Friday, January 31, 2014

Rewind: Clannad After Story

Last week on Rewind, I wrote about Clannad. This week, I move onto the sequel series, Clannad After Story. Before I continue, I must warn you of a major SPOILER ahead. I knew about it before I watched, and I still enjoyed the show, but I think some of the impact was lessened. 

Don't get me wrong: After Story's ending theme is great, but "Dango Daikazoku" is perhaps the most memorable ED I've ever heard. At first, it doesn't seem like a very meaningful song. English speakers might get away with thinking it's a profound commentary on life - until we look at the subtitles. It's about a great big family of dumplings. The make a big circle and found a village. Rabbits wave from the moon. It's a nonsense song. But it's Nagisa's favorite song. She draws the dango family, she collects plushie dango, and she sings the song throughout the two series. Whoever's in charge of music wove the melody into the background during key moments, too. It's a key part of Nagisa and Clannad in general, so merely hearing "Dango Daikazoku" makes me sentimental. The last line especially gets to me: "Roll up all the happy and sad things." Okay, it doesn't look so important when I just quote the translation like that, but in context, the impact is huge.

Obviously, I didn't have a lot to say during the first several episodes of Clannad After Story. There didn't appear to be any important developments. Looking back, I realize how sneaky the creators were. Tomoya and Nagisa's relationship continued to grow at a slow pace. I appreciate that, because it's realistic. While they both had elements of maturity and wisdom, they still needed a little more time before they were ready for the next step. In these episodes, even as they often focused on their friends' problems, Tomoya and Nagisa practiced a partnership in life. They've always been partners in helping others and maneuvering through parent and personal problems, but as the story went on, they became increasingly comfortable in that partnership and love. Their relationship went beyond themselves. It's not about some sort of fiery passion or obsession, unlike in so many other romance anime. Instead, deep care is fostered between the two of them and toward others. There was passion, but it came from a love that's steady and selfless, love that endures in the less passionate moments. That's the best way I can describe it. Maybe, in a later stage of my life, I'll have more insight and better words, but for now, this is all I can say.

Of course, their relationship isn't perfect. Gentlemen, do not use Tomoya as an example when it comes time to propose to your love. I'm not sure about the other single ladies out there, but I've thought on occasion about the kind of scenarios that make for a good marriage proposal. Here are some great ways to set the ambience: a walk in the park, a hike, a rowboat in a lake, a trip to the beach, a stroll in some castle-turned museum, a treat at the best ice cream shop in town.

Here are some bad ways to set the ambience: don't prepare, visit your dad in prison, lose your temper, punch a concrete wall.

Tomoya chose the wrong list. I don't care what culture you're from or how important the proposal tradition is in your mind, you should at least avoid losing your temper in the moments before you ask your beloved to marry you. Nagisa, bless her heart, accepted Tomoya's proposal without hesitation.  I still think she should have at least raised an eyebrow.

Even though Tomoya and Nagisa didn't have a lot of money, part of me expected their wedding to be an outward expression of their beautiful relationship. They'd become so precious in my mind, I thought that beauty would be reflected in wedding clothes and ceremony. But their relationship has never been about showing off to the world and, really, they have no need for a church wedding. The simplicity of their marriage fit them well.

Of course, I do think Tomoya could have done a little bit more to make Nagisa feel special.

Even in the small details of appearance,  After Story's realism delighted me.

 As you may recall, until recently, I had no intention of watching Clannad, so I didn't bother avoiding spoilers. Thus, I knew what was coming. I tried to forget, but I knew. Remember those falling cherry blossoms that I originally thought were cliche? Sure enough, they foreshadowed a big change of seasons, a change I wasn't particularly ready for, and that Tomoya definitely wasn't ready for. I wasn't surprised when Nagisa died, and I managed to avoid crying, but the scene of her death and Ushio's birth goes down as one of the more touching scenes I've seen.

Of course, that was just a warm up for what they hit us with later.

Tomoya fell apart when Nagisa died, and that was hard to watch, especially since he wasn't the only one hurting. But his reunion with his daughter, sweet five-year-old Ushio, marked the beginning of another precious relationship, this time between father and daughter. It warmed my heart to watch him finally begin healing, not only in regards to his wife, but in his relationship with his own father as well.

Tomoya and Ushio in the eighteenth episode. Such a beautiful
frame from a wonderful scene.
I smiled. I chuckled. I was happy, and so were Tomoya and Ushio. There were several bittersweet moments, like when Tomoya sang "Dango Daikazoku," Nagisa's song, to their daughter. That's another one of those moments that grabbed my heart. Still, things were a little happier. We even got to see Tomoya's old friends again. One of them, Kyou, was Ushio's teacher, and Fuko became a prominent character once more. Fuko-chan always brightens things up.

The people behind Clannad After Story love happy feelings. It makes it that much more dramatic when it's time to crush our hearts.

When Ushio fell sick, I knew in my heart what was going to happen. The next part was emotion, preciousness and fear and sadness and love and dread. And then...

I felt robbed when the anime moved back to Ushio's birth and gave us a reality where mother and daughter both lived. It was like all they stole my heart and trampled all over it. Then they put some ointment and a Band-Aid on it, gave it back, and said, "Just kidding! They actually lived happily ever after!"

Of course, I'd feel robbed if they just took Ushio away like that, too. Really, there was no win-win situation.

I should probably re-watch those last few episodes. Maybe it would make more sense the second time around. But this emotional rollercoaster must be ridden from start to finish. It just wouldn't do to restart at the 20th episode of After Story. So I'll wait a while before I see it again.

Despite my mixed feeling about those last few episodes, Clannad After Story was wonderful. The mystery behind that other world with the girl and the scrap-metal-doll-person was revealed and intertwined with Tomoya's world. It tied a lot of the story together, in ways I'd rather not go into in this post.

I finished the two Clannad series, but my experience with it is not over. I can't shake it off, and honestly, I'm not trying. Instead, I watch similar shows or make a note of anime made by the same people. I'm learning the "Dango Daikazoku" so I can sing all the words instead of just hum the tune, and I draw the Big Dango Family in my sketchbook and on my binder's cover. I watch anime couples, and I think, They're sweet, but not even close to the level of Tomoya and Nagisa.

It's amazing to think that, if it weren't for the posts I read at Beneath the Tangles, I might not have watched this. Let this be a lesson to all of us, that we step out of our genre boxes, try new things, and listen to the recommendations of others. Clannad and Clannad After Story might not make my short list of top favorite anime, but their story and characters will be close to my heart for time to come.


  1. As a quick note, did you watch the alternate ending episodes for Clannad? The ones where Tomoya doesn't end up with Nagisa?

    1. I did watch them - there were only two or three, right? They were pretty good, I suppose, but definitely felt like the extra episodes they were. I wish I'd watched them on different days, so I didn't have the Nagisa plot in mind.


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