Step one to successful blogging: nicely academic-sounding post titles.
I want to preface this by mentioning that this all comes out of a conversation I recently had with a fellow blogger, in which I stated that Air is interesting from a structural and thematic viewpoint, regardless of whether one thinks that the show itself is any good (I am of the opinion that it is somewhat good although certainly flawed). I compared it with its KeyAni stablemates in part to make my argument… only to realize that, actually, these KeyAni shows push the envelope a bit for ‘harem’ shows. If anything, its only Kanon that adheres fairly strictly to the conventions and expectations of the genre, although even it deviates in some ways, mainly in its approach to fanservice and the strong ambiguity of Yuuichi’s relationships with the various girls.
First off, lets talk about Air; I’ve previously written about it, pointing out that the show is ultimately about mother-daughter relationships (mother figure-daughter figure relationships if we really want to get technical, since in one case its a pair of sisters and another is an aunt and a niece). Air is really a harem only in the loosest sense, in that there are a few female protagonists and only one guy, and the guy helps them with their problems. Even here, though, Yukito isn’t wholly necessary, as demonstrated by the fact that Air removes him completely from the narrative in its final arc, letting Misuzu and Haruko finally work out their issues on their own.
There’s also the fact that Air TV doesn’t have any overt romance, and that even the implied romance so slightly so that one can easily dismiss it or not notice it at all. The movie makes it explicit at least in the former lives of the characters, and makes a stronger case for it in the present, but the TV series has no interest in doing so.
However, I still think that the matter of the mother-daughter relationships is what makes Air interesting at a remove – it isn’t exactly what one thinks of when they think harem material (well, unless we’re talking hentai OVAs). It also isn’t what people generally think of when they think of Air, either, actually, as Clannad is the KeyAni title known for its focus on familial relations and family as a concept. But where Clannad handles Tomoya’s daddy’s issues, here it is squarely focused on mothers – even Yukito’s mother gets a tiny bit of play in the storyline, albeit entirely off-screen. Yukito’s mother is the only reason he ends up meeting any of the girls in the story at all, as he has hit the road in the wake of her death, searching for a ‘girl in the sky’ she used to tell him stories about… and there’s an implication that he and his mother had a complicated and not entirely harmonious relationship as well, much like Kano, Minagi, and Misuzu (I’ll point out that Kano and her elder sister do get along quite well, they just have some issues relating to Kano being the reincarnation of a woman who killed herself to save her child several centuries prior).
Having mentioned Clannad, it seems best to touch on it next. Clannad hews more closely to the genre than does Air, although it deviates quite a bit as well. Having Tomoya actually end up with one of the girls is a development that in more recent harem shows makes it noteworthy, as more and more shows seem to opt instead for no resolution. However, what really marks it as different is that Clannad actually dares to go into what happens after Tomoya and Nagisa start to date. How many harem shows bother with that?
We all know what comes next, of course – Nagisa eventually dies in childbirth. And yet the show keeps going, which brings it into even further deviation, as the romance element is completely excised from the story. We can view this as a cop-out on the part of the creators, though, as it prevents Nagisa from being ‘corrupted’ by the natural viscisitudes of conjugal life. Yeah, yeah, she’s been pregnant and had a child, but by removing her from the storyline, the staff no longer has to fret about having to continue the contrived set-up of Nagisa and Tomoya’s life at home, which is to say, they hold hands and blush a lot and make uguu faces but don’t kiss or have sexytimes. While a portion of the audience clearly prefers this sort of relationship between the two, there’s also a significant portion of the audience which was becoming increasingly irritated by the unreality of the entire thing. Killing Nagisa off essentially satisfies both, since the staff no longer has to worry about the matter of the couple living together.
But, anyway, shifting the focus of the show onto Tomoya and his daughter Ushio is an interesting turn of events for a harem show, and if the storyline of the show hadn’t been so widely known beforehand, it probably would’ve come as a surprising turn of events as well for the audience.
I’ll also note, though, that Clannad’s harem elements largely felt shoehorned in. In particular, I recall a scene in the first season involving all the girls and Tomoya sitting at a table. The girls are being competitive about him, and it feels weird and out of left field. While the Fujibayashi girls have been very clearly developed as having crushes on Tomoya, neither Kotomi nor Tomoyo have displayed any romantic affections toward Tomoya. It just felt like they jammed this scene in only to expand Tomoya’s harem, and it really doesn’t work, its too abrupt. Awkward, too, were the times in Clannad and ~After Story~ when the show tries to paint Tomoya as some kind of lolicon, only so that they can fetishize his friend Sunohara’s younger sister Mei. It feels really weird to have a previously upstanding and sympathetic character suddenly start getting turned on by little girl calling him ‘onii-chan’.
I digress, though.
Looping back to Kanon, its the one of the three that stays most within the lines of the genre. Even here, though, there is some straying from the formula. For one thing, Kanon is free of visual fanservice; there are no panty-shots, no crotch-shots, no boob-shots. There is a lone naked shot, but it doesn’t even reach the naked Barbie doll level, opting more in favor of naked Stacey doll (does Stacey even exist any more? I was going to go with Skipper, but then I recalled that her anatomy’s gotten more boobtacular in the past ten years). Its a bit startling to notice, since we’ve gotten so used to harems being ultra-ecchi.
Kanon also has the ambiguity of relationships at work, as I mentioned previously, wherein Yuuichi only ends up being romantically involved with one girl, and only one girl explicitly has romantic feelings for him. The others you can certainly interpret as feeling romantically toward him, but it isn’t necessary to do so, and I think in some of the cases to do so is to force it. Of course, it helps that one of his would-be haremettes is actually a fox (four-legged, not two-legged) and another comes ready-made to slash with her close female friend.
Even with these differences, though, its easy to see that Clannad and Air vary much, much more from the typical harem formula than does Kanon. Ironically, though, I liked Kanon the best and think it was also the best adaptation of the stable. Clannad is easily the worst, given how poorly paced it was (of course, only having 22 episodes was probably part of the problem). To be perfectly honest, the crap pacing for Clannad is why it doesn’t bother me too much that KyoAni is not adapting Little Busters (and I’m also glad P.A. Works isn’t doing it either, as that studio hasn’t produced anything that inclines me toward thinking they have a propensity for making good shows).
I’m looking forward to Little Busters, now, and its entirely possible that I’ll have to update this post once its wrapped up its airing – while I know the bare bones of the story, it isn’t enough to draw conclusions from it. It has the most involved story of the Sad Girls in the Seasonally-Appropriate Noun games from Key, although any of you who chafed at the supernatural elements of Clannad are probably going to be irritated. Hopefully we get an air date (hurr hurr air hurrrr) on it soon.
I’ll leave off with a nice picture of the aforementioned Kanon girl and her ready-made-to-slash-with friend.
Clearly the best couple in the show.