The Infinite Zenith

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

Walking Towards the Future, Discovering the Past: Revisiting Youhei and Misae’s Arcs in CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“Do not lose to the obstacles that you will meet in the future.” –Tomoya Okazaki

When Mei decides to stick around after Youhei shows no sign of having a concrete course of action following high school, Youhei attempts to find someone to pose as his girlfriend so Mei will stop worrying about him. He is unsuccessful until Sanae decides to help out, presenting herself as Nagisa’s sister. Sanae’s gentle and reliable demeanour causes Mei to continue worrying, and she reveals to Tomoya that the Youhei she remembers was once dependable and caring of those around her. She attempts to go out with Tomoya to draw old Youhei’s old nature, although Youhei seemingly remains unmoved. Youhei begins to withdraw from the others, and Tomoya learns that Youhei was once a soccer player who quit after hazing from more senior players. Mei wishes for Youhei to rejoin and agrees to pick up stray soccer balls as a result, but finds herself bullied by the soccer team. Youhei and Tomoya begin fighting the soccer team, causing their members to disperse. Emotions boil over – Youhei and Tomoya slug it out, stopping when Mei and Nagisa intervene. In the aftermath, Tomoya and Youhei, upon seeing their respective battered visages, recall how they’d first met and share a good laugh. Youhei is terrified to learn that Sanae is actually Nagisa’s mother, and flees from a violent Akio. Mei returns home, while Tomoya and Nagisa continue to spend time with Youhei. Autumn sets in, and with it, the Autumn Festival: while speaking with Misae, Tomoya dozes off. He learns that Misae met an unusual boy, Katsuki Shima, in her final year of high school. Despite being annoyed by his presence initially, Misae comes to spend more time with him after her heart is broken upon learning her crush has a girlfriend already. With his earnest attitude, Misae begins falling in love with him and invites him to the autumn festival. However, Katsuki learnt earlier that his existence is owed to the original Katsuki’s wish to be with Misae. On the night of the festival, Misae admits that she’s in love with Katsuki, and he dissolves into tears, knowing he won’t be able to fulfil his promise to her. Tomoya awakens, and attends the autumn festival. They run into Misae here, and Tomoya recounts Katsuki’s story to Misae, who realises that Katsuki is still with her after all this time.

By pushing Tomoya into considering his friends’ future and the pasts of those senior to him, ~After Story~ provides audiences with greater insight into the directions that Tomoya must take as time passes. In having him resort to putting on a façade to drive Youhei forwards, and eventually physically fighting him, Tomoya shows that while he prefers indirect action to motivate people, he is not afraid to get his hands dirty and be direct. A real friend is someone who is open and honest, even when what they say is not pleasant to listen to. A real friend similarly can listen to this and come away stronger for it. Thus, when Tomoya encourages Youhei to find focus in his future, the resulting fight and resolution does eventually have an impact on Youhei. In the immediate future, Youhei remains the source of comic relief, but subtle changes can be seen, as well. Besides the future, the past is also explored: listening to Katsuki’s story and recounting things to Misae shows that Tomoya is perceptive. He sees commonalities between the lessons and experiences of his seniors, and those of his own experiences. In this case, Tomoya understands what falling in love is like and the strength of these feelings, as well as what can happen when these feelings go unacknowledged. Acting on what he feels is right, Tomoya is able to help Misae attain closure when he learns Misae’s cat is actually Katsuki; in doing so, Tomoya also shows that he is aware of Kyou and Tomoyo’s feelings for him to some extent, further illustrating that despite his appearances, Tomoya is a complex, multi-dimensional character whose experiences, especially with Nagisa, have begin bringing back the side of him that genuinely represents his personality and beliefs. While seemingly unrelated to the main events in ~After Story~, Youhei and Misae’s stories serve to give Tomoya a chance to interact in a context where romance is not a possible outcome. His experiences in both show that regardless of who it is at the receiving end, Tomoya is ready to listen or fight his way to a solution.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • While I deal with Flickr’s upcoming plan to eliminate half the life in the universe everything except my thousand newest images, I still have a few posts that I can continue using Flickr for, such as this post for ~After Story~. Readers looking through my older posts may find the images to be a bit fuzzier than they were before: this was because I used a tool to quickly resize images and publish them to Imgur for hosting. Once I’m done the migration, I’ll consider different avenues or methods to host new screenshots.

  • It’s been a while since I’ve written about ~After Story~, and last we left off, Tomoya had won a baseball game. Immediately, ~After Story~‘s first episode gaves off a melancholy vibe, and in doing so, sets the expectation that Youhei’s backstory has a similar weight as that of anyone else’s, even if he is the comic relief character. However, like CLANNAD has done previously, things open up with a humourous tone, allowing audiences to laugh as Youhei gets bested by his circumstances at every turn. Here, he runs afoul of Kyou after trying to get Ryou to pose as his girlfriend.

  • Ahead of Mei’s appearance, Youhei decides to find someone willing to pose as his girlfriend in a bid to convince Mei that all is well with the world. There are some that posit one has their game together if they are in a relationship; while it is true that a relationship can be indicative of maturity (it takes maturity to reach compromises, solve problems and work together), a hastily thrown-together relationship of the sort that Youhei is looking for here will lack the elements of a real relationship, and as such, audiences are left to wonder if Mei will see through Youhei’s ruse.

  • Making only brief appearances until now, Mei is the opposite of Youhei, being motivated, determined and attuned to the environment around her. Mei is voiced by Yukari Tamura, whom I know for her roles as Onegai Teacher‘s Ichigo Morino, Mai Kawasumi of Kanon, Remon Yamano from Ano Natsu de MatteruKiniro Mosaic‘s Isami Omiya and Rika Furude in Higurashi When They Cry (yes, I watched Higurashi some years ago). It’s stated that the Sunohara family resides in the inaka, so Mei’s travelling to visit Youhei is a big deal.

  • Sanae agrees to pose as Youhei’s “girlfriend”, and a part of the dramatic irony is wondering how long the ruse can be kept before Mei suspects something; after all, she’s very observant. However, for the most part, Mei seems unaware of anything out of the ordinary, attesting to Sanae’s ability to sell it and play the role of Nagisa’s “older sister”. I’m not sure how easy or hard it is to spot these things in real life, but in Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector, NOC Adam Yao is described as being able to play a second role convincingly to allay suspicion from those who would tail him.

  • When Mei sees Sanae, she worries that Sanae is the sort of person to dote on Youhei and inhibit his growth. One of the things that CLANNAD excels at over its predecessor, Kanon, is that even the comic relief character has a worthy backstory: Kanon‘s equivalent of Youhei, Jun Kitagawa, is relegated to a minor role and does not gain much development. In many ways, CLANNAD feels like the successor to Kanon, utilising very similar elements to tell a much more nuanced, compelling story by applying all of the learnings from Kanon.

  • While on their “date”, Mei calls Tomoya “onii-chan“, sending a chill up his spine. While used typically amongst siblings, women will occasionally use it to refer to older men in an endearing fashion, and given the application of honourifics in Japan, this is typically used only amongst people who are close, hence the embarrassment factor. Here, Mei manages to evoke an expression I don’t think we’ve seen from Tomoya up until this point in CLANNAD.

  • Kyou, Ryou and Kotomi run into Tomoya while he’s under the influence of Mei’s onii-chan, and the three run off in terror. The joy of the moment is quickly lost, but it is typical of CLANAND to create these one-off moments that lighten the mood up. Subsequently, Tomoya and Mei do the things that one might do on a date; Mei acts more akin to a younger sister than a date, and in retrospect, her mischievous mannerisms bring to mind those of GochiUsa‘s Maya. Such characters previously were not particularly noteworthy for me, but since GochiUsa, this feeling has dissipated, and I do find it fun to see what kind of dynamics that such characters bring to the table.

  • Exemplary use of lighting in CLANNAD continues into ~After Story~: when Mei reveals to Tomoya and Nagisa Youhei’s past as a soccer player, the lengthening shadows create a sense of hopelessness and distance. Application of colour in CLANNAD allows Kyoto Animation to convey emotions and feelings that dialogue and aural cues alone cannot, and with this in mind, Kyoto Animation does tend to rely more heavily on lighting in drama than in comedies: series like Violet Evergarden and Sound Euphonium similarly use time of day and weather patterns to accentuate a mood, while more comedic works like Amagi Brilliant Park and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid tend to go with facial expressions to convey comedy.

  • Eventually, the decision is reached, that Youhei might need to rejoin the Soccer Team. It’s admittedly a short-sighted solution to a much bigger problem, and while we are a society that holds quitting is for losers, there does come a point where one can only endure so much before it becomes a better choice to seek different avenues. I would tend to argue that Youhei’s solution would not be to rediscover his interest in soccer, but to find another path to walk with conviction.

  • ~After Story~ paints this in a very blunt manner: the Soccer Club evidently does not want Youhei back, and they make it clear by setting a Sisyphean task for Mei. Seeing enough, Tomoya confronts the club’s leader, and when they begin bullying Mei openly, he makes to fight them. In CLANNAD, hostile characters have deliberately small, narrow eyes that make them immediately detestable. One admires Tomoya’s restraint in not engaging them immediately on the basis of appearances alone.

  • Youhei appears at the last, last second and opens the fight after the Soccer Club members begin bullying Mei physically. While often at the receiving end of a beating, Youhei and Tomoya manages to fend off the entire soccer team, causing them members to flee. The mechanics in CLANNAD are very inconsistent; Tomoyo can defeat entire gangs on her own, and Kyou’s capable of throwing books that punch through concrete, while Youhei can survive encounters with both without lasting damage. However, against the likes of the soccer club, real damage is caused.

  • The sense of melancholy at day’s end gives way to a rain shower: the dark skies and heavy rain mirrors the grim mood that Tomoya and Youhei both feel. Exhausted from their fight with the Soccer Club earlier, Tomoya and Youhei’s own fight shows their exhaustion, with each punch and throw exposing just how physically tired both combatants are at this point in time. However, driven on by their feelings, and sense of what is right, they exchange blows until Mei and Nagisa implore them to stop.

  • While seemingly pointless, Tomoya and Youhei’s fight serve to show the other the conviction each has in their respective beliefs, as well as the absurdity of their choices. While no more words are to be had here, it is implicit that Tomoya and Youhei come to an understanding here on both what needs to happen as the move ahead. They leave the soccer field battered and bruised, in the company of those who care about them.

  • The next day, under beautiful skies, Tomoya and Youhei realise the comedy of their situation and burst out laughing. Summed with their tacit agreement from the day before, it’s clear they’ve made up. The weather reflects this in full, and as the two share a laugh, Nagisa, Kotomi, Kyou and Ryou show up, clearly puzzled as to what’s going on. Much as how friendships between women can be a bit of an enigma for men, the way men interact with one another can similarly be confusing for women, as well.

  • To make it absolutely clear that a new status quo is reached, the question on everyone’s mind, of whether or not Youhei ever learns that Sanae is actually Nagisa’s mother, is answered at the end of Youhei’s arc. It is absolutely hilarious, resulting in Akio chasing down Youhei for having messed with his wife. Nagisa and Sanae are shocked, while Tomoya is busy laughing at Youhei’s predicament. With this, Youhei’s arc comes to an end, affirming Tomoya and Youhei’s friendship to audiences.

  • While it is important to look ahead and plot one’s course for the future, there are lessons from the past that can also be relevant. The contrast between future and past foreshadow the role that both will have in Tomoya’s life later down the line, but at present, these stories primarily serve to illustrate the way Tomoya handles his challenges and also further the sense of depth and connection present in CLANNAD that makes this series particularly memorable and timeless.

  • Before delving any further, Misae’s arc and story with Katsuki is entirely told in a dream, being detailed enough so that one could reasonably surmise that it is faithful to what Misae experienced. This story is recounted to Tomoya while he dozes off at Misae’s place, and because of how time perception in dreams work (as well as just how limited our understanding of dreams generally is), it is not implausible that Tomoya would have heard the entire story over the course of a 10-15 minute span.

  • Katsuki’s involvement is simple: he appears out of the blue to grant Misae one wish in exchange for having helped restore his spirits some years before, while he was recuperating in the hospital. Misae sees him as little more than a nuisance: when he learns that Misae holds feelings for one Igarashi, he tries to help her advance things along in fulfilment of his promise to her. However, Katsuki’s naïveté works against him.

  • Misae is this generation’s Kyou and Tomoyo rolled into one, having a bit of a temper and is quick to violence whenever annoyed. She also happens to be the student council president, and is best known for managing to encourage perfect attendance for a full week amongst her students. This similarity is likely deliberate, showing that while things change, there are also things that remain quite similar. I imagine that this is one of the things that teachers will appreciate – having taught cohort after cohort of students, similarities between different students will become apparent.

  • At Katsuki’s insistence, Misae attempts a kokuhaku to Igarashi, only to learn he already has a girlfriend. While she’s heartbroken, Katsuki is inconsolable, feeling that it is his fault for having brought pain to Misae. It takes a bit of convincing for Katsuki to lighten up, and it is also here that Misae opens up to Katsuki. While the day is ending, the colours of the scene are also richer, more saturated; audiences are left with the sense that even though something is ending, something new is beginning, as well.

  • Misae’s feelings for Katsuki emerge as the two spend more time together; while he might not be forward and confident, his gentle and kind mannerisms are his strong points. Fiction often has a second love be successful, and I know of a few stories in reality where folks became happy couples after one or both suffered recent heartbreak. I’m happy that people can find their promised people in this manner, but for me, romance and the prospect of finding someone special remains consigned to the realm of fiction. Since that event of four years previously, things simply have not been working.

  • One day, while waiting for Misae to finish her duties, Katsuki runs into Misae’s friends. They decide to pull off some fieldcraft with the aim of allowing Katsuki to see Misae while she’s on her student council work, and the result is quite amusing; he manages to pull off the disguise effectively and fools most everyone, save Misae.

  • ~After Story~ continues making use of blood reds and oranges in an environment filled with shadows to signify a particularly foreboding or difficult moment. One could guess what will happen even without dialogue owing to the colours. Here, Misae’s friends take him back home after he confesses to forgetting where he lived, and learn that Katsuki Shima had been deceased for quite some time. Katsuki learns here that the original was a young boy who’d died, and that the boy’s feelings had been strong enough to manifest in human form to pay back Katsuki’s gratitude to Misae.

  • Because the blacks and reds give way to a gentler palette of evening colours, viewers immediately feel a sense that the revelation, while shocking in the moment, is something that isn’t meant to be taken as a game-ender. Misae’s friends attempt to reassure Katsuki here, and audiences familiar with Kanon will be reminded of Makoto’s arc, where Yuuichi similarly remembers that he’d once befriended a fox whose gratitude was strong enough to manifest in a human form for a time. This is a recurring theme, and suggests that Maeda considers love to transcend species, being something that is quite wonderful.

  • On the night of the autumn festival, Misae and Katsuki share a moment together: by now, Misae is in love with Katsuki, but Katsuki regrets being unable to reciprocate her feelings. Despite her promise to be with him forever, the magic that allowed him to retain a human form expires, and Katsuki vanishes. In spite of him returning to his original form, Katsuki’s feelings remain, and he manages to find Misae once again. From Misae’s perspective, it would be fate that the stray cat she encountered happens to be Katsuki.

  • I’ve long heard that the things one experiences in life, and the reason why they happen, remain an enigma. Supposedly, this is why some people go through many occupations and prospective partners before finding the right ones for them, while others seem to make their first choices work out of the gates. Fate and free will has long been a subject of debate, and with my experiences, I find that reality will present individuals with both. Others have characterised the relationship between free will and fate as being one where neither can exist without the other: fate creates a decision, and free will is consciously choosing which decision to take.

  • While it’s subtle, I wonder if Nagisa and Tomoya being together at the autumn festival could qualify as foreshadowing of what is to come; after all, Katsuki and Misae were separated here, reuniting again later. Tomoya decides to tell Misae of what his dream showed him and helps Misae reach closure at the very same festival where she discovered her love for Katsuki.

  • ~After Story~‘s opening arcs take a very similar approach as CLANNAD, although the focus has shifted towards world-building. Supernatural elements and everyday elements are explored to further humanise the characters – Maeda’s use of the supernatural is intended to provide a tangible explanation for why things in life happen the way that they do, attesting to how complex and mysterious life is. With these two arcs over, the next stage in ~After Story~ will deal with the balls of light and the world outside of school.

Besides building out Tomoya’s character further, ~After Story~ capitalises on its earlier episodes to further develop the other characters and the universe to build a truly well-thought out, captivating world. From a narrative perspective, having Tomoya deal with Youhei and reigniting Youhei’s motivation shows the strength of their friendship. Audiences now understand why Youhei and Tomoya remain friends in spite of Youhei’s flippant attitude and Tomoya’s penchant for pranking Youhei: their friendship holds weight after what audiences have seen, and we thus come to appreciate that in spite of the comedic, even idiotic interactions between the two, the reality is that Tomoya and Youhei do support one another when the moment calls for it. Similarly, exploring Misae’s story and introducing an element reminiscent of Makoto’s arc in Kanon reinforce that there is a supernatural component in CLANNAD. While the supernatural had always been subtly present in CLANNAD (and in Fuuki’s arc, not-so-subtle), that it is making a more noticeable appearance now means that there are forces at work in CLANNAD that should not be so quickly dismissed. The sum of these two stories in ~After Story~ thus act to set the expectation that every story Tomoya experiences have weight, and that it is the sum of his actions, in conjunction with the supernatural aspects of his world, that will come to impact and shape his future.

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