As Time Changes – Clannad #3
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
Our third week of Clannad brings with it a third post and a new format. The past two posts have been arranged as a chronological flow of analysis that I tried to demonstrate some kind of logical progression within. That structure worked well enough, but I also feel it has its shortcomings. Partly as a matter of remedying those shortcomings and partly because the main ideas of this post will be more difficult to link together into a coherent storyline, I’m experimenting a bit with structure this time. I want to divide my thoughts into clear sections.
Clannad is a story made up of a lot of key recurring elements, and one of the best ways to engage with it is to trace those elements throughout the series. For that reason, organizing posts into distinct sections that clearly mark which specific element they deal with might make that job of “tracing” easier for both you and me. All that being said, I’m not committing to this structure by any means. I’m leaving myself open to continue experimenting or to return to old structures–whatever seems to fit the episode and topic at hand.
The above text has been my own repeating element: some unnecessary ramblings about my writing process for these posts. I’ll apologize for wasting time, but I can’t promise I’ll stop. Anyway, on to the show.
Illusory World: Birth
Our narrator is at last born into the Illusory World, a second miracle in this realm where nothing is supposed to change. The narrator (now “robot”) claims to be “sacrificing life in a new world and everything [they] could have had” in order to come to this world. I’m not sure this is true. I don’t believe they necessarily sacrificed the possibilities of a new world or that they really had the chance for life in a new world before coming to the Illusory World. For reasons we’ll touch on in the future, coming to the Illusory World seems like a necessary step for the robot. In order to reach something beyond stagnation and timelessness, one needs to enact change at the source of stagnation and timelessness. In that sense, we could say unchanging nothingness is all that could possibly exist until someone changes something. We see that this theory is in agreement with our thoughts about Tomoya–of course his life would repeat until he makes an effort to change it.
Yet, as has been the theme for these posts, we can’t accept that theory too easily. Tomoya’s life may work as an example of the world stagnating until activity changes it, but Nagisa’s life works just as well as an example of change occurring in the face of inactivity. This was our original dialogue: every day is the same for Tomoya; nothing can remain unchanged for Nagisa. I think at this point, we may feel inclined to conclude it’s simply a matter of perspective. While it’s hard to argue against that conclusion, that’s mostly because the conclusion itself is vague and unsatisfying. I want to dig into what exactly that difference in perspective is, where it might come from, and come to understand how two entirely opposite perspective could coexist in such a way. Additionally, is there a way to arrive at a third and happier perspective?
That’s maybe all an abstract way of saying I want to understand what the story is trying to do. In other words, “What’s going on?” As we get further into the series, we’ll bridge the gap between the Illusory World and the “real” world, just as Clannad itself does. We’ll find our answers as we walk along that bridge.
Yusuke and the Past
The above section posed some questions without answers in order to set up arguments and information for future posts. I’d like to begin this section by posing a question that doesn’t have an answer simply because I don’t know the answer.
Why are Yusuke and Kouko introduced in this fashion?
Introducing one right after the other makes sense because they’re engaged and their relationship will be relevant for the approaching Fuko arc, but that’s not really what I’m wondering about. Kouko first shows up as a nameless customer of the Furukawa Bakery for a few seconds. Yusuke, on the other hand, gets a whole mini-conflict for his debut and a grand introduction via Sunohara. That’s not to mention the love ballad he recites sans music to two total strangers. It’s bizarre, especially in comparison to the methodical and economic introductions of other characters.
I suppose this sequence helps to make Kouko a familiar face before her true introduction in Fuko’s arc. She needs to be properly introduced in relation to Fuko (i.e. not before and obviously not after her arc) due to her importance in the arc’s conflict. Having her show up for a moment does the dirty jobs of establishing her presence and of disposing of Sanae’s bread. However, I don’t quite understand Yusuke’s scene in this context. Perhaps there’s nothing more to it than breaking up the pace of the episode with some humor. It’s no good to overthink his arrival, but if something seems strange in a story, it’s always worth questioning why it seems strange. Like rolling a car out of a snow bank, though, it’s important to recognize when spinning your wheels is only getting you more stuck. I’ll leave a bookmark here for now.
On a more coherent note, the introduction of Yusuke is a good trigger to mention a core theme we have yet to explore: the procession of generations. Clannad deals with the succeeding of one generation by another in a general sense, but also on a more concrete level within the town. Both Nagisa and Tomoya’s parents come to play major roles in the story and, in the Furukawas’ case, the moments of their youth are as important as those of their adulthood. As we’ll see in After Story, flashbacks to Misae’s youth come to influence our understanding of the school as well. This matter of generations (we could also say more generally “the past”) will be something to keep an eye on.
Making a Family
While practicing her promotion of the drama club, Nagisa links her desire to participate in the club with a desire for connectedness, for a sort of familial unity. She wants “everyone to act together” and, more personally, to not miss out on the activities of the club due to her illness. This is rather melancholic in light of her fate, as her eventual passing will leave behind all of her soon-to-be club members to continue their lives without her. To continue acting out their stories without her, so to speak.
Yet, in a more hopeful perspective, we see her desire to repeat the past and reclaim any missed opportunities. Her repetition of her third year poses challenges for her in terms of what (teachers, friends, etc.) has changed, but it also allows her to “change” what her third-year experience is. Instead of accepting a year of absence in which she misses out on the drama club, she wants to rewrite her story this year by reforming the club. She wants to “replay” her final year of high school. We could draw more parallels to the visual novel medium here: players may load a save after a bad ending in order to repeat the story and achieve the good or true ending.
Clannad’s own true ending requires the completion of every good (but not good enough) ending. The player collects the orbs of light that we will see Tomoya collect in the show, eventually replaying Nagisa’s route and entering into After Story. This potentially has serious implications for Tomoya’s relationships with girls who aren’t Nagisa (if you can’t access the true ending via romancing the other heroines, then the argument would be that Tomoya only finds “true” love with Nagisa), but that’s a topic for another time. In the context of the anime, it’s assumed in a more intrinsic way that Tomoya loves Nagisa exclusively and ultimately.
What matters more for our purposes is how the mechanics of the true ending are translated into the medium of anime. Theoretically, the show could reset after completing each route, much in the way Higurashi (admittedly, resetting is not really a mechanic in that game) or Amagami SS reset. However, by progressing through each heroine’s route within one timeline, the anime capitalizes on familial themes and manages to retain the sense of repetition present in the visual novel.
Reforming the drama club and “acting together” will require Nagisa and Tomoya to bond with all of the heroines, more or less completing each route together. The drama club becomes a family in the sense that all of the characters work together for a common goal and thus share in common experience. We’ll see that the heroines bring their own specialty to the table (Kyou’s athleticism; Tomoyo’s aspirations for the student council) in order to clear obstacles in the way of club reformation. To some degree, certain qualities of each route contribute in a narrative sense to the completion of the true route. Again, the most obvious example is Tomoyo. Her route involves winning the vote for student council president, the success of which then makes establishing the club easier.
In this way, Nagisa will get her wish of replaying her final year of high school, and Tomoya will begin to experience something of the family he has missed out on. The connections to Nagisa’s own family are begging to be made now, but I’m going to hold back. Nothing like a little suspense.
I wrote in the past two posts about the importance of locations in various senses–most importantly, how a location like the drama clubroom becomes a symbol that imparts a lot of meaning onto the activities that occur there. Yukine’s reference room is yet another location of immense importance, even if it may not seem so at first. It’s tempting to lump it with a location like the library, which doesn’t do much more than develop Kotomi’s character and serve as her “heroine home base,” but the reference room is really on par with the drama clubroom.
Our introduction to the room and Yukine in this episode establishes a lot of their symbolic importance right away, though it requires some interpretation on our part. The first thing Yukine says about the room is that she “love[s] this place,” which situates it in the same discussion of Nagisa and Tomoya’s original dialogue. Nagisa loves this school; Tomoya hates this town; Yukine loves this room. She goes on to explain that she gets “all sorts of people” here (whom we’ll meet soon enough), which leads to Tomoya revealing a slight change in his own perspective. In a way we can only read as positive or optimistic, he remarks that there are lots of “unique characters” in the school, then corrects himself to mean the town as a whole. It’s not something we’d imagine the “town-hating” Tomoya to say, and I don’t think it’s mere coincidence his reflection is triggered by Yukine’s own confession of love.
To discuss the room itself, it is also a place where memories are stored in the form of old videotapes and records, though we’ll explore what that might mean in more detail later. The room’s dual identity as a home for unused or forgotten books/materials and as a comforting cafe is also worth keeping in mind throughout the rest of the series. If we imagine the reference room as a happy place where Yukine will always be ready to greet us, and also consider that it resists destructive change by storing memories of the past, then it becomes an enduring and reliable shelter from the tumultuous town. That is to say that it represents the pleasant and eternal familiarity of timelessness without encompassing its dull repetition. Perhaps if a place could be unchanging without becoming stagnant, it would look something like the reference room.
But it’s far too early to draw any conclusion that decisive. We’ll have to return to the reference room–and all the other locations we’ve discovered–as we progress further into the story. That being said, it’s almost time to start making some real, substantial arguments about Clannad. I’ve spent a lot of time laying groundwork, which will hopefully begin to pay off as we enter our first route. These have been somewhat expository episodes for Clannad, and thus translated into expository analysis on my part. Fuko will bring significant change to both the story and these posts.