The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

A Theory of Everything: Revisiting Kotomi’s Arc in CLANNAD At The Ten Year Anniversary

“The world is beautiful, even when it’s filled with sadness and tears.” –Kotomi Ichinose

With the drama club still lacking the requisite members to be formally reinstated, Tomoya speaks with Kotomi in the hopes of recruiting her to help out. In the process, he helps her become more sociable, and with Ryou, Kotomi decides to join the drama club. During one meeting, Kotomi becomes drawn to the music club’s violin performance, and when she tries to play for herself, she ends up causing those around her great distress. Hoping to help her improve, Kyou suggests that Kotomi give a live performance. While her performance is abysmal, her friends nonetheless encourage her, although Kotomi grows frightened when a mysterious man appears. Kotomi begins spending more time with her newfound friends and in classes, but one day, she witnesses an accident and becomes withdrawn. Tomoya visits her home and, finding her in a room filled with newspaper clippings, recalls his past with Kotomi: the two had met as children and spent a considerable amount of time together, but when her parents’ university research conflicted with her birthday, Kotomi resented them for not being with her. They later perished in a plane crash, and remorseful at her final words to them, Kotomi had since decided to take up her parents’ work. Tomoya decides to restore the garden in Kotomi’s backyard in the meantime. Nagisa and the others begin helping, as well; moved by this gesture, Kotomi opens up once again. During a small birthday party they host for her, the gentleman reappears and introduces himself to Tomoya and his friends. He reveals that Kotomi’s parents had been thinking about her right up until the end, and their final gift to her had travelled a considerable distance to reach her. The strength of her parents’ love allows Kotomi to reconcile with her past and embrace the future with Tomoya and the others.

After the basics were established, CLANNAD became free to explore different thematic elements related to Tomoya’s story. Kotomi’s arc is the first of the stories explored, and while perhaps better known for Kotomi’s infamous and lethal performances on the violin, the arc itself provides two main contributions into CLANNAD. The first of these is illustrating the extent that Tomoya will put forth his best effort for the people close to him, and while Tomoya did contribute to helping Fuuko make Kyouko’s wedding a special one, it is not until his time with Kotomi where the depths of his concern and caring for his friends become presented. An old childhood friend, Kotomi was born to two well-known researchers on cosmology, and in his youth, Tomoya had visited the Ichinose home frequently, stopping for a spot of tea in the garden with Kotomi. In the years since, the garden has grown decrepit and overgrown with weeds. Wanting to make amends for having halted their friendship, Tomoya feels that it is his responsibility to restore the garden, symbolically restoring his friendship with Kotomi. The other element in Kotomi’s arc sets the standard for what CLANNAD defines to be what constitutes as respectable parents. Long having felt guilty for destroying her parents’ work, Kotomi had zealously pursued her studies with the aim of continuing where they left off, and while it’s revealed that Kotomi had done no such thing, the story that her guardian presents to Tomoya and the others illustrates the love that Kotomi’s parents had for her. In their final moments, they sacrificed their research in favour of their daughter’s happiness – by making the choice to put family above even society, her parents’ decision show that a true parent is someone who is always willing to put their children first. With Tomoya’s help, Kotomi comes to understand and deeply appreciate this message, while Tomoya himself also gains a better insight as to what he himself would want in a parent.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Because this is the Kotomi arc, this screenshot of the thirty will feature Nagisa and Tomoya alone: Tomoya’s found himself in the path of Kyou’s scooter yet again and is knocked down, but fortunately, no major damage has occurred. CLANNAD is a universe where injuries and harm are dependent on the plot: characters can survive ludicrous amounts of damage without ill-lasting effects during moments of comedy, but when the mood turns serious, they will sustain injuries normally.

  • While Tomoya’s encounter of Kotomi in the library initially seems random, the first indicator that there’s a bit more history comes from the fact that of everyone, Kotomi is able to interact with Tomoya where she is much more bashful and quiet around other characters.

  • When meeting the boisterious and straight-shooting Kyou, Kotomi immediately hides behind Tomoya. Kotomi’s initial limitations in communication lead to some misunderstandings, and of everyone, Kyou takes the most initiative to try and bring Kotomi up to speed with everyone; although the two are off to a comically rough start, Kyou and Kotomi do get along with one another over the course of time. Their dynamics are quite fun to watch, and other folks count it as amongst the more endearing moments in CLANNAD when Kyou initially tries to hold a conversation with Kotomi.

  • I’ve always held a fondness for locations with plenty of books; during my time in middle and secondary school, I spent a considerable amount of time in the library, as my preferred place to hang out and work on various assignments. I continued to make use of library facilities during my early undergraduate career – in the quiet, sun-filled workrooms of an early morning, I reviewed for my MCAT and prepared for many a exam here. It was not until I began my undergraduate thesis that I was granted my own office space. During this time, a new library had opened on campus, and I shunned the location.

  • Initially, it was because the location was very busy and crowded, making it difficult to find space to work in; by comparison, my old office space was quiet, well-maintained and the perfect place to write software. After a botched kokuhaku during the Summer of the Flood and the revelation that she was seeing someone else a half-year later, I became adverse to seeing young couples in general. The new library was the premiere place where couples on campus went to “study”, so I pointedly avoided the library unless I was there to help give presentations on my lab’s research. Back in CLANNAD, Kyou messes with Kotomi, who is unaccustomed to Kyou’s approach in dealing with people.

  • It is really Kyou who drives the drama club forward, and her decision to join, along with Ryou, brings the total member count up to five. Despite playing an ancillary role in the drama club, her strong personality means that the other members initially have little choice but to follow in her wake: Kyou is frequently seen lecturing Nagisa, Kotomi and Ryou whenever she’s displeased with their bashfulness.

  • Besides Kotomi herself, off-hand references to the works of Steven Hawking, Brian Greene and other great physicists are what I most strongly remember in her arc. However, for most audiences, Kotomi’s abysmal violin playing is probably the most memorable element; Kotomi is blissfully unaware of her poor skills even as those in her vicinity writhe in agony, as though they were subject to the Cruciatus curse. There’s no indicator that Kotomi is deliberately playing poorly, but the Dunning–Kruger Effect could be in play here: Kotomi’s played the violin previously and is a brilliant student by all counts, but years of being out of practise means that her perception of her ability is inconsistent with her actual ability.

  • While dissimilar in appearance, Kotomi’s voice and personality does remind me somewhat of a friend who had been adrift with respect to their direction at the time, and I spent many an hour chatting with them about research, graduate studies and other related materials. Since then, they’ve managed to engage in research and was accepted into graduate school. Outside of those conversations, we talked about things in all manners, and as the flood waters receded towards days dominated by brilliant blue skies, I wondered if I was developing a bit of a nascent crush on them.

  • Under the warm light of a summer evening, Kotomi and Tomoya begin spending more time with one another as Tomoya tries to help her be more sociable. CLANNAD‘s lighting is generally used in a mundane fashion until the defecation hits the oscillation: when things get serious, lighting and colours are used to great effect in conveying what the characters feel to audiences. The universality of colours is such that I prefer using them to define the emotional tenour of a moment, as opposed to symbols – obscure symbols may have different meanings, and some anime analysis erroneously try to fit the symbol with their conclusions.

  • While Kotomi has ostensibly practised in preparation for her recital, her performance on the day of the recital proves to be abysmal, incapacitating the entire audience. Indeed, Kotomi’s violin skills would find application as acoustic weapons, which are being considered as non-lethal area-denial weapons. Such weapons are largely experimental and have also made the news of late: staff working at an American Embassy in Cuba have been reporting unusual symptoms including hearing loss and irregularities in mental ability. While investigators initially suspected acoustic weapons, they’ve since been ruled out.

  • Kotomi endures a lecture from Kyou on the basics of the Japanese manzai routine. Ryou and Nagisa’s looks of horror are priceless, as is Kotomi’s vacant stare. It would appear that Kotomi’s attempted to ask Kyou to teach her how comedy works, and here, Kyou shows that she’s quite spirited, possessing the makings of an actress. Like Zoidberg of Futurama, Kyou feels that Kotomi isn’t cut out for the part.

  • The drama club’s members, certainly en route to counting one another as friends, spend a weekend together. There’s a voice-over during this scene, so I’m not too sure what the context of Ryou and Nagisa’s embarassment are, but the voice-over itself provides a bit of foreshadowing as to what’s happening next; Kyou learns that Kotomi’s birthday is upcoming, and so, plans to give Kotomi a birthday bash worthy of remembrance.

  • After a days’ worth of searching around for a suitable birthday gift, Tomoya and the girls are unsuccessful. Tomoya reassures the others that there’s time yet to find a good gift, but notices that she’s spaced out. CLANNAD excels at making use of foreshadowing that astute viewers will catch onto, especially if they’ve played through the visual novel, and for anime-only folks such as myself, it will take a second watch-through in order to catch these minor but relevant details that contribute to the depth of each story in CLANNAD.

  • At Kyou’s insistence, Kotomi decides to prank Tomoya, whose reaction is immediately of embarrassment. According to the supplementary documentation, Kotomi’s assets are larger than anyone else in CLANNAD, and Kyou is fond of messing with her for this reason. Played purely for the audience’s amusement, it also serves as a dramatic setup for the next scene, when Nagisa learns of a vehicle accident, leading to a bit of a panic as Tomoya wonders if anyone was injured.

  • When Kotomi witnesses a vehicle accident, it induces great panic in her; up until now, Kotomi had been making great strides in interacting with those around her, so to see this happen was quite unsettling. It speaks to Mamiko Noto’s capabilities as a voice actor in being able to convey the sense of pure terror at the scene unfolding before Kotomi, adding yet another piece of the puzzle to Kotomi’s past. Besides Kotomi, Noto has also provided the voice for Sakura Quest‘s Sayuri Shinomiya (Saori’s older sister), as well as Taihō of Kantai Collection. Overwhelmed, Kotomi takes her leave, with the others left to wonder what went down.

  • The man that Kotomi had been frightened of earlier turns out to be her legal guardian, and while Tomoya is initially hostile towards him, he consents to listen to the gentleman’s story after he reveals that he is a longtime acquaintance of the Ichinoses. This fellow somewhat resembles Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon in The Dark Knight trilogy, and Kotomi’s fear of him is not because of any misdeeds he was responsible for, but rather, because she fears the possibility of bearing direct responsibility for what’s happened in the past.

  • While perhaps not quite as powerful as in Fuuko’s arc, lighting is utilised to great effect in the Kotomi arc to convey a very specific sense during a scene. The dying light of a setting sun emphasises the browns and yellows of the decaying yard surrounding the Ichinose residence, reinforcing the notion that this place has long been neglected. That Tomoya visits by sunset shows that the day is ending; given the situation, there is little he can do now but wait for another day to begin so he can properly begin working on a solution.

  • The strong crimson hues inside Kotomi’s room, filled with newspaper clippings concerning her parents, create a highly unsettling sight that conveys to viewers the emotional intensity that Kotomi feels. Here, in a room illuminated in a surreal manner, Tomoya finally recalls the nature of his relationship with Kotomi – they’d been friends in their childhood. CLANNAD transitions into a flashback to fill audiences in on what’s happened previously, and provides a vivid picture of what’s happened.

  • In 2003, Brian Greene’s 1999 book, The Elegant Universe, was adapted into a three-part documentary for NOVA that outlines his research on string theory and how it could be the solution towards reconciling Newtonian physics at the macro-scale and quantum theory underlying interactions at incredibly minute scales. I found the three-part series to be incredibly enjoyable and wondered just how close we were at the time to a theory of everything. It’s been fifteen years since I first watched The Elegant Universe, and the complexity of these systems means that there’s no satisfactory theory that can really account for everything yet.

  • Greene’s research has continued into the idea that the universe is multi-dimensional, with extra dimensions wrapped up into small structures similar to how a strand of hair might be seen as being one-dimensional from a distance. The theory of everything might not be something we can readily demonstrate to hold true at present, but with continued research into properties of the universe, it is expected that our knowledge in this area of physics will only improve. It is this that forms the name for the final episode of Kotomi’s arc in CLANNAD and by extension, this post. Back in CLANNAD, Tomoya recalls how he first met Kotomi and the time they subsequently spent in her family’s garden.

  • Kotomi became frustrated on the eve of her birthday when a conference came up for her parents; such a reaction is not unexpected of someone of her age, and when they failed to return on account of a plane crash, Kotomi felt responsible for the actions. On the assumption that the gentleman was here to take her parents’ research papers, Kotomi tried to torch them with the hope of preserving it, but has since regretted her decision. This is the reason why Kotomi is studious: she aims to atone for her actions by recovering and rediscovering the knowledge that was presumably destroyed with her parents’ deaths.

  • After appraising Ryou, Nagisa and Kyou of the situation, Tomoya decides to restore Kotomi’s garden to its original state, and the group also takes Kotomi’s violin to a repair shop. Owing to the fact that ten years have elapsed since the original airing of Kotomi’s arc, curiosity led me to take a look and see what discussions were like back when internet speeds averaged 3 Mbps (375 kb/s) and the Kentsfield Core 2 Quad Q6600, one of the earliest affordable quad-core CPUs, had only been on the market for a year. To put things in perspective, my MacBook Pro, an early 2015 model, is armed with the i5-5257U, which is around 73 percent faster than the Q6600, and my current internet connection is twenty times faster.

  • Through his efforts, weeds are removed from the garden, and life begins to fill it once more with colour. Looking back at discussions of a decade past, folks largely agree that the Kotomi arc is quite moving and well-written. Appropriately, period discussions were focused on the emotional impact of the story, and even now, CLANNAD discussions tend to not mention any technical elements of multi-verses because, while they facilitate the story in both CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~, how they precisely work isn’t important for us viewers.

  • The reason why I’ve made no mention of Kotomi’s quote from Robert F. Young’s The Dandelion Girl is that I’ve done a separate post on the topic already, which dealt with the original short story rather than CLANNAD. In the case of CLANNAD, one can reasonably infer that Kotomi sees Tomoya as a great friend, someone who continues improving with the passage of time. She references this line because the two had read The Dandelion Girl as children and wishes for him to remember the past friendship that they once shared.

  • Some sources of documentation state that Kotomi’s only seen Tomoya as a friend in the anime, and her response when Tomoya’s feelings for Nagisa come out into the open seem to suggest that this is the case, but her choice of words and steadfast hope of meeting him blur the boundaries. When Tomoya fully recalls the full story, Kotomi is finally ready to face the her friends once again, feeling that she’s in the company of individuals who have accepted her.

  • The evening sky is presented again in great prominence, although now, reds are replaced with a gentler carnation pink to illustrate that the mood has softened. To the audience, this is meant to convey the idea that through Tomoya’s efforts, Kotomi has moved past her own inner dæmons. The next day, Kotomi returns to classes; she’s immediately greeted by her friends, who hand her a receipt for violin repairs.

  • The one remaining unresolved element in Kotomi’s arc at this point is the story dealing with her guardian. Having confirmed him to be a friend, Tomoya and the others feel that it’s time for Kotomi to learn of the whole truth about her parents. As the gentleman explains what really happened in her parents’ final moments, when they chose to save Kotomi’s gift over their paper, a warm golden light fills the room. The dominance of gold and yellow denotes that things have finally reached a resolution, and Kotomi makes peace with her past here.

  • The scene dealing with the suitcase that the Ichinoses left behind and its journey to reach Kotomi has long been subject to analysis for whether or not it added any value to CLANNAD and saw attempts by folks to decipher the different languages being used. Neither are particularly meaningful uses of time: as noted earlier, the whole point of Kotomi’s arc is to illustrate the extent to which Tomoya is willing to go for his friends, as well as a more dramatic example of the extent that good parents are willing to look after their children.

  • In short, the Kotomi arc is where precedent is set for Tomoya’s actions upcoming in CLANNAD. This brings my revisitation of the Kotomi arc to an end, and I found that, compared to the Fuuko arc, I’ve deviated a bit more from the Kotomi arc in my figure captions. Here, Kyou and the others bring Kotomi her newly-refurbished violin, and thanks to her involvement, Kotomi is able to celebrate the birthday party that her parents had once planned for her. In their stead, Tomoya and the others have planned a similarly enjoyable day for Kotomi.

  • Concerned with numbers, Tomoya asks if Kyou’s idea is a good one, and Kotomi remarks that she’s got a big garden…for you. This brings my Kotomi talk to an end, and the next CLANNAD revisitation post will cover Tomoya’s journey to help Nagisa rebuild the drama club. To do so, he hopes to help Tomoyo become student council president, feeling that it could help with the process, and invariably draws both Tomoyo’s and Kyou’s eye, leading to an interesting conflict. The gap between this post and the next will not be quite as long: the arc ended on Valentines’ Day, so this is when I will next write about CLANNAD.

Besides a powerful pair of messages with what family is and the sort of person Tomoya is, Kotomi’s arc also introduces the notion of multi-verses. One of the strengths in CLANNAD is that its portrayal of these multi-verses and the Ichinose’s research in such is given the perfect amount of detail to motivate the story, but no further. One of the issues in anime is whenever authors attempt to fit in immensely technical concepts without an inkling of the laws that govern such systems and the constraints within them. Some anime have taken to mentioning technical jargon with the aim of elevating the gravity in a scene, but in CLANNAD, details about M-theory, branes and interactions between dimensions are noticeably absent. Instead, concepts relevant to the story are presented in approachable terms: it is in one such multi-verse that the mysterious robot and girl’s story is set in. Initially, this world is of little more than a curiosity for the audiences, but as CLANNAD progressed, this alternate reality becomes much more significant towards the narrative overall. The inclusion of this element and sufficiently frequent mention of the possibility thus drive the story forwards, and opens up audiences to the idea that miracles are possible within CLANNAD: all of this is accomplished, permitting viewers to enjoy Kotomi’s story without requiring that audiences pick up Brian Greene and Steven Hawking’s publications as background material.

2 responses to “A Theory of Everything: Revisiting Kotomi’s Arc in CLANNAD At The Ten Year Anniversary

  1. cloudst12 January 22, 2018 at 21:08

    Happy New Year 2018! I hope you and your family will have a great year ahead.

    Talking about Kotomi, I never really enjoyed her character arc. It might be the violin, I believe it is the violin. It might be her song “Étude Pour les Petites Supercordes” that I don’t particularly enjoy. I always found myself skipping her part. I think music plays a part in enjoyment, if you don’t like the music, you probably won’t enjoy the scenes.

    I wonder how close are we to a theory of everything? I recall Michio Kaku’s words that all the equations that govern the Universe can fit onto a sheet of paper but the quest for a theory of everything is to squeeze those equations into an equation, one-inch long. What a quest indeed. Especially if we think about trying to resolve general relativity and quantum mechanics. The science of the very large and the science of the very small. M-theory, really a derivative of string theory, seems like a good candidate, though, admittedly, I have not done much reading into it. We live in exciting times.

    I believe that writers for the most part are not always very familiar with the topics that end up being talked about in their stories. I’ve noticed that they will immerse themselves in the topic and ultimately, become lay-experts eventually, but not at the time when they are first writing the story. There is a certain romance to it though, a scenario writer taking to astronomy after writing the scenarios about it for a visual novel, a video game maker taking to flying after writing a story about flying and a visual novel writer writing about the tenth floor of a hospital.

    I guess for us, that’s the joy of writing. To be able to experience life. To record it in words. To inspire others. Though, of course, words will never fully replicate the feeling. It’s close enough.

    But the thing that Kotomi’s parents wanted to convey to her through the stuffed toy and message. It was more important than the theory of everything. Love, or in a sense, may I dare say, agápē, since there are several words for love after all – English is a poorer language for only having one word for love. Love for their daughter was more important than their live’s work. Ultimately & fortunately, their love reached her, even from beyond.

    I hope you’re doing well. For me, I enter my clinical years by the beginning of next month. Will definitely stop by when you write on Valentine’s.

    Take care, & cheers.

    Like

    • infinitezenith January 23, 2018 at 22:29

      Happy New Year to you as well; 狗年吉祥! Chinese New Year is a few weeks away, so this seems appropriate, as well 🙂

      For me, music in Kotomi’s arc was overshadowed by the flashbacks, and so, Kotomi’s violin performances were among the amusing inconsistency with real-world physics I’ve come to accept about CLANNAD. The best songs in the CLANNAD soundtrack are Dango Daikazoku and Nagisa’s theme (plus any variation of of the two). Most of the other songs were incidental pieces that set the mood, and while a large number of them simply helped augment an atmosphere, some tracks were more memorable. Off the top of my head, Spring Breeze is another song I greatly enjoyed. Kotomi’s theme is a bit of a hit or miss, speaking to Kotomi’s eccentricities.

      How close are we to a Theory of Everything as Brian Greene and Steven Hawking envisioned it? In the fourteen years since Elegant Universe was aired on NOVA, I think that we’ve definitely made advances in understanding the gap between Newtonian and quantum physics, but as I’ve got no formal training as a physicist, I cannot say for sure. Most prevailing opinions suggest that more research is needed before we know where we are, much less figure out the gap between the very large and the very small. The breakthrough discoveries will likely come incrementally, so I’m curious to see both 1) what advances are made and 2) what implications it will have on society as a whole.

      The familiarity of the writers with the material they deal with varies, but how well they know technical elements is irrelevant to the strength of the story they can produce. CLANNAD is an excellent exemplar of how taking the basics is sufficient to motivate the narrative and create a compelling story. Folks like Tom Clancy occupy the opposite side of the spectrum: their knowledge of systems create stories that are immersive for different reasons. Ultimately, you’ve mentioned the sort of magic and impact that writing can impart: fundamentally, writing is immensely powerful because of its evolutionary origins. Once we learned how to represent our ideas with symbols that we recognise, we could share these ideas over space and time. Being able to transmit and store information forms the basis for culture, and this is what makes us H. Sapiens unique: instead of learning everything over again, we can build on the shoulders of giants, and inspire others to reach new heights.

      When everything is said and done, the final actions that Kotomi’s parents took are significant; irrespective of what Kotomi’s violin skills are like, the message in her arc also has a profound impact on how Tomoya sees the world. He learns here what the extent of parental love can be, in a different capacity and light than how Nagisa’s relationship with her parents are, helping him see the world in a more positive light. What is closure for Kotomi also helps Tomoya out.

      My friends are doing their residency now, and they’re busy like they’ve never been before. Medicine is a tough field, definitely worthy of praise for the level of dedication people put towards the health of everyone in society, so a meaningful journey awaits you. On my end, I’m knee-deep in the world of iOS development, using everything I’ve learned to build apps and design systems that will hopefully make someone’s life better in some way. I’m not too sure what lies in store for 2018, but I think that a combination of hard work and open-mindedness will see the year through.

      On a final note, I’ll try not to be a bitter piece of crap when writing about the next arc. I minimally tolerate Valentines’ Day, and while I nominally get by without a significant other, there are days where I feel like doing something bone-headed to make the pain go away. I suppose it’ll be a good exercise in professionalism, to not allow my emotions to govern how I express my thoughts, then.

      Thanks for swinging by!

      Liked by 1 person

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