After the solid beginning of Nayuki, the phenomenal plot of Makoto, the confusing ride that was Mai, the short but sweet exposition dumping of Sayuri, and the memorable drama Shiori had to offer…it’s no surprise that Ayu is a little underwhelming in its execution. Nevertheless, it’s the route that thematically ties every route together. Happiness, acceptance, hope, memories, love…Ayu presents them all in a simple, small, neatly-wrapped package.
Ayu herself is energetic and cute on the surface, but there is a constant subtle sadness surrounding her figure. On several occasions she pushes herself to be constantly happy in front of others rather than bother them with her troubles. In a sense, she represents Yuuichi’s own attitude towards the town, with deliberate ignorance of whatever sorrows occurred in the past seven years. Throughout her route, however, she never strikes me as a complex character. Rather, she seems more like a simple character who occasionally shows complex feelings.
Up to now, every character in Kanon found complexity in their relations with other characters. (All these are mild spoilers for each route, by the way.)
For Nayuki, it was her familial relationship with Yuuichi and Akiko, the former of which constantly changed as the route progressed but never grew to a point where it forced them apart.
For Makoto, it was also her relationship with Yuuichi, starting out chaotic before growing into something closer to father and daughter before becoming lovers.
For Mai, it was her relationship with Sayuri, a deep and passionate friendship that goes far beyond what we are told in the story, but is easy enough to understand through Mai’s actions.
For Sayuri, it is her relationship with Kazuya and with Mai, the former being a huge reason she acts the way she does and the latter standing as a testament of her will to live.
For Shiori, it was her relationship with Kaori and Yuuichi, the former acting as her ultimate goal and role model in life and the latter as her reason to continue on with life.
We are shown Ayu’s past relationship with Yuuichi in tandem with their hijinks in common, and it serves to show the parallel between their past and present interactions. Perhaps the best thing that connects the two together is Ayu’s desire for comfort after the death of her mother left her an orphan, which is fine. It creates a need for Ayu to be friends with Yuuichi, even if he’s not quite the best person in the world to be friends with. It’s hard to feel the same need from Yuuichi’s perspective since he was forced into the relationship through circumstance, but he does develop a devotion to Ayu through their small talk and play time together.
Their relationship in the game’s present time is best described as one-sided verbal abuse. Yuuichi says or does something offensive to Ayu, she uguus and points out his mistake, he retorts with his own logic, rinse and repeat. It works as a comedy act, but not so much as character development. The more serious moments of their conversations work far better in moving the story along, although I personally feel that their teasing routine works to relieve the tension of the plot. Thereby, it’s one of the easier routes to read in Kanon, as the language is simple and concise, and the serious and silly are kept well-balanced.
The real kicker of Ayu’s route, however, are the last couple days of the route. As Yuuichi (and the reader, by extension) discovers the true nature of Ayu as an ikiryou, he finds that the memories he had of her were partially forged in an attempt to cover up the sad reality. My personal theory on all this is that his false memories, combined with the promise to always remember Ayu, resulted in Ayu’s manifestation as an ikiryou. Her memories as an ikiryou overlapped with his, and as she discovered the harsh truth, she began to realize that the memories she held were lies and her existence was unnatural. Finding it hard to believe that her time with Yuuichi should have happened, she attempts to wish herself away from Yuuichi’s memory and thereby cease to exist. However, Yuuichi tells her that the fun times she had with him were not in vain, and it was not a good thing for her to bear her problems by herself. Trusting Yuuichi’s judgement, she subconsciously wishes for another chance to be together with him instead, and as if by a miracle, she awakens in her once-comatose body.
It still bothers me that Ayu woke up completely fine after falling off a tree and severely injuring her back, which is why I praise the anime’s correction of putting her in a wheelchair at the end.
With perhaps one last attempt at sparking up some discussion, I would like to ask the podcasters one question: Why do you think Ayu prefers pinky swearing between her and Yuuichi? Do you feel it adds to the weight of their relationship, or do you think it feels pointless in the long run due to Yuuichi constantly breaking his promises? I look forward to hearing more in the podcast.
For my final thought, I would like to not only summarize how I feel about Ayu’s route in particular, but about Kanon as a whole. As the first Key novel I ever read, Kanon introduced me to a beloved set of characters and a setting unlike anything I had ever seen before, as well as set me up for what to expect from Key in the future. I’ve read more of Key’s novels since then, and while I think they are great in their own way, there’s something nostalgic and comfortable about going back to the town of seven years ago, with a sleepy girl to greet me at the train station. Every time I go shopping, I run into a cute girl with a winged backpack and a love for taiyaki. When I go to school at night, I can fight demons with a quiet girl and make friends with her and her ojousama friend during the day. Out in the quad, a lone girl waits for me to bring her ice cream and make small talk with her, perhaps even ask her out on a date. At home, I can outsmart the freeloading bratty teenager with a love for manga and nikuman, then wake up the next morning and eat toast with strawberry jam with my cousin. All while making quips about how ridiculous the whole situation is.
I love Kanon. It was ambitious for its time, but it’s a classic today. I love the characters and setting, the music is great, the visuals are dated but charming to look at, and the message it brings is timeless. Key has found solid footing since then, with many successful visual novels under their belt and even more coming out in the next few years. If there’s anything I hope neither Key nor its fans ever forget, it’s the memory of the town of seven years ago, and the people we promised to meet there.