best of 2008: #1

#1: Clannad After Story

“Dango dango dango dango… dango daikazoku.”

Also wins for 2008:

  • Most Tears
  • Best Tears
  • Best Family
  • Best Baseball Moment(s)
  • Most Emotional Death(s)
  • The Sunrise Memorial Death Is A Temporary Condition Award
  • Best Reason To Own An HDTV
  • Best Bread and Jam Combo
  • Best Inoue Kikuko Role Since Belldandy
  • Best Rideable Boar
  • Most Cathartic Scene
  • Most Jarring Transformation From Sickly Subpar Haremette To ZOMG MILF
  • Most Jarring Transformation From Harem Comedy To Chick Flick
  • Best Tapestry

There’s no reason why Clannad After Story should be #1. Everything we loved about the original Clannad— the getting stuck with Kyou in a gym storage shed, the epic Tomoyo combos, the Kotomi-chan bullying scenes– all gone. How can you top what happened in Clannad?! After Story didn’t even try. It continued with its story. It used the foundation it laid in the first 23 episodes. And it used it to the fullest. It wretched every single drop of emotional equity it had built, and then, when you thought there wasn’t any left, it squeezed it for more.

Where Clannad was a slice-of-life harem comedy with bits of drama, After Story is nothing but dramatic storytelling, with maybe a bit of comedy tossed in. For people who enjoyed the original Clannad, why would they enjoy the almost chick flick nature of After Story? Why would anyone who enjoy a chick flick enjoy the moe harem element of Clannad? Wouldn’t the harem lovers bail by now? Wouldn’t the emotional chick flick watchers stay away originally? But they’re missing something… a pure story. An emotional story. A memorable story. A fantastic story.

After Story became a tour de force of storytelling at the end. Imagine what Kyou’s thighs and Tomoyo’s melonpan are to moe, multiply that ten, and that’s why Tomoya’s final redemption of himself is to storytelling. Everything– from the initial Fuko arc to the chance meeting with Yoshino– get woven together in a tapestry at the end.

The main thread that pulls everything together is family, and that’s what Jun Maeda intended. Every character had a family issue, and Tomoya, like a cross between the Curry Fairy and Dr. Phil, sought to revolve all of them. He started with Fuko, who wanted happiness for her sister. I thought at the time those episodes were throwaways– I was so wrong. It came back full circle with Fuko as the other character who remembers both the path without Nagisa and the path with Nagisa, even if Fuko is too starfish-obsessed to realize it. Stories always need a theme– would you take sacrifice out of Gift of the Magi? Would you take tolerance out of To Kill A Mockingbird? Would you take evolution out of Gurren Lagann? And Clannad wonderfully wove the idea of how redemption is possible even in the sickest of families into its tapestry.

He went on to Tomoyo, who wanted something for the sake of Takafumi. He advanced to Kotomi-chan, who wanted to move on from her loss of her parents. He followed with Sunohara, who wanted to grow up for the sake of Mei. He continued with Yukine, who wanted to honor Kazuto. But he couldn’t save Nagisa… because he didn’t realize at the time Nagisa wasn’t the one who needed help. It was him.

Nagisa is the one character with a loving and stable family. She has Sanae and Akio as parents. She’ll eventually have Ushio and Tomoya as child and husband. All throughout Clannad, the weakest girl was actually the strongest. She has the strongest family bond. Tomoya got it all wrong. He wasn’t saving Nagisa when he said hi to her that first day. He was saving himself. He had vanquished everyone else’s demons, but he almost did it to ignore his own family’s issues.

It was Nagisa who always pushed Tomoya to reconcile with his father. It was Nagisa who brought Tomoya to her home to show him what how a real family operates. It was Nagisa who originally wanted Ushio. It was Nagisa whose passing put Tomoya in the same situation his own father was in. It was Nagisa who Tomoya saw in Ushio. It was Nagisa who redeemed Tomoya.

A pure story. An emotional story. A memorable story. A fantastic story.

But that’s only partly why After Story is #1. Toei released a less-than stellar movie with a similar but condensed story, and the big difference is Kyoto Animation’s deft handling of the material. It was properly spaced through the run, and, oddly, the episodes that might have been the slowest were the fastest. The emotional arc with Ushio seemed to be more enthralling than seeing Kyou in gym shorts, a development my 2007 self would have scoffed it and ridiculed my 2009 self for.

Kyoto’s adaptation does have one big difference from the x86 visual novel in that Nagisa’s arc in the visual novel was a fairly lonely arc. The other characters don’t show up often, and everything seemed so focused on resetting the timeline after each new light. That was counterintuitive to me at first– wait, I’m in a love-love scenario with Misao, and I gotta reboot? I’m in a love-love scenario with Kotomi-chan, and I gotta reboot? I’m in a love-love scenario with Tomoyo, and I gotta reboot? Why should I reboot if I get to live happily after with Tomoyo and have a gratuitous amount of ecchi scenes!? But really, it was a game mechanic and not something done for plot’s sake.

Kyoto’s narrative is more of a straight shot with Tomoya acting like the Curry Fairy slash Dr. Phil alongside Nagisa’s path. This made more sense to me. Purists will disagree, but it makes for a more logical path for capturing all the lights– the people he helps along the way, Fuko included, will eventually help him back when he needs it the most. The repetitions and experience he gains along the way also helps him grow with believable character growth and character redemption. Can you imagine Clannad Tomoya singing Dango Daikazoku? Can you imagine After Story Tomoya not singing it? His even realizes how much he has changed at the end, when he drops off Ushio for the first time at kindergarten.

Also, Kyoto incorporated a lot of Jun Maeda’s original BGM to great effect. Who would have thought that Dango Daikazoku would be the catalyst? They also incorporated a few in-jokes, like the jam from Sanae’s friend to good effect. That itself leads to the epic variations of the “I’d spread jam on her bread” joke, which just continuously brings joy. And the singular long story allowed a few things to be added, like the epic “Tomo-pyon” that just wasn’t possible with the original x86 arc.

And… the pixels. Wow. The pixels. Watching the HDTV version of Clannad After Story is a treat. All the backgrounds are well done and detailed. All the scenes are fluidly animated. There are scenes with multiple moving characters, something uncommon even in anime today. But this is really becoming Kyoto’s norm.

Finally, 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. I liked it more than Kyou lying on the mat in the gym storage shed. I liked it more than Tomoyo kicking Sunohara for the nth time. I liked it more than the emotional loss of both Nagisa and Ushio. 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.

Needless to say, I enjoyed Clannad After Story, my pick for Best Anime of 2008.

37 Responses to “best of 2008: #1”

  1. agreed

  2. I thought you would choose this as your #1.

    I was impatient and watched the SD version, but I still feel it was worth it.
    This is one of the few anime that made me cry a lot.

  3. Can’t say I’m surprised by this choice, especially after your “Dango Daikazoku” post. I completely agree with this choice, as Clannad + After Story (since neither one fully stands without the other) has made its way into my list of my top favorite series now.

    Great post(s) summarizing exactly why the two series work so well together and build into something amazing.

  4. Just reading a review like this brings back the memories of After Story and the tears are coming back.

  5. Whoa, just… whoa.

    I’ve never really *get* Clannad. I tried to watch it, several times, but really can’t seems to really get into it.

    But after having read your post, I just realized that I completely misunderstood Clannad, taking it just as just another harem comedy when it is something more (to be frank, I find Clannad harem comedy aspect less enjoyable then other shows at the time).

    After reading your post, however, I’ll give Clannad another chance. This time with a right mind set on how to approach it.

    Oh, and welcome back Jason. It’s good to see you back again, and in top form too! :)

  6. I have to say I’m pretty surprised Kannagi didn’t make your top 10…

  7. I liked Clanned despite not being the biggest fan of the concept, to be honest the Key formula is rather transparent (happy girls become sad and then become happy again, through a deus ex machina if necessary) but I suppose this was the expected choice and I respect that.

  8. I couldn’t have said it better. Clannad really is awesome and unique. For all my wanting KyoAni to get to new seasons of Haruhi and Full Metal Panic and new series, I can’t wait to see the next Key work get adapted by KyoAni.

    If I was a believer of conspiracy theories then I’d imagine the Japanese government paid for the creation of Ushio. If she and MILF Nagisa are not the best advertisement for having children, I don’t know what could be better.

  9. After Story is a deserving top pick. Even those who haven’t seen the anime can see this post, read the words, and wonder, what kind of TV show that inspire such thoughtful reflection, what kind of art that triggers such overflowing of emotions, what kind of experience that prompts such pure, honest, and relieving musings is behind it all?

    My beef isn’t with After Story, but with anime in 2008 in general. Like how the NBA now isn’t nearly as good as basketball was in the 90s, when I take a step back and examine last years’ offerings, this group pales in comparison to 2007.

    Take for example, these standout titles from 2007: Dennou Coil, Bamboo Blade, Baccano!, Moyashimon. Those were shows that didn’t even make Jason’s Top 10 last year, but compare favorably to half the shows on this year’s list!’s 2007 Top 10 anime:
    10) Hayate no Gotoku!
    9) Lucky Star
    8) Gundam 00 (based on 13 eps)
    7) Potemayo
    6) Clannad
    5) Minami-ke (1st season)
    4) Umisho (wat?)
    3) Ef
    2) Guardian of the Sacred Spirit
    1) Gurren Lagaan

    So Jason, with the 20/20 vision afforded by retrospect, besides the three titles from ’08 that are direct sequels from 2007’s Top 10 (and some reordering that would cause), how many from this year would even crack ’07s list?! Real anime recession much?

    Anyway, I just wanted to rant about that. Feel free to ignore me bemoaning the across-the-board drop in quality anime since previous years.

  10. My list:

    Best of 2008
    1) Kyoani’s Clannad

    Worst of 2008
    1) Toei’s Clannad

  11. That was beautifully written. I watched episode 10, and then 17-18 to see that powerful, emotional scene. Now I know more about Tomoya from this post and what the true CLANNAD is about; also know that those Fuko scenes in the first season weren’t for naught xD. Definitely deserves to be blog好き’s #1

  12. Clannad was the best for me this year as well. The scene in the sunflower field was my favorite too. Get teary eyed just thinkin of it. If that was in the original VN…Jun Maeda is genius. Also loved the BGM inclusions. My favorite even though it only played for like 60seconds was Country Train when Tomoya and Ushio were travelling. Just so simple and light.

  13. to watch CLANNAD we gotta take it from the start, from episode 1 of CLANNAD to 22 of CLANNAD ~After Story~. It was CLANNAD that made the characters endearing enough to keep watching when the series started the ~After Story~ and was the later that make things worth watching a 45 episode worth of pure storytelling.
    This was the first anime that got me to tears. More than once. It was almost like a ritual every week. Watch, cry and enjoy.

  14. I full agree with this being #1.

    I STILL cry when I hear Dango Daikazoku.

  15. Wow, I picked up on a few of those things, but this is just fantastic. Clannad definitely earned the top-pick for 08. The story did something that Harem comedies could never achieve because it was focused on telling a story as you mentioned while most Harems are only interested in echii comedy. Still Clannad did a fantastic job and I wouldn’t lose the Sunohara, Kyou, Tomoyo comedy in the beginning of the series for anything because it really did show the progression of Tomoya from a high school student into an adult. I watched a good portion of his life and throughout most of it I sympathized with him. The other world scenes were the only thing that I thought could have been done better. By stringing them out the whole way sure you got a sense of: Oh so this was it all along: but on the other hand it often left me with nothing and distracted from the rest of the show. I kind of wish they had just done it at the end… Still I did like the OH moment at the end when you realize it’s Ushio. Thanks for writing such a great post Jason.

  16. Good post. So tell me: If I were to marathon this all in one go, would I ever be able to feel feelings again?

  17. With all that happened I still find it hard to believe it when I see Nagisa called a “fail lead”. Mainly because that is the impression she gives at first when compared to Tomoyo, Kyou, and Kotomi. But After Story brings things into focus. As mentioned the weakest character was actually the strongest. While Tomoyo, Kyou, and Kotomi would make better harem leading ladies…only Nagisa can really complete Tomoya. And thus only Nagisa can complete Clannad.

    Also Ushio…but that is a matter of genetics and personality imprints from Nagisa’s parents.

    I still want to see a version will teenaged Ushio at the center of a new “harem” show…with Tomoya and Nagisa having to met the new “harem lead”….assuming it isn’t a reverse harem show. Also to see if time stands still for Sanae in her new GILF status.

  18. Just wanted to say: Love your posts. That is all.

  19. Hopefully Ga Rei Zero gets remembered for next year’s list!

  20. Probably the only anime to make me cry, ever. It’s a deserving top pick. Great post.

  21. Well, this is a first in a long time that I ever consider watching a serious anime like Clannad. And what better choice to play the Dango song at the end. It funny, I might say this but in the long run I might want to watch animes with a some drama in it. NO melonpan, no moe…… ok maybe the moe, but with nothing more then just good characters and storywise.

  22. Clannad and Clannad After Story are not two separate animes. I was lucky in the fact that I started watching the original while After Story was airing.

    Clannad and Clannad After Story is one long anime, meant to be watched back to back, arc to arc, episode to episode. And I’m so glad I did.

    I’m so glad Kyoani did both parts, and did them so well. This is an anime epic that will stand the test of time. Gurren Lagann was Gainax’s crowning jewel, Clannad was Kyoani.

    If there is anyone out there reading this that hasn’t bothered to watch, do it now. Even if you know the entire story and all of the spoilers like I did, you WILL still cry. It WILL still move you. And you WILL be better for it.

  23. I just can’t get over how god awful Toei’s Clannad movie is. Did KyotoAnimation pay them off to make the worst Clannad adaption possible so that KyoAni could look better? And what the hell was the clown on the bicycle crap, Toei? You guys managed to take a great story and make it uninteresting and stupid.

  24. Beautiful post, Jason. For once you brought tears to my eyes.

  25. It’s these kind of posts that drew me into reading Derailed By Darry not too long ago during January 2008. That is; solid, respectivly composed and intrigingly insightful posts where most other blog reviewers would either just say “lolololol this sucks” or “lololololol this is awesome”.

    Just to make sure I’m on top of this – the entire tapestry, who’s result is Tomoya’s redemption – encompasses the “out of synch” arcs (like the first episode of Afterstory, with Tomoyo being chosen) aswell? Or would it just be the first season, and the other arcs of Afterstory? Bleargh. . .

    Either way – gotta agree with everyone else. When Ushio said “because it was the first toy Daddy gave me.”. Rail spike in the chest man.

  26. Okay, Clannad AS was great and your post is very convincing, aside from highly emotional… but I’ll be the bad guy here and say that ef-melodies was simply superior in every aspect.

  27. hey, no one is going to mess with your opinion, but you got to give examples man. examples.

    Wait what? We’re getting Haruhi trolled again, aren’t we?

  29. We shall assume this is the ending of the “Trolling of Haruhi Suzumiya” for now. We shall know for sure later (like in seven to thirteen weeks).

    “Sometimes hope is all we have.”

  30. >> Good post. So tell me: If I were to marathon this all in one go, would I ever be able to feel feelings again?

    Some points of the story would appear to you as less convoluted, when compared to others who had to wait week after week then long months and weeks after weeks again. Because this time, episodes will be fresher in your mind and you may catch details that one-time watchers may have missed.

  31. @ Sheba: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I gathered about the show. But knowing what to expect from having watched Air, Kanon, and the first Clannad week by week, my question was more along the lines of this: Will the emotional overload from watching AS all in one go break my soul, leaving the world to seem an empty hollow shell forever more? Because I could totally see that happening.

  32. Well Robot, I’d think it wouldn’t make much of a difference if you marathoned it or did it week-by-week, in terms of emotional soul-breaking. On one hand, you don’t have to wait a week filled with tension of thinking ZOMGNAGISAAAAAWTFISGONNAHAPPENNOW?! (torture I say!), on the other, you get to see all sorts of connections that you would otherwise not see because of that week. Soooo its a toss-up.

  33. That was a very well written article and I am in complete agreement with your choice. Episodes 18 and 19 were among the best episodes I have seen in any anime. The scene in the sunflower field was a real tear jerker and is my favorite moment of this anime. I think that scene will stick with me for a very long time.

  34. Why is everybody talking about a field of sunflowers?
    I’m rather sure that what Ushio is running through is an enormous field of bright yellow rapeseed…

  35. >> my question was more along the lines of this: Will the emotional overload from watching AS all in one go break my soul, leaving the world to seem an empty hollow shell forever more? Because I could totally see that happening.

    It depends on how easily you can cry. I know people irl who are usually not so quite sensitive. To my surprise, two scenes made them shed manly tears: the one described by Jason, the one with Tomoya’s father in the next episode. Then nothing to them could top those.

  36. One thing that struck me throughout Clannad was the idea of emotional barriers, those walls that people build up over the course of a lifetime.

    We all go through hardships and we create walls to protect our emotions, and that eventually leads to who we are as people. Psychologically, these walls are built by repeated emotional abuse from a person’s surroundings as a coping method to reduce the pain of everyday life. The more pain a person experiences, the bigger the walls.

    This was first hinted at with Fuko, when Tomoya took the knife, she used denial to mask her physical pain. This small example built the foundation for all the emotional walls later in the series. As I look back, the Fuko arc did more to set up the rest of the series. After the Fuko reboot, all the characters involved were noticeably different emotionally despite not remembering what they did or how they did it. But it did give Tomoya the tools to begin dismantling the walls in the other haremettes and, eventually, his own walls, even if nobody realized it.

    Nagisa is one of the only characters that hasn’t built these walls around herself. There are multiple comments throughout the series about her honesty and being a crybaby. Tomoya’s “She must be a rare animal on this Earth” observation cemented this. She routinely is hurt by even the lightest of sarcasm (another wall built to protect those who used it), and shares the some of the pain each character experiences, and is completely unprepared to deal with the revelation of her parent’s sacrifices. This reinforces Jason’s idea that Nagisa’s family life was the most whole, since she didn’t have to build her own emotional walls to prevent her own sadness.

    Ushio is the only character that is completely without walls, and is quite possibly the most interesting character in the entire series. I applaud the writers for being able to introduce such a powerful character so late in a series. She is the thread that finally weaves all the pieces together, and she innocently leads us by the hand to one of the most powerful scenes ever. I almost hated Tomoya for how he treated Ushio on the trip, despite all the empathy I’d built for him, and that’s the beautiful part. In two episodes, she nestled into our hearts and triggered some of the most powerful emotions we as an audience can have. Thus, Ushio is the perfect instrument in the final sapping of Tomoya’s walls, and the audience’s walls as well.

    It’s very subtle, but extremely powerful. The story is intricately constructed to endear us to the struggle of Tomoya and to feel genuine empathy for him, just so we could experience all of the powerful emotions he felt at that moment. It left us essentially naked, like Tomoya, and placed us in his shoes at that moment. His tears are our tears, because Tomoya and the audience are, for a brief instant, one and the same.

    The story is wonderful,
    The characters are endearing,
    The writing is marvellous
    The music is beautiful,
    and the emotions are powerful.

    Clannad is fantastic.

  37. You know… you let me speechless… for goof this time.

    A few anime series managed to bring out my emotions to the surface, and Clannad After Story was one of them. Heck, I couldn’t cry when my best friend in college died three years ago, but then I cried at Nagisa’s death and then when Ushio cries in Tomoya’s arms. You’re right, KyoAni knew exactly how to use everything they did until know, in order to gave us a lesson, a message, and Tomoya was chosen to deliver that task.

    You’re the man Jason; you own my respect once again.

    See you until next year.

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