#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.