Kanon – Volume 1 (review)

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Nothing warms up a winter wasteland better than a procession of sad girls in snow.

Today the spotlight falls on Volume 1 of ADV’s Kanon Region 1 DVD release.

Just a quick note: This product-centred review contains no detailed episode summaries and offers little information on the plot/story beyond that supplied in the DVD blurb (next section). If you’d like to read more on what the series is about, I can recommend the reviews of Theron Martin on Anime News Network and Chris Beveridge on Anime on DVD (links at the bottom of the article).

DVD BLURB
Note – This is a direct quote from the back panel of Volume 1’s DVD jacket. These are ADV’s words, not mine.

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Title screen

“Yuichi Aizawa used to visit his cousin Nayuki all the time when he was younger, but now he can hardly remember a thing about those visits. And upon his return to finish his senior year in high school while living with his Aunt Akiko and his cousin, the blank spots in his memory have become more and more worrisome. After a seven year absence, Yuichi makes a valiant effort to adjust to his vaguely familiar surroundings. Bits and pieces of his past come back to him, but his memories elude him still. Why can’t he remember? What is he blocking out?

“From the same animation studio that brought you AIR TV, a poignant concerto of tears, laughter and pinky promises make up a mystical world in Kanon.”

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DVD jacket, back panel

DVD CONTENTS

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Main menu

Volume 1 contains the following episodes:

  • Episode 01 – Silver Overture
  • Episode 02 – Introit in the Snow
  • Episode 03 – A Forgotten Partita
  • Episode 04 – Holiday Caprice
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    Extras menu

    A complete list of the extras included with Volume 1 follows.

  • Clean opening animation
  • Clean ending animation
  • Kanon: A Close Look at an Anime Production House, Part One
  • ADV previews
  • DVD credits
  • Item # 3 is the first installment in a series of short documentaries featuring Kyoto Animation, the studio that produced Kanon. It’s not much more than a quick peek into the animation process, so don’t expect to come out of the experience an industry expert.

    Language set-up options are as follows:

  • English 2.0
  • Japanese 2.0 (with English subtitles)
  • IMPRESSION

    Character design. Freakishly huge eyes and broad, puffy, taiyaki-fattened cherubic faces don’t always translate into viewing pleasure. In Kanon‘s case, I’m glad to report that it actually works. There appears to have been an improvement in the arrangement of female faces from the 2002 Toei adaptation, with slightly rounder features and marginally smaller eyes giving the cast a more palatable appearance.

    Animation quality. I may not be a KyoAni worshipper, but when it comes to production values I wouldn’t think twice about putting them on the highest pedestal I could find. Hauntingly beautiful backgrounds, well-designed props and smooth, natural movements lend Kanon an incredible amount of depth and richness. I’m also impressed by the fact that in spite of its snow-bound setting, the series actually fills me with a sensation of warmth – an effect achieved mainly by the use of bright, glowing colours and the judicious utilisation of light in various forms (late afternoon sunlight shining through a window, the illumination of a lampost filtered through a veil of falling snow, etc.). On top of everything else, Kanon also has the best depictions of falling snow I’ve ever seen in an animated series, bar none. Not even Shinkai’s Byousoku 5cm has falling snow rendered with such beauty and realism. (The snow is especially breathtaking in Episodes 16 and 17 – but that’s a comment for another volume.)

    Voice acting (original Japanese soundtrack). Strong performances all around. As one might expect, Horie Yui’s famously sugar-sweet voice turns out to be wonderfully appropriate for the overgrown baby that is Tsukimiya Ayu. (The voice is a trifle annoying, but then so is the character.) Sugita Tomokazu’s Yuuichi isn’t Kyon 2.0, as some have described it. There’s a very strong resemblance, true enough, but here the snappiness and sarcasm – which in my view depend more on the actor’s delivery than on the lines of the screenplay – are skillfully toned down to fit a character whose sympathy is called into action more often than his wit (although the latter is also put to good use). In her role as the sensible Nayuki, Kouda Mariko manages to sound cute without coming across as saccharine.

    Music. A little dry. The opening and ending sequences are quite good, but it’s got more to do with the accompanying animation than the songs themselves. The score was generally unimpressive, with the word “shallow” easily coming to mind for some parts (such as the ambling-through-town piece played while Yuuchi was walking with Ayu). Sometimes I feel as if I were listening to a succession of music-box melodies. There are a few strong points – including the richly mysterious piece used for the last scene of Episode 4 – but we’ll have to wait for later volumes before our ears start getting regularly treated to something better. (Having seen the entire series, I can assure you that it will get better.)

    Story. Character introductions and scene set-ups are de rigueur for the first few episodes of any series. The first volume shows us around Yuuichi’s new town, and through both chance and deliberate encounters introduces us to a few members of the core cast. It all seems very slice-of-life at this point, although scattered throughout the four episodes are numerous hints and references to various plot threads that, for now, remain hidden. Questions break on the surface with almost every step Yuuchi takes on the pavement. What is Ayu searching for? Who is Shiori waiting for? Why does Makoto hate Yuuichi? What is a sword-wielding girl doing in school in the middle of the night? Volume 1 offers few answers in return, but it’s all good: a sense of mystery (however shallow) and hints of a far bigger story (or stories) in the background are always useful for maintaining interest. I wasn’t sucked in, but I found myself thoroughly engaged.

    Extras. Make no mistake – this isn’t SHnY redux. It doesn’t matter how much you’re willing to unload on this series since there are no special or regular editions to choose from: just one, very pedestrian version with a dearth of good extras.

    DVD composition. A mix of the good, the bad, and the downright disastrous. The DVD jacket is tastefully designed, with an elegant portrait of Nayuki filling the front panel. The menu backgrounds are well chosen, although I can’t say the same for the font that was used in the menu text. The subtitles are generally accurate (as far as I could tell) and are displayed in just the right size, neither straining one’s eyes or blotting out the scene. “Right”, I’m afraid, is a word I simply cannot use for the modified on-screen credits. While the original Japanese credits are quiet and unintrusive (and easily ignored if one chooses to focus on the beautiful animation), ADV’s botched attempt at rendering them into English for the R1 release nearly chokes the life out of the OP/ED sequences with big, bold letters that cannot be mentally sidelined. The worst damage is done in the ending sequence, where the stationary (and comparatively discreet) Japanese credits are replaced by a scrolling list of names in bold font that blots out the classic scene of Ayu running across a snowy landscape.

    In conclusion. For all its failings, Volume 1 is a strong start to ADV’s Region 1 release of Kanon – although it owes most of its virtues to the strength of the original series than to the DVD release itself.

    SNAPSHOT
    Yay! = Stunningly beautiful animation; great voice acting (Japanese soundtrack); excellent character design; engaging story; good video and audio quality; nice menu backgrounds; well-designed jacket art.
    Meh. = Uninspired score.
    Boo! = Altered opening/closing text; shortage of extras; unimpressive menu text.

    LINKS TO OTHER REVIEWS
    Anime News Network
    Anime On DVD

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    One Response

    1. I can’t help but agree on the menu text and such. The back kinda look a little cluttered to me too, since it was so full of text and pictures that it kinda looks painful on the eyes to read. But of course, Kanon ’06 getting an English release is still good. Now where’s my CLANNAD?

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