As much as I enjoy Clannad (I’ve written more than a half-dozen articles on the series), it’s not my favorite Key anime. My very favorite series of theirs, and one my favorites period, is Kanon. As probably is the case for a lot of you and your top series, it’s difficult for me to explain why I love the show so much. I know I like the wintry setting. I like the “sad girls in snow” thing that’s going on. And most pronouncedly, I like angel-winged Ayu Tsukimiya, who stands as one of my favorite two or three characters in anime. Despite, or maybe cause of, her foibles (thief!), faults, and childishness, I find her character irresistible.
But the central character in Kanon, as with other Key anime, is not the girl – it’s a guy. Yuichi Aizawa, our hero, is a good lead – he’s kind and has a lot of personality. The story begins with him moving to a slightly mystical town to attend school and live with his aunt and cousin. He’d lived here as a child, but a traumatic event led him away (and caused him to lose part of his memory). As the story progresses, Yuichi meets (or reconnects) with a cast of characters, and one by one, he helps them with their sometimes supernatural issues. (Warning: Spoilers Ahead).
And that’s most of the show – Yuichi helping these girls with their problems. He’s compelled to aid them by a sense of kindness, and with maybe only Nayuki being an exception, he helps bring a modicum of healing to them all – physical, emotional, spiritual. Yuichi’s presence and instigation helps resolve these young ladies’ deep-seated problems.
Of course, the most dramatic path of all is the one that’s left for the end – Ayu’s story. As the pieces come together – little hints here and there that showed us Ayu wasn’t quite present – we find out that she and Yuichi are connected in the most painful of ways. Yuichi had forgotten a terrible memory from his youth of when Ayu, his treasured childhood friend, fell from a tree and passed away.
When these memories are recovered, both by Yuichi and the Ayu who has been with him all throughout the series, the characters can’t take it – they break down as they begin to realize what this all means. Ayu will again be taken away. This Ayu, whatever she is, had been drifting along, blind to reality.
We’re much the same way before we’re confronted by what Ayu is confronted with, which is this: we’re all dead. For humanity, we’re dead in our sins. When that reality really hits you, it’s not a pleasant feeling. I know that the moment I truly accepted it, my tears flowed – I came to realize the nature of my heart and more powerfully, the kind of love it would take to change it.
And so, the same could be said of Ayu. Her world crumbles in a dramatic and realistic display of how one might react to realization of death, but Yuichi is unwilling, unable to let go. He won’t give up. And so, by his love and through other means (perhaps best explained in FunBlog), Ayu is miraculously saved from death. Now, Yuichi discovers that the timeline has changed – Ayu is no longer dead, but rather in a coma.
In Kanon, it takes Yuichi’s determination and love, along with the supernatural, to save Ayu. He can’t do it by himself, but his remarkable affections for her pave the way for a resurrection story.
God, of course, did all the same for us, but in an even more compelling way.
While Yuichi cried tears of grief for Ayu, Christ did more – He went to the cross, betrayed by one of his disciples, abandoned by those with whom he was closest, and tortured and killed by the ones He came to save. He knew our hearts – he saw the worst of humanity as he poured himself out for us, and he did it anyway, out of a love we can only aspire to emulate.
But although Yuichi is a poor man’s Christ figure, the results of their love compare more favorably. Ayu eventually sits up in a hospital bed, awaking from her coma. She was literally dead, and then physically in years-long unconsciousness, but now, she is alive again.
You and I are alive, too, if you accept what Christ has done on your behalf – if you accept his love and mercy which bled from his body so that you could wake from your own coma, your spiritual stupor, your death. This Easter, I hope you’ll ponder upon Christ’s death and resurrection, and what it means for you, which simply and ultimately is this: once you were dead, and now you’re alive!
4 thoughts on “Kanon: Rising to Life”
Kanon happens to be my favorite Key anime, too, as well as one of my favorite anime overall. It’s funny to see that while we match well on what makes the series great on a literal level (winter setting, sad girls in snow etc.), our figurative takes are almost reversed.
As a note on my background, I base my interpretation and impressions on Kanon 2006 only. I had some contact with the novel and the first anime, but only the 2006 version is important to me. As such, I don’t have Ayu dying and resurrecting but in a come from the get-go (despite Yuuichi’s misconceptions about the issue).
Now, if I were to list the things that make Kanon stand out as an anime, I would say 1) the camera-work (storyboarding) 2) it uses a harem format to tell a non-harem story 3) it subverts the savior trope
The third one would be where we see thing differently, I think xD.
Except for Shiori, whose arc stands out in various ways, each Kanon arc has its beginning in an issue Yuuichi left unresolved in the past. Basically, Yuichi abandons four of his friends, then “forgets” to offer any retribution. A few years later, the seeds of the problems Yuuichi left in his past have grown into something much bigger.
The real kicker is that the problems only ever escalate because Yuichi leaves the girls to face those problems alone. And this state of things continues not only when he is not physically present in the city, but even upon his return.
Kanon 2006 opens with Makoto’s arc, and Makoto’s transformation into a human form is symbolic of her taking the entire burden of the situation on her own shoulders. Yuichi and Makoto first meet as man and fox, beings from two different worlds, but by the time Yuuichi comes back, he has forgotten and rejected the connection. “Don’t come close to a fox, they bite,” he says. So to reclaim that connection, it is entirely up to Makoto to cross the “distance” between them. Thus Makoto’s miracle is one-sided, and she’s the only one to pay its price in the end. (This is also where Kanon implies that a true miracle cannot be achieved through the effort of just one person.)
There is a pervading irony in the Makoto arc, as when Yuuichi criticizes Makoto for taking the life of an animal lightly. By the time Yuuichi grows enough guts to confront his past with Makoto, it’s about time for the two to say their goodbyes. (I like to think/hope that the price Makoto paid was not the ultimate price, though, as implied by the ending.)
Things move onto the second arc with Mai. Here we see Yuuichi taking a much more proactive role as he tries to support his “new” friend. The issue is that his effort throughout the arc is entirely misguided. Mai might well be the most powerful being in the Kanon-verse, and she doesn’t exactly need a guy with a wooden sword supporting her. (Not that it hurts, though.) What she really needs is somebody to understand and accept her, and again by the time Yuuichi is ready to face his past and do that, things have gotten way out of hand.
The time comes for Shiori’s arc, and while the problem behind this arc is in no way related to Yuuichi and his past, the question presented remains unchanged – is the pain of today and tomorrow excuse enough to negate the bonds of the past? Ironically enough, Yuuichi easily finds it in himself to answer the question with a sound “No” when it is not him doing the running away.
With this, things are set for the Ayu/Nayuki arc, and this arc is linked closely to the core problem in Yuuichi’s past.
Now, throughout the first three arcs, we never really get the impression Yuuichi is a bad guy. We see things through his eyes – he is no saint but a kind guy at heart, and he tries his best to help others when the situation calls for it. Most of the trouble in his past was at least partly caused by events beyond his control. And yes, he could have dealt with those situations ten times better had he remembered his past from the start, but well, people forget. It couldn’t be helped, we say, justifying our protagonist.
Then the final arc comes and spells things out for us. There was a reason for Yuuichi’s forgetfulness – he didn’t /want/ to remember that stuff. As Yuuichi admits, he chose to believe a sweet lie over facing the reality of his own past. And that lie, symbolized by Ayu’s headband, is what is keeping the real Ayu asleep, As long as she is alone in her struggle, a miracle won’t occur.
As we move towards the conclusion, things take a turn straight out of a Christian story (xD).
Yuuichi finds Ayu in her hospital bed and resolves to take care of her until she wakes up. The effort is good for him – it builds up his perseverance and the strength to deal with the consequences of his past. There is just one problem – he is still clinging on to a mistaken idea. He believes himself to be the Savior here – he expects his continued effort to help Ayu wake up. But that doesn’t happen, and we see Yuuichi break down in tears when he realizes that.
But that is only natural, as Yuuichi has things all mixed up. He is but a man, not a Savior. And it is Ayu (the angel-winged) blessing him with this opportunity to grow strong enough to repent, waiting as many years as it takes.
Finally, Mai comes in to break things down for him.
“Yuuichi, all those months you thought you were waiting for Ayu to wake up. But in fact it was Ayu waiting for you to wake up from your dream. Go meet her.”
(Replace Ayu with God, and Yuuichi with believers in the above sentence for extra snacks.)
Tellingly, the true miracle of Kanon is ultimately achieved not through effort, but through an admission of sin. When child-Yuuichi goes to pick up Ayu in the dreamscape, we see how Yuuichi was the one stuck in the past. His baggy clothes represent his body and age – grown up, but only superficially so. His soul, on the other hand, was still stuck in his childhood, unable to move on.
While Yuuichi spent his time distressed over Ayu, people were moving on all around him. Nayuki overcame her fear and depression, Mai and Sayuri graduated, Shiori recovered from her disease. But Yuuichi and Ayu can only move on together, and so Ayu patiently, lovingly waited for him to wake up.
And Happy Easter :)!
Guest post material!
Thanks for the wonderful analysis. Yep…I can’t disagree with anything here. Pretty pitch perfect.
Happy Easter to you as well! 🙂
[…] current and we dove into Key, a studio that a number of us adore (I finally got to write a Kanon post, something I’d been wanting to do for years!). And as always, old favorites like […]