As Time Changes – Clannad #6
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
And we’re back to section-by-section structure! In this post, we’ll be revisiting some subjects previously discussed in order to continue their threads and “trace” them further into the show. We’ll also establish some new subjects to keep an eye on.
We’re in the heart of Fuko’s arc now, so let’s not waste any time!
Making A Family
The first section to make its reappearance is that of Family. In past episodes, I’ve spoken about Nagisa gathering club members in order to build a sort of family (a “unit of togetherness”) that she can experience her final year of high school with. This desire is of course analogous to a desire of Tomoya’s–not one that is stated outright but one that we can certainly infer. Though we haven’t seen much of it yet, Tomoya’s own family is torn apart and not operating with “togetherness” for various reasons. I made allusions to Tomoya acquiring something of a familial unit via the club and Nagisa’s own family, and this episode begins to shape those relationships in a more concrete way.
The Fuko Fan Club identifies Tomoya as Fuko’s older brother without any objective indication on Tomoya or Fuko’s part. Fuko simply uses him as a shield against the Fan Club, but the Club’s identification proves they recognize something familial between the two. There is something abstract in the way Fuko and Tomoya interact that suggests to outsiders that they’re related. What seems to trigger this identification isn’t necessarily the actions of Fuko or Tomoya, but their apparent emotional affinity. That is, they feel connected in some emotional way. As for what the implications of that–their relationship being based on affinity rather than action–might mean, it’s hard to say at this point. It’s worth keeping in mind the importance placed on Fuko’s actions so far, though–particularly her handing out of the starfish.
We see more familial connections expressed by Nagisa herself later in the episode. She suggests she and Tomoya are like mother and father to Fuko, which alters Tomoya’s position slightly. Rather, it expands his relations to include Nagisa, and then Nagisa’s presence in the “family” moves the two of them to parental roles. In other words, when we think of Tomoya and Fuko in isolation they may be brother and sister, and when we think of Nagisa and Fuko in isolation they may be sisters, but the triad of Nagisa, Tomoya, and Fuko transforms into a full nuclear family structure.
These different relational structures engage the characters in a roleplaying process–though we might call it “practice.” Tomoya and Fuko practice being brother and sister; Tomoya and Nagisa practice being father and mother; everyone from last episode practices being Fuko’s classmate (and to some degree: a drama club member). Positioning themselves in those structures–playing those roles–prepares these characters to grow in those directions and eventually take up those positions for real. We’ll see that, despite the pretext of helping Nagisa find other club members, all of the main cast eventually just become club members for example.
This practice/preparation is particularly important for Tomoya and Nagisa, as it enables them to confront the story’s emotional thesis in ways they were previously incapable of. At this point we can only be simple and vague–Tomoya finds a family and Nagisa finds a chance to perform–but these changes are significant and totally change the way each character views the world and relates to other characters. It’s important to note that the specificity of the familial or pseudo-familial relationships doesn’t matter. For example, I’m not saying enacting specifically a nuclear family enables these changes. The form of the relationships can be just about anything: the relationships of the club members to one another obviously aren’t specifically familial, but they encompass that kind of connection.
I will warn ahead of time that I’m not sure this subject will go anywhere coherent. Whereas most of the other topics in this essay series I’ve thought about a lot, this one has only really occurred to me on this rewatch. Not to ramble off-topic, but I think this idea began from my teaching of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931). Part of what I focus on in that movie is how its romantic tension operates on the same mechanics as its physical comedy (i.e. Chaplin’s comedy in general). Misdirection, near-miss, visual metaphor, etc. all constitute what’s funny about Chaplin. Likewise, the film’s romance is built upon misrecognition and mistaken identity. Without spoiling too much: at the beginning of the film, we watch in anticipation of whether Chaplin will recognize a hole in the ground or not (the comedy); at the end of the film, we watch in anticipation of whether Chaplin’s love interest will recognize his identity or not (the romance).
This requires its own essay to fully explain, but hopefully the jist is clear. What matters is the kind of argument: that there is a parallelism between the underlying mechanics of the comedy (or really any stylistic element) and the more central emotional or psychological concern of the story. Obviously we want to take this a step further and say what such a connection might reveal about that central emotional concern, but we don’t have the time to discuss Chaplin’s movie any longer. What I’ll say instead is that I’m looking to make the same arguments and connections within Clannad. Hopefully, I won’t wind up in a deadend and can actually make that final argument for Clannad.
So, as the section header suggests, I’m focusing on the many fantasies of the show. This episode begins with a sort of homage to, interestingly enough, Final Fantasy in the form of Tomoya’s fantasy. Fuko will go on to have her own fantasies like her dream of the Starfish Festival. There are also very minor instances of fantasy throughout the series, such as Tomoya’s imaginaning of Kyou as a magical girl, which are often used as quick jokes. We might also consider most of Tomoya’s pranks to be fantasies in a sense–his pretending to Sunohara that the world has ended and he is a hologram is like a fantasy he roleplays in reality.
On the one hand, these fantasies seem like a continuation of the mode the story is working in and the language it uses to communicate its ideas. In a story with elements like the Illusory World, these otherworldly fantasies and pranks might be working to set a mood or might arise naturally out of that context. If we consider the fantasies in this light, then we would want to think about why the characters in Clannad refer to these fantasies so naturally. What is it in the “language of fantasy” that they’re seeking to express? What is it in Tomoya’s mind that makes him communicate with fantasy so often? I don’t think such questions are meaningless–just consider how important Tomoya’s understanding of other worlds and fantasies winds up being in After Story.
Another approach we might take is to compare these fantasies and other roleplaying to the idea of drama itself. After all, we already have a connection between Nagisa’s play and the Illusory World. We can likewise bring the familial roleplaying mentioned earlier into the discussion. The questions we ask ourselves in this approach would deal more with why characters seek to assume the roles they do. Why was everyone so willing to act like Fuko’s classmate? What purpose does that acting serve in the larger community? This post has already discussed how roleplaying prepares the characters to assume roles in actuality later, but there is probably more to it than that. Roleplaying and fantasies certainly seem to play a major role in building and regulating relationships.
As I said, this is a thread I’m picking up as I watch, so we’ll have to witness the argument unravel as we move forward. Wherever we end up, I’m sure we can’t simply ignore the many fantasies of Clannad.
Allow me to get obnoxiously theoretical for a moment. It’ll be worth it in 40 posts from now.
There are other words we could use in place of “perseverance” to title this section, but it is probably the most precise for our purposes. We aren’t simply concerned with “effort.” Though effort is part of perseverance, the latter implies a longevity and thus brings time into the equation. You could say: perseverance is effort over time. It is also connected to the ideas of successive generations I brought up in earlier posts–i.e. a family enters the next generation by “persevering” through the death of elder family members via the birth of new family members. We can likewise say that traditions persevere through cultural histories.
Thus, time is a necessary component of perseverance while simultaneously being transgressed by perseverance. Time is the force that ends the life of one generation, and therefore you could imagine time as being violent or destructive (this is an imagining of time that characters–particularly Nagisa–have hinted at). You could think: time wants to end a family tree, to stop the lineage. However, it’s also possible to imagine the inverse (perhaps even possible to hold both ideas at the same time). Sure, time means eventual death which might mean the end of a family, but time is also exactly what enables the “new” family to be born. In a timeless world, such as our Illusory World, nothing is born and so the generation(s) of family end(s). Of course, there is no death in the timeless Illusory World either.
But if there is neither death nor birth, then the fact remains that new generations cannot succeed old ones. In other words, there is stagnation.
From all of this, perseverance seems to be an important key to many of the problems characters are facing this arc and will face in the future. It seems that you need time or the passage of time in some way to avoid the stagnation Tomoya hates. You also need the ability to safely pass through time without everything just dying and disappearing–this is part of the “change” that threatens Nagisa in the first episode (and forward). Perseverance is the potential to exist in time safely, to move forward with time, to keep something alive in spite of death.
That last formulation–of life in spite of death–might be the most crucial to Clannad. Though Fuko is not dead, she also does not strictly “exist.” We might call her continuous effort in handing out starfish perseverance. In the simplest sense, it’s an effort sustained through time. Good enough, but we can go further. Her nonexistence, especially her frozen appearance as a first year student, removes Fuko from time. She isn’t going up through the grade levels, she isn’t growing into an older teenager, she isn’t doing anything in time. Handing out starfish is a way to overcome that stillness or stagnation. If she can get these sculptures to everyone, if she can throw her sister a happy wedding, if she can participate in a faux classroom with her friends–that’s a way to have an impact across time. A frozen Fuko changes something significant in the “future” after her accident.
Of course, this isn’t something that is going to happen easily. Fuko is frozen indeed. The episode ends with Fuko’s image frozen on the screen as other characters all move around her. Despite her efforts, she cannot fully cross time yet. She can’t reach her sister’s heart yet. Her perseverance has yet to pay off.