Ah, Kanon. The one that started it all, technically. As Key’s first venture into visual novels it was an ambitious one, and the common route is a large part of what makes it so iconic.
The purpose of a visual novel’s common route is to set up the characters and setting, and Kanon is no slouch in this department. Yuuichi has moved back in to a town he has not known for seven years, which is plenty of time to forget some stuff about it. Thankfully he has help from the local townsfolk, specifically six girls who befriend him within the week. As time progresses and Yuuichi gets used to his surroundings, he begins to uncover important, perhaps painful memories of his childhood from back then…
Kanon’s script is well aware of the tired tropes that plagued visual novels of its time, many of which served to give an excuse to unrealistically bring two people closer together. Things like strings of fate, childhood harems and exaggerated love for food are all represented here, and quickly made fun of. However, Kanon is also affectionate as well as persecutive, making an identity for itself in its plot and trope inversions while also utilizing what made visual novels of that era great. In effect, it set the standard for many visual novels like it, including Key’s later novels and the works of Ryukishi07. Looking back after reading Kanon’s many successors is a great insight in how Key has evolved from its eroge roots.
The cast is diverse and likeable, although not quite as complex as some of Key’s later characters. This gives an air of simplicity and charm to the dialogue, and allows every character to develop in subtle, but interesting ways. The dry humor that comes from the interactions between the deadpan snarker protagonist and the often simple-minded girls is a joy to read.
Kanon also carries with it several themes which, while not exactly original, add a layer of depth and intrigue to the narrative. What is immediately apparent is the absence of Yuuichi’s memories, which means that the mystery behind his relationship with the girls and the town reveals itself to us through Yuuichi’s perspective. This helps make Yuuichi relatable as a protagonist, and drives the reader to figure out the mystery for him/herself, as no one else is going to spoil the surprise for you.
Along with memories, dreams are also a common theme, as told by a disembodied voice at the beginning of every day. We aren’t told much from the get-go, only that the voice desires to do something about the dream, be it make it a good dream or wake up before it becomes a nightmare. However, as time passes it becomes certain that it can’t do either, and is stuck in a limbo of pain until someone wakes it up. Just who this voice is is part of the mystery, although someone who has read it all can easily piece together who it is.
Stemming from this is the theme of promises. Yuuichi makes quite a few promises in the first few days, but has a really hard time keeping those promises. This frustrates many of the girls, and gives Yuuichi a reason to become more involved in their exploits for the sake of atonement. As the rest of the VN unfolds, it becomes a lot clearer that Yuuichi’s inability to keep promises runs back into his childhood, but the details of how and why are topics for other routes.
All of these themes are accomplished through striking imagery that, while dated, still evoke some form of emotion from the characters and the reader. The persistent snow is one such image, and it means different things to different characters. Being a lover of snow, I find it associated with happiness and it turns out that some characters, like Nayuki, think the same. Yuuichi, on the other hand, associates it with pain, and avoids stepping into it whenever possible. As I read through the common route, I notice that Yuuichi is occasionally asked if he has gotten used to the town at that point. In a more specific example, Nayuki asks around three days in:
This begs the question: How does the image of snow run deeper into the mystery of Kanon than just being part of the setting? Also, considering the attention to detail many of the CGs have compared to other VNs, what other images do you think carry a significant meaning in Kanon’s common route? I would like to hear these answered in the eventual podcast when you guys get to that.
It would be no surprise if the subtle hints and clues found within the setting of Kanon inspired the great mystery writer Ryukishi07. I’m honestly looking forward to seeing the rest of Kanon as well. Next stop, Nayuki’s route!