As Time Changes – Clannad #8
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
My labors of sustenance kept me from my labor of love for a while, but hopefully now we can continue these posts at a regular rate. Even as characters begin to forget Fuko, I haven’t forgotten this series. And, in the interest of preserving time and reducing my embarrassment, let’s move past this corny introduction and into today’s true topic.
Episode 8 is all about forgetting Fuko or, from a more optimistic perspective, trying to remember her. The question of who forgets Fuko (and when and why) may seem straightforward enough at first glance, and Clannad even offers some simple explanations of its own, but I’m hoping to complicate those answers today. That being said, it’s not as though this is a riddle to be solved. The story only gives a brief explanation of why certain characters forget Fuko faster than others, and for good reason. It’s only of minor importance to the plot and themes, and to some extent is self-explanatory. Most viewers’ first assumption would be that characters that spend more time around Fuko remember her for longer. That makes sense, and what matters first and foremost is that characters forget Fuko, not every detail of why they forget.
But if we refuse to settle for a simple explanation like that, we can potentially develop more interesting arguments and learn more about other characters as well. In other words, the point of this post isn’t to try and prove the story’s explanation wrong or anything silly like that, but rather to see if we can dig up any other connections between the characters and their memories of Fuko. We want a richer understanding of these connections, not necessarily a conflicting understanding. For that, we have to go deeper than the surface of the story.
We saw last episode that Fuko is beginning to vanish from the minds of unnamed students, but Tomoyo is the first member of the main cast to have trouble remembering her. Although Tomoyo seems to have forgotten Fuko at first, she recalls receiving the starfish sculpture after some prompting from Nagisa and Tomoya. It’s convenient that Tomoyo is the first character dealt with this episode, as she’s a curious case in regards to the “logic of forgetting” that the story offers. Compared to the next character we’ll encounter, Tomoyo really hasn’t spent much time around Fuko at all. The two have only exchange a couple of words. If we accept that “the forgetting starts with those who didn’t know her well,” then she should be quick to forget Fuko.
Yet, that’s not the case. If we read into the situation a bit deeper (and take advantage of our knowledge of future episodes), we can find a possible explanation for Tomoyo’s ability to remember. Tomoyo is, as we learn in her arc, a character heavily concerned with the act of remembrance–as many characters in Clannad are. Her main goal as student council president–her whole reason for transferring to this school–is to preserve the cherry blossom trees along the path to campus. The desire to preserve something fragile is meaningful on its own, but we’ll also learn that these trees are symbolic of Tomoyo’s emotional past. They have an unquantifiable significance to the brother that kept her family from falling apart, and thus a significance for her as well.
The act of preservation, the memories symbolized in the trees, and the relevance of those trees to familial bonds–these details all establish Tomoyo as a character for whom remembering is an essential act of life. Tomoyo wishes to hold her memories–particularly familial memories–close to her heart. In this characterization, I think we find a more compelling reason for her ability to remember Fuko, as well as an insight into Fuko’s existence itself (more on that soon).Tomoyo is more capable of remembering Fuko because memory itself is something important to Tomoyo. The fact that Fuko is working hard to make her family happy adds yet another impetus for Tomoyo’s remembrance.
One might argue that Tomoyo’s ability to remember Fuko here stems from how early in the episode this scene occurs; more time has passed once other characters like Kyou encounter Fuko, which might explain their inability to remember. However, this line of thinking is contradicted by the scene immediately following Tomoyo’s. When Mitsui speaks to Nagisa and Tomoya, she has a vague memory of them, but none of Fuko or her sculptures, and in fact cannot perceive Fuko’s existence at all. Only minutes after we witness Tomoyo manage to remember, other important characters are already forgetting Fuko.
A bit of analysis proves Mitsui to be opposed to Tomoyo in two interesting ways: 1) she has a history of knowing Fuko and has had multiple interactions with her in the past; 2) she is a primarily future-focused character who lacks any particular motivation to assign significance to memories of the past. The first point is evident enough–the pair first met in Mitsui’s first year, and Mitsui grows to eventually accept Fuko’s sculpture in a previous episode. This historical connection to Fuko is important as it relates to Mitsui’s forgetting of Fuko. By the story’s basic “logic of forgetting,” Mitsui should be more likely to remember Fuko than Tomoyo, simply for having spent more time around her and developed more memories of her. After all, we’ve already witnessed her remembering Fuko back at the start of the arc. This scene shows, however, that Mitsui fails to remember Fuko at a moment when Tomoyo somehow succeeds, perhaps contradicting the story’s proposed logic.
As for the second point, Mitsui’s initial reason for declining the sculpture was her focus on college entrance exams. Rather than accept the invitation of a girl she only met briefly, Mitsui decides to look toward the future. Despite her eventual change of heart, this inclination toward the future is her prevailing personality trait. Once again, it is in this psychology that we find a likely reason for a character’s tendency to remember or forget Fuko. Whereas Tomoyo remembers Fuko on account of her motivation to preserve the past, Mitsui forgets on account of her orientation toward the future.
These two points combined suggest there might be other factors in determining the speed at which (and degree to which) certain characters forget Fuko than simply how close they are. Of course, there are ways to argue against my reading. For example: Tomoyo is a much more important character to Clannad as a whole than Mitsui, which could be a more practical explanation of why she remembers Fuko longer. Regardless, the question of how and why characters remember certain people/things seems essential to Clannad, and is worth investigating this deeply. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, this line of investigation leads us to the issue of Fuko’s existence itself.
I wrote back in Episode 4 about how Fuko is a relic or incarnation of the past. She appears as her younger self because her present self must remain in the hospital, and her spirit’s presence is never noticed by Kouko save for the arc’s conclusion. From this arises a contradiction that is the key to defining what her existence truly is and what exactly it means to forget her. A girl that certainly exists in a hospital bed cannot also have the potential of simultaneously existing at school–that seems obvious enough. The fact of forgetting Fuko thus becomes not just an issue of failing to remember her, but of perceiving something about her. It’s a matter of emotionally reconciling the illogic of her existence.
Sunohara is the first character we see go clearly from knowing Fuko to not knowing her, so he will serve as a helpful starting point for understanding her existence. Before he visits her in the hospital, Sunohara establishes a difference between Fuko Isogai and Fuko Ibuki, with Isogai being a “lie.” The girl in the hospital is Fuko Ibuki, and Sunohara begins to struggle with identifying who the girl he’s spending time with is. He knows she must have some connection to Fuko Ibuki, but senses that she is neither the real Fuko Ibuki nor a “fake.” Upon visiting the Fuko Ibuki in the hospital, Sunohara ceases to be able to recognize the Fuko at school.
When Sunohara does seem to briefly remember Fuko, he is enacting memory as a sort of social-emotional habit rather than actually recalling her. In the heat of the moment, he speaks Fuko’s name like he might during any other conversation with Nagisa and Tomoya, but then immediately forgets why he said that name. Fuko doesn’t return for him, but “there’s a feeling left” that someone like Fuko existed. The only product of his attempts to remember her is another feeling: that he “didn’t dislike her.” Even though he cannot recall Fuko as a person, she remains in his memories (from another angle: in his conception of reality) as a figure of his sociality and as a position outside of himself that he has an emotional connection to.
I think it’s kind of impossible to describe this conception of Fuko in concrete details, but I’ll attempt to make some comparisons. The social aspect of Fuko that seems to linger for Sunohara might be compared to something like dialects or first languages (in the case of bilingual patients) persisting in the face of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the deterioration of ability to recognize discrete identities and images, certain social habits are accessed by the brain with no signs of decay–my grandfather couldn’t hold a real conversation in English, but could tell long stories in French, for example. Sunohara’s tendency to refer to Fuko in conversation even though he isn’t aware of her seems to be this kind of social cognitive resilience. She’s imprinted in his way of socializing, to some extent.
The emotional aspect of Fuko that remains for Sunohara–his feelings toward her–are harder to find a concrete analogue for. I suppose you could compare it to something like nostalgia or a latent emotional trigger. The kind of emotional connection that remains between Sunohara and Fuko would be similar to Tomoyo’s connection to the cherry blossoms, for example. They are emotions that are processed differently from something like the excitement you feel while riding a roller coaster. When you think back on your trip to the amusement park, the emotions you access in memory aren’t the thrills of being on the roller coaster but rather the “tone” or significance you’ve assigned the trip as a whole. To put it another way: long after you’ve forgotten which rides you even went on, you may still have a powerful fondness for your trip to the park. It’s this nostalgia-esque connection that triggers emotions in Sunohara.
If the facts of reality (i.e. Fuko being hospitalized and thus not capable of physically being at school) work to erase the spirit Fuko, then some counter-force must be working to keep these vague memories of Fuko alive in Sunohara. We can start figuring out what that counter-force is by observing Sanae. Like Sunohara, she discovers the truth about the supposed Fuko Isogai and therefore can no longer perceive Fuko. However, Sanae manages to retain a stronger memory of the time she spent with Fuko, and attempts to act as if she can perceive Fuko. Sanae’s enactment of memory via welcoming Fuko home is essentially a self-conscious version of Sunohara’s reflexive reference to Fuko. Sanae seems aware that all she has left of Fuko are these nostalgic emotions and the social routines she’s developed.
What we see voluntarily in Sanae and involuntarily in Sunohara are efforts to reconcile memory with reality. Rather, to correct myself, a certain reality. After all, the reason these memories and particular reality are in conflict is because those memories represent a version a reality that feels as real (if not more real) than the reality represented by the hospitalized Fuko. The truth of Fuko’s condition demands that these characters adjust their minds to a new reality. But the strength of the emotional bonds and memories formed between Fuko and these characters resists that change. Thus we see certain behaviors and attachments reenact themselves even after Fuko is “gone.” Ironically, the most durable trace of herself Fuko leaves behind is her intangible memory and not her physical sculptures.
There’s a bit more to be said on this topic, and we still haven’t ironed out all the details of how this reconciliation between differing realities works…but that’s a conclusion for next time. It only makes sense that I (desperately try) to finalize all my arguments in the arc’s final episode. Hopefully both my thoughts and the story can reach a satisfying ending.