It's probably a sign of how technically desperate I am to seek out any form of plot which has a noted success rate of entertaining me that when I encounter some mere hint of it in an unrelated show, I fixate upon it to more or less the exception of everything else in the show.
Take the most obvious case, bandied about whenever the conversation comes around to the series in question, when I was watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. After all the mind-bending and heavy concepts thrown at the viewer throughout the show, the little school days comedy bit near the end of episode 26 was my absolute favourite sequence of the entire anime, including the movie. That's right: after twenty-six entire episodes and the movie filled with allegory and angst and insights into what it means to be human, after the oceans of digital print spilled about what it all means, the only part of the show which I can be fairly said to like was that ten-minute sequence wherein Shinji bumps into Rei rushing to school and sneaks a look at her panties. A man of simple and low-brow tastes am I, apparently, easily fulfilled later with the Angelic Days manga which explored this alternate reality in slightly more depth, but I digress.
I've made mention before, to varying amounts of howling protest, that I'm not actually that interested in Clannad. Yes, I know that it's by Kyoto Animation, and after Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, Lucky Star, and very definitely The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (I was iffy about Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, and I have few recollections of Munto), they deserve more or less an automatic pass on principle, assuming the work in question contains what has been labelled as "moe-blob" characters. (Mind you, if you haven't yet realized what the point of this entire blog is about, I may have to be uncharitable.)
And the Key trio of Air, Kanon, and Clannad are already praised unto the heavens by fans, made even more so when the legendary KyoAni deigns to animate them, despite inexplicable complaints. By all rights, I should be all over these shows, right? These cute girls in summer/winter/spring are exactly what I want to watch, right?
Well, not really.
Let's plunge into the murky depths of fan-definitions and pull out what can be considered the basis of the moe appeal, which has a strong emphasis on the protection of the pure, shielding it from any possible sullying influence. For now, we'll keep that in mind while considering the Key anime from another angle.
The three KyoAni-ed Key works (simplified for convenience; I didn't actually dislike the Toei adaptation of Kanon back in 2002, but we may as well concentrate on the common ground of the KyoAni adaptations) have a fair mix of humour, usually done in the quick-witted bokke-tsukkomi style of verbal or situational sparring, as well as a substantial dose of drama, which invariably deal with some aspect of human emotion and relationship, as well as the trials and tribulations of going through life in general. Key's works have the added motif of the supernatural which is oddly both prevalent and yet understated: we have all sorts of scientifically implausible circumstances and much made of "miracles", but nobody actually bothers to sit down and ask "wait, why?" The supernatural aspects are a narrative device to tell a (moral?) message via a romantic tale, and we are apparently not expected to look into this too closely.
And so, to tell a story to tug at the heartstrings and perhaps provide catharsis via tragedy, Key has the heroines go through hardships and difficulties which may be familiar to reality, but seldom as pronounced.
Translated into the skewed worldview which I possess, this means that Key's stories are full of sad things happening to cute girls.
That, in and only itself, is why I am reluctant to watch (or rewatch) the KyoAni Key anime. Sad things happening to the characters implies a failure of protection, and thus a breaking of the moe feeling which the art and character designs evidently try so hard to instill. I admit that I watch anime as a sort of escapism, with flippant remarks that if I wanted depressing realism, I'd pick up the newspaper. Watching lives being broken down with only a chance, by no means certain, of hope being restored and everyone getting a happy ending, always strikes me with the same sort of uncomfortable voyeurism as watching divorce proceedings in reality.
Tangentially related is the fantastical element involved in many of the "paths" or "arcs" of the heroines, for the game and the anime respectively. Taken in the anime, each one alone is enough to create a complete story, and all of them together makes for a somewhat surreal world unlike our own, where strange happenings are commonplace and hardly remarked upon (albeit angsted over). Taken in the game, each one is a complete story, and is probably meant to be seen as such… but the knowledge that there are other stories out there remains niggling in the mind, and while the path currently being chosen may or may not be a happy ending for the heroine in question, it does mean that the endings for everyone else remain completely tragic. For those who understand Kanon spoilers (five years since the Toei anime came out), imagine that if you went for the Makoto path, and then consider what that would imply about what happens to Shiori, Ayu, and Mai.
Air was depressing. Kanon was depressing. Clannad, from all accounts, will be just as depressing. This does not fill me with much enthusiasm.
But once in a while, I see episode commentaries on various other blogs about the funny portions of KyoAni Key, and I take them and carefully construct a fantasy far removed from the actual anime, where everyone is happy, or at least as happy as they can be in the circumstances, always looking on the bright side of life (da-dum, da-dum da-da da-dum). Sad things do not happen here: bickering and banter, yes, but nobody will ever sink into despair and hopelessness, waiting for someone to drag them out back into the light. A sunny, cheery, unrealistic world, where Everything Will Be All Right.
And so I make up my own stories about Magical Twins Kyou and Ryou, defenders of justice, love, and peace, along with the appearances of President Nagisa and whatever amusing cultural emasculation one can render from Kotomi's invocation of the Great Old Ones. Of such things are fanfics written.