A justification to Clannad and After Story’s structure and ending
March 2, 2011 17 Comments
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.