The Infinite Zenith

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Masterpiece Anime Showcase: Kanon, An Introit on Recollections and Healing On A Winter’s Solstice

“In that case, my first wish is…please don’t forget about me, even just a ‘I met a weird girl in the snow’. Even that would be okay, as long as you remember me” –Ayu Tsukimiya

High school student Yuichi Aizawa returns to a city he’d visited seven years ago, is preordained to lodge with his cousin, Nayuki Minase, and transfers to the local high school. Having limited recollections of the city, Yuichi finds himself quite detached from the area and its inhabitants. However, he runs into Ayu Tsukimiya in the shopping district, and also becomes friends with Shiori Misaka and Mai Kawasumi. While in the shopping district one day, Yuichi encounters Makoto Sawatari, who’d returned to settle a long-standing grudge with him. Nayuki’s mother, Akiko, decides to let Makoto stay with them, and while Yuichi desires nothing more to be rid of Makoto and her propensity for pranks, he comes to realise that Makoto is actually the spirit of a fox he’d once befriended given human form – so intense was her desire to spend time with him that she was granted a wish to become human and reunite with Yuichi, but as he recalls this, Makoto’s strength begins fading, and she vanishes after Yuichi helps her fulfil an old promise. Later, Yuichi decides to help Mai with her image problem: she is perceived as being a troublemaker and is accused of damaging school property. After a terrifying incident at the school dance and a freak accident that sees Mai’s best friend, Sayuri Kurata, injured. Mai possesses an innate talent for magic, and when Yuichi was set to leave town seven years previously, her desire to see him stay led her to craft a story about dæmons, which began manifesting in reality. Yuichi helps Mai to accept her abilities in the present, and begins to remember the time they’d spent together seven years previously. Having explored town with Shiori, who suffers from an unknown illness, Yuichi learns that Shiori was given permission to attend school, but her sister, Kaori, acts distant towards her, fearing that Shiori might not survive her illness. Yuichi decides to go on a date with Shiori and help her make the most of her time. After a track meet, Yuichi and Ayu begin searching for something of great value to her, and as the two grow closer, Nayuki begins feeling left out. Ayu eventually takes Yuichi to her school, which ends up being an open field, and upon arriving, Ayu vanishes. Yuichi continues to search for the article that Ayu was looking for and Nayuki begins making snow rabbits, which help him remember what this item is. Akiko is hit by a vehicle and sent into the ICU, causing Nayuki to fall into depression. Unable to help Nayuki, Yuichi decides to sleep and experiences a dream that fills in the remainder of his memories: seven years ago, he’d made a promise with Ayu, who said she could grant him three wishes. However, coldly brushed off Nayuki after learning that Ayu had fallen from a tree and fell into a coma. He heads out into the blizzard in search of Ayu’s missing item, but falls unconscious. The original Makoto Sawatari saves him, and Yuichi recovers strength enough to return to the promised spot from seven years previously, making one final wish to Ayu. Mai, Shiori and Sayuri become healed from their injuries, returning to class, and Akiko is allowed to return home. Akiko explains to Yuichi what happened to Ayu, and he decides to visit her in the hospital. One spring day, she awakens from her coma, and Yuichi takes her for a walk under the spring cherry blossoms, while a familiar-looking fox looks on.

According to Jun Maeda, memories are at the core of Kanon‘s theme – the motif of events seven years previously permeate the entire story, and Yuichi is constantly struggling to remember what precisely happened seven years ago. In this sense, he is given a new start, a do-over of sorts. As Yuichi spends more time with Nayuki, Makoto, Mai, Shiori and Ayu, he comes to learn of his presence in their lives. The blank slate becomes critical for Yuichi: quite unaware of what happened the last time in town, Yuichi brings into each story a unique sense of humour and sense of compassion that leads him to help everyone to the best of his ability. Through it all, Yuichi creates new, positive memories with everyone: with Makoto, he learns of her past and helps her reach a resolution. He fulfils his promise to return to Mai and helps her come to terms with her magical powers. With Shiori, Yuichi’s encouragement and support allow her to return to school. After Nayuki’s mother ends up in a vehicle accident and Nayuki falls into a depression, Yuichi must confront his own past and finally remembers that he had coldly dismissed her the last time he was in town. Realising his fault, Yuichi manages to reconcile with Nayuki and help her find the strength to continue. The sum of these events lead Yuichi to finally remember what had happened to Ayu: she’d fallen from a tree on his last day in town and was hospitalised. Had Yuichi entered Kanon with the pain of these memories, he would not have been able to approach each of Makoto, Mai, Nayuki and Ayu’s problems with his kindness, and fear of failing would have paralysed him. Kanon thus supposes that why forgetting painful and difficult moments enable one to start fresh with those around them, it is preferable to actively understand one’s mistakes and face them directly, as Yuichi comes to do with Kanon‘s major characters. For his troubles, Yuichi is successful in improving the situation of those around him, helping them to find their own futures.

Kanon presents the importance of memories and their impact on one’s personal growth in conjunction with a supernatural flair; like CLANNAD and Air, Jun Maeda’s belief that the things that make us human (specifically, complex emotions, memories and the resulting behaviours) are complex to the point where our understanding of them are limited, and as such, applies the supernatural piece to motivate a better understanding of these ideas. The end result is that Kanon has a very romantic approach towards memories, showing both the positives and negatives. While Yuichi might have forgotten many of the events from the past, his inherently kind and gentle nature allows him to form new memories with Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai. In time, he comes to learn that everyone has their own unique points, with each girl’s favourite food being chief amongst them. Knowing everyone’s favourite foods (Nayuki and strawberries, Ayu and taiyaki, Makoto and pork buns, Shiori and ice cream, Mai and gyūdon) gives each character a life-like feel to them, and as he spends time with each individual, their favourite foods serve to remind viewers that Yuichi, in taking the time to learn everyone’s favourite food, is genuinely committed to helping everyone out. By reinforcing the idea that Yuichi is a kind individual by default, his actions from seven year previously are to be taken as understandable, brought on by circumstance rather than ignorance or malice. When Yuichi’s past is shown, it also suggests to users that the present-day Yuichi is here to make things right. It gives his experiences credibility, and consequently, gives viewers reason to follow his story and support his efforts in helping each of Nayuki, Ayu, Makoto, Shiori and Mai to sort out the challenges that each of them face.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Kanon opens with Yuichi riding a train into an unnamed town in Hokkaido amidst a fresh snowfall. Upon arrival, he is made to wait for two hours, since Nayuki, who was supposed to pick him up, is late. The entire opening scene is set to yume no ato, a song whose chimes create a sense of nostalgic and melancholy. One of Kanon‘s strongest points lie in its incidental music, and yume no ato plays, my memories of my own past experiences with romance are recalled in vivid detail.

  • The winter cold of Kanon evokes memories of the September that I entered my fourth undergraduate year. I had just spent the summer staring down the MCAT and had watched CLANNAD, which had been so moving that I was seeking more series similar to it. Kanon seemed to fit the bill, and as I prepared to define a topic for my undergraduate honours thesis, I set foot into the world of Kanon, watching a few episodes each week. I ended up reaching the end of Kanon as term ended, finishing a few days before the mid-year progress report.

  • After settling in to the Minase residence, Nayuki takes Yuichi on a tour of the city, a generic city located in Hokkaido that is only referred to as the City of Snow (yuki no machi), rather similar to how the city in CLANNAD was called the “hills of light”. While possessing Hokkaido’s climate, many of the areas seen in the anime are similarly based off Osaka’s cityscape. The train station Yuichi arrives at is actually modelled after Osaka’s Moriguchishi Station. However, the fictionalised setting of Kanon serves to enhance the series’ aura of mystery, and here, Nayuki shares a conversation with Yuichi while on a hill overlooking the city.

  • Ayu is the first of the heroines that Yuichi runs into while exploring the shopping district; she collides with him head-on while trying to escape from a taiyaki vendor, and Yuichi hauls her off to apologise to the vendor before paying for the taiyaki. In the first episode alone, Yuichi’s character is firmly established; while sardonic and fond of poking fun at those around him, he’s genuinely kind-hearted and cares greatly for those he encounters.

  • Her diminutive stature and winged backpack gives Ayu a very child-like appearance. Indeed, Ayu’s mannerisms are eccentric, and she’s fond of replying to any sort of challenge, adversity or retort with the nonsensical uguu, rather similar to how Misuzu of Air would say gao in response to anything that upset her. However, beyond this, Ayu is also friendly and warm. Ayu’s voice is provided by the legendary Yui Horie (Naru Narusegawa of Love Hina, Belfast of Azur Lane and Satomi of Dumbell wa nan kilo motteru, to name a few).

  • Kanon‘s initial episodes are about introducing the characters, and as such, the series progresses very slowly as Yuichi explores the town. HIs misadventures lead him to run into Shiori, a girl who he often sees hanging outside on the school grounds. She’s got an illness that prevents her from coming to school, but shows up on the grounds anyways. When they meet for the first time, Ayu’s attempting to escape from the taiyaki vendor and collides with her, spilling Shiori’s personal items onto the ground.

  • Makoto is introduced as a mischievous girl who only remembers that Yuichi’s wronged her in some way previously, and while Yuichi is put off by her troublemaking, Akiko and Nayuki consent to take her in. In contrast with Yuichi’s dislike for her, Akiko and Nayuki sense something about her and regard her with kindness. In exchange, Makoto only seems to trouble Yuichi with her pranks, although Yuichi is able to see through them for the most part, creating comedic moments early in Kanon.

  • Shiori’s illness is never specified, but it is severe enough as to be considered life-threatening. Because of the stresses this illness has on her and her family, her sister, Kaori, refuses to acknowledge that Shiori is her sister. The reasoning for this is that Kaori fears losing Shiori more than anything, and feels that the closer she is with Shiori, the more it will hurt when Shiori’s time runs out. Of the characters, Shiori is the only person Yuichi had not met in the past, but in spite of this, he still regards her with kindness.

  • Besides a favourite food, the different characters all have their own unique leitmotifs, as well: Ayu’s theme is titled Hidamari no Machi, or “Sunny Town”, a happy, easygoing piece that captures her energetic, cheerful character. Staff have commented that this is their favourite theme for the characters. Nayuki’s theme is Girl in the snow, Makoto’s is The Fox and the Grapes, Mai’s is The Maiden’s Cage and Shiori’s is Beyond the Smile. Each of the girls’ themes speak to their personalities and situation.

  • Ayu often describes a remote school in the area, but seems to have no apparent home. Her enigmatic origins leave viewers with many questions, but Akiko appears to be able to understand something unique about Ayu that Yuichi is not able to pick up on. She invites Ayu over, and over time, Ayu becomes an increasingly frequent guest of the Minases. Unlike Makoto, Yuichi has considerably fewer objections with Ayu being around.

  • Makoto’s pranks go one step too far one evening, when she lights a firecracker and tosses it into Yuichi’s room. He responds by removing the firecracker and returning it to its sender, sending Makoto into hysterics. Yuichi ultimately decides to send Makoto job-hunting, reasoning that doing something will help her learn some responsibility and also fund her own pork buns and manga, two things that Makoto are particularly fond of.

  • Yuichi’s expression here speaks volumes about what he thinks of Makoto; even after what could’ve been a rather deadly prank, Akiko and Nayuki don’t seem too concerned. Initially, audiences will tend to side with Yuichi – Makoto’s mischievous nature means that despite her unknown origins, she comes across as being little more than a nuisance.

  • When Makoto finds a small kitten, she’s thrilled to look after it, as the kitten seems quite drawn to her. She accidentally drops it off a footbridge, but the kitten ends up quite unharmed. The incident causes Yuichi to lose his patience with her, and Makoto runs off into the night, looking for the kitten. Yuichi later finds her and brings her back home.

  • Mishio Amano, one of Yuichi’s classmates, gives him the truth about Makoto’s origins and introduces viewers to the idea that there a supernatural play in Kanon. The winter landscapes and lighting in Kanon, similar to Air and CLANNAD, are deliberately and smartly used to set the mood. By framing Mishio and Yuichi’s conversation against the landscape, it shows the vastness of what supernatural forces they are dealing with: Mishio warns that Makoto’s presence is going to be limited as a result of her diminishing power and that she will begin forgetting over time.

  • Upon learning about this, Yuichi’s attitude and treatment of Makoto takes a complete turn: he begins to spend much more time with her, fulfilling his old promise to never leave her side. As a child, Yuichi had befriended a fox, who by a miracle, took human form. Because Yuichi had to leave town seven years ago, he technically broke his promise to Makoto, which accounts for why she seeks revenge. However, Makoto’s time is limited, and her memories do indeed begin to fade as she and Yuichi make amends.

  • Makoto’s story marked a turning point for me: having already seen CLANNAD, I found Makoto’s story to be surprisingly similar to Fuuko’s story. Both Fuuko and Makoto share a poignant background that is cleverly weaved into their arc, and in both cases, Tomoya and Yuichi both regard the other as being inconsequential, only to learn of their stories later and then begin doing their utmost to help the other out.

  • One touch about Kanon that I particularly liked was the design of the Minase residence: the large windows by the hallway allow natural light to flood into the house, giving it a very inviting feel that maximises the amount of illumination even in a place where it’s cold and snowy for a better half of the year. If I had to guess, I’d say that Kanon is probably set in Asahikawa, albeit a highly fictionalised version.

  • Makoto’s arc ends on a very tender and heartwarming note: her wish fulfilled in full, Makoto loses her human form and vanishes. The importance of Makoto’s story is two-fold: it shows how the supernatural have relevance in the events around Kanon, and also shows the process that Yuichi goes through in order to get to know someone better. With these two elements established, Kanon can begin pushing into the main storyline itself.

  • Mai is the next heroine that Yuichi helps out. Her stoic demeanour and eccentric mannerisms have landed her in trouble more than once, and she faces suspension from school on the suspicions that she’s responsible for damaging school property. However, her personality stands in contrast with her personality, and the earnest, sincere Mai never denies these allegations. Yuichi decides to help Mai become more popular amongst the other students and stave off her negative reputation.

  • During Mai’s arc, Yuichi spends numerous lunch breaks with Mai and Sayuri, the latter of which had been a quiet and unsmiling individual until she’d met Mai. She’d come from a difficult family situation and lost her brother to an illness, eventually losing her sense of self. By the events of Kanon proper, she’s become a warmer character who worries for Mai’s wellbeing and supports Yuichi’s attempts to help her out. When news of a school dance reaches Yuichi’s ears, he decides to take her to the dance.

  • Mai’s favourite retort to Yuichi’s remarks is to admonish him with a light chop to the head to express her displeasure. Sayuri, on the other hand, tends to append ahaha~ to the end of her laughter. In Kanon, Sayuri is a secondary character, but in the game, it is possible to explore the outcomes of spending more time with her, culminating with Yuichi asking her out. The visual novels typically provide a much richer and detailed account of each story, although I’ve found that anime adaptations can really bring some scenes to life, with the school ball being one of them.

  • The school dance starts smoothly enough, with Mai and Yuichi’s dancing being impressive enough to turn heads, but when a dæmon appears and wrecks havoc, the student council president attempts to have Mai expelled. Yuichi manages to prevent this from happening and decides to help Mai fight the so-called dæmons. However, when Sayuri attempts to give Mai a gift on her birthday, and becomes injured in the process, Mai loses her cool and attempts to kill herself.

  • Mai’s story serves to further accentuate the presence of the supernatural: it turns out that her ability to control abilities some consider unnatural did indeed lead her to leave her old home, and she found it difficult to make any friends until she’d met Yuichi. By spending time with her, Mai eventually comes to accept her powers, and is hospitalised to treat her injuries, which had resulted from her killing off pieces of herself.

  • With Mai’s situation resolved, Shiori’s story comes next. While Kaori refuses to acknowledge Shiori as her sister, Yuichi decides to help her in the way he can, taking her to some of her favourite places around town and giving her a chance to sit in a desk at school. Kaori later explains that Shiori was never expected to survive past her birthday, but in spite of this, Yuichi decides to help her celebrate anyways. As the day comes to an end, Yuichi gives Shiori a birthday gift by a brilliantly-lit fountain.

  • Yuichi’s kindness is one of the reasons that Kanon was so easy to follow and somewhat formulaic in nature: aside from a sardonic manner and his love for playing jokes on those around him, Yuichi is genuine to everyone he meets. CLANNAD‘s Tomoya was similar in this regard but had more noticeable flaws which made his journey more meaningful. This was almost certainly one of the learnings that CLANNAD would take from Kanon, and the end results are very pronounced. This isn’t to say that Yuichi is a flawless character: his own shortcomings and mistakes are brought to light in Nayuki’s arc.

  • Nayuki is probably my favourite of the heroines in Kanon: her story is a gentle but sad one that is set concurrently with Ayu’s arc within the anime. After finding a red bead, Nayuki reminisces on how she used to make yuki usagi (“snow rabbits”). These are the equivalent of Western snowmen, and are usually crafted from the leaves (ears) and berries (eyes) of the Nandina domestica, a flowering plant. These sculptures are made by women and children, and there’s over two hundred years of history surrounding these sculptures.

  • By having Ayu and Nayuki’s story run side-by-side, Kanon means to tell viewers that Yuichi must make a choice between Nayuki, who’d loved him since they were children, and Ayu, whose origins and presence still remains a mystery, but of great significance. Yuichi ends up choosing to spent time with Ayu, helping her to search for something precious that she’d lost years previously. This brings the two closer together, but comes at Nayuki’s expense.

  • Owing to Kanon‘s more condensed structuring, Ayu and Yuichi’s relationship advances far more quickly than that of CLANNAD‘s, which portrays Nagisa and Tomoya as holding hands for the first time some months into their relationship, versus the few days for Ayu and Yuichi. While Kanon‘s anime adaptation might be quite short relative to how much content there was in the original visual novel, the anime itself never feels forced or rushed; things are adequately explained to viewers so that it’s easy to follow what’s going on.

  • The dramatic lighting, of vivid reds and deep purples, that accompany Ayu and Yuichi when she finally shows him her “school” hint at the unease and doubt that follows. Here at this spot in the woods, Ayu vanishes before Yuichi’s eyes. Yuichi is devastated and pushes forwards in his search, and Nayuki does her best to help keep his spirits up despite his troubles. Ayu’s disappearance hints at her origins, and I am reminded again of CLANNAD‘s Fuuko, who was hospitalised but managed to maintain a presence anyways, interacting with the principal actors to keep the story going.

  • In this revisitation, I’ve briefly mentioned that I began watching Kanon a short ways into my final undergraduate year, after my MCAT and during a time when I was supposed to be picking out a topic for my undergraduate thesis. I was enrolled in an honours programme that yielded a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree for my first degree, and in the final year, students must take a special projects course that sees them conduct research and write a thesis of sorts on their findings: in many ways, this course was similar to a miniature graduate degree. As I pushed through Kanon, my project materialised into a multi-scale renal model.

  • My fourth year of university was marked by a dramatic resurgence in my spirit, and I had found my old spirits again: having taken the MCAT, my studying for exams became much more effective. Striking a fine balance between working on my project, and the decidedly less exciting coursework, I managed to do very well in my final year, returning to the Dean’s List and bringing my GPA back up to a point where I could earn an honours degree. I would watch Kanon every three or so days during this time, and it took me a few months to go through the entire series.

  • That’s enough reminiscing about my undergraduate program’s final year; back in the present, we’re now closing in on the Christmas break very rapidly now, and this past week, I’ve attended a second Christmas party, which was a quiet get-together with the office. After a traditional dinner of turkey and Italian-sausage-stuffing, with maple-bacon topped vegetables and mashed potatoes, we settled in to conversation and watched Die Hard. On the day of the party, it had actually rained, and those around me remarked on the curiosity of this phenomenon: here in my city, precipitation takes the form of snow from November until around April.

  • When Akiko is involved in an accident and hospitalised, Nayuki falls into a depression. The combination of Yuichi’s rejection and her mother’s injury leaves the normally-cheerful and optimistic Nayuki inconsolable, refusing Yuichi’s efforts to talk to her. Yuichi decides to rest and reattempt, but while sleeping, the remainder of his memories return to him: seven years previously, on his last day in town, Yuichi and Ayu had been playing together near a large tree on the hill, but Ayu fell out of a tree and fell into a coma. In a panic, he ran off, and then rebuked Nayuki’s confession of love to him.

  • The dream gives Yuichi the last piece of the puzzle he needed, helping him to understand Nayuki’s feelings and also remember where he and Ayu had buried the angel amulet that Ayu had stated could grant three wishes. He heads off into a blizzard to locate the amulet, and while he manages to find it, succumbs to the elements. When Yuichi comes to, he finds himself in a warm bed: it turns out that the original Makoto Sawatari had found him.

  • The clean, white design of Makoto’s apartment is intended to create a very minimalist, clean environment that represents a rebirth of sorts, rather similar to how Gandalf awoke in a white void after his rebirth following his battle with the Balrog of Moria. This “reborn” Yuichi retains his kind personality but now gains his old memories back, allowing him to put two and two together and properly address those unanswered questions from his past.

  • Returning to the promised spot, Yuichi finds that Ayu has re-manifested, and makes her final wish to Yuichi: to forget about her. Yuichi refuses, and Ayu decides to make a different wish, disappearing shortly thereafter. While the precise nature of this wish is not specified, one can surmise what it was easily enough. Having taken on new memories from spending time with Yuichi and the others, Ayu makes a much more selfless wish, channeling what is Kanon‘s equivalent of the Infinity Gems to heal all those who have been hurting in the past seven years.

  • Nayuki has also recovered, and she heads out to the same spot where Yuichi had rejected her years previously. Yuichi takes his chance to properly apologise to her, and the two reconcile in full under a gentle snowfall, giving a romantic, if wistful feeling. At this point, Nayuki has not heard back from the hospital on Akiko’s condition, but the fact that Nayuki and Yuichi are able to be open about what they feel is a subtle sign of what Ayu had wished for.

  • As winter gives way to spring, Mai and return to school, preparing for their graduation, while Shiori is cured of her illness and accompanies everyone to class. Akiko, fully recovered, fills Yuichi in on the final pieces of what had happened to Ayu: after she fell out of the tree, she was brought to a hospital. Yuichi visits her frequently and holds the hope that Ayu would awaken. However, Yuichi’s friends soon move on with their futures, leaving Yuichi her only visitor. Another year passes, and Yuichi manages to figure out the last piece of the puzzle: the Ayu who had appeared to him was never seen without her red headband. Yuichi realises that this is the gift he had intended to give to her on the last day he had been in town years previously.

  • Locating the headband is the solution, and Ayu regains consciousness soon after, bringing Kanon to an end. Because I watched Kanon after I did CLANNADKanon did initially come across as a bit emptier and lonelier than CLANNAD. My impressions, however, remained quite positive, as I found the story to be about coming to terms with the past and facing one’s mistakes to rectify them. I praised the series for being very forward and clear with its mechanics, as well. In time, Kanon has come to stand out on its own merits apart from CLANNAD, and is definitely worth the journey.

As Jun Maeda’s first work with Key, Kanon represents an essay in the craft; Maeda would later come to use the learnings from Kanon to build the masterpiece that is CLANNAD. Numerous elements from Kanon were successfully applied to CLANNAD and honed; notions of family, the mother-daughter relationship, human emotions as having a near-supernatural presence, and numerous other features are shared between both series. CLANNAD‘s scenarios are more poignant, and written in greater detail, taking lessons from Kanon to craft an even more emotionally-powerful story. However, despite being the predecessor to CLANNAD, Kanon stands strongly on its own merits: the story itself is focused, establishes Yuichi’s story along with those of each heroine well, compelling viewers to stick around and follow the story as Yuichi learns more about everyone and himself. Coupled with Kyoto Animation’s top-tier animation, superior sound and superb voice acting, Kanon, like CLANNAD, looks timeless and aged exceptionally gracefully. The arc-based story is easy to follow, and despite the presence of the supernatural, Kanon succeeds in keeping the narrative and its messages clean and simple. The end result is that Kanon, like CLANNAD, withstands the test of time and is well worth watching. I have no trouble recommending this to folks who enjoy stories similar to CLANNAD, and those seeking a moving story about self-discovery will find Kanon a worthwhile series to watch. There is one final aspect to Kanon that I’ve not yet mentioned, and the main reason why the series ultimately is one I regard as a masterpiece: being set in winter, a season associated with death, suffering and stillness, Kanon creates the seeds of new hope amidst the snow and cold. Yuichi’s warmth and patience throughout the winter, then, is met with reward by the time spring comes: Mai’s graduated, Shiori’s formally enrolled as a student, and Ayu awakens from her coma, spending a warm day with Yuichi under the cherry blossoms. By enduring and working hard for those around him, Yuichi earns his happy ending as spring arrives, when life and colour is restored to the world. After watching Kanon a second, and a third time, my intense dislike for winter began dissipating, and in time, I came to accept winter as a season to not be endured, but one with its own merits and things to enjoy, having seen Kanon‘s presentation of winter as being a beautiful season in its own right.

Air: A Reflection At Summer’s End

“Isn’t that a romantic thought? That your true self is in the sky!” —Misuzu Kamio

Yukito Kunisaki is a wanderer with an unusual talent: the ability to use limited magic in animating a puppet. He travels from town to town with the aim of supporting himself, while at once seeking out a “Girl in the Sky”, a function he inherited from his late mother. Upon arriving in the coastal town of Kami, and after failing to impress the local children, he falls asleep on the seawall, only to encounter Misuzu Kamino. Enticed by her offer of a free meal, Yukito soon becomes friends with her and manages to convince Haruko Kamio, Misuzu’s foster mother, to allow Yukito to sleep in the garden shed. Yukito also meets Kano Kirishima and Minagi Tohno, coming to learn of a legend from a thousand summers previously. Borne of a curse from the Heian period, when the ancient winged being Kannabi no Mikoto (Kanna) escapes from captivity with the help of Ryūya, a member of her guard, and the Force-sensitive Uraha. While their escape was successful, priests soon caught up to them and cursed Kanna to eternally die and resurrect whenever she discovered love. It turns out that Misuzu was the latest reincarnated form of Kanna, and so, after kindling a friendship with Yukito, she fell in love with him. Misuzu’s story is later recounted from the perspective of a crow named Sora, and it turns out following Yukito’s mysterious departure, Haruko and Misuzu spend more time together as mother and child up until Misuzu’s death. This is Air, the first of the Key adaptations and the second series the Kyoto Animation produced: dating back to 2005, Air nonetheless has a timeless feel to it thanks to Kyoto Animation’s technical prowess, which was apparent even this early in their career, as well as the unusual and riveting story from the source materials itself.

From a narrative standpoint, Air is predominantly about how even if love is a transient state, the treasured moments that two individuals spend together are well worth the pains because they create a unique bond. This love is represented in Air both in terms of familial love, as well as romantic love. Despite their short time together, Yukito grows to care greatly for Misuzu not merely because of her being the individual he was fated to seek out, but because of her kindness. Similarly, in accompanying her and showing her friendship, Misuzu comes to love Yukito. While their time is cut short, their emotions and experiences remain genuine. Following the Summer arc, the bonds between Misuzu and Haruko are developed: having long regarded Misuzu coldly for fear that she would forget her, Haruko decides to make up for the lost time. While building a bond with Misuzu does end up causing Haruko great pain when Misuzu does eventually die of the curse, the pain is offset by Haruko having creating priceless memories and making the most of Misuzu’s remaining days. Then, no matter how short-lived love might be in some cases, it by no way diminishes its authenticity when it does manifest, and that the cost of love is far outweighed by the worth of having had the experience. This imagery is vividly presented in Air, augmented by extensive use of the summer season as a visual backdrop: like love, summer is a beautiful season occasionally marked with inclement weather, and is finite in length. However, it is in this brief period where things are truly magical, and while summers inevitably end, the memories they wrought remain with one forever.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Misuzu Kamio is Air‘s heroine. She is very similar to CLANNAD‘s Nagisa Furukawa and Kanon‘s Nayuki Minase in terms of personality, being kind and gentle, with a somewhat immature predisposition at times. While Yukito initially grows tired of her seemingly boundless optimism, her persistence in befriending him leads him to come around. Misuzu was voiced by Tomoko Kawakami, who passed away in 2011 and also played Aria‘s Athena Glory, The Girl from the Illusionary World of CLANNAD and Sayuri Kuruta of Kanon.

  • Air is set in the coastal town of Kami, in the Hyōgo Prefecture. The choice of location, a quiet town with a small population with a lack of activity, creates a deliberate sense of solitude that forces focus to be on Yukito and Misuzu. Anime taking this approach tend to feel very lonely and melancholy, creating a sense of yearning and wistfulness, and for me, there’s an appeal to series with this particular aesthetic.

  • Yukito comes from a line of sorcerers with the ability to manipulate objects to a limited extent. While is puppeteering skills are initially weak, his time with Misuzu helps him appreciate what his audience seeks from his plays, and over the course of Air, he is able to impress audiences to a greater extent. Of the male protagonists in a Key adaptation, Yukito has the least development of everyone in comparison to Yuuichi and Tomoya, since he’s supposed to represent the player character.

  • A short walk in Kami leads one out of town into the rural areas. The gentle quiet of the countryside amplifies the feeling of isolation, although Yukito is not without good company. He encounters Kano, an unusual girl who wears a ribbon around her wrist to seal her “magic”. It turns out that after coming into contact with a cursed feather, Kano manifested an unusual condition, and the ribbon was meant as a means to help her cope.

  • Aside from setting the standard for Kyoto Animation’s visuals, Air also would set the precedence for the quality of music that would go into its works. Air‘s soundtrack is a timeless collection of vocal pieces from Lia, which capture the empty majesty of the sky, and Jun Maeda’s incidental pieces serve to both set the mood of a moment, as well as convey additional aspects of a character. In particular, Misuzu’s theme, Natsukage, has become a favourite of mine: if there was a single song that captures how the summer feels, then this would be it.

  • Out of the gates, Air makes extensive use of supernatural elements to capture the idea that human emotions, both good and bad, sometimes defy known understanding and therefore can only be captured by means of magic. This is a recurring theme in Jun Maeda’s works – the way things works out in reality sometimes can appear to be the work of a higher power. In Air, the lack of contemporary implements such as phones give the setting a timeless feel, making it feel more plausible for magic to exist as a natural part of the world.

  • Hijiri Kirishima is Kano’s older sister, and after running into Yukito, decides to offer him work. In Kami, Yukito also runs into Minagi and Michiru; the former shares many unusual conversations with Yukito, while the latter is fond of pranking him. While the characters initially appear disconnected, they are all related to an ancient story from a thousand years earlier. Elements of reincarnation and rebirth are present in Air, although it is presented as a curse rather than a blessing.

  • While initially appearing dull and lifeless, Yukito’s background from a family of sorcerers and his connection to the “Girl in the Sky”, coupled with a kind disposition despite his cold appearance, means that he’s an integral part of the story. Over time, he grows to care for Misuzu even as her condition fails: the curse of a thousand years means that when she discovers love, her health and memories fade and condemn her to death.

  • The wide open skies above Kami are deliberately presented as vast: Air itself makes extensive use of imagery associated with birds, flight and feathers to signify a longing to soar into the expansive sky and explore. Society’s rejection is then a refusal to explore what could be, and how despite a laggard society’s effort to suppress curiosity, it will always linger. I imagine this to be a secondary theme in Air, and admit that it took me three revisitations to really get a handle on what the series was about: unlike Kanon and CLANNADAir is a bit more abstract in its presentation.

  • The mysteries in Air are indicative of the notion of curses being extremely long-lived, to the point where for future generations, they simply become something that they adapt to. Yukito and the others are not fully aware of the story, but bits and pieces of it are told over time, filling in the mystery. The feathers will occasionally manifest, and these snow-white feathers of purity speak of bygone times, of something unspoilt and untarnished.

  • Misuzu holds the rather romantic belief that one’s self exists in the skies above, unfettered by worldly concerns and untroubled by the comings and goings of the world. A long time ago, I had a friend who shared similarly romantic beliefs, and although time resulted in our drifting apart, these thoughts remain behind. One wonders what it would be like to have the sort of freedom a bird might, and it attests to humanity’s incredible resourcefulness that we’ve both been able to soar into the air as a bird might with aircraft, as well as replicate the experience with microprocessors and LED screens.

  • Minagi’s story was perhaps the most rushed in Air; after events of her past, Minagi’s own mother forgot about her existence, but Yukito ultimately helps to set things right when he speaks with the irreverent Michiru and determines on how to reach a solution. With things settled, Minagi departs for an unknown destination, and Misuzu collapses unexpectedly, setting in motion the final events of Air.

  • The origins of the thousand-year-old curse is found in the Heian Period, which spanned from 794 AD to 1185 AD. This period was characterised by a substantial Chinese and Buddhist influence, and is known for its artwork. It turns out that long ago, there were winged beings of great power, and society’s fear of them led to their extinction. Samurai Ryūya and Force-sensitive Uraha strive to protect Kanna from the pursuers after they manage to fulfill Kanna’s wish of locating her mother, and eventually, after Kanna is cursed and killed, Ryūya and Uraha conceive a child together with the aim of breaking this curse.

  • The third segment of Air follows things from the perspective of a crow named Sora. Here, Misuzu stands outside on a hot summer’s day. The alternative perspective offers new insight into Misuzu’s world, and that despite her lack of friends, her world is one of optimism and making the most of things. Her appearance in this moment here is the anthropomorphism of what I’ve come to long for in the summer: an encounter with someone like Misuzu or Nagisa in a verdant field and endless skies. Of course, this is just a dream, and given the geographical setting of where I am, such a dream is unlikely to come to fruition.

  • Following Yukito’s disappearance, Haruko resolves to look after Misuzu, whose health worsens by the day. Eventually, Misuzu’s father comes to pick her up, and while the old Haruko would have no objections, over the past while, she’d come to bond with Misuzu and sees her as a daughter. Misuzu’s father reluctantly allows Haruko to look after her for a few more days. With her hair short, Misuzu resembles Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya. Having covered two of Key’s biggest titles, my sights are now set on writing about Kanon: I watched it after finishing CLANNAD and felt it have less of an impact, but the series remains exceptional, worthy of being counted as a masterpiece.

  • While I’ve referred to the town of Air as Kami, the real Kami actually does not have a hill overlooking the sea and is quite flat. Contrasting her initial cold treatment of Misuzu, Haruko comes around and begins regarding her as a proper daughter. Despite their short time together, the memories they share become priceless: each of the three arcs of Air appear to be unified by the idea of how transient and fragile relationships can be, but still have great importance and worth nonetheless. Air covers numerous other themes, as well, but at a very basic, broad level, the theme I’ve found Air to be most forward with is thus.

  • In this post, partially a reflection of Air and partially me reflecting on the last day of August, I’ve featured moments that predominantly have the blues and greens of summer. Air, however, also makes use of other times of day: like KanonCLANNAD and virtually the rest of Kyoto Animation’s works, the colouring and time of day become critical in conveying a certain mood. Intense saturation during the evenings, for example, indicate emotional distress or troubling times.

  • Misuzu’s death is inevitable, and one of the most difficult moments was watching her struggle to stand and walk over to Haruko. Misuzu eventually dies on the beaches she loved, in Haruko’s arms. While the curse appears to claim yet another life, the combination of time, Yukito’s befriending of Misuzu and willingness to return as a crow to retain the lost memories, and Haruko’s accepting of Misuzu as her own daughter, the sum of these actions allows the curse to lift. In this case, Air is really about showing how compassion and kindness has a nontrivial impact in ending even something as powerful as a curse.

  • In the end, the children at the end don’t have any significance to the story. Air is regarded as being somewhat difficult to understand, but in spite of this, still retains a moving story. With Air done, I will be turning my sights towards Kanon at some point. We now enter September, and I’ll be doing reflections on both Sounan Desu Ka? and Dumbbell nan Kilo Motteru once their finales air. Beyond this, I am pushing through Metro Exodus at a high rate and will be looking to finish before mid-month, so there will be posts on this. Finally, Battlefield V will be getting a post, as well: while the game has seen numerous setbacks, there are still a few things to consider, especially as I pass the one-year anniversary of Battlefield V‘s open beta.

Whereas I’ve actually finished Air some years ago, I encountered considerable difficulty until a recent re-watch of the series that led me to consolidate what I had to say about things. Being the earliest of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations, Air bears all of the hallmarks of later series, featuring exceptional presentation of the different stories, and initially, I appreciated Air purely for its technical aspects. The story itself came across as being more challenging to follow, but after revisiting the series and its persistent use of endless blue skies along a quiet coastal town as a backdrop made it explicitly clear that the summer was very much a core aspect of Air. Besides representing a season of life, exploration and possibility, summer also ends more abruptly and noticeably than any other season. It is the season whose presence is most strongly felt, and whose temporal nature is most apparent. As Air is set in the summer, it stood to reason that the choice of season was almost certainly to augment the themes in Air. This connection, on closer inspection, seems very natural: the love portrayed in Air, while transient and short, is very poignant, moving and powerful precisely because it is not endless. Thus, Air seems to also indicate to viewers that the ending of summer is not something to dread or despise, since the finite nature of summer gives more value to the memories created during its course. This is appropriate, given that August now draws to a close, and while winter may approach with a tedious inevitability, there is always the consolation that the days will grow warm again.

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.

A Tide’s Ebb and Flow: Revisiting Ushio’s Story in CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“Sanae-san told me that places that I can cry are in the bathroom, or in daddy’s arms.” –Ushio Okazaki

Five years after Nagisa’s death, Tomoya has fallen into a depression, spending his days working and down time drinking. Sanae decides to visit Tomoya one day, and after taking him on a date of sorts, strong-arms Tomoya into taking a vacation with her and Akio. However, on the day of their trip, the Furukawas are nowhere to be found, and Tomoya decides to take Ushio on the trip. While having a difficult time getting closer to Ushio, he buys her a toy robot, and later takes her to a field of flowers. Tomoya realises that his father had once taken him here, and while Ushio searches for her robot, which she’d lost, Tomoya climbs a hill, running into his grandmother and learns that his father had poured his heart and soul into supporting Tomoya after his mother, Atsuko, died in a car accident. Realising that his father had done his best to look after him, and that he’s neglected to do the same for Ushio, Tomoya realises that his father had never stopped caring for him. He returns to the field, where Ushio is still searching for the robot. She cherishes it because it’s the first thing her father’s ever bought for her, and Tomoya asks Ushio if she is willing to forgive him. On their way home, Tomoya tells Ushio about Nagisa. The father and daughter settle into their new life together: after convincing his father to rest and that his duties have been completed, that it’s okay to return home, Tomoya learns that Ushio’s kindergarten instructor is none other than Kyou. Ushio also befriends Fuuko, and Tomoya later agrees to visit Ushio for her school’s sports day. However, Ushio develops a fever and is bed-ridden. Tomoya stays by her side and asks the Furukawas to help out. When her illness worsens, Ushio requests one final trip from Tomoya, who reluctantly agrees in spite of Ushio’s condition. As they set off, a snowfall sets in. Ushio collapses and dies soon after. Consumed with agony and grief, Tomoya clings to Ushio and succumbs to death shortly after. Ushio’s story in ~After Story~ remains an iconic centrepiece that is integral to the themes and messages of CLANNAD; despite only spanning five episodes, numerous life lessons are elegantly fit into the narrative, and each of these lessons hold weight in real life. With its exceptionally strong and moving story, Ushio’s arc represents the culmination of every discovery, triumph and setback in CLANNAD.

Notions of family have always been at the heart of CLANNAD, and in the beginning, the sharp contrasts between Tomoya and Nagisa’s families served to set the stage for what Tomoya comes to value in his family. Through the warmth and support Tomoya sees in Nagisa’s family, a part of Tomoya falls in love with Nagisa because she comes to embody the precise sort of person who would be able to pass this sense of family along to the next generation. However, when she dies, the concepts of family that Nagisa came to represent would die with her. However, these concepts continued to endure in Ushio, and Tomoya’s subconscious decision to travel into the countryside, mirroring what his father had done for him many years previously, shows that Tomoya resembles his father in many ways. Tomoya himself comes to realise this after speaking with his grandmother; from her recollections, Tomoya’s neglect of Ushio for the past five year is more despicable than his own father, who, despite his numerous faults, always strove to put Tomoya first. This revelation, and the fact that Ushio is a very visceral, tangible representation of his own past, forces Tomoya to open his eyes. Despite his past actions, Tomoya accepts responsibility for his actions and owns his mistakes, resolving to turn over a new leaf. Tomoya’s change of heart here is a touching moment: by asking Ushio to come live with him and forgive his mistakes, and Ushio accepting Tomoya as her father openly, ~After Story~ suggests that it is never too late to redress past mistakes and make good on the future. These revelations, however, can take some manoeuvring to reach. In ~After Story~, a Tomoya’s intrinsic kindness, in conjunction with a bit of fate, allows him to enter the future a far better man and father.

In addition to notions of family, CLANNAD also explores the concept of cycles, of how traits slowly move through generations and how history can repeat itself if one is blind to its consequences. Throughout CLANNAD, audiences have the impression of Tomoya’s father as an irresponsible alcoholic whose callousness results in Tomoya’s shoulder injury and loss of a new career opportunity. However, when it is shown that his father also struggled to make ends meet while simultaneously looking after Tomoya, the audience’s image of him change drastically; Tomoya’s father can now be seen as dealing with very difficult circumstances that led him to low points, and despite Tomoya’s determination to escape this, he is initially forced along the same path. To further accentuate the likeness, Atsuko is suggested as being quite similar to Nagisa in both manner and appearance, also dying early. Because Tomoya had earlier been so consumed with a desire to escape his past, he failed to understand the circumstances that resulted in his own experiences. Through dramatic examples, Tomoya is shaken out of this; he resolves to make amends and look after Ushio, as well as expressing his gratitude for his father and informing him that at long last, his father’s responsibilities and efforts can come to an end. Being able to see and understand his past more clearly enables Tomoya to own his actions, and so, it is quite fitting that Ushio is named after the tides, which endlessly come and go along the coast, ebbing and flowing each and everyday regardless of the weather or whatever challenges the inhabitants of the planet endure.

Because Tomoya ultimately sees the errors of his own ways, he is able to finally come to terms with the relationship he shared with his father. Grateful for his father’s support despite the great cost his father paid to keep Tomoya happy, he is finally able to put these feelings into words, and with his father’s job finally done, he is able to move back home. By facing his past as a man, and ultimately making peace with it, the curse that haunts Tomoya is lifted: Tomoya is able to step into the future at last, whereas before, he would have been weighted back by his resentment of the past, and thus, never would have been able to properly embrace the future. The gap between the Tomoya here and the Tomoya who encouraged a shy Nagisa to follow her dreams is apparent: Tomoya’s happiness is more genuine than it has ever been, and with this new outlook on life, Tomoya is the kind, gentle individual towards everyone as Nagisa had originally seen him to be. Whereas Tomoya’s actions for the past five years might be seen as being disrespectful towards Nagisa’s memory, the changes in him after meeting Ushio and his grandmother show that Tomoya has begun to move on, while being mindful of the past. Looking after Ushio to the best of his ability and making amends clearly show Tomoya as living in respect of Nagisa’s memory, and the days that follow are the happiest Tomoya’s experienced since meeting Nagisa. From picking up Ushio from school to spending time with the Furukawas, Tomoya’s days are filled with discovery and normalcy. While most stories would be content to end here, ~After Story~ seems to suggest that everything has a cost: the same disease that claimed Nagisa’s life now comes knocking on Ushio’s door. Tomoya’s last act, to fulfil Ushio’s wish, shows just how far he’s matured, and when both succumb to death, audiences are left to wonder what kind of universe would so cruel as to wrest away all happiness from a family that has endured and given viewers much to root for.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When things resume five years later, the toll of despair and his efforts to forget have had a very visible impact on Tomoya’s life. His scruffy appearance and unkempt apartment reflect on this, and time relentlessly passes. In the five years since, the town has undergone dramatic changes, with new constructions altering the cityscape. Because Tomoya’s become trapped in his past, he fails to notice these changes until one summer’s day, when Sanae shows up out of the blue and visits him. Tomoya reluctantly decides to accompany her into town. With a bit of convincing, Tomoya agrees to travel with Sanae and Akio.

  • A lot can change in five years – five years ago, I was set to enter graduate school and had not yet been invited to work on the Giant Walkthrough Brain, nor had I suffered heartbreak of the sort I’d not experienced up until that point. Since then, I finished my graduate degree, became a second-degree black belt and began my career. Despite the extraordinary events within CLANNAD, the series’ focus in dealing with everyday life is first and foremost, and as such, I will be reminiscing quite a bit in this post, which has forty screenshots and accompanying figure captions.

  • The choice to set Tomoya’s turnaround during the summer is deliberate; ~After Story~ had previously made extensive use of the seasons to convey very specific ideas. Summer is a time of hope, and of change: Tomoya proposed to Nagisa in the summer, decided with Nagisa on their child’s name in the summer, and so, audiences cannot help but feel a sense of foreshadowing here. In the long, hot days of summer under blue skies that beacon for adventure, something is going to happen now that Tomoya’s decided to take a step into the world he turned his back on years previously.

  • It turns out that Akio and Sanae punk’d Tomoya, but this choice is a calculated, well-chosen one on their part. Tomoya meets Ushio for the first time, and at the age of five, Ushio is polite, perceptive and a spitting image of her mother. In the presence of her father, Ushio is quite shy, having not met with him: Tomoya was reminded of Nagisa and distanced himself, leaving the Furukawas to raise Ushio. The blunt, despairing Tomoya has no idea how to connect with Ushio, but the Furukawas have raised Ushio well, and she defaults to her own activities while Tomoya struggles to work out what to do now.

  • When Ushio accidentally totals her turtle toy, Tomoya fixes it for her. Having neglected Ushio for five years to dampen the pain of having lost Nagisa, Tomoya’s decision can be seen as being selfish. However, it is important to note that these can be seen as extenuating circumstances, and Tomoya’s lack of a support network would have only made things more difficult for him. Parents would doubtlessly see Tomoya as irresponsible in the absence of a greater context, and this is ~After Story~‘s subtle way of reminding viewers not to be so hasty in dealing out judgement, especially when stories behind others are not fully known.

  • From a narrative perspective, Tomoya’s actions create a situation that he must redeem himself from. The changes in Tomoya are apparent, and he is content to leave Ushio to her own devices. Being raised in the Furukawa household, Ushio is very independent, and when Tomoya cooks lunch for the two, Ushio decides to add seasoning of sorts to the rice, being unaccustomed to the way Tomoya cooks. After realising that he probably should make good on his promise to Sanae and Akio, Tomoya decides to take Ushio on a trip into the countryside.

  • Sullen and ill-tempered, Tomoya inadvertently frightens Ushio when he yells at a mother and her child for being excessively noisy on the train. With five years of unfamiliarity between them, Tomoya finds it very difficult to connect with his daughter, while Ushio initially is hesitant to open up to Tomoya as her father. A part of parenthood is being close to one’s children and being there for them, so despite being related by blood, father and daughter feel exceedingly distant at the start of their journey. The choice of an outing to the countryside thus acts as a visual metaphor for the journey the two undertake within.

  • While browsing around a store, Ushio asks for a toy robot from Tomoya, who buys it for her despite his remarks that it’s an unusual choice of toy. While Tomoya’s world has since reverted to the dull monochromes it was prior to meeting Nagisa, ~After Story~ presents the world as being exceedingly colourful when Ushio is introduced. The disconnect between Tomoya’s mood and the colours of the world are a first in CLANNAD: it is meant to show that this arc is less about Tomoya, and more about Ushio, whose universe is one of exploration, taking things in stride and discoveries. Having helped so many people in CLANNAD, Tomoya’s now receiving help from Ushio in a manner of speaking, and the colours of the world seem to mirror her thoughts and feelings.

  • Thus, when the two step off a train into the vast blue skies and expanse of fields on a hot summer’s day, the highly-saturated landscapes indicate new possibility. There is a certain mystique and allure about a far distant countryside by summer; the environment invites exploration. It is under the long days of summer where discoveries are made: when there are many hours of daylight, there is opportunity to remain outdoors longer, and as such, the hottest days of year are also my favourite. Under such conditions, the world gives Ushio and Tomoya plenty of chances to catch up and learn about one another.

  • By my admission, I would love to meet a girl in a sundress and wide-brim hat while waiting for a train in a remote station on a beautiful summer morning. There is a tranquility in the countryside by summer, although as I’ve remarked previously, a lack of train stations in my area. The closest I would have is driving along highways cutting through endless canola fields, and upon closer inspection, that isn’t a bad substitute: summers here at home are beautiful, and there’s a charm about the southern province with its blue skies, foothills and canola fields.

  • Upon arriving at a field of yellow flowers, Tomoya and Ushio genuinely feel like father and daughter for the first time; to give Ushio a better look, he gives her a piggyback ride. She later runs off into the flowers while Tomoya rests under the shade of a tree, seemingly blissful and content for the first time. Afternoon soon gives way to evening, and Tomoya has a sudden flashback. Despite the field being somewhere seemingly new, shadows of a memory manifest in his mind: he realises he’s been here before.

  • While the area’s apparent familiarity lingers in Tomoya’s mind, Ushio’s lost her robot. Tomoya gives her permission to keep looking for it, and sets off to confirm his suspicions. Tomoya’s trip to the area is likely subconscious decision, and the fact that his father once took him here is an indicator that history is repeating itself. When I was much younger, my father was fond of driving my brother and I around the country roads surrounding the city after eating lunch at a restaurant. We were always thrilled to go on these excursions, and they were cost-effective ways of relaxing. Being able to relax takes many forms, he told me, and it is not necessary to break the bank in order to have a good time.

  • After climbing onto a bluff overlooking the coast, Tomoya runs into his grandmother. Under the oranges and golds of a sunset, the colours of a day’s end, Tomoya hears from his grandmother the journey his father had taken in raising him. Standing in sharp contrast with Tomoya, who’d turned his back on Ushio after Nagisa’s death, Tomoya’s father decided to push on ahead and raise Tomoya on his own after his wife’s death. Despite his own shortcomings and failures, that Tomoya’s father stuck to his promise as best as he could is honourable – Tomoya realises that for all of his own promises to raise Ushio, he had completely and totally failed Ushio by leaving her to the Furukawas.

  • What makes Tomoya an honourable man, then, is the fact that he is able to see his mistakes and own them. The worst kind of person is blind to their own failures, defending themselves even when there is no position to defend. It is true that Tomoya has made poor choices, and it is true that his neglect for Ushio is appalling. However, he accepts that he has made a mistake and also understands that it is not too late to begin setting things right. Learning about his father’s history helps Tomoya put things in perspective, and realising this, Tomoya is determined to make amends for Ushio’s sake.

  • Having inherited her mother’s perceptiveness, Ushio accepts Tomoya’s apology and his invitation to be a proper family. This turning point is set deep into the evening, as the reds become more pronounced. Signifying the end of a day, of a time when things close off, the emotional buildup comes to a gentle but significant close. Watching Tomoya come to terms with his past, and watching Ushio connect with her father for the first time in unison was a very moving moment because shows that people can indeed look past their prior experiences and be willing to accept their circumstances.

  • CLANNAD is sublime because of how every element comes together to convey a very specific, powerful message: from the dialogue between Tomoya and Ushio, to the choice of incidental music, the deliberate use of lighting and time of day, all of these components come together to completely immerse audiences in a moment. I do not feel that any other anime I’ve watched comes close: CLANNAD stands alone even among the series I’ve counted as a masterpiece, and such moments are more effective than my own writings in conveying what about CLANNAD makes it so enjoyable to watch.

  • After opening up to Ushio, Tomoya finally speaks about Nagisa for the first time in five years. He accepts her death, recounts her as beautiful, frail but above all, kind. Understandably, speaking about Nagisa brings tears to Tomoya’s eyes, but by talking it out to Ushio, he releases the stress of five years. Ushio has inherited an interesting thought about tears; being quite strong-willed like Nagisa, the Furukawas told her that there are two places where it’s okay to cry. I believe most translations give the first as the toilet, but I’ve always known facilities as bathrooms, hence my own take on the quote. The second location is in a parent’s arms, and so, by crying in Tomoya’s presence, audiences are left with no doubt that Ushio accepts Tomoya.

  • Upon returning from their trip, Tomoya visits the Furukawas and prepares to move Ushio’s belongings over to his place. The night before, Sanae finally cries for Nagisa, having stayed her emotions after all this time so she could be strong for Ushio. With one journey over, another begins – despite their rocky start, Tomoya and Ushio bond very quickly, and in no time at all, the two feel like a proper family.

  • Preparing to head off after thanking the Furuakawas for everything they’ve done, Tomoya and Ushio set off under a beautiful summer day. The vivid saturation in the skies, despite Tomoya and Ushio’s return home, show that another adventure is just around the corner; on a long day such as this, the possibilities are as endless as the sky itself. I recall the weather of summers past where the days were precisely like this – whether it be the weight of an MCAT or a flood-stricken city, summers in Alberta are persistently pleasant for the most part, reminding residents that the world will go on regardless of the troubles one might have, and that it’s okay to live in the moment.

  • Traces of the Furukawa’s upbringing are visible in Ushio, who boldly gives a thumbs-up to Akio after he asks if she’ll be alright with her new life. Ushio is voiced by Satomi Kōrogi – Kōrogi delivers Ushio’s lines in a very realistic manner, capturing the vocabulary and manner of an inquisitive five-year-old. Ushio’s sentences are short and succinct; she answers questions with brevity. When she’s enjoying a moment and laughing, Kōrogi manages to sound precisely as a five-year-old would, as well, attesting to her talent. I’m actually not too familiar with Kōrogi’s other works, and the only other role I’ve seen is her performance as Please Teacher!‘s Maho Kazami. Mizuho’s younger sister, Maho is absolutely opposed to Kei’s marriage to Mizhuho and is a brat, but she’s also mischievous, resembling GochiUsa‘s Maya Jouga in appearance and manner.

  • After moving some of Ushio’s belongings from the Furukawas’ place, Tomoya shows Ushio a picture of Nagisa. The return of the Dango plushies gives Tomoya’s apartment a sense of home; this is a feeling we’ve not seen since Tomoya and Nagisa had lived here together. While Tomoya goes to work, Ushio demonstrates her independence: she explores the empty house on her own and then takes to her own activities. Despite being quite accustomed to solitude, Ushio is very well-behaved.

  • Tomoya catches up with Kouko and Fuuko one day: Fuuko’s finally been discharged from the hospital and despite the considerable amount of time that has passed since her last appearance, Fuuko looks and acts very much as she did previously. Tomoya immediately takes to trolling her: evidently, being older and having experienced the difficulties that he did has not completely diminished Tomoya’s more playful side. Upon seeing Ushio, Fuuko immediately desires to keep her, and while both Kouko and Tomoya are against this, Tomoya does allow Fuuko to play with Ushio; the two get along very well.

  • Having come to terms with his father, Tomoya takes Ushio to visit him. They clean up his place, and Tomoya helps him pack, saying that it’s now okay to step back. Seeing his daughter, Tomoya’s father consents, and the two part ways on amicable terms. Having come to appreciate and understand his father’s decisions, Tomoya has now properly faced his past and accepts it. While Ushio may not have had an active role in accomplishing this, she reminded Tomoya of his own past, and drove him towards being a better man.

  • With his past addressed in full, Tomoya is now able to move into the future without anything holding him back: his desire to make things better for Ushio now stems from a genuine love for her, rather than his previous goal of putting as much distance between him and the past. In this moment, a light orb appears, but only Ushio notices it rise into the skies. Despite being a benign moment, watching Tomoya and his father separate for the present was an emotional moment.

  • I note that originally, I intended to write about this particular arc in February: this post would have coincided with the ten year anniversary to the twentieth episode and ended with Ushio developing a fever, but looking at the ~After Story~‘s progression, it ended up being more prudent to extend this post and then fully cover things right up to the penultimate episode. Doing so also allowed me some breathing room to focus on the other drafts I had lined up.

  • When Tomoya and Kyou meet for the first time in over five years, he’s surprised that she’s become an elementary teacher. In spite of this, their old friendship remains as strong and familiar as ever: Tomoya reacts to Kyou’s introduction, and is immediately reminded of their time in the drama club. Tomoya remarks to Ushio that despite Kyou being kind and friendly as a teacher, she was once violent and put him through a great deal of trouble. Despite this, they were very much friends. Tomoya’s description of Kyou is not untrue, and it exemplifies Tomoya’s character to get the negatives out of the way first and then focus on the positives, speaking volumes of his character.

  • Kyou remarks that after Nagisa’s death, Youhei and the others wondered if they should get in touch with him to offer support, but ended up deciding that it was better for Tomoya to work out his problems. This always struck me as being a little difficult to accept: during difficult times, support from peers is precisely what people might need, and one cannot help but wonder if Tomoya might’ve fared better were his friends there for him. On the flip-side, Tomoya manages to overcome that particular stage of his life following his fateful decision to take Ushio on a trip; in being able to own his mistakes and then regroup, viewers come to rally behind Tomoya.

  • CLANNAD, and ~After Story~ in particular, deals with the ups and downs of life, of comings and goings. Moments of great tragedy are offset by the bliss of normalcy, and the anime presents happiness as being something to be at its most profound during the most ordinary of moments, whether it be sharing a meal together or picking up one’s children from school after work. The world that CLANNAD was first released in 2004 was a very different place: the internet, smartphones and social media were not ubiquitous, but even then, advancing technology and the increasing expectations people had meant that the more subtle things in life were being forgotten and taken for granted.

  • By deliberately focussing on these messages, CLANNAD can be seen has having an ancillary theme – genuine happiness is not found in material possessions, personal success or social status, but through appreciation of the simpler things in life. Tomoya is able to create a profound memory and bond with Ushio by taking a trip into the countryside, and he is at his happiest doing ordinary, everyday things: this is the sort of stability that families need to mature. There is not one way to live life, and while some of my peers may disagree with me, I feel that the happiness one might gain by backpacking in Thailand and Vietnam for a year is not so different than the happiness found from taking an afternoon stroll in a hill overlooking the city.

  • Kyou remarks that Ushio is brimming with energy and optimism, being the splitting image of her mother. When the elementary school’s sports festival arrives, Tomoya is initially reluctant to attend until Ushio convinces him to do so. He subsequently displays his old determination, exercising during his lunch breaks at work so that he’s able to keep up with her. After reuniting with Ushio, Tomoya’s old personality begins manifesting again, indicating that Tomoya’s begun living life anew. A new status quo is reached, and it would appear that Tomoya has once again managed to build happiness for himself and Ushio.

  • Seeing the energy and enthusiasm in youth, such as when Ushio expresses that she’ll be doing her best during the sports festival, is always a breath of fresh air for me. A few weeks ago, I volunteered as a judge for a science fair being held at the top private school in the city: one of the instructors there was my old biology instructor back when I was in high school, and I attribute my successes in university a result of his inspirational teaching approach. This year, I judged some of the best projects I’ve seen yet. I assessed several projects as being more than qualified for the city-wide science fair in April. I am always happy to see what the best minds are working on, and their youthful optimism. The world of late is as pessimistic and cynical as I’ve ever seen it, and it is for this reason that I always strive to surround myself with positivity.

  • Ushio embodies everything about children that I get along with: I have no trouble getting along with children, and during my days as an undergrad, I worked with small children in a Chinese school. They seem to gravitate towards me for help and support. With this being said, I am not qualified to be a parent in any way. I’ve heard that most parents feel this way about their first child: beyond some cursory materials to help them along, it’s mostly touch-and-go.

  • While visiting a new hospital in the far southern quadrant of my city, I remarked that the best hospital is a near-empty one, as it would imply that the citizens are healthy and well.  One evening, Ushio is taking a walk on her own and finds herself near the hospital, being unable to answer Fuuko when the latter asks why she’s in the area. The supernatural aspects of CLANNAD are subtle, and it is implied that there’s a curse that manifested after Akio begged for Nagisa’s life long ago. Shortly after, Ushio develops a fever and is unable to participate in the sports festival. Tomoya remains by her side as doctors struggle to find a cause for Ushio’s illness.

  • Themes that lessons of the past can haunt the present carry over into Ushio’s illness: it turns out Ushio’s inherited her mother’s enigmatic condition, and despite having been in excellent health, this illness has returned with a frightening finality. The normalcy that Tomoya had experienced is slipping away again, creating a lingering sense of doubt in the viewers. To have concluded the discussion here as I originally intended to would have created an unnatural break; I decided to push this post back and include the penultimate episode so that Ushio’s arc was covered in its entirety.

  • As Ushio’s condition worsens, he decides to resign from his job to look after her full-time, signifying his dedication and love for Ushio. Again, Tomoya is seen as taking an action that might seem brash or ill-conceived: Akio and Sanae have already offered to look after Ushio wherever Tomoya is busy, and a lack of income invariably means being unable to afford the healthcare and materials needed to lessen the severity of Ushio’s illness. However, CLANNAD manages to frame this as being honourable – while quite irrational as a decision in reality, fiction allows Tomoya’s decision to be an honourable one in that he is willing to give his all for Ushio.

  • My remarks about Tomoya’s actions in both a fictional and real context are intended to show that some narrative decisions that seem poor in real life can be relaxed in fiction, as they serve to strengthen a message. Not everything needs to be realistic, and realism can sometimes be detrimental to a work’s ability to convey its theme. Here, Tomoya and Akio share a conversation: Tomoya declines Akio’s assistance and wonders if the changes in the city might be affecting Ushio strongly. It certainly does feel that, as more developments appear, the city extracts a toll from its citizens to expand, and in CLANNAD, both Nagisa and Ushio are made to pay this toll.

  • The months pass, and soon, the cold of winter returns. With Ushio showing no indication of recovering, Tomoya decides to fulfill her wish of going on another trip with him. Under melancholy, grey skies, the two step out and prepare to head for the train station. The weather foreshadows what is to happen, and when snow begins falling, viewers brace for the inevitable – CLANNAD had long excelled at using weather and time of day as visual indicators for emotions and story progression, so the grim mood at the penultimate episode’s end is felt long before viewers see anything occur.

  • With her remaining energy, Ushio tells Tomoya that she loves her, before dying. Consumed with grief and despair he’d not felt since Nagisa’s death, Tomoya dies shortly after, as well. However, this is not the end: the Imaginary World that had made its appearance is shown, and it turns out the brown-haired girl here is Ushio. It turns out that in death, Ushio and Tomoya’s consciousnesses were transported into another world: Ushio is able to create a pocket universe with the aim of sparing her father and mother from a terrible fate. The phenomenon that occurs subsequently is within the realm of quantum cosmology, which contemporary science is constantly developing, and where science fiction may apply fantastical constructs, like the Infinity Gems, to conceptualise.

  • While it may seem cruel to conclude an ~After Story~ post with Tomoya and Ushio’s deaths, it is no secret that Tomoya and Ushio are about as dead as the vanished people in Infinity War. I have a one final post for the finale of ~After Story~, where I will explore why the ending viewers got was an ending they deserve, why criticisms of the ending are misguided, and how this comes together to make CLANNAD the strongest anime in the past decade. It is also a bit humbling to know that this Ten Year Anniversary Series for CLANNAD is very nearly at an end: I started things more than a year ago, and it’s been surprising as to how quickly time flies. I hope that readers will have found these revisitations to be relevant and illuminating, both for CLANNAD, as well as providing a bit of insight into why the series was so moving and meaningful for me.

At its core, family is more than just people related by blood: it is a bond stronger than the likes of any other, and the willingness to support and aid one another in difficult times as much as it is about enjoying the good times together. The dramatic extremes of CLANNAD, and especially of ~After Story~, are particularly vivid for this reason. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, life is a journey: happiness and despair cannot exist in the absence of one another, and this is why comedy and melancholy figure so prominently in CLANNAD, showing both sides of the coin. Extreme examples are sometimes necessary for a story to have impact, and for it, ~After Story~ is remarkably visceral. Criticisms that CLANNAD and ~After Story~ are melodramatic, then, are ill-founded; the contrasts serve a very specific purpose in painting an image of what family means, as well as the ups and downs of life. Like the coming and going of the tides that Ushio is named after, life is about cycles, of comings and goings. ~After Story~‘s penultimate episode left viewers in a great shock, and I imagine that watching someone losing so much despite their efforts distracted and dissuaded many from CLANNAD‘s core themes. However, the reality is that a kind heart and benevolent attitude will rarely go unrewarded. CLANNAD was written with a myriad of life lessons in mind, and in the decade that has elapsed since its airing, it should be evident that ~After Story~ has lost none of its relevance, emotional impact and sincerity. ~After Story~ is a masterpiece in my books precisely because of its ability to capture such a broad spectrum of themes so effectively. Despite its breadth, ~After Story~ also conveys each concept, from family to forgiveness, in sufficient depth such that viewers can relate to it. For me, ~After Story~ reinforced the way I came to look at family and opened my eyes to how accepting responsibility can manifest, allowing me to tangibly conceptualise what family is defined as. While the definition of a masterpiece invariably differs between people, for me, a series is a masterpiece if its execution is sufficiently powerful as to alter my world views in some way. Because I am the sort of individual who can only be convinced with well-reasoned arguments and evidence, series that can change the way I think about the world have done something exceptionally well in presenting its ideas to me, attesting to the strength of its execution. ~After Story~ ended up having a noticeable impact on my world-views in this manner, and so, is something I would count a masterpiece.

A New Family’s Beginning in the Summer, Departure by a Cruel Winter’s Storm: Revisiting Tomoya and Nagisa’s Marriage in CLANNAD ~After Story~ At The Ten Year Anniversary

“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.