Much to dad’s disappointment, I finally played through the Clannad visual novel. At first, I figured that I wouldn’t get much out of it since the anime was a sufficiently faithful adaptation of the visual novel. Then, I was bored and figured that since I already friggin love Clannad so much, it wouldn’t hurt to go through it again.
For the most part, I’m pretty glad I did. The most impressive thing about the anime adaptation was that there were elements in both the anime and visual novel that I preferred over the other. The differences in what was chosen for adaptation were pretty minor. While they didn’t affect the overall character of the story, reading it again with those changed details makes it a slightly different experience.
I played it with a walkthrough and the first impression I had was being glad that someone made a walkthrough because that game would have been impossible to beat without one. It’s easily the hardest one I’ve played and has some weird flags, like completing certain routes immediately before other ones and other things that would’ve been impossible to know about. This is in addition to being long and having a billion routes with the most surprising characters getting their own routes.
Obviously, the biggest advantage the visual novel has over anime is time. Nothing felt rushed when I watched the anime, but seeing the relationships develop felt a lot more natural in the visual novel. This isn’t just limited to Nagisa and, obviously, it’s more important for each girl if you’re on their route. But I think the relationships that benefit the most from this are with the main players who aren’t Nagisa in After Story: Akio, Sanae, and Yoshino.
The most unsettling thing was watching Tomoya develop romantic relationships with girls who weren’t Nagisa. And not just that but almost every girl’s route. Like, Ryou, Kyou, Kotomi, and Tomoyo were okay, since I was sufficiently prepared for it by the anime. But Fuko, Yukine, and Misae were all lolwut.
It was surprising to see Nagisa’s route involving so many pieces of the other routes. It made it really easy for the anime to just take a sought detour and finish each route off. I think the route that changed the most in the anime was Yukine’s route, which had that weird drama with the brother being secretly dead. In other routes, though, Nagisa’s absence felt really strange. This is most obvious in the Sunohara siblings arc, when, Sanae is super eager to help you for no reason.
So what about the stuff that didn’t make the cut for the anime? Again, I have to note how impressed I am that the anime managed to fit almost everything in in a way that makes sense. Even some stuff that didn’t make it initially found its way back in through the extra episodes. Of that stuff, I didn’t find that reading it added much that the anime didn’t handle. Of course, I would be down for a Tomoyo After anime of some sort.
The biggest exclusion was Kappei’s route, which makes sense since he’s practically invisible until you decide to enter his route. That makes me wonder why his route is included in the game. Is it because they felt sorry for Ryou getting shafted hard in Kyou’s route? It’s really weird.
The other story that doesn’t happen in the anime is Akio’s little escapade. What I found kind of strange about his route is that it’s a branch off of After Story that gets its own ending. I don’t see why it couldn’t have just been rolled in with the rest of it like Sanae’s or Yoshino’s was.
While After Story remained largely the same, there are some important differences in the visual novel’s account of the development of Tomoya’s and Nagisa’s relationship. The visual novel doesn’t really give Nagisa many things to be happy about. I was surprised that their initial failure to get the theatre club going was actually the starting point of their formal relationship. And then there’s Nagisa getting sick almost immediately after the play and her terrible school life after Tomoya graduates.
There’s a lot more focus on their relationship too, since all of that running around doing stuff for and making friends with the other girls is all gone. In the anime, Nagisa is able to participate in all of this helping and friend making stuff, but in her story in the visual novel, she doesn’t really get any breaks like that. Basically, it’s all about how Tomoya and Nagisa build their relationship in spite of all the crap that gets thrown their way.
For the most part, the anime is excellent. It’s one of very few anime adaptations of a visual novel that’s a perfectly fine substitute for the anime. If you do choose to play it, do know that it is super long. Unless you have a lot of time and you really like Clannad, you probably won’t get much out of playing it instead of or after watching the anime.