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Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Stories of the Top 80 Anime: Kanon

11. It's fitting for Kanon to be the 'first' of the top twenty, just as Clannad was first of the top ten. Kanon is Key's earliest work, and only half as long as Clannad, but still nearly the best anime ever made.

I am, of course, talking of Kyoto Animation's version of Kanon, made in 2006, not the earlier version by another company that doesn't look nearly as good. The Kyoto Kanon, if anything, has even more beautiful girls than the ones in Clannad, the music is as good as ever, composed by the same master, Jun Maeda, the voice acting is supreme, and so on. The visual style of Key's works is just my favorite anime style ever.

Whereas Clannad was about many things, Kanon is only about one thing, loss. Just when you think there's no one left to lose, your foster-mother gets hit by a car. There is no mercy in Kanon. It's just tears all the way through. How would you feel to watch a girl become senseless and feeble right before your eyes, slowly losing her sentience and then her life, but only after you've fallen in love and she asked to marry you? How would you feel if as a child, your childhood friend fell out of a tree and broke her body right in front of you, because you couldn't catch her? How would you feel if a girl's own berserk magic nearly killed her best friend, and then she tried to commit suicide in front of you out of remorse? How would you feel if the girl you met skipping school only had a few months left to live, and was only wearing a smile on her face, but was deeply terrified and suicidally depressed right behind that courageous mask? In a bewilderingly quick series of events, Yuichi meets so many wonderful girls, and loses them all, one after the other, like as though they're all fighting in the front lines of World War I together. You start to think that the author can't hurt you anymore, that you've become inured to the loss, but it's no use. No matter how you steel yourself, the author knows how to make you feel it all yet again, with just the right music, just the right lines, and just the right flashbacks. You can't beat Kanon, you're going to cry.

Naturally, Kanon realizes that to make you care about the characters, you must first be happy, so he spends just as much time building them up, with laughter and cuteness, as he does tearing them down, with pain and death. The humorous scenes are some of the best humor anywhere, the cute scenes the cutest scenes anywhere. It's all to play the watcher like a fiddle.

Miraculously, at the end, it turns out Ayu has gained some sort of angelic powers from being in a coma for so long, since childhood, and manages to intercede with God to spare all the lives of all the girls you've met, except for Makoto, who is already dead. Everyone recovers from their injuries and illnesses, and you live happily ever after. Which is certainly a relief, but too late to spare your feelings of loss when you thought things wouldn't go so well.

But is Kanon just a chance to feel maudlin emotions? Not at all. There is a deep philosophical bent to the story, that is trying to ask questions to the viewer as well. What should someone do if he or she knows someone close to him or her is inevitably going to die? Should you try to push them away, so it doesn't hurt as much when they do die? Or should you treasure them even more, trying to save up all the experiences you can with them? How much unwitting harm did the main character boy cause as a child by making bonds with people and then moving away, leaving them all in the lurch? Is there still a person's soul, something that somehow connects them to their past self that you loved, inside the body of a senile woman who can't remember who you are anymore, that means you should continue to take care of them? How should someone face certain death? Is it better to just end it ahead of time, on your own terms? If there are so many wonderful girls who all love you, if you get along with all of them perfectly, which should you choose?

Kanon is a tough world, like the front line of World War I. In tough worlds, you have to make tough decisions, you have to answer the hard questions, the ones most people are able to avoid their entire lives. But by watching Kanon, we are given a chance to think on these issues, hard questions that really do matter how you answer them, even if they never come up. This is because the answers help form your character and identity. Kanon is a forge to test the steel of your soul. I hope everyone emerges from it with a different perspective on life than when they went in.

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