excuse it in the later, heavily charged episodes of After Story, but it was frustrating in the early stages of the Anime.
At the end of the day, I have difficulty recommending this series. Not because it’s objectively bad; it’s actually really, really good. And I mean that. This series was a lot of fun to watch. But it takes too long to get to the important stories, and at 45 episodes from the start of Clannad to the end of After Story, it might be too much for some people. Still, if you’re willing to invest the time, this is definitely one of the better ones.