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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.

7 responses

  1. Words were written…

    2012/10/12 at 11:18

  2. I totally agree. They should have not killed Ushio and just shown the two of them grow up together. The show would have been so much better.

    I suppose, if someone really wanted to argue the other way, then, they could claim that the show is not about how effort helps you succeed, but rather about how no matter how hard you work, your fate is out of your hands. In both deaths, Tomoya was shown.to be totally helpless. He had no control over what happened to his family. And at the end, for some reason because of a force not controlled or understood by him, he wakes up and all is well again.

    In other words, we are nothing but leaves in the wind.

    I don’t like that message though. Throughout all of Clannad and After Story, themes of hard work and perseverance were presented. I don’t like how the show tried to mingle in other things like environmental issues (the city is making Nagisa sick, etc, etc) and I especially dislike the notion of having no control over fate whatsoever.

    So, yeah, they should have finished Tomoya’s recovery. He was doing so well to! That scene between him and Ushio in the flower fields is one of the most touching scenes ever. It was wonderful seeing him rise up from being a no-show dad to being a good dad. I loved it, but then as you said, they ruined it all. :(

    As an aside, sometimes when people ask me what I am going to do in the future, I tell them: “I am going to finish this degree, maybe get a grad degree, work for a few years, retire, move to a small little town and open a bakery.” I am half joking, but guess where that little goal came from. :P

    2012/10/14 at 21:31

  3. redball

    That’s a great point about how to interpret the sudden change of attitude the show takes. It’s true that we don’t always have control of life and we must take what may. Yet, and I think you’ll agree, they demonstrated that admirably in Nagisa’s death.

    I too feel strongly influenced by Clannad, even as my opinion of the show tilts negative. Overall, it’s a decent story and there are some aspects of the characterizations I feel are done better in Clannad than almost any other anime. For instance, it’s one of the few shows that takes a wayward teenager all the way into adulthood without massive time skips (the skips happen, but they don’t skip the growth). It’s why I still rate the show positively even though it has, in my opinion, serious faults.

    2012/10/15 at 17:40

  4. kekekeKaj

    It’s good that you were able to go back and see it through your previous extreme reactions. Personally I can appreciate some of what you saw in the show (such as connecting with Nagisa’s death through childbirth), though I disliked the anime myself. Tomoya and Ushio were the only decent characters in the show. The rest were mostly a bunch of female characters with so much moe it’s almost coming out of their ears. It’s hard to take the drama too seriously when their gestures and tones were so artificially sweet they made me cringe. Ushio only worked out because she IS very young. Nagisa felt like she was only about 5 years older than Ushio. Characters are at the heart of a drama show, and when they’re a mess like they are in Clannad, the whole thing just doesn’t work. Then there’s the contrived mini-dramas the show threw up. Remember the one where Nagisa’s mum posed as Sunohara’s girlfriend (I guess you could argue this is convincing since Nagisa’s moe mum, like the rest of the female characters, looked and acted about half her age)? And then Tomoya told Sunohara he’s ditched Nagisa for Sunohara’s sister who was like 10 or something. I started laughing at this point but then choked as I realised Sunohara ACTUALLY BELIEVED it! He then decided to stalk them for a few days … AND STILL DIDN’T REALISE IT WAS A LIE! WTF??? These examples were everywhere. The show was basically sacrificing everything – character consistency, story integrity – for the sake of creating drama, that’s why I hated it. Tomoya dealing with graduating and finding job and his bonding with Ushio were the only redeeming factors of the series.

    Also, I think you’ve mis-interpreted the ending. It’s not all a dream, it’s basically trying to incorporate the whole VN into the show instead of just choosing one or two non-contradicting storylines which would have been the sensible choice. The VN works as follows.

    During the 1st play through of Nagisa’s arc, everyone dies etc etc. Then as you go through all the other moe girls’ arcs and solve their (often ridiculous) problems, you collect these blue orbs (the anime mentioned something about blue orbs appearing whenever a good deed is done) and once you collect them all, you unlock an alternative ending to Nagisa’s arc. You play through that and everything is fine and dandy. It’s all tied together through alternative universes and whatnot.

    Anyway, you can see how this worked out in the context of the anime (i.e. badly), and how it’s really hard to tell what really happened. I only found understood it when a friend of mine linked me to an explanation illustrated via a timeline.

    2012/10/18 at 16:35

  5. redball

    Thank you for this. I haven’t played the VN so I base my interpretations purely on the anime. I know that VN adaptations are hard because you have to pick routes. If you only show the true route, assuming there is one, then you hear it from the fans. But showing multiple routes often leads to messes like this one. Knowing that the VN handles this better helps.

    I actually don’t mind the stupidity like that of Sunohara’s arc because it’s over the top to the point that it cannot under any circumstances be taken seriously. Many other instances of terrible characterizations can be written off similarly. Still in other instances I forgive stupidity because the primary characters are supposed to be children and young adults, they’re supposed to make mistakes.

    Believe me when I say that I don’t have a problem with Clannad itself. Both Clannad and After Story were once among my most highly rated anime, and they’re still not in the dregs. With that aside, knowing that there was a more reasonable way to handle this – in which alternate timelines are more clearly defined and the dramatic impact of events is not so easily glossed over – doesn’t make the anime adaptation easier to swallow. I think KyoAni could have done better, either in adapting the VN or in crafting an anime-only ending.

    2012/10/18 at 18:31

  6. kekekeKaj

    “I actually don’t mind the stupidity like that of Sunohara’s arc because it’s over the top to the point that it cannot under any circumstances be taken seriously.”

    Well, not being able to take it seriously is exactly my problem with it: while that arc started off as a comedy, it was pretty obvious that the show then tried to turn it into a serious drama, with lots of angsty shouting etc. There was nothing tongue-in-cheek about that 2nd half of that arc, so I chalked it down as “bad drama” rather than “ridiculous comedy”.

    I get what you’re saying about people making stupid mistakes, but there are stupid mistakes that are understandable, and there are stupid mistakes which doesn’t make any sense (like Sunohara not being able to tell that Tomoya hasn’t dumped Nagisa and isn’t going out with his own sister despite secretly following them around), and to me, most of Clannad’s characterisation problems falls into the latter. I don’t expect characters to make rational decisions all the time, but I do expect them not to be total retarded.

    You’re right that knowing what goes on in the VN doesn’t make the adaptation better – I’m wasn’t trying to defend the adaptation, I was just trying to shed light on what the ending was SUPPOSED to be.

    2012/10/19 at 09:05

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