The buzz about Clannad shows little sign of abating, so I continue to steadfastly avoid watching it – indeed, my disinterest could probably kill a goat at twenty paces. Ishihara‘s Kanon, however, is much less discussed these days and I’ve somehow managed to remain unspoilt on its plot despite being a faithful reader of Mega Megane Moe. So, on the principle that it’s good to watch things outside one’s genres of choice, and most definitely not just so I can make a pun in this post’s title, I’ve begun to watch it.
‘Pun?’ I hear you ask. Well, yes: you see, the other show I’ve begun recently is After War Gundam X. This is about as far removed from Kanon as I can get, and not only in genre. For watching Gundam X was probably inevitable, if I continued to exist and possess an internet connection. It’s Gundam, it’s one of the less well-known corners of the franchise (flattering to my inner snob) and Taniguchi served as one of the episode directors (as he did on G Gundam, another repository of that elusive substance, win). An interesting contrast in initial prejudice, then. Mecha, action, Gundam: awesome until proven boring; visual novel adaption, moe, harem: guilty, guilty, guilty until proven innocent.
As it turns out, both shows have surprised me with slightly unusual protagonists. Kanon‘s Lesser-Kyon is more characterful than I expected, but not nearly as a likeable. I’m no expert on harem protagonists, but compared to Tsuchimi ‘Nonentity’ Rin (for example), Lesser-Kyon rather stands out in his propensity for casual insults, his self-absorbed carelessness about memory and his uncanny ability to stand by and watch people fall over, catch colds or otherwise hurt themselves. Such a distinctive character is an interesting change, but he’s lost the Everyman quality of some other harem heroes I’ve seen. This may turn out to be a problem if his role is simply going to be the standard foil to reflect and focus incoming moe like a moon-mounted superweapon relay station. Time will tell.
This is chivalry. Lesser-Kyon hasn’t heard of it.
Garrod Ran also bucks the trend for his genre, but by travelling in the opposite direction. You see, Garrod is a far more likeable hero than I’m used to in my Gundam: resourceful, compassionate and romantic. I’m searching for a more well-known analogue, and the best comparison I can pull up is Eureka Seven‘s Renton. Perhaps Garrod’s naive, but compared to Lesser-Kyon’s general cynicism, I think I prefer the naive hero who repeatedly breaks out of prison to pick flowers for Tifa. (The real Kyon’s cynicism was both funnier than Lesser-Kyon’s, and inescapable, as it practically became a narrative mode of its own.)
Yet in many ways Kanon is rather good. The animation is, as far as I can tell, superlative; the cast’s slightly plastic-looking, beady eyes are my only gripe in that department. Eyes excepted, it’s a show which drips hard work, at least in the five episodes that I’ve seen. Certain things, such as the ‘camera’ work of Lesser-Kyon’s meeting with Shiori in the third episode, stand out and stay in one’s memory. And while the animation is extremely memorable, the small-scale timing of events within each episode feels so organic that you forget it’s there.
My biggest problem with Kanon so far is its music. I appreciate that taste in music is subjective (and that I don’t have any in the first place) but there’s something objectively wrong with Kanon‘s background noise. Our ears spend most of the first five episodes passing from one peppy, repetitive number to another tune in precisely the same style; it’s as though a CD of shopping music intended for airtime in Woolworths was mistaken for the disk of far subtler material that this show merits. Without suitable musical backup, some scenes (Lesser-Kyon exploring his new school, for example) resemble Destiny-style clip shows much more than they should, given the quality of what’s on-screen. Hopefully when things take a more mournful turn – as I assume they will – the music will be more distinguished.
At least Kanon‘s opener (compare the original game’s) and ending are good. Unfortunately, they’re rather overshadowed – and this probably is subjective – by Gundam X‘s superb first opening, ‘Dreams‘ which (if you’ll excuse technical language) combines thumping and warbling in exactly the correct proportions. More generally, Higuchi‘s score is one of Gundam X’s finest points.
Take the closing scene of the second episode, for example: a swooping chorus and piping flutes accompany the moon; repeated calls from the brass section sound a warning as the Satellite Cannon (geddit? geddit?) charges; and we descend into percussive distress as Garrod fires. This is not all. No more music is heard while we observe the Cannon’s after-effects, but when Tifa screams the whole orchestra is unleashed at once in a final, discordant, aural cattle-prod. Incidentally this scream (from Kanai, as Tifa) is one of most unearthly pieces of voice-acting I’ve heard, second only to some of Jouji‘s lines for Gankutsuou‘s Count.
It would be nice if I could hold up the underlying value of Gundam X‘s story of about post-apocalyptic exploitation, encapsulated in that affecting scream, as somehow higher than Kanon. I would like – would love – to be able to say that there’s something fundamentally inferior about a story with such limited scope as Kanon‘s, something utterly puerile in its obsession with the minutiae of life and love. Surely part of growing up was grasping the fact that cute girls are not, in fact, the be all and end all of one’s existence? If so, a show like Kanon is not only immature it itself, it is encouraging the continuing immaturity of its fans.
It would be nice, but it would also, alas, be wrong. The responsibility for immaturity lies with the viewer for failing to watch critically, which means there’s not much inherent in Kanon to attack. Since this has already become something of a feghoot entry, I may as well close with a throwaway quotation from The Western Canon, in which Bloom argues (among many other things) that assessing literature on moral grounds doesn’t work: ‘Shakespeare will not make us better, and he will not make us worse’. Bloom is criticism’s Grumpy Old Man, and I doubt he’d think much of my attention to the viewer, but I’ll do almost anything for a pun.
And I have faith that there’s a good way to watch Kanon. I’m hoping to find it.
These uniforms’ capes are their saving grace. Char Aznable endorses capes, which makes them All Right.
(Speaking of clothing, if Kanon does turn out to be a genuinely mature story, then I have some headgear to eat . . .)