As Time Changes – Clannad #7
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
Episode 7 presents us with lots of little advancements in plot, some hints of the narrative to come, and a few reinforcements of thematic issues we’ve already begun to discuss. Rather than deal with a dozen tiny details in this post, I think this is the perfect time to dive deeper into the “emotional thesis” I brought up at the start of the series. While we’re at it, we can talk about the town itself (the two go hand-in-hand, of course). We’re not exactly short on time this arc. Fuko’s arc is the longest on its own and could even be argued to bleed into the early exposition episodes. So we might as well take a short detour.
Tomoya gives us the emotional thesis at the very start of the anime: “I hate this town.” In calling that line a thesis, I don’t mean that the literal sentence is exactly the argument behind the emotional energy of specific events. For example, I wouldn’t say “Tomoya hating the town” explains the emotions behind Kotomi’s arc. I don’t think Tomoya’s hatred of anything would explain how he feels during that arc, how we feel about that arc, or what emotional growth results from that arc. Clannad isn’t a scientific experiment or academic essay; we shouldn’t chain ourselves to a strict definition of words when interpreting our thesis. In other words, we care less about what “I hate this town” means according to the dictionary, and more about what kind of emotional structure causes Tomoya to say such a thing.
Some of this we’ve already dealt with. Tomoya feels trapped in his daily routine and burdened by stagnation. Change seems impossible, and his future is laid out ahead of him on railroad tracks. Perhaps a preordained future isn’t necessarily bad, but Tomoya’s environment and circumstances are directing him toward a bleak future. His broken family and suffocating home life, his injury and departure from the basketball team, and (subtly presented in early episodes) the assumptions of his peers about his attitude and lifestyle all force Tomoya into a particular mindset. Considering all of this, it isn’t hard to see why he’d say he “hates this town,” but it’s also clear that “hating this town” isn’t nearly complex enough a phrase to explain his emotions.
A slightly reductive way of looking at this complexity would be to say Tomoya doesn’t hate the town but what the town represents. This is kind of vague and doesn’t get at the big picture, but since we’re only seven episodes into the series it’s fine to begin reductively. From this viewpoint, our emotional thesis takes on new dimensions. “I hate this town” becomes “I feel trapped here; bad things will repeat themselves; there’s no point in trying; etc.” This more complex structure of emotions already does a better job of explaining how Tomoya relates to the world around him.
Still, there’s the issue of why I’m calling this a “thesis” in the first place. Why not use one of the alternatives I suggested in the first post: mind state, perspective, or even attitude? The thesis is all of those things, but it’s also a kind of logic that guides the story and an ideological force that characters have to interact with. One way to understand the full scope of “emotional thesis” here is to break it down into steps.
So far, I’ve been talking about this thesis as if it’s just how Tomoya feels. This makes sense as a starting point since “I hate this town” is his line. But we already saw how the emotions behind that line get brought into conversation with Nagisa in Episode 1. That opening dialogue on the hill is basically them discussing the thesis, trying to understand and challenge it. Beyond that, we’ll start to see how the thesis also underlies the drama of each arc. What scares the characters, what causes them pain, what they need to overcome–all of that originates in all the negative emotions contained within “I hate this town.” In each arc, characters are presented with the thesis (our simple reduction as of now: feeling trapped, repetition of bad things, hopelessness, etc.) and have to work out or “test” its truthfulness. The conclusion to that “testing” is what we as the audience wait in anticipation of.
To bring this back to Fuko’s arc, the thesis manifests in Fuko’s struggle and disappearance. Fuko is stagnated, as I’ve said, in the sense of being frozen in time. It’s unclear what impact her spirit’s actions will have on reality–whether she can overcome unmoving time and escape her destiny, so to speak. Tomoya feels his days are endlessly repeating, but the comatose Fuko’s days repeat much more literally than his. Even Fuko’s spirit begins the arc in repetition–she carves starfish every day without ever really interacting with people; it’s not until Tomoya and Nagisa get involved that she begins to make progress. This progress is Fuko’s way of “testing” the thesis. However, her disappearance and fading from memory are the thesis’s way of insisting on its correctness or inevitability. What draws us into the story is this conflict between Fuko and the thesis.
We don’t have to isolate this to Fuko, however. Tomoya and Nagisa both engage the thesis through their relation to Fuko, as we see toward the end of this episode. Confronted with the worsening condition of Fuko’s coma, Nagisa breaks into sobs and even the typically disinterested Tomoya sheds a few tears. Rather than the fact of Fuko’s condition itself, the pair are confronted with their own powerlessness. The girl they have been helping–the change they believe they have been seeing in the world–has no effect on the real Fuko. Their challenge to the thesis is effectively shot down, and they’re left feeling the totality of its claim. They feel doomed to hate this town–rather, they’re doomed to never be capable of loving it.
If this doesn’t quite make sense yet, I think that might be expected. The further in the story we progress and the more angles we approach the issue of a thesis from, the better we can define what it means. Hopefully it is at least clear that the emotional turmoil Tomoya is dealing with is also underlying a lot of the other drama going on. Even the Illusory World is included in this–it’s not hard to imagine Tomoya would “hate” that place in the same way he hates the town.
What about the town itself? I said the thesis isn’t entirely about the literal town, but there must be something specific about the town that makes Tomoya frame the thesis within the town. After all, he says “I hate this town,” not “I hate this world/place/existence.” A lot of this specificity comes in the form of Tomoya’s family and school. We’ve already seen and discussed some ways in which those connections are unpleasant, and they’ll grow more relevant as the story advances. The succession of generations and the presence of older townsfolk in the lives of younger ones also contributes to the identity of the town. Sometimes this presence is disruptive (as we’ll see) and sometimes it seems more productive. Nagisa and Tomoya asking for Koumura’s help in hosting Kouko’s wedding this episode is essentially an interaction between three generations with a net benefit.
All that being said, we do get a literal and concrete sense of the town as well. We know our way around the school to some degree–we can list off locations like the library, reference room, or courtyard and reasonably guess who will be there and what is going on. More specific locations throughout the town get explored more in the future, although some have already been established. A good example is the Furukawa bakery, which is a location almost equally as important as the school. In the first episode of the series, the bakery’s sign is pointed out to Tomoya and the viewer multiple times, making it a recognizable landmark from the start. While the viewer uses the bakery as a landmark for orienting ourselves spatially, for Tomoya the bakery is a landmark of positivity and familial comfort. The sign becomes a beacon for him. There’s a reason he runs to it after his familial distress in Episode 1.
To a lesser extent, we also gradually familiarize ourselves with the town through diverse establishing shots. It’s convenient I mention such shots now, since Episode 7 contains quite a few of them. If you’ve watched Clannad before, you might even recognize some of these locations just by my vague descriptions of them: the shopping district, the playground, the park benches, the crosswalk corner, etc. I won’t go so far as to say Clannad constructs a town that feels real (like I might say Toradora! Constructs a real classroom or Hibike! Euphonium a real brass band), but this consistency of location does help develop some verisimilitude.
In the end, perhaps this isn’t a post that propels our analysis of Clannad straight ahead, but it does increase the breadth and depth of the work we’ve put in so far. To use a particularly bad metaphor–we’ve leveled up from a stream to a river. I think taking our studies slow (and using bad metaphors) is alright in this case. Clannad is certainly in no rush to move ahead either; the show dedicates time to the moments and ideas that need it. To the best of my ability, I’m trying to give the show that same dedication.