Kanon is possibly my favorite anime series, which is surprising in a way, because it originated as an eroge dating sim game, and saw multiple reincarnations in manga and light novels before finally appearing as a shonen targeted, non-H, anime. Essentially, we have five charming stories of romance and the supernatural.
UPDATE 2014/04/26: A couple of excellent commentaries have belatedly come to my attention. The first (in order of discovery) in J. Tappan’s Funblog (2008), and the second in the AnimeSuki forums (2006).
Plot Summary, with spoilers
HS sophomore Yuichi Aizawa returns to a city in northern Japan where he used to spend his summers, ten years ago. For unspecified reasons, he is being sent to live with his aunt Akiko and finish HS there. He meets five girls — most of whom are from his past, and most of whom he doesn’t remember. The plot involves his interactions with them, with each girl taking center-stage for two or three episodes. Most of the girls have some supernatural aspect to them, and part of the plot line is discovering which each of them is. If you pay close attention in Episode 1, every key player has a cameo. Every key player.
The five stories are as follows (insert major spoiler warning here):
Makoto Sawatari: While shopping downtown, Yuichi is attacked by a red-headed girl, who proceeds to collapse in his arms. Of course, with true anime logic, he takes her home instead of calling an ambulance. She cannot immediately recall who she is or where she’s from, so Yuichi’s aunt suggests she stay with them until her memory improves. Ultimately, she provides him with a name — of a much older girl he had a crush on ten years ago. Over the course of several episodes, we find out she is really a magical fox from off The Hill, who gave up her form, her memory, and ultimately her life, to be with Yuichi. Minor irritation — the American dub crew keeps pronouncing her name SaWAtori, which sounds Indonesian or Thai to my ear, instead of SawaTOri, the way the Japanese speakers do. It’s not like they didn’t know better. High point of the arc, the final scene on The Hill.
Mai Kawasumi: A girl he meets in the school after hours, standing in the hall with a sword to defend against demons. The demons are her own, and she’s defending the school because it sits on the site of the field where she and Yuichi used to play. Of course, neither of them remembers this until the end of the story arc. Probably the highlight of this arc is when Yuichi and she dance together at the prom.
Shiori Misaka: She stands outside the school, waiting for someone. She suffers from a typical anime wasting illness, and has considered taking her own life. Her sister is in Yuichi’s class, but refuses to acknowledge her, because she doesn’t want to be hurt when Shiori finally dies. Yuichi brings the two of them together, and gives Shiori the will to go on living. High point of the story arc is probably the birthday party.
Nayuki Minase: Is Yuichi’s cousin, who he is living with (and his Aunt Akiko). She’s had a crush on him for ten years now, but Yuichi is completely oblivious. No great highlights here. She’s just there, and neglected. Her mother, his Aunt Akiko, is a strong supporting figure , who makes jam.
Ayu Tsukimiya: Collides with Yuichi in Episode 1, while running from a tayaki stand. She is another girl from his past, and has the strangest story of all. She is his age (and the usual, they knew each other ten years ago but neither remembers), but doesn’t go to school, and doesn’t seem to live anywhere. Her memories of the city are out of date — there’s a bookstore where the bakery shop was — and she’s never heard of a cell phone. Highlight of the arc comes when she says her school is in a tree in the nearby forest, but when she takes him there, all they find is a stump…and she disappears.
Rosebud is the sled
Stop reading right now if you don’t want to spoil the entire anime.
Ayu was Yuichi’s best friend, ten years ago, but fell out of that tree, the day he had to go home, and was paralyzed. She’s been in a coma for the last decade, and he’s been suppressing the memory. Yuichi has been talking to her spirit or asteroid projection or something. In the end, he finds her in the hospital, awakens her, and gets her up and into a wheelchair. Once you find this out, you will want to go back and rewatch the series for all the hints that have been dropped
I think I liked this anime because the protagonist is a nice guy, with a wry sense of humor, who is old enough to not be embarrassed when talking to girls, and the girls are portrayed as human beings (well, mostly human) rather than boob-mounts. Too many of the so-called harem style anime feature male protagonists who are clueless idiots. It’s like watching an old sixties sitcom, with sex. Each of the relationships in Kanon plays out in a reasonable manner (OK, reasonable for anime), with a twist at the end. The supporting characters are not overly stereotyped (although you can always tell a class president a kilometer away) and even the hair-dyed-blonde girl-chasing classmate is subdued. The Kanon of the name is a reference to the musical style, of ever repeating, but more complex variations on the same theme, and that’s how the story arcs of the series work out. Anime logic is a big player, with everyone making terrible decisions for no better reason than to advance the plot, but that’s the best reason to do something. Like I said, my most favorite series.