IToei first tried to take this Key eroge visual novel into an anime adaptation, but created something in 13 episodes complete with plot holes and cutting the original story. Then, only four years later Kyoto Animation stepped in for the series save together with director Tatsuya Ishihara (Air). This Key show was the company’s debut visual novel in 1999 followed up with Air in 2000. Not to be confused with the company’s co-founder Jun Maeda, Kanon was created by Naoki Hisaya which could be why this show is the most original story from Key.
Kanon follows a young 17 year-old man by the name of Aizawa Yuuichi. Seven years ago he spent a small amount of time with his cousin in a small northern town. However, he does not remember anything from his time there due to a certain event from his past. The key to his lost memories are shown in the form of arcs in which Yuuichi encounters and spends time with the girls of his past: Nayuki (cousin), Mai (mysterious), Shiori (ill stricken), Makoto (high energy), and Ayu (sweet). Ayu is the character that spends the most time in the show with Yuuichi and truly holds the main key to his past.
What is ‘key’ to the show are the emotional impacts each arc gives the audience. For some, this could be the emotional roller coaster fans are looking for. The story has a solid mixture of harem, slice of life, romance, and even supernatural and not done in a way that overwhelm the overall plot. Kyoto Animation’s choice to increase the number of episodes to 24 allowed for a slower approach to the plot, character development, and staying true to the source material.
What separates Kanon from traditional harem anime is that Kanon is centers around drama and tragedy. Not to say there is not a large amount of comedy, but these elements act as a relief to the harder elements of the show. There is a slow build from comedy to light hearted to these tough emotional moments and back around again. Kanon does something else that is coming into the medium and that is the start of “moe/cuteness and warmth.” Character voice, image, and movement are needed to be moe. The English dub does not successfully do this to note in terms of being moe.
Each character in the show gets their right amount of time and analysis for the over-arching plot. There are several plot lines for Yuuichi to complete like in the game. However, the characters consistently act out of their element just for the sake of advancing the story and creating more drama. The impact is there but executed in a non-believable manner. Generally, there is this back and forth of somehow cramming each of these arcs together in a way to make it work.
The art and animation in the show does not quite compare to the studios previous works in Haruhi Suzumiya but comes close. However, with the 2006 update, it is clear the show is much more smooth and fluid than done previously. Even the music matches up better and sets a much more mellow tone for the atmosphere in the show. The change from drama to comedy to romance enhances scenes well. There is a sense of mystery about it the show, as subtle as it is, but due to the moe elements, it is more laughable than staying mysterious. These characters are supposed to be mysterious, but due to tropes and a clumsy presentation just fails to work.
Each arc, as tight as the story is, does seem a bit out of place and can drag. Instances are seemingly over dramatized for the sake of drama rather than good writing. Previous arcs and even the climatic ending unfortunately all suffer from the “everything happens to work out” finish. Meaning, loose ends happen to fit nicely and everything is magically resolved.
In the end, Kanon (2006 version) is much better as it is than the previous attempt, is still just a fine show and to date easily the best show from Key. The original story and easy-to-root for trope characters make for a compelling watch. It has the right amount of drama and shows how when a studio puts the care into a show, even the most average could be better.
TL;DR: Kanon is not about focusing on the plot. More so, it is about adorable girls doing cute things and being moe. The show’s main character Yuuichi is very smug and creates witty dialogue with each of the girls throughout the show. Other than that, Kanon is a high quality production with a darker element for the usual harem anime.
Recommended Audiences: Fans of visual novel adaptations and any other Key and/or Kyoto Animation show would enjoy Kanon. Any viewer loving the moe art style and characters should hop on this show immediately. People who love drama and romance looking for something more original with darker emotional moments should look no further.
Kanon 2006 survives memory loss for 3/5