As Time Changes – Clannad #5
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
As we begin to make serious progress in Fuko’s arc, it’s necessary to take a closer look at Kouko Ibuki. Though the arc is obviously about Fuko first and foremost, Fuko’s efforts themselves are almost entirely about Kouko. We’ll complicate that seemingly simple claim shortly. “Kouko” as an idea is much more than her singular character. Out of her relationships and representation, we’ll try to figure out what this arc is really about.
I could have began this post from several other points or subjects, but as I wrote I found it made the most sense to focus specifically on Kouko and her personal dilemmas. She will become, in that way, a locus from which other pertinent topics can diverge. She is also important enough to warrant attention that establishes her as a significant topic of interest. We need to distinguish Kouko as a character just as much as we distinguish the arc-having heroines like Kotomi or Tomoyo. I suppose this is another way of saying Kouko has enough depth and deals with major thematic concerns directly/intensely enough to warrant singling her out and defining what she “represents.”
Of primary importance here is Kouko’s relationship to this complicated change/stagnation dichotomy we’ve been building up. Change for Kouko is less so a force of time, or something inevitably linked to time, but a decision or quality of an individual person. She struggles with the decision of whether to proceed with her marriage, not sure if she should “find [her own] happiness” while leaving her sister behind. Putting aside the issue of whether we think the marriage would leave Fuko behind, it’s clear that–to Kouko–enacting this change in her life would create a disparity in time between her and Fuko.
Therefore, it isn’t time itself that would create a gap between the sisters, but a change enabled by time. Because time is progressing for Kouko, she can make changes in her life. The day before marriage would be different from the day after marriage, for example. In Kouko’s mind, Fuko’s comatose state has removed her from time (a perspective potentially supported by the fact that Fuko’s spirit still appears as a first-year) and thus change cannot occur. There are more complicated ways to read this, but it seems to me that Kouko is determined to wait for her sister in an attempt to preserve the moment in time at which Fuko was injured. The logic would be: if Kouko’s life does not advance past that particular point in time, then she and Fuko can pick up where they left off once she recovers.
Part of what I have (not so subtly) been doing up until this episode is trying to problematize this reading ahead of time. I think we’d all take issue with Kouko’s mindset as I’ve described it above. We might have personal philosophical disagreements with her, but more importantly we have textual and critical disagreements. We’ve seen already how change can occur in the Illusory World–a place supposedly exempt from time and creation. What’s more, we’re emotionally aligned with Nagisa, a girl who has fallen out of time and yet is determined to enact change against great odds.
Of course, the most significant contrarian to Kouko’s worries is Fuko herself. As we touched on last episode, one of the underlying problems of Fuko’s arc is whether she–as a relic of the past, as a girl who may or may not exist in reality–can enact change on the present reality. That is the truly insurmountable challenge she faces in this arc. With that in mind, Fuko’s mission also becomes an attempt to prove her sister wrong. To show that, with strong enough emotions and conviction, you can affect change across gaps of time and existence.
The stakes of this dilemma are spelled out rather clearly throughout this episode. Tomoya asks Fuko why she doesn’t just speak to Kouko directly instead of handing out these starfish sculptures. Fuko wants to but claims her “voice won’t reach her.” She “can’t do anything” but hand out the starfish. Interestingly, Kouko does speak to the comatose Fuko, and her words do reach the spirit Fuko somehow. Fuko may be correct in thinking the reverse will not be true, however. In either case, handing out the starfish is a way to make her emotions and convictions known in reality. The sculptures are physical symbols of those feelings, and objects that will (as we’ll see) persist to exist even once Fuko’s spirit begins to fade from people’s memories. The sculptures are symbolic of an invitation and of Fuko’s emotions, yes, but also of her will to be “here.”
Yet, there is a sense that the sculptures may not be enough by themselves to make Fuko’s dream come true. If she merely distributed them to strangers and then vanished without a word more, there would be no force to compel those strangers to attend the wedding. There’d be no reason for them to remember Fuko at all. What the arc will suggest as it goes on is that some sort of emotional bond between Fuko and those who “exist” in the present is also necessary. It’s the combination of a persistent emotional symbol and a resistant (i.e. resistant to change) emotional bond that allows Fuko to achieve her dream.
Those necessary emotional bonds begin to form in this episode. Since Fuko cannot reunite with her sister (her true family), Nagisa brings her to stay as part of the Furukawa family. At first this is more of a sleepover than an adoption, but later episodes will show a real and deep familial bond between Fuko and the Furukawas. A familial unit will also form among Nagisa, Tomoya, and Fuko–spelled out in no uncertain terms in later episodes. We’ll see the payoff of all this bonding once Fuko eventually disappears.
In fact, this episode even ends with another attempt at creating emotional/social bonds between Fuko and the present reality. She is “adopted” into an imaginary classroom and assigned a role (literally as class rep, but more abstractly as a friend and “classmate”) that creates connections between her and the other characters. Fuko becomes more than a rumored “ghost girl”–she takes on a real social role in the present reality. Sanae affirms Fuko’s existence and her role in reality, speaking those aforementioned roles aloud and drawing attention to the connections between everyone. Moments of affirmation like this are essential for Fuko’s mission. We do, after all, say things like “speak it into existence.”
And speaking of speaking, there’s more to be said about the specific qualities of this classroom scene. It is a sort of play, with the characters all acting out the role of a classmate. Yet, it crosses the boundaries of the imaginary, since these characters do become Fuko’s friend (not to mention: Sanae actually is a teacher, too). The scene is also a chance for Fuko to experience her lost opportunities, just as Nagisa hopes to experience her own lost opportunities. Fuko wants to be part of a class just like Nagisa wants to be part of the drama club. But we can’t take these observations any further than this quite yet.
We first have to get to know Fuko better. We have to form our own bonds with her, so that we will not forget her once she’s gone. It’s important for the audience to go on the same journey as the characters here. Fuko does, after all, have a habit of popping up again later in the series…