Clannad considered harmful

by dm00

Vaseline lens flare

or, “How I learned to appreciate Angel Beats“.

I finished Clannad After Story last night, plunging through the six episodes on the last disk in one sitting (which I suspect is an easier, though perhaps not better, way to see it than in a series of week-long cliffhangers).

Oh, hey, sad girl buried in snow.

Like the Kyoto Animation Kanon, I really enjoyed it, up to episode nineteen. So many of these harem series end with the confession, or the first kiss. Clannad After Story actually deals with the couple’s struggles to be a couple, and with all that implies. It’s nice to see that — I wish more series followed that path.

But then the bathos overwhelms and it turns into a ghost-story.

What follows is all pretty spoilerific. If you haven’t watched the series, you may want to not go beyond this paragraph. TLDR: in the words of Angel Beats‘ Otonashi: “You can’t just give them a fake happy ending! Their lives were real!” (Well, you’re trying to convince the audience that these lives and loves and losses are real, and serious — that fake happy ending just undermines what has gone before.)

Look, we know Nagisa is going to die in childbirth — it’s obvious from the moment she says she wants to have a baby. That’s a given. No problem. Having Tomoya plunge into despair afterwards was nicely done. The outcome of Sanae’s plot to reunite him with Ushio was sweetly weepy. Tomoya’s reconciliation with his father was also a nice element, underscoring the series’ themes of family and community.

But then to have Ushio reprise Nagisa’s illness, well, that’s undisciplined and self-indulgent on the writers’ part: they are just jerking chains because the chains are there to be jerked. Overdone. By this time, trite. But then to wind up the robot story with a reset! That’s precisely the sort of thing that Otonashi was complaining about — despite the fact that the show has been interweaving the robot story from the very beginning.

Gag. Ack. Ptui.

I don’t really care about Clannad * as an adaptation of a game (I gather it’s good at that). I care about it as a story.

There were a lot of directions they could have gone in to make a strong story — for example, Kyou-sensei and Tomoya could reignite their old flame, and build a compelling and touching story about family and friends helping Tomoya emerge from his grief for Nagisa (it’s been six years, a decent mourning period), and being a better lover and father for the experience.

But no: “it was all a dream”. Cheap. Trite. A waste of talent. If I weren’t donating the disks to my local club, I’d have hurled them across the room.

End of kvetching. Now it’s just idle remarks.

I rather liked the whole “spirit of the town” element of the overall plot. Now I wonder if the new hospital was present in the second telling of the story, or had its destruction of the woodland been averted or altered sufficiently, with the subsequent changes spinning out from there? Kanon had a similar situation of construction destroying a treasured place as part of Mai’s story — a similar field of flowers as well. Do you suppose teenage Ushio will wield a sword and do battle with demons?

As with Clannad, where I thought the Tomoyo arc trumped all that had preceded it, I found myself enjoying some of the post-season material of After Story a good deal more than the series itself. The Kyou-arc episode, like the Tomoyo-arc episode, was extremely well done with a wonderful mix of sweet and sour (poor Ryou). Both the Kyou- and Tomoyo- arcs did not suffer from the drama-destroying sweetening resets, indeed, they make it look like Maeda really does know how to write a love-story that includes tragedy and pain, he just felt he had to be excessive before pulling his punches in After Story.

Also, I thought the Kyou-arc episode did more for Sunohara than his own arc in Clannad — he proved himself to be a good friend.

Revived Fuuko didn’t charm me as much as her spirit and magical-girl forms, but it’s Nanoka Ai, and that’s enough. Fuuko running into the woods following shade-Ushio’s scent was touching.

I was really hoping that reset-Ushio would trip over a rusty toy robot in the field of flowers when Tomoya reprised her trip, this time accompanied by Nagisa.


As the meeting-amid-the-cherry-blossoms was repeated for the third or fourth time in After Story, I found myself wondering if Kumeta Kouji or SHAFT were deliberately mirroring the beginning of Clannad with the encounter between Kafka and Pink Supervisor under the cherry trees at the beginning of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Probably not, it’s a natural setting for a beginning-of-the-school-year encounter.

12 Responses to “Clannad considered harmful”

  1. 1 Roy Mustang May 14, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    “But then to have Ushio reprise Nagisa’s illness, well, that’s undisciplined and self-indulgent on the writers’ part”

    No, it’s logical. Ushio wasn’t meant to be a part of this world. That’s why she dies.

    KyoAni could have narrated the time loops better. But the ending wasn’t “just a dream” but rather a consequence of Tomoya collecting all of the balls of light.

    • 2 dm00 May 17, 2010 at 9:31 pm

      You may very well be correct, but I have to ask: is this game knowledge? Or is there evidence for this in the anime? If it’s logical, where are the premises presented? I’m really looking at the anime as a stand-alone product (even if, as I am sure, it was created to sell more copies of the game and related merchandise).

      I do recall some talk of the balls of light corresponding to wishes (though ghost-world Ushio talking about the existence of the ghost-world being threatened by going to the other (Tomoya’s) world, but even taking that into consideration, I think Ushio’s death was mere fan-abuse.

      Well, I’m not the audience for Key adaptations, I suspect. I approach each of them with some reluctance.

      I do think the creators of Key have grown a good deal — Sola (created by Maeda’s collaborator, Naoki Hisaya) was a much-better constructed story than the earlier adaptations, and elements of Angel Beats make me think that Maeda has matured, as well.

      One thing I will say for the Key adaptations — the music is superb.

      • 3 Myssa Rei May 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm

        Well it’s game knowledge. Like the fact that Tomoya, before the anime story had started in fact — was already dead.

        Many of the pitfalls that CLANNAD experienced were due to medium transference: what worked in a Visual Novel, where you could be AWARE that you had to complete all ‘routes’, would not necessarily work in a linear narrative.

        Take it in another way: would you have still found the latter part of the story compelling if you knew that Tomoya had already died, and was working through a loop of alternate lives just to make up for a ‘contract’ that claimed both his wife and his daughter?

        Would you also have enjoyed both Tomoyo’s and Kyou’s After stories if you learned that, at the end of them all, Tomoya DIES (because in the game, whenever you get an ending you get plunked back into the World of Lights)? It’s not assumed: we see it happen in Tomoyo After.

  2. 4 kristalyamaki May 15, 2010 at 3:10 am

    Yeah, I agree. Somewhat the whole dream and Nagisa’s “revival” felt really cheap.

  3. 5 Vendredi May 15, 2010 at 3:32 am

    You may want to consider the Clannad movie, by a different animation studio. It certainly hacks up the work in different ways, but you may find the ending there a little more satisfactory, or at least, closer to satisfactory.

    I think the SZS opening scene is, like you say, a simple parody of an oft used trope. CLANNAD used it a lot, but that’s not to say it hasn’t been used many times before in many other works.

  4. 7 glothelegend May 19, 2010 at 12:19 am

    No one ever likes a reset.

  5. 8 dm00 May 19, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    @Myssa Rei> I’m not sure whether to be appalled or intrigued by the notion of Tomoya stuck on a time-loop. Probably appalled.

    Looked at as a comment on the human condition, Clannad and its sequels have a lot to offer — for all their heavy-handedness. This is why I like the Tomoyo and Kyou arcs: the characters face difficult choices, and the consequences of making them. Add this notion of collecting fireflies in purgatory, and …. it’s reducing the whole thing to maudlin spectacle.

    • 9 Myssa Rei May 19, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      Well, it’s not exactly purposeless: in the game, whenever you successfully completed the ‘good ending’ of a Route, you are rewarded by a ball of light (the ‘happiness’ that was gained in a route) at the start of the game screen. The significance of those balls of light isn’t apparent at first, and only once you’ve played through Nagisa’s route the first time would you understand that it’s connected to the town itself, and in particular her father’s ‘deal’ with it.

      It’s hard to really explain in simple terms to one who hasn’t played the CLANNAD VN, but it all boils down to (Ushio) trying to save her family via proxy.

      • 10 dm00 May 19, 2010 at 10:58 pm

        You’re talking about the VN, I’m talking about the anime.

        That sounds like a fine way to set up game-play, a fine way to tell a story in a VN, it might even work as a way to tell a story on film (Kyoani didn’t find a way to do that, though, thus all my grumbling). So, maybe not appalled, after all.

        Thanks for the explanation.

    • 11 Myssa Rei May 19, 2010 at 10:55 pm

      It’s not a maudling spectacle, when the magical factors is there in the beginning. Unfortunately the transition into anime form didn’t quite get that point across — for example the fact that the so-called dream sequences with the girl and the robot are ACTUALLY REAL, and are actually PLOT POINTS.

      It’s a limitation of the medium. In the anime, you can’t have Tomoya, for example, not help Kotomi, whereupon he DIES and wakes up in the World of Lights, and you’re forced to play again via saved game.

  6. 12 Myssa Rei May 19, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    dm00: Yeah, you could just see why I hate the Death of the Author theory. It’s one of those series where you CAN NOT ignore the source material. The out-of-place sex in Tomoyo After included (after which Tomoya dies… it happens in all universes until Nagisa is saved apparently)

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