Bipolarity On Clannad: After Story
The first time I watched Clannad: After Story I was furious over the ending. I was so upset, I gave it the lowest rating possible on Netflix. Later, I would reassess my opinion of the show, at which point I gave it the highest rating possible. Now that I’ve watched the show again, I can safely say that both opinions are wrong. It’s time to do some soul searching and figure out why.
Before I begin, I must warn any readers who have not seen After Story that this post will contain spoilers for the entire series. Do not read this if you want to give this series a fair shot. With that said, I also think you can skip this series as I will describe essentially the only reason to watch it.
Clannad: After Story is the continuation of the melodrama-laden high school harem show, Clannad. This second series follows our protagonist Tomoya as he ties up loose ends, ties the knot, and lives his life. It starts out very much where the last show left off, there’s a lot of trumped up drama and Tomoya is always there to helps his friends. It’s toward the end of the series that it takes a dark and genuinely dramatic (though poorly portrayed, but we’ll get to that) turn: during childbirth Tomoya’s wife Nagisa dies, and a few years later their child Ushio dies as well. Finally, we reach the crux of the problem with the show, and it’s biggest plot twist, when Tomoya awakens and he’s back beside his wife, who is alive… the entire episode of death and despair was a momentary dream.
Upon my first viewing I raged at the way the story ended. Mainly, I felt betrayed because I thought that the story was deeply touching and the abrupt turn of events was a gross abuse of the viewer’s emotions. It surely didn’t help that I watched it while I’d only recently become a father myself. In my haste I cast an emotionally charged rating and scoffed at the show.
Something changed in the next few years, though. I realized during that time how cold I had become. It was exceedingly rare for me to show any emotion besides anger. This isn’t merely a self assessment, but rather something that I’d received plenty of input on. During this time I began to migrate my ratings from Netflix to MAL, and when I was set to record the low rating for After Story I realized that it had moved me. In fact, it had profoundly moved me and there are many ways that I can see myself in Tomoya so it had been all the more effective. I considered whether the feelings of betrayal and anger I’d felt were necessarily bad. I decided that there was no way I could rate something so profound as less than a 10/10.
I feel I have to justify the high rating far more than the low one. Perhaps this is because the low rating was purely emotional whereas the high rating had a rationale behind it. Still, I can justify it easily. In addition to the aforementioned emotional reasons, I think that After Story completes Clannad. In fact, After Story improves the original Clannad by showing Tomoya not as the only normal person in a crazy world, but as an equally fragile person who needs the support of friends and family as much as everyone else. This has a transformative effect on Clannad, which is primarily a wish-fulfillment show where the main character has to do little more than be a nice, boring guy and everyone falls in love with him. During After Story we see Tomoya bend and break, and he even comes close to recovery. On top of these elements are some of the other character interactions that give me a slightly favorable view of the original Clannad.
I think that this polarized rating of the show would demand a second viewing. It did not get it. It wasn’t until this summer that I decided to watch Clannad again, in its entirety. I have to admit that the odd ratings fluctuation played a small part in this, but ultimately the reason I wanted to watch the show was out of curiosity and masochism. The viewing was timed so that I would be watching Nagisa and Ushio’s death around the first anniversary of the death of my twin sons, who died at birth. After the death of my children various associations with Clannad, such as the music, took on a special new meaning in my life. I was curious how far this connection went, and I wanted to know what my reaction would be.
I’m happy – in a way – to report that the connection was not that strong. Nagisa’s death was the hardest to watch, and it reminded me of the fear I experienced for my wife’s safety during the most sensitive parts of her pregnancy with the twins. Ushio’s death, however, didn’t have any affect on me at all. The knowledge that the most dramatic and difficult parts of this show happen in a dream sequence completely destroys the impact of the story. It doesn’t help that I never liked Ushio’s death sequence. It just doesn’t feel right and is void of any sense of plausibility.
The most galling part of the ending to After Story, however, is that the show had all the makings of a naturally happy ending, and they blew it. There was no reason to use a cheap plot device to bring Nagisa back to life, just as there was no reason to kill Ushio just as Tomoya had come to terms with his fatherhood and his father. If After Story had simply shown Tomoya as a person with the power to overcome loss and move on with his life, both in the face of adversity and with the help of his friends and family, then After Story would be a wonderful piece of work. Instead they chose to cut Tomoya’s healing process off and simply restore him to whole with no work whatsoever.
This is where I get mad, but for a different reason. I’m mad because of the message this sends. After Story starts to send a message that through our own strength and with the help of others we can overcome anything. The way this is executed is about as good as it gets in anime. Then it cuts that short, and that says to us that no, there will always be another tragedy waiting around the bend. Then, Tomoya is given zero chance to recover before he is thrust back into Nagisa’s arms via magic. Do not worry, dear viewer, dealing with your problems will fail you and cause suffering but magic sleepy fairies will make you whole again. I could puke right now.
Guess what? We don’t live in a dream world. This story pissed away its chance at greatness in a single episode. I will not wake up tomorrow to find my children alive and well. They’re gone. Instead of magic, I have to cope and I have to move on. I have to do what Tomoya did before they ripped it away from him. That’s life, and that’s a great story. Waking up from a dream is mundane, I do it every day.
Ultimately, Clannad: After Story is difficult to rate. I settled on a 7/10. This is because I think the show does good things for the Clannad franchise, and it flirts with greatness. In the end, it fails, but that isn’t enough to erase its strengths. I have a love/hate relationship with the show, but I have to be fair.