“Of course I’ll stay with you. No matter what happens, forever and ever.” –Nagisa Furukawa
Akio refuses to discuss with Tomoya the latter’s intent to marry Nagisa; he stipulates that Tomoya must hit a baseball in a manner that Akio finds satisfactory before he will even consider speaking with Tomoya, and so, Tomoya determinedly practises his hits. Nailing one after lengthy practise, he implores for Akio to accept his marriage to Nagisa. Nagisa graduates shortly after; in the company of her friends, she receives her diploma and marries Tomoya, taking a job as a waitress at a local family restaurant. Tomoya and Akio visit Nagisa while she is working, and fend off some customers accosting her. Later, Nagisa learns that she is pregnant and develops morning sickness, requiring that she take bedrest. Their friends visit, and Sanae hires a midwife to help deliver their child when Nagisa expresses a wish to give birth at home. Because of Nagisa’s frailty, there’s a risk that she may not make it, but both Tomoya and Nagisa decide to go ahead with the birth. Tomoya learns from Akio that after that one day where Nagisa lost consciousness while waiting in the snow for him and Sanae to return home, he carried her to a meadow and begged the gods to spare her. Akio recounts this story to reiterate the value of family and how he and Sanae will support Tomoya and Nagisa. Nagisa and Tomoya decide to name their child Ushio. By winter, Nagisa goes into labour during a fierce blizzard; conditions preclude taking Nagisa to a hospital, and so, she gives birth to Ushio at home. The combined pressure on her body from childbirth and her illness results in her death, devastating Tomoya and ending his dream of raising Ushio with Nagisa. From the highest highs to the lowest low, this arc in ~After Story~ is a difficult one to watch. Having gone through so much, this couple reaches a point where they can make a new start, raising a child and pushing on into the future, but at the last second, this is cruelly taken from Tomoya, who is now made to endure new challenges.
Weather and lighting, having long played a major role in earlier stories within CLANNAD, now come out in full force in ~After Story~. It is no surprise that the symbolism of the different seasons is utilised to its fullest effects to convey emotional tenour as Tomoya and Nagisa’s marriage occurs. In spring, shortly after Nagisa graduate, she and Tomoya marry. Spring is a season characterised by new beginnings and renewal: vegetation and animal life begin returning into a warming world as days lengthen. Having finally reached one milestone in her life, Nagisa is quite ready to walk a new road with Tomoya, and their marriage in the spring reinforces that something new has bloomed. This is a time of hope and optimism, to step into the future and make the most of things. Life is at its apex in the summer, when days are longest and the weather is hot. Lengthy days fill people with energy and vigour, instilling a sense of adventure. It is here that Nagisa announces that she is pregnant; a new child represents this adventure, as raising a child is a completely new journey for couples. Filled with spirit and vitality, the summer is a time of exploration and excitement, which is mirrored in the joy Tomoya and Nagisa experience when they begin preparing to welcome their child into the world. Positive imagery abounds in the early stages of Tomoya and Nagisa’s marriage: colours are vivid, and the mood light as the characters bounce off one another. However, winter sets in. With its greys and whites, winter is bleak, a time of cold and darkness. It is here that Nagisa perishes while giving birth to Ushio, unable to access medical facilities because a blizzard has rendered dangerous travelling on roads. The winter contributes to Nagisa’s death, and it becomes very clear that ~After Story~ regards winter in a negative light – winter isn’t just an ending to light and warmth or about dormancy, it is the embodiment of death and suffering, of loss and uncertainty.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Tomoya’s determination to make his point clear to Akio is such that he is willing to commit every free moment available to gearing up to make a hit. This is one of Tomoya’s strongest suits: when he feels something is worth fighting for, he will move heaven and earth to accomplish his goals. Viewers have wondered why baseball is so prominently featured in CLANNAD: besides being a national pastime in Japan, it is also symbolic, acting as a visual metaphor for effort.
- During one Christmas celebration, Nagisa gets hammered after one sip of sake and immediately accosts Tomoya, wondering if he would find Sanae more attractive. Tomoya is cornered, leaving audiences with a good laugh. Moments such as these do much to humanise the characters: we tend to relate to people more strongly if they demonstrate a wider range of emotions, and such moments serve to make the sorrowful moments even more poignant.
- Nagisa’s frailty becomes more apparent as ~After Story~ wears on, and she falls ill again. However, it is fortunate that Nagisa’s illness does not cause her to miss a protracted amount of class. As winter transitions into Spring, Nagisa finally graduates, having completed the requirements needed to earn her diploma.
- Under the beautiful spring skies, Nagisa receives her diploma as sakura blossoms flutter about. The colours of this scene parallel those seen when Tomoya first met her, and the idea that spring is a time of new beginnings; with Nagisa finally done her high school education, she and Tomoya can move ahead and embrace their future together.
- When I last watched ~After Story~ some five years ago, I was gearing up for an MCAT and had not even finished my undergraduate programme yet. Going through CLANNAD was a bit of an eye-opener – the series shows a world beyond the familiar environment of school and steps into the realm of what adulthood entails. In the full knowledge of what unfolds in CLANNAD, I can say that real life can sometimes be as unforgiving and unfair as CLANNAD. Such unknowns cannot always be easily foreseen, but now, armed with five years of additional experience, I can say that the real key to handling life’s problems is to triage, divide and conquer even when said problems adamantly refuse to take a number and queue up.
- Tomoya and Nagisa’s marriage is not depicted, and is implied to be a very simple one. One thing that I greatly respect CLANNAD for is its portrayal of love in a very clean manner. When people think weddings, expensive gowns, exquisite dinners and an exotic honeymoon usually come to mind, but ultimately marriage is the affirment that two people are committed to one another, for better or worse. Whether one takes on a fancy wedding or a simple one, the end result is a declaration of this commitment and faithfulness to one another.
- With Tomoya and Nagisa now husband and wife, Akio is Tomoya’s father-in-law and Tomoya becomes Akio’s son-in-law. When they address one another informally, the embarrassment mounts to the point where Tomoya is reduced to banging his cranium against the wall, while Akio writhes in agony on the table. CLANNAD excels in taking ordinary moments and driving humour from them, although I’m not too sure if the equivalent in Western culture would be as funny – some jokes only work becuase they are plays on aspects unique to Japanese culture. For instance, as Taki, Mitsuha refers to herself as atashi and boku erroneously, but in English, people only say “me” or “I”, so the joke has no such equivalent.
- After an eventful day, the newly-weds return home as husband and wife for the first time. Tomoya looks as he always does, but with her hair in a bun, Nagisa looks a ways more mature. With Tomoya and Nagisa now married, I exit the part of CLANNAD that I can speak about from personal experience; beyond this point, my remarks are largely anecdotal rather than something I’d previously experienced.
- One thing that characterises marriage is sharing a bed, although more couples sleep apart nowadays, too. There are benefits and drawbacks to both; proponents of sharing a bed say that it encourages communication and acts as a reminder of closeness, bolstering the release of oxytocin and reduces cortisol (reduces stress), while those favouring sleeping apart cite better sleep as reasons to do so.
- Tomoya and Naigsa’s marriage is presented as being another stage in life, filled with the joyous, mundane and challenging: it is a broad spectrum of experiences that allows ~After Story~ to captivate audiences. Even if the series does come across as being more melodramatic in some moments, when everything is said and done, CLANNAD stands head and shoulders above most anime for its sincere portrayal of life, both in terms of the lowest of lows, highest of highs and the everyday moments folk tend to take for granted.
- Tomoya recounts the legend of the light orbs, which are said to represent people’s wishes and manifest when people do something benevolent. Tomoya asks if Nagisa would wish for anything, and she replies that she’d like a child. Even from this perspective, both are blushing furiously, and no more is said of the matter for the time being. Having children is a major commitment and investment for any couple; it is unsurprising that whether or not to have a child can be a very difficult discussion to have for a couple. As I’ve noted earlier, this is something I’m completely out of my depth in; beyond stating that I would be quite happy to have a child, I will also say no more of the matter.
- To step away from a difficult topic, ~After Story~ cleverly transitions to Tomoya and Akio dropping by the family restaurant that Nagisa works at. This particular unfolding of events represents a masterful use of flow to mimic what happens when uncomfortable topics are brought up; the anime does not yet wish to disclose what Tomoya’s response is, so it immediately pushes audiences to a scene of comedy with Akio at the helm with the intent on having them smile and laugh, while the question of whether or not Tomoya will agree with Nagisa’s wish being put on the back-burner for now.
- After Tomoya orders a parfait worthy of Adam Richman, two guys enter the restaurant and accost Nagisa. Without use of force, Tomoya and Akio manage to drive off these two ruffians, but then the manager asks to speak with Tomoya and Akio. Akio bolts, but as it turns out, the manager is very understanding of the situation and remarks that Nagisa is a hard worker who does her job well. During this excursion, Akio’s brought a camera and manages to capture an inordinate number of shots, citing the uniforms as being a motivator. From my perspective, those uniforms seem quite impractical despite being stylish: at restaurants I frequent, staff wear something more practical to move around in.
- Although the Okazaki family might live in an older apartment, their regarding it as a home becomes more apparent with the passage of time following their marriage – Tomoya and Nagisa keep their quarters clean, gradually acquire more furnishings that make the apartment really feel like home. From the notes on the refrigerator, to a kettle boiling on the stove and a water filter, the changes in their home are subtle but notable indicators that Nagisa and Tomoya are settling into their new lives.
- Like real life, urgent and important matters are not so easily dismissed, and it turns out that Tomoya and Nagisa did end up making love: while Tomoya and Akio look through the pile of photographs, Nagisa tests positive on a pregnancy test. These work by picking agents that react to human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) to produce a pigment; while reliable, there are cases where interference from other chemicals or circumstances can create false positives. In ~After Story~, we accept that the test results are a true positive so the story can proceed.
- Akio is simultaneously disgusted and impressed that Nagisa is pregnant (with the not-so-subtle implication that Tomoya needed to get down with Nagisa freshly baked into his mind) – he is torn between congratulating and throttling Tomoya, while Nagisa looks on in pure embarrassment. This marks the beginning of another stage in life for the Okazaki family: through everything thus far, Akio and Sanae have been present at each step for the young couple, offering support, guidance and humour.
- It is not lost on me that it’s been six-and-a-half years since I last watched CLANNAD in full, and in that time, I’ve passed through several milestones in life, but meeting someone special has not been one of them. The reality is that I am becoming old: most folks at my age are married, and here I am, with only the faintest idea of how to begin meeting those people who might be willing to tolerate or accept my numerous limitations and eccentricities. While it’s fine to enjoy my current liberty, I would eventually like to meet someone, settle down and the other things that come with family.
- With Nagisa expecting a child, a midwife is hired help out with the process. Yagi fulfils this role: her appearance conveys experience and professionalism, providing the young couple with reassurance that stands in contrasts with the risks of birth. CLANNAD has placed numerous obstacles down in front of Tomoya and Nagisa: even after all of their efforts, delivering their child is not expected to be an easy task. The profession is a regulated one: in Japan, midwives must pass a certification exam, and Canadian midwives hold a medical license.
- Some series portray marriage as the end-goal, a destination to be reached, rather than a milestone. Love Hina is one such example, with Keitaro’s efforts to gain admission to The University of Tokyo and marry the girl he’d made the promise to years previously as the core narrative. Being a romance comedy, Love Hina is a world apart from the likes of CLANNAD and admittedly, represents a genre that I’ve not viewed too many series from. Here, we have another beautiful screenshot capturing the details present in ~After Story~; elements in the environment give a sense of hope, with the choice of colours creating an optimistic feeling even as news becomes increasingly difficult.
- Because of Nagisa’s health, Sanae expresses to Tomoya her concerns about Nagisa’s decision. In spite of this, she leaves the decision to Nagisa and Tomoya, respecting their choices. Nagisa decides to proceed, a flash of her old resilience and stubbornness coming through. Assessing risk in the situation and then making a decision with the knowledge available brings to mind the sequence in Apollo 13, where Flight Director Gene Kranz ordered a circumlunar option over the direct abort because of uncertainties surrounding whether the command module’s main engines could still be safely used. While a free-return trajectory would take longer, it gave ground crews more time to assess the situation and not subject the command module’s crew to risk of explosion from a faulty engine.
- Akio expresses frustration at the destruction of a wooded area at will be developed into subdivisions and retail. Change is one of the themes that are a part of CLANNAD – the series suggests that change is inevitable save for family, the one absolute pillar of support and love that individuals need to get through challenges. It is hinted that changes to the landscape are correlated with Nagisa’s illness, and Akio explains to Tomoya what happened that fateful day – it appears that in exchange for Nagisa’s life, her very life-force is bound to the world such that changes will disrupt her health.
- By binding Nagisa’s health to the presence of natural spaces, ~After Story~ subtly mirrors J.R.R. Tolkien’s lament for the loss of natural areas as people continued to industrialise: as the town in CLANNAD grows, forests and meadows are covered over to make way for developments, and the land that once held a magic suddenly becomes mundane, unremarkable. Tolkien viewed the desecration of nature as an evil, and this theme is prevalent in his works: Mordor and Isengard, as well as the Scouring of The Shire represent this. In ~After Story~, the loss of nature has a more subtle but present impact on Nagisa, foreshadowing her fate.
- In a tender moment, Tomoya and Nagisa decide that their child’s name is to be Ushio. Ushio (汐, jyutping zik6, “tide”) was chosen to share the same radical氵(representing 水, derived from the Oracle bone script for the shape of a river) as Nagisa’s (渚, jyutping zyu2, “beach”). The choice of naming is deliberate: Ushio is meant to represent the waves on a beach, connecting her to her mother. I share a personal story here: per my parents’ recollection, when I was born, I was premature and therefore, my parents did not yet have a name for me in either English or Chinese.
- As another Christmas nears, the Okazaki family prepare for Ushio’s arrival. The passage of time is relentless, and as ~After Story~ wears on, time intervals widen. While time may have seemed constant during Nagisa and Tomoya’s time as high school students, things suddenly pick up after both graduate, begin working, get married and gear up to welcome Ushio into the world. This is precisely the feeling I’ve been getting since I’ve graduated: days blaze by in the blink of an eye, and time seems to be accelerating as I grow older.
- After Christmas, old friends show up in town to visit the Okazakis for the New Year. Time has evidently been kind to everyone: Kyou, Ryou, Kotomi and Youhei have not aged a day since we last saw them, and everyone’s doing well. With everyone together, it’s like old times again as conversation begins. Of note is Youhei, who is sporting his natural hair colour: he’d dyed it blonde as a student, and returning to his original hair colour seems to signify that he’s gotten his game together. Tomoyo is noticeably absent from the events, but she’s sent a card and appears to be doing well.
- After the small talk, Youhei wonders what Tomoya must be feeling to be a father, and Tomoya’s response, that he’s really still not thinking about it, seems to be the norm. I’ve long felt that my parents simply had their game together and knew precisely how to be parents, but it sounds like for most families, parenthood is a learning experience, as well. In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin’s parents remark that they’re essentially ad libbing parenthood: Kyou and the others feel that Nagisa and Tomoya are pulling ahead in life, as they have a home and family now, but everyone is also focused on their own futures, too. While their gathering is a warm one, the anime uses the incidental piece “Snow field” as background music, foreshadowing what’s to come.
- Kotomi suggests the existence of parallel universes and alternate dimensions, supporting Ryou’s remark that life is mysterious. In Steven Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell, the notion of branes are used to describe the existence of other dimensions, and that the reality we are familiar with is merely one of these branes (with higher dimensions being such that we cannot perceive them). This foreshadowing also seems to indicate ~After Story~‘s eventual outcome, but back in the present, the presence of low saturation and washed-out lighting, plus overcast skies, indicate that things are about to become more difficult.
- In February, Tokyo averages around 5 centimetres of snow. A snowfall of this level is quite rare, and in ~After Story~, shuts down enough of the roads so Nagisa cannot be taken to a hospital, right as she goes into labour. I’ve long hated snow, and I still do: despite blanketing the landscape in a gentle white blanket and covering familiar features to create a wonderland of sorts, but it also disrupts transportation. In literature, snow represents mortality, indiscriminately covering everything as mortality affects all life, and visually, snow is used to visually denote hardship, suffering and desolation.
- With no other options available, Yagi prepares to help deliver Ushio at home. It is an agonising day for Tomoya, who never leaves Nagisa’s side: time seems to slow to a crawl for him as Nagisa writhes in pain. Finally, at one in the morning, Ushio is born, and Tomoya is elated: the worst seems over for Nagisa, and she is able to gaze upon Ushio with her own eyes for the first time. The page quote is chosen from a promise Nagisa makes to Tomoya, but shortly after giving birth to Ushio, Nagisa perishes from the toll on her body. Audiences are left to pick up the pieces with Tomoya, whose dreams for starting a family are decimated: in this moment, the world around Tomoya vanishes.
- With this post in the books, I will be returning next month to write about a world five years later, and how Ushio returns to Tomoya’s life in a big way that helps him finally come to terms with everything he’s experienced. Ushio’s arc in ~After Story~ is what made CLANNAD a masterpiece in my books, and upon watching it for the first time, I had no words to describe how moving and meaningful it was. In my next post, I will be articulating why Ushio’s arc was so powerful; covering so much ground in such a short time, Ushio’s arc is directly responsible for giving ~After Story~ the impact that it did, and I wish to do it justice.
As ~After Story~ steps away from clearly-defined arcs and delves into Tomoya and Nagisa’s marriage, the series enters a realm that is exceedingly difficult to write for. Marriage is a completely different world for people, and there are so many aspects to consider that CLANNAD would doubtlessly have needed another twenty episodes to adequately portray it faithfully. Instead, ~After Story~ masterfully utilises imagery and the symbolism inherent to the seasons themselves to concisely and succinctly convey to audiences the emotions and feelings, the unspoken things that can happen in marriage. CLANNAD has long made use of weather and lighting to convey emotions in a moment; the seasons themselves take on a much more substantial role in ~After Story~ to further communicate the atmosphere of a given moment to viewers. Spring is about new beginnings, summer is a time to explore what a new family entails, and winter is viewed as a season to be hated, bringing death and suffering to those caught in its frigid confines. Viewers can tangibly feel the cold as Nagisa succumbs, and are made to understand just how devastating this is for Tomoya, having seen every step in the journey he has taken, and the efforts he has made towards building a future for Nagisa and Ushio. While it seems unnecessarily cruel to put Tomoya in such a situation, Nagisa’s death has a critical role to play for Tomoya; he’s spent much of ~After Story~ forging ahead into the future. It is therefore clear that his intentions is to forget his past, but this loss now forces Tomoya to look inwards: winter is also a time of self-reflection, and light eventually returns to the world ~After Story~ takes this route to remind audiences that, unless one is able to make peace with their past, there is no future to pursue. Thus, Nagisa’s death is necessary to pull Tomoya back and force him to understand his past. There is no other easy way of putting this, even if it is callous to suggest such a thing – beyond this suffering, there is more that ~After Story~ strives to convey to readers.