Length: 23 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Harem, comedy, drama
Year of release: 2007
Are you acquainted with the ‘…for Dummies’ books on television making? If you’re not familiar with the series’ brief overviews, Clannad’s amateurish reiteration is going to give you a crash-course on the outcomes of using them as your only reference point to design a series around. And it’s about as dry as you’d expect.
Let’s begin at Chapter 1; Paragraph 1 of ‘Romance for Dummies’. That’s where the structure of Clannad was lifted, anyway; anybody with experience of the ubiquitous harem genre knows this structure well. a series of arcs whereby Tomoya, a delinquent held back a year, meets a girl, discovers their ‘troubled backstory’ (more on that later), and then helps them overcome this. He is rewarded for his knightly, noble actions with their romantic affections, and proceeds to ignore them as he meets the next girl. And the next, until the last episode where he finally ‘picks’ (and he picks the one he was always going to). Romance in Clannad is a simple transaction of service and payment, and, in practice, it’s about as passionate as a chip-and-pin machine.
The relationships in this series go no more than shallow comic rapports, because even when Tomoya is ‘helping’, it’s usually not directly. Occasionally Tomoya will set something amusing up, where he sneaks in a chance to ridicule the obliviousness or stupidity of the girls he’s unknowingly courting, but otherwise the punchlines are ripping on his misogynistic loudmouth friend, Sunohara – ‘Comedy for Dummies’ was probably skimmed over to result in this eye-roll of comic attempts. The girls are themselves binary, having generic archetypes define them wholly – the weird one, the quiet one, the tsundere, the tomboy etc – but outside of group scenarios they’re all the same troubled girl that can’t talk about it or do anything about it themselves. The in-or-out tonality of the series jerks between these unfunny gags and the dramatic unravelings with uncanny thuds.
It is in the dramatic where we return to the ‘For Dummies’ series. It certainly figured out what ‘melodramatic’ meant, anyway, going so hilariously over-the-top with its plot points that it forgot what human really was. One girl burns down her house because her parents didn’t give her a teddybear before they died; another fistfights 40-odd thugs outside the school gates; another eschews any sense the series is worldly with supernatural plotting. Just contemplating what it tried to do in these sections is funnier than the comedy.
Or, at least, it might be funny, if the series wasn’t trying so hard to make you cry at each step. To Clannad’s credit, it certainly gave the Technical chapter of ‘Tearjerkers for Dummies’ a good read, using every trick in the book, short of genuine emotion. Most commonly is the superficial ‘choral’ attempt at crying, voyeuristically fixating on a handful characters ugly crying in portrait – and it’s, frankly, disgusting when plastered on the ugly bug-eyed character designs. But that’s not all it does. The weather in Clannad has a magical property to it, with every horizon becoming a pathetic fallacy at the drop of a hat; rain, red skies, nightfall, and it all comes to paint the scene just in the nick of time! The barren OST repeats its same handful in louder, louder ways to also try and choke you up, trading out hooks for more high-pitched synths or recycling that frustrating choral tune over and over.
But not once does Clannad ever consider what it is doing. There is scant awareness of its tone or timings. Putting every mechanic in comes across with something far worse than cheesiness – it is desperation. Clannad spends its runtime indignantly begging you to cop a feel for its childish girls with no independence whatsoever. Its plot-points leap to far-end extremes and technical feats go further to get your tearducts to react, but it is bypassing the heart. There’s one thing – one fatal lesson – that the ‘…for Dummies’ series couldn’t teach Clannad, and that’s a sense of purpose.
In my opinion, it is stuff like Clannad that represent the worst of television. When you scrape away the stabs at ’emotion’, there is no feeling here. There is no creative passion, no attempt to do something great or something different or something fun. I do not require artists to enjoy their work; I do not require creatives to pain for their craft; I do, however, need to see an attempt to be something – not for me, not for my ratings, but for its own strength of identity… I want to see television exist for its own good. Clannad’s inception had nothing to do with art, an author’s passion, achieving anything or translating the feelings in an creative’s head, it was dreamed up to try and affect others – catharsis, relatability, enjoyment for seeing its stories through all come secondary or even tertiary to receiving your love, but never giving it. It is prideless. And, in a world where artists do love their work, and do bleed for their craft, this shallow creation, on its knees, scrounging for your affection, is downright shameless.
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