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Revisiting Clannad After Story 18

Since I was rudely interrupted in the course of blogging the current season (by the violent atomification of my old blog), I’ve decided to give that up, and instead take inspiration from Dustin’s Evangelion post and make a side trip down memory’s lane to revisit some of the older but highly deserving shows that I haven’t had a chance to feature. Or, in the case of Clannad, that I feel my previous writings had failed to do proper justice to.

Clannad After Story 18 is an episode well remembered for being one of the finest, most poignant episode of an incredibly fine, poignant series. I remember the emotional outpour storming across the anime blogosphere, taking form in earnest articulations, both direct and indirect, crude and crafted, by both bloggers and their commenters, that marked the aftermath of that episode’s broadcast. That’s a lot of evoked emotions to recollect after such a long time. At the very least, I think a quick recounting of the episode’s key events is necessary here to set us in the right frame of mind for meaningful reflection. To that end, I’m gonna quote an excerpt of a post by my namesake at Blogsuki, which does the job quite well, at least for me.

…my favorite scene occurs after Ushio loses her robotic toy and after Tomoya meets his grandmother. He sees Ushio mulling around amongst the sunflowers and runs to her. That’s when he realized both the true strength and weakness of a family: having someone to protect. For all his life, he hated his father, he wanted to be nothing like his father, and, now, in his emotional nakedness, he realizes that the only way to protect the one he truly loves is to become his father. He returns back to the sunflower field where Ushio is playing in, the sun is going down, the sunflowers swaying in the wind, and he asks her to live with him as father and daughter. They hug. They cry. That was Tomoya’s catharsis.

It took Nagisa, Ushio, Sanae, Fuko, his own father, as well as a host of others to get him to realize it. It’s a powerful moment and is my favorite and is the most moving of After Story […] Just a simple scene that made the story go full circle as he finally let go of the hatred he had for his dad, thus completing his family, earning him his redemption, and, ultimately, his happiness. A pure story. An emotional story. A memorable story. A fantastic story.

The intricately woven threads of Tomoya’s turbulent life and the masterfully crafted buildup towards this climatic moment of reconciliation is something that has been reasonably well fleshed out (see for example the related posts at Blogsuki), so I won’t attempt to reinvent the wheel here. Instead I’m gonna turn the focus backstage and attempt to bring to light some of the subtler but equally important things that hid behind the curtains framing the story of Tomoya’s redemption.

So here’s something to think about. Tomoya’s metamorphosis was the result of an honest journey of self discovery, and the anime places overriding emphasis on this by presenting the plot through the eyes of Tomoya himself. However, even through Tomoya’s eyes, it is evident that this journey did not begin and conclude as it did spontaneously. Many things happened along the way that were critical to the progression, that supported, sustained and directed Tomoya at critical points of his personal revelation. What can be said about this? A common cynical response to stories of this nature is that in spite of the sufferings the lead character may have had to endure, he/she is really very fortunate for the very fact that things happened that enabled the forward development when a million things could have gone wrong to thoroughly discourage the character in the fledgling stage of his/her journey. The ‘stars were aligned’ for the redemption, so to speak. Does Clannad have anything to say about this?

I think so.

The biggest orchestrator behind the chain of events in episode 18 is clearly Sanae. It must be noted here that a little scrutinizing reveals that she had invested a great deal of thought, time and effort wagering on this very moment. We know that she was responsible for asking Tomoya’s grandmother to meet him on that hill, and we know that she deliberately acted as catalyst to get Tomoya and Ushio to go on a trip alone together. But something deeper and less obvious can be seen reflected in the way Ushio behaves. Young children are naturally highly distrustful of strangers in general, let alone a gruff, brooding man like Tomoya. However Ushio, though initially uncertain, warmed up quickly to her father’s sole presence, despite never having spent time alone with him ever before. More tellingly, she was immediately eager to show her good side to her father (going to the toilet on her own), was thrilled at the prospect of going on a trip alone with her father, and was greatly affected by her father’s nonchalantly purchased first gift. This cannot be an accident, and the only reasonable explanation is Sanae, and, by correlation, the fact that she had been anticipating and making painstaking preparations for this very day since taking Ushio into her charge five years ago.

Let me chew on this a moment longer. There is no obvious reason why Sanae should have so chosen. When Nagisa died the loss she suffered must have been every bit as painful as it was for Tomoya – in fact arguably more considering the years she invested and the dreams she sacrificed for her daughter. And in its aftermath, Tomoya, the father, obviously had a much stronger responsibility for the child that was born, Ushio, than his in-laws. However Tomoya chose to chuck Ushio to his in laws and let them deal with the burden of his own legacy, while he drowned his sorrows in bitterness and escapism. Sanae and Aki arguably had every right to be angry at this apparent selfishness. But they ultimately chose, not only to bring up Ushio and to forgive Tomoya, but to go that step further, believe in Tomoya and engineer his journey back to redemption. This star did not align by chance, but by a human choice. A choice to believe, and to be there to support another person when that person needed it, regardless of one’s own problems and suffering.

Pan out to Clannad After Story as a whole and you begin to see this as a recurring pattern. This is a story of tragedy, but each tragedy is made beautiful by how the characters close ranks, along friendships and familial bonds, to collectively support each other against the unfeeling onslaught. Welcome to Clannad’s universe. Dustin commented, a long time ago in my old blog, that Ushio’s death was just too sad and meaningless, but this is part of the worldview that Clannad paints. Tragedy does not happen for a reason, Nature hurls them upon us as her whim dictates. It doesn’t matter if something is the most important, most precious thing to you – if nature so wishes, it will be taken away. The beauty of Clannad’s depiction is in how we can do something about it. Every piece of joy, every road to recovery, every trace of warmth in the Clannad story is imprinted with human hands, stained with human effort, and vividly colored by a determination to believe the best of people. Clannad’s evaluation of the human condition is a positive one.

I hope that made some sense :) This is a big part of what Clannad After Story had always meant to me, and to some extent I even look to it as an inspiration. People have a tendency to not be bothered about things like these nowadays, but I think Clannad has consistently attempted to show that while we cannot avoid disaster on our own bodies, we can, sometimes even unknowingly, create miracles in another person’s life. This is my humble attempt to ensure that this message goes unmissed by people who watched and enjoyed this awesome series.

Because sometimes all it takes is to care just that tiny bit more.

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  1. Great Post!

    I haven’t thought about Clannad in a long time. I think when I left that comment I was still horribly depressed by Ushio’s death (and rightfully so). Her death still seems to be the breaking point for me (before they revisit and recreate the miracle). It was just a “How much is life going to hurt this guy”? In the end it hurt him a lot, but he was able to get it back for a happy ending thanks to the ending that defied normality.

    Still you’re right, tragedy can strike without reason. I want to believe that those who fall victim to the tragedy have a tragic flaw, but that doesn’t always have to be the case.

    Sanae was amazing. I think I wrote a post called “Things fall apart unless Sanae is gluing them back together”. I feel though that she wound up caring about Tomoya about as much as she cared about Nagisa. The wonderful thing about her is that she was actually able to gain a son even though she lost a daughter even though her other half probably couldn’t do the same. Truthfully, I want to be more like her. She’s striving to bring the best life for everyone despite personal sadness. It’s people like Sanae that propel the world forward.

    Good post again, much longer than normal (which is a good thing you had a lot to say :) ).

  2. Jason "moofang"

    Hehe, its a revisit after all, I figured I should take the time to say everything I wanted to say :)

    Yeah, I guess we were all depressed with Ushio’s death. The thing that makes it so heartrending, I think, is that so much had happened, and you could really feel the preciousness of the happiness they (Tomoya and Ushio, in fact also Tomoya and Nagisa) found. Still, as I said, I think this accentuates the depiction of Nature/chance as blind and merciless. Personally I consider this rather accurate wrt to what happens in real life, unfortunately =/

    Yeah, Sanae is amazing, but I think she isn’t the only one in the show with that kind of admirable quality, Clannad is peppered with them, though I suppose few of them had as strong an example to their credit. I remember writing a Clannad post back in the day titled ‘warmth’, and I remember that post featuring Kouko (Fuuko’s sister, Yoshino’s wife).

    As always, thanks for reading and for commenting :)

  3. No problem,

    fun as always.

  4. Ah yes, Clannad. One of the few anime that has truly made me shed man-tears.

  5. Jason "moofang"

    And indeed, you are but one in the line of many manly men who have done so :D

  6. I didn’t… I guess I’m not manly anymore :(.

    I don’t know if you care but I ended up writing an extremely long comment on the Diebuster post @ you. I was just thinking it would be sad if you never read it :p.

  7. Jason "moofang"

    Sure I do (care). I’ll check it out later today.

    And uh, I didn’t either, though doesn’t that put us on the other side – ie too manly? :P To some extent I wish that I did though, I find myself curious to know what it feels like to watch a good show and cry. I can’t remember ever crying over a show. Maybe my tear-ducts are defective :(

  8. I’ve teared up reading some books. Truthfully it really depends on the week. Oh I just thought of one. I cried a little at the end of Code Geass when Nunnally was sobbing over her dead brother. If it had been spoiled I might not have, but watching it for the first time it just kind of hit me out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop the torrent of emotions that overcame me as the plan was slowly revealed and it came to light that Lelouch was going to sacrifice. Couple that with Nunnally and how much she loved her brother. Her last line “This is unfair, I would have been happy just being with you, brother. I can’t bear a future without you… I just can’t…” floored me. I think that’s the only anime that ever made me that sad. Plus I probably wasn’t in one of my cynical moods while watching it. That always helps.

  9. 結構面白い話でしたよね。

  10. Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other websites? I have a blog based on the same topics you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information. I know my viewers would enjoy your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

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