The Infinite Zenith

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

Small Palms: A Swan Song in Revisiting CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me. You made me so happy. I don’t want you to be lost, or afraid, or anything like that. From here on out, I know things might be hard sometimes. But no matter what happens, please don’t regret meeting me.” –Nagisa Furukawa

The Girl in the Illusionary World is unable to continue on her journey, having failed to construct an operational aircraft and the robot regrets having encouraged her in this undertaking. She reveals that they knew one another in a previous world, and as she hums Dango Daikazoku, the world begins fading away. Tomoya appears on the hillside road lined with cherry blossoms and chases after Nagisa, promising that he’ll never let go. Nagisa is glad that he’d called out to her, and Tomoya reawakens prior to Ushio’s birth. Nagisa has survived delivering Ushio, and Tomoya prepares to bathe her for the first time. Outside, a miraculous phenomenon can be seen – orbs of light are floating into the sky. The couple sing Dango Daikazoku to Ushio, and begin their journey of raising her together as a family no longer bound to their doom. Five years later, Kyouko is taking Fuuko to the hospital for a check-up, but Fuuko runs off into the nearby woods, where she encounters Ushio sleeping peacefully under the shade of a tree. This marks the end to a journey spanning a year and five months: from CLANNAD‘s first episode, where Tomoya and Nagisa met, to the conclusion resulting from a well-deserved miracle that allows the Okazakis to finally find happiness, CLANNAD has come to an end, and with it, my own journey of revisiting the series ten years after its original airing. In this seventeen-month long journey spanning a total of forty-four episodes, CLANNAD has explored an incredible range of themes, encapsulating this in a story that is engaging, humourous and poignant manner. The characters are multi-dimensional, complex and human; in conjunction with a vividly-portrayed world where attention is paid to detail, weather and lighting that augments every emotion and a sublime soundtrack, CLANNAD represents anime at its very best, telling a compelling and genuine story that viewers of all backgrounds and experiences can connect with.

For me, CLANNAD is a veritable masterpiece among masterpieces for its exceptional execution and presentation of life lessons essential for most everyone. However, the series has not impacted all viewers quite to the same extent, and in particular, the finale left viewers feeling that deus ex machina was employed to provide Tomoya with a happy ending. In effect, these individuals contend, Tomoya is given a free pass and it would take a considerable suspension of disbelief to accept such an ending. Such a reaction can only arise from individuals who’d perhaps forgotten the presence of the light orbs and their function as a visual representation of the strength of individuals’ wishes: ~After Story~ is a very lengthy story, after all, and there are numerous details that foreshadow the possibility of Tomoya being given a second chance. To deny Tomoya this happiness is to contradict the expectations that ~After Story~ have set; Tomoya’s acts of kindness permeate the whole of CLANNAD, and the series does, on top of its other themes, strive to convey that 好心得好報 (jyutping hou2 sam1 dak1 hou2 bou3, literally “good heart, good repayment”, and most similar to the English expression “what goes around comes around”). Having been made to suffer, and in spite of all this, coming out stronger and a better man for it, Tomoya has earned a happy ending with Nagisa and Ushio ten times over for having put everyone ahead of himself throughout CLANNAD. His selflessness and altruism cost him, but Tomoya never complains, never expects repayment and simply does his best for those around him, even when faced with his own challenges, and as such, the forces that are recognise this. Leaving a trail of mended dreams and lives in his wake, even as he struggles to find happiness for Nagisa and Ushio, to deny Tomoya a happy ending would be the epitome of cynicism – the visual novel provides a more detailed explanation of why this is allowed to occur, and in the anime, the end result is identical. Viewers are treated with closure to a very lengthy and very rewarding journey; there is no doubt that Tomoya and Nagisa can share a peaceful and normal future with Ushio. This is the ending that viewers deserve and needed for such a powerful series which indubitably left a profound change in my life.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • We come to it at last, the ending of a great journey that spanned seventeen months. The page quote is an extended version of Nagisa’s words to Tomoya after they meet again on the path to school; Tomoya had come to regret meeting Nagisa and bringing suffering upon them both, but she found the limited time they’d spent together to be the happiest she’d known. Naigsa and Tomoya here still retain their memories, having been transported into a pocket universe of sorts where they come to terms with everything that’s happened. After cashing in on the wishes carried in each light orb, Tomoya reunites with Nagisa and his consciousness is transported back to the real world.

  • In this reality, Nagisa survives labour and successfully gives birth to Ushio without any complications, bringing an end to the curse that had lingered. When I first watched this, I found that even in the absence of a complete understanding of the light orbs, the outcome still followed logically from the sum of the acts of kindness Tomoya carried out. To Tomoya, the stress of labour would have dulled his sense of time, and he might have experienced five years’ worth of events in his mind’s eye while tensely waiting for Nagisa to give birth. Of course, this is the scientific approach to things that disregards the light orbs, and the fact is that the light orbs very much have a tangible presence in CLANNAD, acting as the catalyst that allows Ushio to wish for a happy, normal life with her parents.

  • After bathing Ushio for the first time, Tomoya tenderly holds her while Nagisa, the Furukawas and the midwife looks on. The worst is clearly over, and we enter one of the longest, most well-executed dénouements to be shown in any anime I’ve seen. When I first watched CLANNAD seven years previously, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was gearing up for the first of its crossover films with The Avengers, and only two of the Infinity Stones were showcased. The reality and time stones were not introduced until later: of the Infinity Stones, these two could prove useful in creating the realm that Tomoya is returned to.

  • The Infinity Gems were originally conceived in 1972 and since then, have been wielded by a variety of characters, with Thanos being a particularly notable user for having united them to wipe out half the life in the universe. A common joke is that the stones can be used for more mundane purposes, and CLANNAD definitely seems like one such instance. Having said this, the ending strictly does not count as deus ex machina as some have asserted: there is a very well-established basis in how the happy ending came to be. Here, the phenomenon of light orbs rising into the sky can be seen as a sign, a lifting of the curse.

  • Large snowflakes resembling these light orbs are also seen in Kanon, Kyoto Animation’s precursor to CLANNAD. I would very much like to revisit Kanon at some point in the near future. For the time being, as ~After Story~ wraps up, Nagisa and Tomoya sing “Dango Daikazoku” to a sleeping Ushio. The song transitions into Lia’s “Palm of a Tiny Hand”, a highly poignant, but optimistic and uplifting song that accompanies the montage of Ushio growing up. This song is one of the other songs in my library that I typically avoid listening to while out and about: besides “Natsukage” (also by Lia) and “Ichiban no Takaramono”, it’s one of the few songs that can make me cry.

  • Moments of normalcy dominate the montage as viewers watch Ushio grow up with a loving family. From being held, to learning to walk, the ending montage shows Ushio doing the sorts of things that young families do. My parents inform me that I learnt to talk before I could walk, and filled the house with babble before I was going all over the place. Some parents wonder about the correlation between talking early and intelligence, although there is a massive variation in when babies develop linguistic skills on account of things like their environment. For instance, babies who are talked to a great deal will learn to mimic speech earlier.

  • Common, everyday events are a source of joy, and the montage goes through the effort of depicting these moments. Here, Ushio falls after being surprised by a shiba inu after trying to pet it: these spitz breeds are very independent, love being clean and were originally bred for hunting. One of my friends of old has a shiba inu, and I was able to play with this dog as a puppy. It may come as a surprise to some that I’m actually quite fond of smaller dogs, but then again, readers should not be so surprised, since I’ve often expressed that I would like to look after rabbits.

  • Ushio celebrates her fourth birthday at home. I have a photograph of me with a muffin and a candle stuck on it for my earlier birthdays: having celebrated with relatives ahead of time, my parents decided to do something simple on the actual day of my birthday. There’s actually a fairly funny story behind this – I’m told that at the age of two, I was afraid of candles and wouldn’t get near the flame to blow it out.

  • Akio is an avid baseball player, and Tomoya managed to win Nagisa’s hand in marriage after succeeding in hitting a baseball: with the role that baseball has had on Tomoya, it stands to reason that Ushio also begins learning to play baseball. Here in Canada, ice hockey is the national pastime, although it’s an expensive one from a financial and time perspective, so I never got into it. Instead, I took swimming lessons and did karate: today, I still retain basic knowledge about swimming, and I’m a nidan.

  • One summer, Tomoya and Nagisa decide to take Ushio out into the countryside for a vacation of the same one that Tomoya had done in the other timeline. The observant viewer will note that Tomoya is wearing a similar button-up shirt as he did in the Ushio arc, but here, said shirt is buttoned-up and ironed properly. Such a minor detail might easily be missed, but it plainly shows the difference between the Tomoyas seen in the different timelines.

  • The key difference ~After Story~‘s finale shows is that with Nagisa present, Tomoya’s true nature is much more prominent as he devotes his energy towards raising Ushio with Nagisa. The two have differing personalities that complement one another, and having gone through so much together, Tomoya and Nagisa understand one another better than anyone else. The same trip they take with Ushio here is much more relaxed, and taken under much happier circumstances.

  • After watching Super Sonico‘s “Star Rain” episode, I longed to explore somewhere that was nearby, and in the five years following, I have realised this particular dream in a manner of speaking, having capitalised on the summer weather to do hikes and other things. Having said this, I still can’t help but wish that there was a more extensive train and bus service that would allow me to reach the far corners of my province: while driving is fun, so is sitting back and admiring the scenery passing by.

  • Under the same flower field, Ushio runs with a look of pure bliss on her face. There are no meadows where I live, but there are plenty of parks where children have space to hang out and run to their heart’s content. The countryside of CLANNAD is portrayed as a magical location far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city: in Japan, space is at a premium, and such locations are rare in cities. By comparison, Canada is the land of open spaces and beautiful parks are everywhere.

  • Tomoya and Nagisa are probably my favourite anime couple. Despite the extraordinary events they experience, both are down-to-earth and pragmatic. Their relationship is characterised by finding happiness everyday things. If I had to pick a second-favourite couple, Ryuji Takasu and Taiga Aisaka tie for second with Your Lie in April‘s Kōsei Arima and Kaori Miyazono. I have indeed watched Toradora!, having finished the series three years ago and loved every second of it for its natural development of a love story, as I did the developments of Your Lie in April. My favourite love stories involve characters who discover an unexpected love for one another as a result of their objectives bringing them together over a period of time.

  • While my age means that meeting that special someone underneath the cherry blossoms or in a classroom by evening is now relegated to little more than a distant dream, an impossibility, I know that love can come from anywhere, anytime. Rather than pursue something for the sake of being in a relationship, I am going to continue doing me, and then make the most of wherever that will take me. Life is a journey, and the folks who pace themselves for a marathon invariably will find their way in the world.

  • After Ushio is seen joyfully exploring the flower field while her parents look on, the montage transitions over to the what that the other characters have made of their time since graduation. These scenes are functionally similar to the “where are they now” segment of Animal House, which showcases the protagonist’s futures, and which was parodied in Futurama‘s “Mars University”, but in ~After Story~, serve to communicate to viewers that everyone’s found their own path following graduation.

  • Audiences already know that Kyou has become a kindergarten teacher and gets along well with her students. Being able to work with groups of children, while prima facie a fun and joyful job, doubtlessly also has its challenges, and it takes a certain mentality to be successful in this career. I have nothing but respect for my kindergarten teacher, as well as all of my primary school teachers, who were made to put up with my curiosity and the attendant trouble that is supposed to have brought.

  • Ryou is a nurse, and the visual novel further shows that she finds romance, as well. Nursing is a respectable profession, and I have a friend who’s in nursing. I encountered him while visiting a new health campus and was initially wondering if it was indeed him, but thought better of greeting him in case I was wrong. The next day, during karate class, it turns out it really was him, and he was wondering if I was really me, or someone else.

  • Kotomi went overseas to study cosmology in an American university, and is devoted to continuing her parents’ research in M-theory and higher dimensions, an integral part of parallel universes. Her work would likely put her in contact with research from giants like Steven Hawking and Brian Greene. Alternate realities did end up playing a role in CLANNAD ~After Story~, although their precise mechanisms are deliberately left unexplored because they are secondary to the narrative: what matters is that there does appear to be some elements that accommodate the ending that Tomoya ended up getting (and deserving).

  • Youhei pursued a career in modelling, and has reverted to his natural hair colour, indicating a return to the right path. He’s shown screwing up in a road test, and after apologising to his instructor, focuses on continuing with the course. Because Youhei has found a path to pursue, Mei, also has become more cheerful; no longer worried about her older brother’s future, she is free to pursue her own dreams whole-heartedly and is seen hanging out with her friends here.

  • Tomoyo’s future is a bit more uncertain: she’s shown to be gazing out at a sunset on a beach. Many viewers associated this with melancholy and felt that Tomoyo’s future was less positive than they would have liked: in CLANNAD, her main objective was to preserve the cherry trees for her younger brother, and not much more about her aspirations were presented in ~After Story~, but supplementary materials suggests that she is able to realise other accomplishments and find happiness.

  • One question that the epilogue does not explicitly cover, is whether or not Tomoya comes to terms with his father in this new timeline. In the original timeline, Ushio’s presence eventually compels Tomoya to understand his father and make amends. I imagine that Nagisa’s continued presence, her gentle influence and desire to see Tomoya happy would eventually see her encourage Tomoya to make amends, allowing a similar outcome to be reached. It is not inconceivable for a happier, more empathetic Tomoya to undertake such a course of action: they are visiting a town here close to where Tomoya originally met his grandmother, and it could be implied that the whole family is here to catch up with Tomoya’s father and grandmother.

  • If and when I am asked, CLANNAD ~After Story~ is my favourite anime series. I have seen numerous series both before and after, but few have compelled me to care for the characters and their journeys quite to the same extent that CLANNAD ~After Story~ had. In conjunction with superb artwork that looks amazing even a decade later, strong writing, a colourful cast and a soundtrack that adds atmospherics to a scene sufficiently well so that the music itself might be considered a character, I have next to nothing negative to say about ~After Story~.

  • The soundtrack in particular incorporates a range of instruments and composition styles: besides Dango Daikazoku and its variations, the pieces are all appropriate for different moments in the series. It worth mentioning that the incidental pieces in CLANNAD are not all found on the original soundtrack: a handful of pieces with a more distinctly Irish component is included with the Mabinogi soundtrack, itself named for a collection of Welsh prose known as the Mabinogion. The Mabinogi soundtrack is very heavily influenced by Irish elements, giving it a very distinct and unique sound, while the original soundtrack is more conventional in composition, making extensive use of piano to capture emotions.

  • The name “Clannad” is derived off the Irish word for family, “Clann”, and was first used by a family band of the same name that was formed in 1970. Originally known as “Clann as Dobhar”, their name was later shortened to Clannad. Clannad is known for their eclectic musical style, performing folk music and rock with Celtic elements, smooth jazz and even Gregorian chants. Jun Maeda eventually saw this name while writing out the story for CLANNAD and imagined it to be the Irish word for family, giving the series its name.

  • In the epilogue, Fuuko and Kyouko are headed to the hospital for Fuuko’s checkup. Fuuko’s unusual way of thinking gives rise to non sequiturs that make no sense even to Kyouko, and Kyouko can only play along. It’s a gentle ending to what was a highly poignant and emotional journey, and returning Fuuko briefly to the spotlight is a callback to the first season, where Fuuko ends up being the first individual Tomoya helps out, and the first person to feel that Tomoya and Nagisa was a couple. Folks wondering whether or not I will go back and write about the OVAs will be disappointed: I’ve already covered them in some capacity and admittedly, writing about CLANNAD is very taxing.

  • The settings of CLANNAD are based in Mizuho, a town located on the western edge of Tokyo. Its name is never given in CLANNAD, but the city is referred to as Hikarizaka (lit. “Hill of Light”) amongst the fans. As we draw to the close of a revisitation project that spanned seventeen months, I note that even in this time frame, a great deal has happened. CLANNAD captures the idea that the flow of time is relentless, and life is what we make of it: when I first began this journey, it was an October evening that coincided with a pleasant Mid-Autumn festival, I remarked that I would be curious to see whether or not my thoughts would change on this series.

  • My verdict is that, like a fine wine, or a good steak, CLANNAD has become even more enjoyable with age. It’s a timeless series whose messages continue to remain relevant, and I am very glad to have revisited it. When I finished the revisitation for the first season, I asked readers if they would be interested in a continuation. One reader stands out to me for having made the request, and I continued into CLANNAD ~After Story~ for them: if even one reader wishes for me to explore something, I will do my best to honour their request. I understand that this particular is very busy at present, but I do hope that they would have the chance to take a look at these later posts when time allows them to: we both share commonalities in our background, and I greatly enjoyed hearing new perspectives on experiences I have also encountered.

  • This is one of the joys of blogging that has given me the inspiration to continue writing: being able to really connect with readers and share experiences gives both me and the readers a sense that we’re not really alone in this vast world. On the flipside, I am admittedly a little curious to also hear from those who may have not found CLANNAD as moving as as I have; at the end of the day, mine is just an opinion (no matter how well-defined, thoughtful, insightful and detailed it may be), so I would like to see also why some folks did not enjoy CLANNAD. As ~After Story~ draws to a close, Fuuko runs off after feeling something special in the woods nearby: she encounters the Girl from The Imaginary World, who turns out to be Ushio, sleeping peacefully under the shade of a tree.

  • The final still of ~After Story~ shows that in the end, the sum of good deeds, genuine compassion and empathy in CLANNAD has allowed the very city itself to accept its citizens. That Ushio is sleeping in an untouched grove adjacent to a modern hospital shows that humanity and nature can co-exist, much like how people of different backgrounds, experiences and station can co-exist. With this, I have fully finished my revisitation of CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~ in full. Even though these posts have been very difficult to write for, I think the journey itself was well worth it, and I hope that for the readers, these posts have clarified what CLANNAD means to me. Everyone will have their own stories as to which series have had a profound impact on them, and for me, CLANNAD occupies a very special place in my heart, being something that lifted me through challenging times and also broadened my perspective on family.

While a decade may have passed since CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~‘s airing, that the anime remains relevant, moving and engaging in the present is no small feat. With its universal themes of family, friendship, kindness and resolve, CLANNAD is a timeless anime that deals in matters that are common to all of humanity. It is for this reason that CLANNAD is peerless as an anime – touching so many elements that are involved with being a decent human being, the sorts of thing I know in my tongue as 做人道理 (jyutping zou6 jan4 dou6 lei5, literally “principles of being human”), the series forces viewers to introspect and consider what matters most to them. While CLANNAD may not deal with academic, social or philosophical matters that some echelons of the anime community feel to be more important in what counts as a “good” anime, I personally find that the anime that are most relatable and relevant, happen to be those that deal with life lessons ubiquitous to all people. At the end of the day, regardless of one’s station, education and occupation, everything boils down to how one treats those around them. In the contemporary world, it is disappointing and disheartening that so many have forgotten these fundamentals: people no longer look out for one another and put themselves ahead of others with greater frequency, and as such, anime such as CLANNAD can act as very subtle reminders that life is more than the self; happiness is found in being there for others, for putting time into things far greater than oneself. Despite its themes being at the forefront of most everything in CLANNAD, the series never preaches these messages to viewers, leaving them to draw their own conclusions after everything has wrapped up, and subtly inspiring audiences to do good, put in an honest effort and appreciate their blessings. I am certainly glad to have watched CLANNAD: this is a series that pushed me to explore what love is and allowed me to find the strength to face down the MCAT. For everyone who’s been reading these posts every step of this seventeen-month-long journey, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for having accompanied me all this way, as well as for putting up with what I would imagine to be increasingly sentimental and soppy posts.

2 responses to “Small Palms: A Swan Song in Revisiting CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

  1. Aumi March 12, 2019 at 20:58

    I wasn’t following your blog seventeen months ago but, wow, your dedication is amazing – congratulations! I enjoyed reading your Clannad ~After Story posts 🙂

    Like

    • infinitezenith March 13, 2019 at 22:19

      It’s been a long journey, so long that I’d actually lost track of when I started. CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~After Story~ are very special to me, and I actually do get a bit more nostalgic and sentimental with these posts when I think back to the old days of heartbreak, prevailing over the MCAT and the like. I watched the series during a more difficult time I had as a student, and seeing the positivity in CLANNAD definitely helped me overcome my challenges. I’m glad you found this series enjoyable, and I hope you’ll have a chance to read my earlier CLANNAD season one posts, too 🙂

      Like

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