A justification to Clannad and After Story’s structure and ending

Warning: This post contains explicit spoilers to Clannad and Clannad After Story.

Clannad After Story is a widely critiqued and acclaimed show. I like to read other people’s thoughts and opinions on the matter. Most of the responses people have are positive; not so much as mine, but positive nonetheless. However, many times do I see people disliking Clannad, perhaps because they just didn’t like it, or thought it wasn’t as good as this or that show, which is just fine (while personally I think thats foolish). But when their reasons fall upon the series’ progression up to, and including, the ending, I can’t help but try to defend and justify the significance of Ishihara’s decisions. This will also serve as an explanation to an ending that confuses most of the people who watch it.

First and foremost, people fail to realize an important aspect of Clannad in general. Clannad is not only a romance show, nor is it just a show that teaches its viewers a moral lesson in the value of family. It is a coming of age story. A story where the main character, Tomoya Okazaki, grows up from being an ignorant child, to a mature adult. Please note that ignorant is not a condescending word, but a word to describe that he lacks knowledge in general. Now, on to the justification. 

When most people look at the Clannad series as a whole, the first series is criticized more negatively than the second, probably because of the focus of each show. After Story focuses mainly on Tomoya and Nagisa and their trials as a family, while the first show focuses on Tomoya solving other people’s family problems, while loosely showing his own problems. It would probably be justified to say the first show was bad if Clannad stayed as an individual show. If it was its own single show, the story would be adequate, and the ending a very loose wrap up, without tying loose ends, but even so would not deserve a low score. However, that is not the case. The two must be acknowledged as one, therefore having each show reflect each other’s actions.

With that said, we now come back to the fact that Clannad is a coming of age story. There is significance in the focus of the shows and Tomoya Okazaki’s actions in both seasons. He is ignorant in his priorities and his ethics about the value of family, and does not know any better. In the first season, Tomoya looks down to his father with disdain. He does in fact acknowledge him as family, but he is angered by his actions and attitude. Because of this, he is inclined to not care much about what happens with the two of them, with him running away as proof of this. Tomoya remains this way through the entire first show; as a child. He also remains the same for the first eight episodes of After Story, and for a very good reason. Many people criticize the second show for its first eight episodes, but it is important to realize that they are in there because Tomoya is still a child, even after he has decided to take Nagisa as his partner, and he is still learning more about the world. And from most of the people he meets he learns more, up to the point he starts his own family, and even past that. I believe Ishihara wanted to make that lasting impression that Tomoya was still not an adult and in fact was a child.

It is apparent that Tomoya eventually becomes an adult by the end of After Story, but only after tragedy and sorrow. In the very first episode, when Nagisa asks Tomoya at the foot of a hill, can he keep loving this town, even if fun and happy memories are always changing. Tomoya answers with, “find new ones,” a relatively childish answer. When Tomoya finds happy and fun memories with Nagisa, there is no way that after she dies, he will go off to find new ones, with the exception of Ushio since she is still part of his family. The meeting of Nagisa and Tomoya is symbolic at the most, but this part of it is easily overlooked.

That concludes structure, and on to the ending.

The most widely criticized part of After Story is its deus ex machina ending. Halfway through After Story,  our beloved heroine Nagisa dies and disappears from the series. There is great significance in this event, as is later events that I will attempt to explain. From this tragedy, Tomoya matures even more, and goes through incredible character development. This gives way for the story to progress further, and prompts Tomoya to make decisions with everyone he is involved with; taking Ushio in as his own, and approaching his father, after realizing his motives and intentions, to thank him. Further down the line, in the penultimate episode, Ushio also passes away. Through the power of a divine force unbeknownst to the characters, Nagisa and Ushio are miraculously brought back to life. Why is that? At face value, this is how After Story accomplishes a happy ending, as there are several ways Clannad could have ended, and this one would assure a moral lesson through tragedy with a happy ending. Many people seem to dislike the series because of the seemingly lazy conclusion to such a deeply involved show. However, there is much more significance to these events than meets the eye. What many people seem to forget, as I rarely hear it ever mentioned in discussions is how Nagisa is spiritually and physically connected to the city she and the rest of the cast reside in. The city plays a bigger part in the story than people seem to realize. It was even directly stated by Tomoya that the city is toying with him. This was not a sarcastic or ambiguous statement, but an accurate one, in the sense that the city is truly connected with the ones he loves. An easily forgettable part about Clannad is that Akio saved his daughter from the clutches of death once before by simply praying out in an open field, not to God. When he says that he felt the plants covered Nagisa, it was a fact. The city saved Nagisa, as it is a living, not necessarily breathing, being. Nagisa was from then on being sustained by the power of the city. By also reviewing Sorrow-kun’s opinion, there are two theories that I carry from this point on. Either the city simply could not sustain Nagisa anymore and chose Ushio, thus indirectly teaching Tomoya a lesson, or the town wanted to teach Tomoya his lesson with Nagisa as an expendable character in doing so; both being extremely cruel.

As stated before, the more likely theory,  the power that was sustaining Nagisa went to Ushio. Ushio went through the same exact suffering as Nagisa, not because Nagisa is her mother and carried on her body’s traits, but because they are in the same situation; saved by the city, and sustained by it.  And so, just like Nagisa, Ushio was fated to die. However, there is a difference between the two. Nagisa’s proved to be life changing, and following it, Tomoya changed drastically. He learned everything he had to. Ushio’s death would not be able to further teach Tomoya anymore than he already knows. This is what makes Ushio’s death especially cruel and tragic, as if to add insult to injury, and even that is an understatement. Immediately following this, is the Illusionary World, something I’ve been avoiding to explain up until now. Throughout all of Clannad, visions into the Illusionary World are shown in Tomoya’s dream. The two beings in the world are a small girl and a doll. They are, respectively, Ushio and Tomoya. It’s a particularly ambiguous and confusing concept, but the two worlds are connected. The actions in the “real world,” correspond with those in the Illusionary World. When Ushio was nearing her death, the Ushio in the Illusionary World became weak and timid, eventually becoming buried in snow, unable to move. From this observation, there is no simple conclusion as to how it happens, but the divine force that rests within the Illusionary World (following the aforementioned theory), accomplishes what the town could not; saving Nagisa and Ushio, after Tomoya has learned his lesson. Althought I’ve said this, I cannot find real significance why the girl is Ushio. Nonetheless, it is important to understand what has been said.

There’s much to be said about Clannad, and because of its ambiguity and confusing in the later half, a lot of what is said is negative, and that’s a sad thought. I hope that this somewhat sheds light on the confusion over Clannad, even if it is 2-3 years late.

Inspired by, references made, and credited to Sorrow-kun on his post at Behind the Nihon Review. His posts are well written and deserve to be read more often.

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Video games and anime reviews.

17 Responses to A justification to Clannad and After Story’s structure and ending

  1. lerxst2112 says:

    If only your review for the show were like this

  2. drasil says:

    “Coming of age stories” are why I’m excited for Usagi Drop in the Spring. It’s about going along that journey of discovery with the protagonist and you yourself in some small part maturing as well. For most of the manga we see the lazy, carefree Daikichi’s journey into “fatherhood” and the rest of the story is about his adopted daughter/aunt, Rin, in her teenage age years. Which will be really interesting if it plays out as a “coming-of-age-story-within-a-coming-of-age-story”.

  3. Pretty spot on. I don’t really consider the ending a deus ex machina though, since the alternate world was part of the story all along and it felt like it couldn’t work without it. Hell, I’d be extremely depressed if it didn’t have that ending, I don’t know what other people are talking about. I truly think the ending is one of the best endings I’ve ever seen.

  4. Maya says:

    Although I loved Clannad and understood it, I still feel like it wasn’t as good as it could have been. I found the characters touching, Tomoya’s coming of age lessons truly amazing, and the alternate universe therory amazing (not including the Illusionary World which I found unnessesary) I still feel the ambiguity and confusion ruined the series from me. Clannads magic is perfect in the rpg game where you have to collect orbs of light to attain your perfect life, but as a story it’s too confusing and unrealistic in an overall very realistic and heartwarming story. I feel instead of having this magical illusion world that grant wishes where Tomoya gets back the perfect life he wanted, it should have ended with him caring for and raising Ushio. Maybe leaving the alternate universe (a theory which I’m in love with and love the series for using) where Naigsa was still alive in or as a separate arc. Anyway everyone has there own opinion, I was so drawn in by the realistic plot that when it drew away from it I felt ripped off.

    • sudatama says:

      Realism leaves room for dissatisfaction. The purpose of reviving the characters is to bring the viewers a happy ending, and their death is to be an element of tragedy, therefore making the theme of the show much more present; value of having a family.
      Let’s say the Illusionary World doesn’t exist. Nagisa could pass away (which in itself is enough tragedy), and then the show could just focus on Ushio’s upbringing by Tomoya. From here, we could stay that way and have a balance of tragedy (plus themes) and a happy ending. Or, they could continue on and have Ushio pass away, which would give way for no happy ending, but give off the most tragedy possible. Perhaps some people would be okay with this, but many would not. I’m indifferent.
      With the existence of the Illusionary World, Clannad is able to pull off an ending with the most tragedy ultimately letting the themes of the show come through, and then finishing with a happy ending.

  5. joanne says:

    i think the whole story itself is amazing the fact that life is full of ups and down and you should never regret the things that brought you happyness even if it was just for the time being. i also think the story is open to much interpretation. i have read alot of different interpretations of the ending and kind of bundled them all together, nothing is predetermained and you can change it. tomoyo changed one thing which was the death of his wife. he made alot of orbs in his life by influecing the people he loved and his friends, these orbs were collected in the other world using the power of these orbs yushio saved nagisa. yushio said she was that world so the world is also the town, as the town is what saved nagisa and nagisa gave the life force of the town to yushio. the orbs outside the window show that there power is what saved nagisa which in turn made it so the life force of the town was not past on to yushio. VERY VERY VERY CONFUSING, but the story is still beautiful only anime to keep me crying for like 5 episodes straight

  6. Scott Chagnon says:

    I wish they would continue the coming of age story with ushio as a teenager. It would be nice to see how Tomoya and Nagisa handle raising a teenage daughter and everything that comes with it.

  7. Tess says:

    okay what the hell (no affence) in the after story what was up with the last episode exactly? why did Tomoya end up with one of the twins i thought this was about Tomoya, Nagisa and Ushio…I’m seriously confused wanna explain that one. it had no point to it and honestly had no connection to the ENTIRE show. if it was showing a past event then that didn’t quite makes sense either because they were “in love” with each other which would have left no room for him to meet Nagisa while being single. i’m just confused on how the last episode or episode 25 had anything to do with the entire show…it kinda pissed me off and I personally think that last episode was a joke the whole show was amazing and i got really into it like i said i’m just extremely confused on that last episode and would really appreciate it if someone could clear it up for me.

    • scott chagnon says:

      It was just a seperate story arc from the game they threw in there thats all. Still wish they would continue the story with Ushio as a teenager.

  8. Kevin says:

    Tess, if you watched the series on netflix, the last three episodes are OVA’s relating to the story but not the main one. Clannad after story ended as aired on episode 22.

  9. Ryan Anderson says:

    - also the reason it ends like this is also because it is based of the visual novel, and the way i believe a theory others believe is true to is that, when ushio dies, Tomoya dies as well and is brought to the IW because of his connection to Ushio. It is believed that since nagisa was saved by city and the orbs of light that brought happiness and wishes were sustaining her life, but there was a in-balance of orbs in the IW and the RW causing Nagisa’s and Ushio’s sicknesses and ultimately to their deaths. Essentially the town gives tomoya a second chance by allowing him to go back in time, through different time lines (like in the game) to collect these orbs of light in order to save Nagisa and Ushio, so as shown in the tomoyo OVA and the Ryou-Kyou OVA he goes and through different time lines creating these wishes and moments with loved ones in order to create these orbs in order to allow the imbalance of the IW and RW of these orbs to become balanced thus allowing for Nagisa and Ushio to live undisturbed.

  10. Jake says:

    I think that Tomoya’s opinion of the city itself is a major factor. In many episodes, he states that he hates the city, and regrets ever meeting Nagisa because he feels that if he would not have met her, she would not have died. But at the end, he says he does not regret meeting Nagisa, and that ultimately leads into the Deus Ex Machina ending where Nagisa and Ushio are back with Tomoya. And I think that is the moral of life that no matter what happens just be happy it was there at one point, and that you have growed throughout life and suffered, but there was happiness too. Perhaps that fact itself is pure bliss.

  11. Noah Bible says:

    I want more clannad i fell in love with the series and want to know the struggles nagisa and tamoya raising a family together

  12. Micah says:

    one thing you forgot in your review that is also key tot he story the orbs of light that tomoya has collected by helping others plays a huge part in why nagisa and ushio where saved throughout the show he helped everybody that he could but the one and only person he never helped was himself when tomoya is given the second chance he is brought back to the day nagisa was delivering ushio a few moments later she tells tomoya to look out the window and then u see orbs of light going into the sky the same orbs that where in the illusionry world and the orb that ushio saw when tomoya rekindled with his father.

  13. Pingback: Catharsis in Clannad: After Story - Blog by FierceAlchemist - IGN

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