22 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Scamp /

Secret Santa review: Kanon (06)

[Coalgirls]_Kanon_01_(1280x720_Blu-Ray_FLAC)_[3CB399BD].mkv_snapshot_14.02_[2013.12.08_12.58.26]Kanon is the the last of the Kyoto Animation animated Key visual novels that I had to see. Somehow I’d managed to watch all of Clannad, Clannad After Story and Air. While writing staff and directing staff differ slightly with each iteration, there’s an incredibly clear singular style between each anime. It’s a style that with each series of theirs I watch, and those inspired by its nakige formula such as Ano Hana, I can increasingly see the strings for. Strings that are made from the bloodied remains of mentally deficient little girls killed mercilessly and dangled limply from the fingers of Key writer Jun Maeda as he coos “who’s now the perfect image of a woman, yes you are, yes you are”.

Here is the general outline for a Key story arc. First you introduce a little girl. She is supposedly a teenager the same age as our asshole lead male character. However at every single turn we are establishing how childlike they are. They look 6 years old, they act like they’re 6 years old, the male lead constantly treats them like they’re 6 years old and outright tells them they might as well be 6 years old. Each girl has their own little quip that in one girl’s case might as well be her saying “goo goo”.

They are also depicted as fragile and weak and needing your attention. A bunch of them are in the slow process of dying, either through poorly explained illnesses or magical illnesses. They’re emotionally fragile and with each arc fall apart in their own ways. One girl in particular has her own rotary functions and general maturity, what little of it there was, stripped away from her. The reasons for this shift usually comes straight out of the writer’s backsides, such as a character’s mum getting randomly hit by a car because we needed little girls to be more emotionally unstable.

Their emotional instability and life view all appears to come from when the girls were 6 years old (as in actually on this planet for 6 years, not just emotionally 6 years old). The childhood promise is the most powerful force in the world of Kanon, capable of raising the dead and conjuring ghosts. According to the world of Kanon, all relationships are born from before the age of 6 and everyone you meet since then might as well not exist. Nearly all the girls in Kanon are desperately trying to get back to the relationship they had with the male character from when they were 6.

You get the uncomfortable feeling that the writers believe that the 6 year old mindframe for women is the ideal. Not just so you can comfort them as they slowly die, but from a romantic standpoint too, and whenever you try to strip them off this childlike state the show punishes them for it. Kanon operates on horror movie logic where as soon as a girl displays anything resembling romantic feelings it gets stripped from them. Even if their romantic feelings come from a desire to just be together with someone because they’re lonely, as soon as anything resembling romance happens is when the show starts killing them.


That is this nakige formula. Key aren’t the only people who do it, but they’re certainly the most famous. Bring in a female character. Make the male lead belittle her in s’life segments for her immaturity so he can establish his place as above her. Reveal that she may have romantic feelings for her. Then strip the girl of any independence either physically or emotionally and then usually kill her.

Normally a reviewer will say that the worst thing a piece of entertainment’s can do is be boring, but that’s not Kanon’s problem. Certainly it is mind-blowingly boring since practically all the humour and conversations consist of a girl with no mental capacity being told by the main character how stupid she is. But the real reason I hate Kanon so much is the bits after that. The rinse and repeat of taking a little girl, stripping her of all agency and then killing her in order to draw tears from the audience, who invariably fall for it each and every time.

Not that I blame you. The same way I don’t blame people for clicking on buzzfeed clickbait articles on web advertising. They are designed in that insidious way to get you to click on them, and its only once you realise that do you stop supporting this “You Won’t Believe These 8 Ways Miley Cyrus Hates Minecraft Pokemon” headlines by not clicking on them. I know you think Kanon, Clannad and Air are emotional because they made you cry, but punching you in the face and breaking your nose would probably make you cry too. That doesn’t make the punch a 10/10 emotional piece of high entertainment. All they are doing are taking weak creatures and killing them to draw a reaction from you. Stop falling for it. Please.

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  1. Posted December 24, 2013 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Good that Jun Maeda’s no longer popular. Bad that his legacy’s been carried on by Mari Okada.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Mari Okada isn’t quite the same. She’s mostly just a bad writer, while Jun Maeda is evil.

      • Inushinde
        Posted December 25, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        At least Mari Okada tries for something other than a cynical bid for tears.

  2. Posted December 24, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I am terrified by their fish-like facial features. Why the hell having tiny mouth between two large eyes is considered cute?

  3. Outcast
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Hey, what have you got against Clannad? :( I thought you said you liked it in some previous post (though the ending to After Story does suck).

    Clannad aside, I don’t think I’ve seen any other Jun Maeda stuff myself. From what I had seen of Kanon, though, I am pretty sure I would have felt the same as you right now.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 25, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      I have really gone off Clannad massively over the years. Particularly After Story when you realise the female lead existed solely to make a baby.

  4. Posted December 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    A punch to the face would be far more entertaining and potentially funny.

  5. Posted December 24, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Complaints on how you should have watched it in English aside, Kanon is one of those shows that stood out at the time b/c it was one of the only VN adaptations with effort put it into it (very low bar I know) and because KyoAni was riding off their Haruhi popularity (neither of the Toei movies got popular in the least despite being released around the same time as each series) so by comparison to the market consisting of Happiness and f*cking Da Capo, it was pretty cool.

    But as of now, the actual product doesn’t hold up in the least. Aside from the fact that we’re used to the formula by now, there’s too much fan-pleasing that buries the few bits that are actually good. They try to cram in EVERY SINGLE ROUTE from the original VN to the point that it ruins the flow and the happy endings are completely forced b/c it doesn’t work well in translation. Being based on a VN is not a good excuse for being this disjointed. Take some liberties with the goddamn game, will ya?

    Long story short, at least Angel Beats has TK.

  6. shytende
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    For what it tries to do, it’s really well done.

    Too bad, what it tries to do is shit.

    (Yes, I failed for it before. But accepting his mistakes is a proof of growth.)

  7. Gunslinger
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Uguu, i fell down from the chair while laughing :(

  8. Erif
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    “I know you think Kanon, Clannad and Air are emotional because they made you cry, but punching you in the face and breaking your nose would probably make you cry too. That doesn’t make the punch a 10/10 emotional piece of high entertainment.”

    My Favorite Blogger.

  9. Posted December 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I’m really glad you’ve wrote this, because I’ve always been baffled by the popularity of Key/Kyoani and their copycats. A lot of my anime watching friends talk to me about Clannad like it’s the second coming of Christ, yet I struggled to get through the first 16 episodes. I actually do think Key’s funny, but they try so hard to force tears from you in the most obnoxious ways that I can’t stand it.

  10. Mikey
    Posted December 24, 2013 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I would be remiss in mentioning that Jun Maeda didn’t write all of Kanon. He only wrote Makoto and Mai. Shiori, Nayuki and Ayu were written by a man named Naoki Hisaya. He helped form Key, but he left after Kanon. He also wrte the anime Sola if you haven’t seen it.

    Also I actually liked Kanon. Obviously Makoto and Mai suffered from Jun Maeda’s hand of bad (Okay Mai wasn’t TOO bad), but I thought Shiori, Nayuki and Ayu’s arc were quite good, ending of Ayu’s aside of course (Key and their deus ex machina… Why oh why?) Also much less crying. Can count the amount of times a dramatic moment was followed with a flood of tears on one hand. (Then watch Clannad and I can count the amount of times a dramatic moment was NOT followed with a flood of tears on one hand). So basically what I am getting at s Kanon is more subtle then all the other Key works. Obviously you don’t agree, but I still like to share my opinions.

    • Mikey
      Posted December 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Also, haven’t watched Kanon in years, but I really don’t think Naiyuki was really stripped of all agency. Of course, having er mom get hit by a car was cheap, but she acted just realistically depressed. I mean if my mom was hit by a car, I would be pretty depressed too.

      I should also be remiss in saying I am not a Key fanboy in any way. Just think Kanon is better than all the other Key works, even if the bar is pretty damn low.

    • Posted December 24, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      Ugh, Sola. That show was like what would happen if the main Kanon writer (not even bothering to acknowledge his name) wrote Shana. Even I thought it was garbage back then. It was a complete snorefest.

    • Scamp
      Posted December 25, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Yeah I know that about Maeda, hence why I tried to steer away from mentioning his name too much. But he is definitely the name people know and it’s easy to throw my poo at him.

      As for the rest, I humbly disagree.

  11. luffyluffy
    Posted December 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but Jun Maeda only wrote Makoto’s route. Everything else was handled by other people.

    • Mikey
      Posted December 26, 2013 at 12:11 am | Permalink

      Actually he also wrote Mai’s route too.

  12. allhamchatsaylars
    Posted December 26, 2013 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Flawfinder, you find everything crap. Your reviews are the shittiest.

    as for you scamp, the less said the better.

    • fathomlessblue
      Posted December 27, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

      Translation: I couldn’t come up with a counter-argument, so here’s some name-calling. Although saying that, you could also work on those while you’re at it.

      I remember someone on the Bakacast podcast summarising this kind of response in regards to crappy VN/LN’s and melodrama shows. Essentially such products often bypass established norms for quality writing like structure, pacing and character development, and instead focus purely on emotional response. That’s why fans of franchises like Key VNs or Ano Hana can tell you how much it made them cry, but can rarely provide any insight into the technical merits, other than ‘because the feels!’. The emotional connection is everything, and not whether the series did anything to deserve it beyond tears and saccharine music. This is why whenever someone criticises such stories, fans throw tantrums like the one above: by dismissing the crass and cheap attempts to garner emotions, they seem to feel like you are dismissing their emotions, & thereby dismissing them as individuals…. which is really not how this process works.

      It’s ok to like shows like this regardless of their issues and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good tear-jerker, regardless of how emotionally-manipulative it might be. I cried at the end of Air, even though I frustratingly knew it had gotten to me through pretty tacky means. I admit to being a sucker for such approaches. The issue is putting your fingers in your ears to drown out any dissention you feel might cheapen the response to it. You can enjoy something, while recognising its problems, or at least understanding the issues other people might have. The alternative being nothing but congratulatory fan-wankery that does nothing but agree with everything you think, rather than broadening horizons with alternative views.

  13. Triple_R
    Posted December 28, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    The Key anime certainly tend to have a lot of infantilized heroines. Each of them have at least a couple characters like this, and I can understand somebody disliking these specific characters, their stories, and/or any unfortunate implications that can be taken from all of the above.

    But each of the Key anime also have heroines that simply do not deserve to be lumped into the overly generalized criticisms you’re making here.

    Nayuki and Shiori strike me as being reasonably mature for their ages, and not seeming like little 6-year old kids. Shiori is small in stature, of course, but her dialogue seems reasonable to me for a young teenaged girl facing the potentially deadly illness that she’s facing.

    As for Clannad, Kyou and Tomoyo don’t deserve the generalized Key heroine criticism you’re raising here. And Nagisa and Ryou arguably don’t deserve it as well. As much as I like Kotomi, I’ll admit she is open to this sort of criticism, though. Fuko obviously is.

    It is a fair criticism to make to say that *some* of the Key heroines are infantalized to an arguably distasteful and off-putting degree. But it is *not* a fair criticism to apply that to *all* Key heroines as you’re doing here in this blog review.

    And trying to emotionally move viewers through putting characters through difficult circumstances is one of the oldest narrative tricks in the books, and it applies to a lot more anime than just the Key works. Heck, even the very popular and critically acclaimed Madoka Magica, which is a show that I love and that I know that you like a lot as well, is “emotionally manipulative” in this way.

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