Clannad After Story Collection 1 (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Friday, November 27, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The story continues as their lives evolve and move on past graduation – for most of them.

What They Say
Picking up where Clannad left off, After Story follows Tomoya and Nagisa over the next ten years of their time living together as a family.

The Review!
Audio:
Like the first series, Clannad unfortunately doesn’t merit an English language audio adaptation. What we get for this set is the original Japanese language track in stereo encoded at 224kbps. The audio for the show is quite good, though limited by what it is, as Clannad is very much a dialogue driven piece with ambient music and sound effects throughout. The music and such doesn’t really have a big impact but instead is very subtle and quiet for the most part which keeps it from being overbearing. The dialogue is where the bulk of this mix takes place and it’s generally a center channel oriented mix but with enough placement and directionality at times to make it noticeable. Usually only one or two characters are talking on screen at a time so it’s not a heavy requirement but when there are more it comes across well. This is a solid sound mix overall but not one that really pushes any limits for obvious reasons.

Video:
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. This collection features the first twelve episodes spread across two discs in a six/six format. The show has the usual high quality Kyoto Animation work that I’ve come to expect from them and the transfer captures it quite well. Like their other works, there’s a certain softness to a lot of scenes but so much of it just has a real beauty to it with the colors and the nods to realism. The put out a beautiful sense of atmosphere to their work and the transfer here does an excellent job of capturing that with solid bitrates and attention to the busier scenes. The original opening and closing sequences are retained with no replaced credits while the end of each episode has a separate chapter with the translated credits against a black screen. Sentai has done a very good job with this release as there’s little to really fault here other than a few gradients that are visible and some expected noise in a few backgrounds here and there.

Packaging:
Presented in a single sized keepcase with no hinge inside to hold the discs, Clannad again provides for an appealing cover but one that doesn't really set the show apart outside of the detail of the character design. The front cover features a cute shot of Yukine in her school uniform with  a curious expression to her face that's almost sad and reflective. With the soft yellows behind her and the flowers, it’s a very inviting piece and one that pushes the simplicity of the series. But it doesn’t stand out all that much either for anyone who may casually come across it. The logo is kept small as is the collection label which surprisingly includes the episode count on it.  The back cover has a soft opaque view of a couple of the other girls underneath everything which gives it a soft feel as well. There’s a few good colorful shots from the show along the left while the right has a small print summary of the premise. The remainder is given over to a small round of production credits and a good clean technical grid that lays it all out clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menus:
The menu design for Clannad is quite nice as it uses the beautiful backgrounds to great effect where it has the sun shining through the trees with all kinds of colors on display. The natural setting is very appealing with the way Kyoto Animation designs things and when you combine it with the character artwork on the two volumes it’s even more so. Each disc has top level episode access which is a plus but beyond that it’s pretty barren as the first volume has just the special features while the second has the previews for other shows. No language options are available here either since it’s a monolingual disc and they default to just that with subtitles on, though they can be turned off on the fly.

Extras:
The only extras included are clean versions of the opening and closing sequences which can be found on the first volume.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After a successful first season of the series, the second season hit towards the end of 2008 where it worked to adapt the After Story arc from the visual novel. The focus, ostensibly, is on Nagisa which isn't all that apparent for quite a few episodes with this particular set of the series. The first season of the show was my favorite of the Key/Visual Arts shows so far, though I disliked some of the supernatural nods that were included here and there, as it mostly played it straight and seemed to have a lot more heart to it. When it ended, I definitely wanted more, but there's also that nagging feeling that more may diminish what has come before.

Clannad After Story covers some interesting ground when it starts off, though the first episode left me really wondering how well this season would go. Starting the season off with a baseball game in which Akio draws together the usual gang of characters wasn't exactly all that compelling. It is cute to see them all playing against a Koshien ranked team for what's essentially a street game, and seeing how they deal with it once Akio gets sidelined is fun, but it's the kind of episode that is as close to filler as I think this kind of series gets. So much of the show is about the interactions of the characters, dealing with their lives, that having them do something like this feels somewhat out of place. Thankfully, it's really the only episode that feels like that here as the remainder of the disc really shines wonderfully.

The first main arc of the season involves Sunohara and his sister Mei. One of the reasons that she's still there, at least from what Sunohara believes, is that she's certain that he's not living his life right and he's going to wind up unhappy. Since Sunohara wants to have her go back home so he doesn't have to worry about her himself. With Tomoya, they come up with a plan where he'll get a fake girlfriend to show Mei that he's actually doing well and growing and maturing and there's also the potential that the woman he chooses will fall for him and it'll turn into a real love. Where Tomoya completely messes with him is when he convinces Sunohara that Nagisa's mother, Sanae, is actually just her older sister.

In great fashion, Sanae actually agrees to go along with the plan and date Sunohara even though he doesn't know that she's not Nagisa's sister. Sanae's personality really lends itself to this kind of event and the dates that the two go on, with Mei and others in tow no less, is hysterical. Sunohara's obliviousness is priceless, but it's watching Mei dealing with this that is a lot more fun. I hate that they're pushing an almost older brother complex going on here, but it was really fascinating to watch her latch onto Tomoya though he wasn't aware of it at first. The two of them start spending a bit of time together at one point and when Sunohara finds out, he really takes it poorly, especially because both Mei and Tomoya overplay their hand to a rather cruel level. While everyone usually gets along well, this is the rare time where they push each other away in a rather stark manner.

There an area of the series that I wish it focused on more and an area where it really surprised me in what it did. The first is that I truly wanted to see more of the romantic side of the relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa. The two of them are in a relationship, but Tomoya spends more of his time helping others than visibly spending time with Nagisa and it feels really awkward, but it falls more to story choice than anything else. There are moments where you really know that they're involved, but it sometimes feels more like an afterthought. The two do progress through changes in this part of the series because of her illness and the ramifications of it with her school work, and it does set to some interesting problems and hurdles that the two must overcome.

What surprised me with this season is that the main group of kids does end up graduating and moving on with their lives. Most of them go off either to colleges or trying to find a job, or specialized training, but the focus is on Tomoya. He initially gains some work at the bakery working for Akio, which reinforces his inclusion in the family in a way that's really endearing. With his goal of being a better person, pushed forward by his relationship with Nagisa, he sets to make his way in the world and lands a job with Yoshino in which he really starts getting an education in the world. His persistence is really engaging to watch as he's mature beyond his years but still has those rough edges of his age. Tomoya really impresses in this arc because of what he has to deal with and the way he goes about it. While all of the characters have grown in the series to some extent, Tomoya has changed the most since the start of Clannad.

In Summary:
Clannad After Story had me uncertain with the first episode, but once it got rolling all the great stuff came back again. What I find that I really love about the Key series is that they do often work through a lot of different relationship thing but they also move the story forward overall. It puts people in relationships instead of just working towards them and ending it there. And with the kids graduating and moving on with their lives, it certainly breaks away from a lot of other series. The second half of this set is what really won me over the most and where it will progress from here. There are obvious elements to the Key series that do bother me, as they are overused I think, but the overall atmosphere, story and emotions that are evoked by them are quite powerful. The second half can't come soon enough.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Review Equipment

Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
MSRP: 39.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Clannad