Based off of my extensive experience with the works of Key, I think it is safe to say that all of Key’s works exist within one overarching canon. I don’t know if anyone else has proposed this possibility on this website, but I’ve touched on it in various YouTube comments over the past year or so, and thought Kazamatsuri would be a good place to synthesize all my thoughts on the subject, and discuss them with like-minded people. Most of this is conjecture and inference, but I like the idea. Just as a preface, this is based on my knowledge of the visual novel versions of Kanon, Clannad, Tomoyo After and Little Busters!, and the anime adaptations Kanon 2002, Air, Kanon 2006, Clannad, Clannad: After Story, Angel Beats!, Little Busters!, Little Busters!: Refrain, Little Busters!: Ecstasy and Charlotte up to episode 5 (the latest one at the time of my writing this) and this will accordingly have spoilers for all of those works. I will do my best to appropriately tag all spoilers… I have not yet read Air, Planetarian, Little Busters!: EX, Rewrite or Angel Beats! so unfortunately, I will not be able to offer any insights regarding those. Anyway, here goes!
The first thing that tipped me off to Key’s works existing in one canon was rather superficial. There are many references between works in Kyoto Animation’s adaptations. The first that I noticed was the presence of Akiko’s jam from Kanon in Clannad:After Story. During Miyazawa Yukine’s arc when the main characters are gathered at the riverbank for the gang fight, Nagisa pulls a bottle of jam made by a friend that ends up completely incapacitating all who eat it. While this jam’s effect is slightly more powerful than that of aunt Akiko’s, it still could very well be hers, or even Nayuki’s own variant. It is very possible that Nayuki and Nagisa could be friends, or maybe Akiko and Sanae are friends. Regardless, Nagisa and Nayuki are very close in age. Nayuki was 17 in January 1999, the time that Kanon takes place, making her 21 in fall 2003 when this scene in After story happens. Nagisa is 19 here, so it would make sense for them to be friends.
There were more superficial crossovers like this in Kyoto’s adaptations, such as the anteater that Sayuri and Yuuichi bought for Mai appearing in Ushio’s room in Clannad: After Story, and Misuzu’s favorite “weird juice” being advertised on the side of a bus in Kanon. The real evidence however becomes noticeable in the characters. The first time I noticed this was when I watched Angel Beats! which I watched a few days after watching Air (just as a side note, when I watch an anime, I watch it 4 episodes a night, every night until I finish it, unless it is less than 16 episodes, in which case I watch it in 2 nights).
The main heroine of Air is Misuzu Kamio. That is not her birth name however. Misuzu took her maternal aunt’s last name after moving in with said aunt. Her real last name is Tachibana. This is revealed when the strange man in town, Keisuke Tachibana is revealed to be her father, who gave her away to his sister-in-law when his wife left him. What this means is that Misuzu’s real full name is Misuzu Tachibana. (Angel Beats! Spoiler) It is revealed that Angel’s (or if you prefer, Tenshi’s. Idk, I’m dub-watching trash) real name is Kanade Tachibana. She died some time after receiving a heart transplant from none other than donor Yuzuru Otonashi. (general spoilers for both, and a connection of the two) As soon as I realized Angel’s name was also Tachibana, I got curious. Yes, it is a common surname, but this is fiction. Rarely do fictional characters by the same creator share a surname for no reason. I have a theory on the relationship between Misuzu and Kanade; they are sisters. For one, we are never told why Keisuke’s wife left him. I think that perhaps she could not bear the burden of having one daughter die after what should have been a life-saving operation, and having another who simply couldn’t function as a person, so out of grief she abandoned her husband and daughter. This would connect the two works directly.
Now that we have managed to connect Clannad with Kanon, and Air with Angel Beats!, where do we go? There is another familial connection in the Key universe. Yukine Miyazawa from Clannad and Kengo Miyazawa from Little Busters! share a last name as well. They are also only 4 years apart in age. This leads me to believe that they are cousins. They definitely aren’t siblings, as I doubt someone as strict as Kengo’s father would stand for having as rebellious a son as Yukine’s brother Kazuto. Besides that, I have no other basis for their relationship, but really, who DIDN’T think they were related?
The real connection between Key’s works comes from their signature magical reality, and specifically the way they handle death. Please bear with me here, I’m gonna try to explain the magic in each of their works the way I understood it, and then I’ll explain how they’re connected.
First off, in Kanon we have Ayu. Ayu is essentially a proto-Fuuko. The only real difference between the characters is that nobody forgets about Ayu due to her condition. As a matter of fact, a lot of people, including Akiko and a hospital nurse seem to recognize her immediately upon seeing her. Not much to say here except that my take on both characters is that they are astral projections manifested to help achieve happiness and tie up old regrets. In a way they’re like Menma from AnoHana, except still alive. More importantly (you’ll see why later) there is Makoto Makoto was a fox who spent the summer of 1992 with Yuuichi hiding in his room. She took the form of a human named Makoto Sawatari to be with Yuuichi 7 years later, at the expense of her own life. Interestingly enough, after she “dies” at the end of episode 10 of Kanon 2006, we see her happily waking up in a field in the spring. The way I took this was that rather than dying, Makoto was reborn in the past, where she became the older girl named Makoto that Young Yuuichi had a crush on, who eventually saved him when he collapsed in the snow. I’ll explain why this makes sense later.
In Air, we have a whole mess! If I remember correctly, we have the samurai Ryuya protecting the winged girl Kanna. Some bad shit happens and a curse gets placed on them, damning them and their reincarnations to have crappy lives for the next thousand years. Fast forward to summer of 1994, and we’re finally at the last generation of the curse with douchey Yukito and socially dysfunctional Misuzu. They get close to one another which causes Yukito/Ryuya to die and become resurrected as a crow who watches their romance all over again and then watches Misuzu die while still being proud that she…reached her dream? Something like that, I haven’t seen Air in over a year now. Anyway, it is then revealed that a small boy and girl seen playing on the beach in the first episode are ALSO reincarnations of Ryuya and Kanna.
Next is Clannad, which is gonna be tough to explain without going in circles, so I’ll do what I can. It’s the most popular of Key’s works next to Angel Beats!, so I’m sure most of you will know this already. There is an old legend in the town of Hikarizaka. Whenever someone reaches true happiness, an orb of light is formed. These orbs of light can grant the wildest of wishes. Two young parents, Akio and Sanae Furukawa, had a daughter named Nagisa. She was very sickly, so they did everything they had to be sure to keep an eye on her. One day, Sanae was at work and Akio had to step out for a few hours. Since Nagisa was asleep, they thought it would be okay. Akio came back home to find her in the snow outside, dying. For whatever reason, he took her out to a clearing in the woods where he made a wish that his daughter would get better. The town granted his wish, but with a price. Nagisa’s sickness was bound to the town, so whenever the town was at its weakest (ie during winter, or during periods of great change) she would become sick.
Fast Forward a few years, and we meet Tomoya Okazaki. Tomoya is a delinquent high schooler who hates the town, and hates his life. One day, on the way to school, he meets Nagisa; an event that would change the course of his life forever. The two have in inexplicable preexisting connection in knowing the story of a girl who lives in a world that has ended. Throughout his senior year, Tomoya helps many friends achieve their true happiness, unknowingly collecting light orbs along the way. Eventually he and Nagisa fall in love and get married. She becomes pregnant, but the winter of her pregnancy is one of the worst in years, and new developments to the town (including a hospital at the site of the forest clearing) make her illness even worse, and she dies in labor. Tomoya falls into a depression for five years before getting his life together and reuniting with his daughter. Unfortunately, Ushio inherits Nagisa’s illness, and her connection to the town, and she ends up dying. After she dies, Tomoya uses the light orbs he gathered to wish for a world where nothing is born and nothing ever dies, hoping that he would not experience sorrow in such a world. He realizes that such a world is terrible, and that all the happy moments in real life outweigh the sad. He and Ushio use the orbs in that world to return to the moment of her birth, as the town grants their wish. Also, as a reward for all that Tomoya and Nagisa have done for the people of the town, it severs its connection from Nagisa and Ushio, and their illness is no more.
Tomoyo After has absolutely no magic and is set in a cruel, grim reality, so next we’ll look at Angel Beats! we have some kids in the afterlife who all have regrets in their real lives. The big kicker at the end is when we find out that the heart of Otonashi, who signed his organ donor card shortly before dying, was donated to Kanade, who would later become his love interest. After this revelation, they both tearfully move on from the afterlife. “But hold on, how does that make any sense??? Kanade was in the afterlife long before Otonashi, but Otonashi died first!” Hold your horses pal, I’ll explain it all shortly.
Lastly we have Little Busters! In Little Busters!, a group of 5 childhood friends were on a field trip when BAM! their bus crashes, killing three of them. The combined conscience of those three, as well as five other unrelated students, create an imaginary world in which the two surviving friends are conditioned to be able to live on in a world where everyone they care about is dead. Fucking depressing right? Luckily, they become strong enough, not to move on, but to save all their friends in the real world. “Hold up a sec bub, didn’t they clearly say that they were already dead when they created the imaginary world??” Don’t worry, I’m about to put it all together now!
(Spoiler for all aforementioned works) The biggest consistency in the magic present in Key’s works is that death is a non-linear occurrence. In Kanon, when Makoto dies, she is reborn in the past in order to help Yuuichi in the future. In Air, we see that three generations of reincarnation can all live at the same time. We have Yukito, who dies and is reincarnated into the past as Sora, who is later again reincarnated into the past as the child on the beach. In Clannad, Kotomi talks about how according to string theory, we may be subconsciously aware of alternate universes without even knowing it. That explains Nagisa and Tomoya’s connection and knowledge of the illusionary world. The consistent non-linearity of death explains how they have knowledge of the world despite it not being created until AFTER Ushio dies. Because it is a product of the afterlife, it is possible for it to be created in the past. Again we see this in Angel Beats! with Otonashi and Kanade. Otonashi may have died first, but he simply arrived in the afterlife much later than Kanade. Lastly, in Little Busters! we have Riki and Rin waking up before their friends die, despite the world being created after. Perhaps the imaginary world was created by their dead friends in the past, on purpose.
I guess you could describe all of that as lazy writing and Deus Ex Machina, but I really like it and I like how it creates a sense of cohesion in the Key universe. I don’t know if my theories hold much water, and I’m fairly certain this post was long and rambly, but hopefully it’ll start up some good conversation and I can get some opinions on it. Hope you all enjoyed!