Moderate Spoiler Warning.
“I hate this town. It’s full of all the memories I’d rather forget. Everyday go to school, chat with friends… And go back home to the one place I really don’t want to go back to… Will something eventually change doing this? Will that day come?”
“Do you like this school? I really, really love it. But nothing can stay unchanged. Fun things… Happy things… They can’t all possibly stay unchanged. Even so, can you keep on loving this place?”
Welcome to the world of Clannad. A tale of raw human emotion and interactions between individuals which shift the path of destiny. A charming story of young love, smiles and tears, and feelings which transcend time and space. A collection of stories which go far beyond the ordinary anime drama, and accumulate to represent a new standard for anime. Clannad is Key’s master work, a humble Visual Novel which has recently been adapted into one of the highest-rated anime series of all time. The Visual Novel is one of the largest Visual Novels written to date, with approximately 10 branching story arcs, each alone standing at a considerable length.
Clannad tells the story of a young high school delinquent, Tomoya Okazaki, and his weary push through his final year of school. He walks with no purpose or goal in mind; he lacks direction. But fate encircles Tomoya that year, and he has many chance encounters with a number of girls at the school, each with their own unique social dilemmas. The story branches with each relationship Tomoya chooses to develop, and a variety of alternate realities are actualized through the decisions of the reader. In many of them, Tomoya finds meaning in his existence by helping each of these girls, and sometimes his efforts bear fruit in the form of a metaphysical force which transcends his own life. In the world of Clannad, there exists another world parralel to our own. This hidden world is a world where nothing lives, and nothing dies. It’s a vacant world that appears similar to our own natural world, except radiant balls of light drift through the air. In the world exists only one soul: a young girl who spends each and every day waiting, waiting to realize why she exists there. After some time, a presence enters that hidden world, a soul. The girl notices this and decides to build a body for that foreign soul through scrap metal found around the place, and the lost soul is given new life as a mechanical boy. The story of the illusionary world is told alongside that of the real story, in which Tomoya spends his days helping each of the girls; his efforts sometimes materalizing as balls of light in the illusionary world. What purpose could these lights serve, I wonder?
I recently had the privilege of purchasing Part 1 of the anime adaptation of Clannad in Australia, and it’s prompted me to take the time to pay my respects to this amazing piece of art. The anime adaptation tells a slightly different story than the original Visual Novel, but the primary essence of the story is still there. The biggest difference between the two is that the Visual Novel tells a story of multiple realities; different outcomes which somehow influence an ultimate climax. Whereas the anime attempts to combine each of these story branches into one continuous plot. That said, it does a pretty damn good job of it. With that in mind, I’m going to pay my respects to the producers and distributors with part 1 of a 4 part reflection on Clannad. In this post I will be reflecting on the early arc of the anime and the Fuko arc. I’m not going to comment on the Kotomi arc until part 2, because part 1 of the anime only includes the first half of it.
The first four episodes of the Anime exist as what I’ll be calling the Pre-Story Arc. It’s a bit of an extended prologue, introducing the setting and characters before focusing on any particular arc. In the Visual Novel, this was essentially the story before it branches into different arcs. In the anime, however, it also serves to introduce the early stages of Nagisa’s arc, which is central to the story as a whole. Anyway, here’s a brief reflection on the characters central to this early stage of the story.
Tomoya Okazaki is our narrator and protagonist. I think I’ve explained him above well enough already.
Youhei Sunohara is Tomoya’s only friend in school, a fellow delinquent with the nature of a perverted idiot, but is still a nice and well-mannered guy under the ugly exterior. He serves as the comic relief character for most of the story, but he even gets his own story arc later on, so there is some depth to him. That’s not very common for comic relief characters, after all, so I commend Key for that decision.
Nagisa Furukawa is, shall we say, the prime ‘heroine’ of Clannad. She is introduced alongside Tomoya in the first scene of both the anime and visual novel, and is extremely crucial to the entire world of Clannad in many significant ways. I won’t go into too much detail about her yet, as there is still much of her story to tell. But she’s a very kind-hearted, shy, sincere and compassionate character, who will do anything for the people she cares about. She has a very weak body, and is prone to illness, having been forced to repeat the senior year for 2 years straight due to missed cl
asses. And she’s a bit of a crybaby. But despite her apparent physical and emotional fragility, she is in fact a very strong-hearted person, which is proven in many instances throughout the story.
Ryou Fujibyashi is a member of Tomoya’s class, and the class representative. She is very timid and has a passion for fortune telling, and her insights on fate and causality are very relevant to the original visual novel, giving the feeling that the medium is very self-aware. It’s not as pertinent to the anime, but you need to keep the original medium in mind when watching Clannad; it proves very important later on. Ryou herself shared a story arc with her twin sister Kyou in the Visual Novel, but that was omitted from the main story of the anime and instead released as an alternate reality OVA after the conclusion of the series. But the impact of that reality can still be seen in the main story of Clannad, but as for how I’ll leave that to you guys to figure out.
Kyou Fujibyashi is Ryou’s twin sister, the stronger, tougher, dependable one. Contrasting her timid sister’s personality, Kyou is a typical tsundere, but that quality of hers only really plays as a setup for their story arc, rather than the focus of it. Again, she’s only a sub-character in the anime series, but her story does converge slightly with the main plot.
Tomoyo Sakagami is a new transfer student to the school, and is a year younger than the rest of the characters introduced thus far. In her past she once played the role of a lone vigilante, fighting wrong-doers in the streets with her powerful fighting techniques. In the school she aims to fit in as an ordinary high school girl, and eventually become school president to achieve her goals, but she is continually harrassed by Sunohara, which gets in her way a bit. Like Kyou and Ryou, her story arc was only told in an alternate reality OVA, but her story does converge with the main plot somewhat.
I could talk about the other characters, but their roles are unimportant until later, so I’ll reserve their introductions for my reflections on later arcs. The Pre-Story arc is mostly a barrel of laughs, but the real drama stems from the revelation of Tomoya’s terrible relationship with his drunkard father. In the past, they once got in a bad fight, and Tomoya’s arm was damaged in such a way that he could never lift it above his shoulder ever again. Due to this he was forced to quit the basketball club he loved. Flash forward to the present day of the story. Tomoya has given up some of his time to helping Nagisa actualise her goal of joining the drama club. Unfortunately for her, the drama club has been disbanded, so Nagisa is forced to take on the job of reforming the drama club herself, with a bit of support from Tomoya. It’s often thought that Tomoya hated club activites after what happened with his Dad, but that’s shown to be false when the truth comes to light. When Nagisa learns of this, she immediately becomes ill due to the guilt of how she had burdened Tomoya by pressuring him to play Basketball with her, which shows just how fragile her body is. At the commencement of episode 5, we enter the Fuko Arc, the first true story arc of the anime.
First, allow me to introduce Fuko. Fuko Ibuki is a junior student in the school whom Okazaki first encountered in the art room while he was absent-mindedly idling around the school. Fuko is very petite-looking for her age and has very eccentric behaviour, bordering on autistic. Her child-like demeanor captured the attention of Tomoya and Nagisa, who both sought to take care of her and help her fulfil her mission of handing out hand-carved wooden stars starfish out to each and every student in the school. The purpose of this was to indirectly invite each of them to Fuko’s sister – Kouko Ibuki’s wedding with the charismatic Yusuke Yoshino. The reason in selecting students to attend the wedding is due to the fact that Kouku used to be an art teacher at the school, but since she left 3 years ago, none of the students (save Nagisa herself) remember her. (for those unaware, Japanese High Schools only consist of year levels). Yusuke Yoshino is quite an important character, but not until much later in the story, so I’ll wait until later to talk about him.
Fuko’s story is one of the more supernatural stories of the bunch, where it is soon revealed that Fuko is actually the spirit of a hospitalised girl stuck in a coma, that is inhabiting the school with the sole intent of wishing her sister happiness by inviting all of the students to attending her wedding. The climax arises when Fuko’s condition in her coma worsens, and her very existence begins to fade from the world as people start forgetting her or even stop seeing her altogether. I love how they decided on putting this arc first, as it really sets the mood for the dream-like nature of the story. The magic isn’t functional and it doesn’t try to make itself clear and understandable, like many other anime try to do. The magic of the Key universe is very mysterious, very dream-like. It’s something that you can’t really grab at, it’s intangible, but it still makes sense on a deeper, less algorithmic level. Moreover, the Fuko arc exemplifies the Key’s mastery of magic realism, where supernatural elements weave themselves into a mundane world seamlessly. This is expanded on much, much more in the late arcs, but the Fuko arc really sets the mood for the rest of the series to follow. It’s, shall we say an anchor for the rest of the story. When dealing with an ordinary high school setting, it’s easy to forget about the fantasy elements that are integral to Key’s storytelling. Fuko’s arc will help us remember that the world of Clannad is not bound by the mundane laws of physics, and that there exists feelings in that world which surpass the constraints of time and space, actualising something like a dream into reality. And I think it says something about how we may be able to view our own world as well. I think I’ll leave you all to think about that for the moment, I’ll expand on my views more in the later arcs.
That concludes part 1 of my four-part Clannad reflection. Part 2 will arrive when I get the chance to watch it on DVD in December. So you’ll have to wait a few months, but be patient! I’m gonna make it an awesome read for you all =)