I originally dropped Kyoani’s version of Kanon after about ten episodes because the characters got on my nerves way too much. Still, after having been completely surprised at how good Air and Clannad’s After Story turned out, so I just had to finish Kanon at one point. This review is going to contain a few spoilers here and there, but in any case, the thing that immediately struck my mind when I picked it back up: those eyes! It feels like they watch right through you!
In all seriousness, though. The reason that Air and Clannad made such a big impression on me was that they started with the biggest heap of cliches imaginable, played a bit with them, and then went into a totally unique and original direction which blew me away in the end. For Kanon I was anticipating something similar. And it indeed started out with a huge amount of cliches: sick girl, tomboy, silent samurai girl, nice girl, energetic male, cute mother, et cetera. However, at the end of the series, I was still waiting for it to turn into something special.
I think that in the end, this series was trying too hard and ended up forced for me. It tries very hard to be cute: there is Ayu with her Uguu~, Makoto with her Au~, Nayuki with her Unyuu~, Mai with her delayed reactions, but all of this feels forced, and even though there’s more comedy in it than any other key adaptation, none of the jokes really live up to the few scenes that Air devoted to it (all the Uguu~s in the world couldn’t even come close to the awesomeness of the Stegosaurus t-shirt). The same goes with the drama: this series aims to be a huge tear-jerker, though I never cried once. It felt like the series kept clinging too much to its harem roots, which resulted in a few very strange plot twists. Twice, we have Yuuichi come very close to a girl, only to dump her in a hospital and move on to the next one.
Parents have always played a very big role in Key adaptations, but the extremely forceful way that Nayuki’s mother inserts herself into the drama didn’t sit well with me either. It felt like the creators were going “we need more drama! Let’s insert a random car crash!”. And there are a few more of these contrived plot twists that only serve to keep the story on the right track, rather than to get the best out of the characters (for example, it was quite convenient for Mai to suddenly lose her powers, otherwise she would have instantly solved nearly all of the problems in this series). The final episodes also included some deus ex machina that didn’t also sit too right with me.
However, do note that this is all compared to Air and Clannad (a very high standard). For me it feels like if you’ve seen both of those, then Kanon doesn’t have anything new or additional to add. However, when you look at the series as a standalone production, then it definitely has some good points. The air of mystery is very good throughout the series, the slice of life moments are also pretty well done, and Yuuichi is actually a pretty good lead for a harem series like this. Not because he’s a continuous sarcastic wise-cracker (that actually was annoying most of the time), but because he’s a seriously flawed character who already made a lot of mistakes in his life. One of the nice things about this series is seeing him realize what an incredible idiot he has been, and learning from his mistakes.
And yeah, this is a Kyoto Animation series, so the animation is very detailed if you can ignore the often very weird eyes. The character-designs definitely aren’t the most appealing ones out there, but the way they are animated makes up for it. There’s one particular aspect of the designs that I did appreciate, though: the architecture of the school that the characters go to. You can see that either the creators spent some time on designing it, or the creators thoroughly searched for some of the best school architecture out there and made an anime version of it.
Overall, Kanon isn’t bad by far. I liked watching it, but it’s just not that good. There’s nothing outstanding, ground-breaking or awesome about it, but it is definitely a good dark mystery romance series. If you like these sorts of very sad romances, then you’ll like this one, but it’s not going to make you see the light if you hate the genre.