I’ll start with a confession: I’m no moe fan. Nossir. Not one bit.
And yet here I am, reviewing a moe story adapted from a bestselling visual novel, chock full of coincidence and long-standing promises and deep connections to the past. Sometimes you can elevate this sort of thing into the realm of art, as Makoto Shinkai did with 5cm/sec (also being released by ADV in 2008). But most of the time what we get is simply content to be a celebration of nostalgia and wistfulness for its own sake.
So, wait, are those bad things? No, and I’d be silly for saying so, whatever my tastes lead me to watch normally. It’s no worse to get a vicarious cry out of a sad story than it is to get a cheap thrill out of watching stuff get blowed up real good. Kanonis (from what I can tell) routinely held up as an example of this sort of thing at its best in another form, and from what it I can tell it’s quite well-done. It hits all the right notes for this kind of material, throws in some goofy comedy to lighten things up, and looks good in a way a lot of other shows don’t, no matter what their subject matter.
The story revolves around teenage boy Yuichi, freshly back in his snow-laden home town to live with his cousin Nayuki (translation note: “Nayuki” is written, somewhat prophetically, with the characters for name and snow) and her mother. He lived in this town before, years ago, with Nayuki as a playmate, but a lot of his memories of that time in his life have grown dim. Nayuki has a bit of spunk to her (especially in the English-audio edition of the show, courtesy of Jessica Boone) and a good deal of repressed affection for Yuichi—which doesn’t always express itself in the best way, as when he mistakenly leaves her waiting around for the better part of half an hour and has to endure her silence all the way home. (Kudos to the show’s director, Tatsuya Ishihara, for the way he visualizes this: he uses a clever matching edit that tells us everything we need to know without being heavy-handed.)
Nayuki is an armful in her own special way. She keeps a collection of alarm clocks that take minutes on end to shut off—mainly because she has the worst trouble getting out of bed. Since she’s captain of the track team, she cheerfully outruns Yuichi all the way to school and hasn’t even broken a sweat while he’s completely winded. (“Running’s the only thing I’m really good at,” she admits cheerfully, which Yuichi flat-out denies.) She’s enough for any one man, but then other girls begin to turn up in Yuichi’s life—not like he needs any others, but there you go.
One day Yuichi quite literally collides with another girl, Ayu. Breathless and hyper, she’s on the run from a taiyaki vendor’s hutch, and after knocking Yuichi over she drags him aside and confesses the whole thing was because she was trying to buy something from the man and she had the money to pay and then this cat came along and the vendor freaked out and, and, and … It’s the kind of behavior you either find endearing or infuriating, probably in about equal measure, and Yuichi is indeed somewhere between being charmed and irritated with her. Is she just a weirdo, as Yuichi rather cynically describes her, or is there something more going on here?
Then there’s the combative and perpetually hungry “Kyoko”—actually, Makoto—who shows up outta the blue and assaults Yuichi on the street, insisting that they have some unsettled grudge from the past which she conveniently can’t remember. Makoto ends up shacking up with Yuichi and Nayuki and she turns out to be not only an armful but a few legfuls as well. We have the perpetually-ill Shiori, waiting on or near the school grounds every day for someone important to her, another conveniently-kept mystery. And then there are some other things brewing in the school’s darkened corridors that I suspect we’ll have to wait until the next volume to learn more about.
These girls (among others) comprise the “harem” surrounding Yuichi throughout his day-to-day adventures, each of them somehow connected to the unremembered events of seven years ago. As with many other, similarly-constructed shows—Tenchi Muyo! is probably the most recent classic model for this sort of thing—the central male character, Yuichi, is the one most people will connect with readily. He’s got a kind of dry, tart humor that he uses for coping with most of the weirdness thrown at him, and that makes him likable. On meeting the then-unnamed Makoto, he snidely drafts her a name composed of the characters EVIL-GIRL-SLAYS-VILLAGE.
I mentioned that the show does a fine job of looking good, although I have one quibble I need to get out of the way upfront. I don’t find the moe aesthetic in female character designs appealing. Give me something a little more sophisticated and mature, like Motoko Kusanagi (or the incredibly underappreciated Kanuka Clancy). That said, while I took a miss on most of the character designs, the rest of the production is stellar by just about any standards, thanks to the meticulous eyes of the folks at Kyoto Animation. The animation itself is expressive and fluid—check out the scene where Kyoko freaks out in the kitchen—and the amount of detail put into the backgrounds and environments for the show, right down to depth-of-focus effects, makes it that much more three-dimensional and enveloping.
A rule of thumb I’ve developed for reviewing any material in a genre I’m not accustomed to is to take my feelings about it and multiply them for the sake of fans. I liked Kanon enough for what it aimed to do, and how it accomplished those things, to guess that anyone who’s already a fan of this material will eat it right up. So, feast away, Kanon fans. (I do have to ask, though: Why are the girls always in short skirts and stockings when it’s consistently below freezing outside? If you know what I mean.)
Other Lives Of The Mind