In recent years, there has been a relative proliferation of anime adaptations of visual novels from the famed VN stable, Key. Not since a certain adaptation in 2002 have the Kagikko ever had it so good, and this is arguably all due to one thing; Kyoto Animation, and how its studio debut of AIR (TV) took the first step of rewriting the rules of what an adaptation of a Visual Novel should look like. Ever since then, Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation have taken turns in giving us their animated adaptations of KEY’s greatest stories, and Fall 2007 marks the third time Toei and KyoAni have locked horns this season, with their respective releases of "CLANNAD: The Motion Picture" and "CLANNAD (TV)" respectively.
At the time of the writing of this article, Toei’s CLANNAD the Motion Picture would have aired approximately a couple of days ago at 15/09/2007, while KyoAni’s CLANNAD (TV) is slated for release within 3 weeks, at 5/10/2007. Not surprisingly, general opinion of the two versions of CLANNAD has been somewhat one-sided; while the Kagikko
had a lukewarm reception towards Toei’s movie version, KyoAni’s made-for-TV series have been met with nothing less than a critical amount of hype. As both a KEY and KyoAni fan myself, it goes without saying that I’m following the general trend, and looking forward so much more to the TV series than the motion picture,
Nevertheless, why is there so much hype towards CLANNAD in the 2007 Fall season, and why has the popular view been that KyoAni’s KEY adaptations are infinitely superior to Toei’s? To find the reasons behind the hype for KyoAni’s CLANNAD, and the general disdain that the Kagikko have had towards Toei’s take, one will have to look back at recent anime history, and sift out the factors that led to today’s general consensus amongst the Kagikko that when it comes to KEY adaptations, KyoAni over Toei is the way to go.
First off, let’s look at the face-off that started it all;
Round 1: Toei’s AIR the Movie vs. KyoAni’s AIR (TV)
6th January, 2005. It was the day that AIR, the second Visual Novel produced by KEY, got its first anime adaptation under the hands of a relatively unknown animation studio in the Kyoto area. Who could have foreseen that an adaptation of an "eroge", with all of its accompanying stigma, would become the breakout hit of the season? Yet that was exactly what happened with AIR (TV), with fans gushing over the lush animation quality of the up and coming Kyoto Animation, and praising the studio’s dedication to faithfulness in its adaptation of one of their favourite stories of all time. In the midst of AIR (TV)’s run, Toei’s AIR the Movie hit the big screens on the 5th of February, proclaiming itself to be a "re-interpretation" of the original AIR storyline, directed by the famous Dezaki Ozamu.
Top to bottom: AIR the Movie, AIR (TV)
Almost immediately, the comparisons started. And as much praise the Kagikko
had for KyoAni’s TV series, the Toei movie drew equally as much vitriol; not without reason, as it goes. The differences in animation quality aside, the Toei movie simply fell short in many respects; to summarize, it was a pretty good movie on its own, with decent animation (though not the equal of KyoAni’s), and a servicable storyline, but the fatal flaw in it was; it simply wasn’t AIR. The storyline, while able to stand on its own, simply wasn’t what AIR was all about, and the characters of the movie bore little resemblance to what fans remembered from the game. Granted, the Toei movie had only 2 hours, compared to 13 episodes for the TV series, in which to tell the same story, and most rational KEY fans would most probably have understood if much of the entire AIR narrative was cut out in order to focus on the main story. However, even the main storyline got shafted so much that at the end, an epic story was turned into a simple romance film, which hardly stood out from any other romance film. All in all, it seemed almost a travesty that the movie retained the AIR label at all; yet, it was not the first time that Toei had butchered a KEY work.
This first face-off of KEY adaptations was what started the slew of KEY adaptations, and brought Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation into their recurring battles of the KEY adaptations.. While AIR (TV) did not become the turning point for Kyoto Animation (that would come later with Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu), it did remind the Kagikko of the Kanon adaptation that was made by Toei back in 2002, and it got them thinking, "what if KyoAni did Kanon? What would it look like?"
Within a year and a half, they got their wish.
Round 2: Toei’s Kanon vs. KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
With Kyoto Animation receiving numerous calls from viewers to remake Kanon after the cameo of the Kanon girls in AIR (TV) Episode 2, the studio finally relented, and on October 5, 2006, the first episode of Kanon (2006) aired.
From top to bottom: Ayu in Toei’s Kanon, and Ayu in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
The original Kanon adaptation, produced by Toei back in 2002, was the butt of many jokes back when it was first released; eyes that would freak a Martian out, and the infamous CHIN OF DOOM sported by Toei’s version of Yuuichi, just to name a few. Even so, despite its lackluster animation, enormous plot holes, and dead ends that led nowhere, it was considered a fairly good adaptation in its time; quite a few converts to the VN adaptation pointed to Toei’s Kanon as the reason for their conversion, citing amongst other things, "being the first anime ever to induce pathos" for anime viewers erstwhile convinced that shounen was all that there was to anime. Besides, it was all the Kagikko
had back then, and despite the liberties it took with the original Kanon narrative, most fans accepted that Toei’s versions defined the limits of how far a bishoujo adaptation could go.
From top to bottom: Nayuki in Toei’s Kanon, and Nayuki in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
That is, until KyoAni delivered their second sucker punch at Toei, by unveiling Kanon (2006). While Kanon (2006) did not match the achievements of the wildly successful Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, it was a redefiner of its genre in its own right. Along with the luscious animation quality that fans have come to expect from the studio, KyoAni pretty much showed everyone how a bishoujo adaptation should be done; with faithfulness to the source material, meticulous care to detail, and a storyline that interwove the five different stories of the Kanon Girls into a largely (though not perfectly) consistent narrative, Kanon (2006) broke many long-held beliefs about the limitations of a bishoujo adaptation,
From top to bottom: Aizawa Yuuichi in Toei’s Kanon, and Aizawa Yuuichi in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
one of which was the stereotype that "harem male leads are a bland, wimpy lot". Even though that particular stereotype was not without justification, KyoAni’s Aizawa Yuuichi was a breath of fresh air in a sea of lackluster male leads, and was considered by many to be in a class all of his own, being a so-called "harem male lead" who was actually manly enough to take control of the situation, instead of waiting for things to happen just like so many other male leads in his position. Thus was solidified the notion that whatever adaptation of a KEY work that Toei could do, KyoAni could do better, with better animation, more faithful treatment of the source material, and a better male lead to boot.
All in all, this is all of the summary of the recent history between Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation, and their battle of the KEY adaptations resumes, once again, for Fall 2007
Round 3: Toei’s CLANNAD the Motion Picture vs. KyoAni’s CLANNAD (TV)
So, with so much recent history going into this third round of the Toei-KyoAni head-to-head, what can we expect to see from both camps?
From top to bottom: Furukawa Nagisa in Toei’s CLANNAD the Motion Picture, and Furukawa Nagisa in KyoAni’s CLANNAD (TV)
If we are to judge by recent history alone, we can reasonably deduce what Toei and KyoAni would do respectively for their adaptations of CLANNAD, KEY’s third visual novel and their longest one to date. From previous experience, one might reasonably predict that "Toei + CLANNAD" = shaft; with them producing a 2-hour movie out of source material that’s said to exceed Kanon’s and AIR’s combined, it is almost a given that the movie will exclusively focus on Tomoya and Nagisa, the two main leads of CLANNAD, to the exclusion of almost everything else. From the trailers, one might also see that the animation style from AIR the Movie is more or less carried over to CLANNAD the Motion Picture; in other words, a snowball’s chance in hell of matching KyoAni’s kami-sakuga quality. From all previous indications, I would automatically give CLANNAD the Motion Picture a miss; however, I will be inclined to be more open-minded about Toei’s third chance, if word reaches me that it’s not as shafted as I expect it to be. We’ll see.
From top to bottom: Sakagami Tomoyo, and Fujibayashi Kyou, both from CLANNAD (TV)
On the other hand, we can expect a return to normal duty for Kyoto Animation after their "working break" of Lucky Star, along with the kami-sakuga we’ve all come to love and associate with KyoAni. We can also come to expect them trying their darndest to treat the source material with as much faithfulness as they can afford; wherein lies the great problem that Toei has evaded by opting to shaft their adaptation; how do you adapt a KEY work that has more material than the previous couple of KEY works combined? There is as yet no info available on how many episodes CLANNAD (TV) will consist of, and however many episodes it turns out to be in the end, it cannot be denied that this time, KyoAni would be handling a monster that would make the Kanon (2006) elephant a midget, by comparison. So just like they did for Kanon (2006), the Kagikko
will be waiting for CLANNAD (TV) with bated breath, watching carefully to see if this would be another feather in KyoAni’s cap….or their downfall.
How would it turn out? Only time will tell. And is this the last battle of the KEY adaptations? I cannot look into the future, but I can predict. And before I sign off, let me offer you my prediction in a thousand words, for that is what a picture is worth:
The great prize: Who will get to animate the Planetarian movie?