Canonical Kanon

Wake up girl, time to face the music

To contrast, for some, the dream is finally over.

I think before we even go into things like optimism, open endings, or every other thing that has been said about Kanon over the past 7-8 years, I am glad to see it reanimated. Studio Kyoto Animation has done an admirable job, and it’s opening doors that most thought would have never opened. Bravo to whoever that made it possible.

In fact, I want to talk about more good stuff about Kanon just so you don’t get the wrong idea. Kanon 2006 is very heartful in that it delivered the things that made the game great. It pretty much covered all the basis, I think. If you liked the sentimental aspects of the show, well, awesome, because I did too. It’s sappy, but that’s just a tough-man excuse for “I lack the ability apperciate this.” I enjoy all the “service” bits, basically every moment when Nayuki or Akiko is on the screen, or you hear her cloying alarm, and so much more.

Looking back, a year ago I was writing about Canvas 2, which is another multi-path visual novel / bishoujo game that was adopted into anime form. I wanted to think about it partly because it was one of the first moving anime I’ve blogged here, but also because the similarity it shared with Kanon. I suppose it serves as backdrop for this post.

I wanted to talk about focus.

When I say focus there are two things I mean by that. One is literally what you and I focus on when we watch the show. In that sense, Kanon has a very different focus; one that probably ultimately undermined its anime adaptation. In short, it’s the moe-pandering. Unavoidably there is 7 years worth of fanboy gunk accumulated onto the Kanon franchise. As a late-night otaku slot candidate on the air, it had to home in to popular homages, screen us those precious in-game CG that now has the breath of life, and vibrantly so.

But that’s not what really did Kanon in. It’s in pandering to the more intangible, emotional story aspect of Kanon. Invariably so, the 2002 Kanon rendition recognized this so they did their best to keep the drama tense and break it open at the end. In 2006 Kanon broke open 3 times before episode 18… but what does that leave the viewer and fans of Nayuki and Ayu? A wonderful epilogue?

Alas, that’s no grounds for complaints, in my opinion. What’s sacrificed is the show’s pacing consistency. Pacing sucked for the last third of the series, and while the message and meaning of the last 6 episodes are especially touching, I wonder how many people even gotten it (well, some at least), as we’re all too focused on the strange dramatic crap that went on in the guise of building tension.

The other thing I mean by focus is related to the story. It is what the story wants you to look at. When it comes to fanboy pandering, a lot of it is in the eyes of the beholder. But in Kyoani’s Kanon we are focused, and sometimes I wish less so, on the character drama. In a show like Canvas 2, that was fine because character drama was 80% of what the show was about. In Kanon, however, maybe 80% of Shiori’s story was about character drama, but that’s really it for the most part. Kanon is a story that focuses much, much more so on character motivation (as with a lot of Japanese stories?). Understanding what Shiori, Mai, Makoto, Nayuki, and ultimately Ayu feels and think and the places they came from should be the climax of each of their stories. In Shiori’s case, being mostly an enigma we understood her feelings through her drama and interaction with Shiori and Yuuichi. That is fine. But how are we suppose to understand Mai without that wonderful flashback? Or Nayuki (at all?) and Ayu?

To that end, I think the biggest culprit is the pacing and length. Kanon would have been better if it spent more time after Shiori’s story getting itself back together, and less before Makoto’s arc (although those were some of the more delightful episodes). Yuuichi holds the key to unfold all the stories, and we should be focused more on him than the girls. Perhaps that was all impossible, because ultimately it was enslaved too mechanically to the multi-pathing plot of the game.

The irony, for you to take home, is that Kanon was a revolutionary bishoujo game because it broke rank and file not only with respect to the nature of its pornographic content, but also one that delivered its touching story in a parallel, nonlinear visual novel format in which you don’t have to befriend and solve (and bone) every girl’s problem by the time you get to the end. On the other hand, Kanon anime 2006 was enslaved to that very concept of “freedom” and as a result suffered for being the thing its original version tried hard to avoid.

And somehow, I think this is one strength and flaw Kyoani consistently displayed…

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