As Time Changes – Clannad #10
Posts may contain spoilers for the entire series.
Episode 10 marks a transition out of Fuko’s arc and into Kotomi’s, as well as the point where we need to begin to understand the anime a bit differently than the visual novel. Clannad develops essentially the same themes in each medium, but how each medium engages that process of development differs in interesting ways.
The visual novel employs a relatively “hard” reset after each arc. The player reaches an ending, returns to the main menu, and then plays from the start of the game (in practice: the start of a save file at a branching choice but same idea). By comparison, the anime employs a relatively “soft” reset after each arc. The ending of Fuko’s arc doesn’t gesture to a vague “happily ever after” for Tomoya; it doesn’t even really do so for Fuko herself. The resolution we do get is focused on Fuko’s disappearance. And as we see in Episode 10, the story doesn’t then restart from day one.
However, a soft reset still implies some kind of reset. Clannad gives the viewer a few different signals that it’s starting over–the most obvious of which is a return to the Illusory World. These scenes form an overarching narrative across the entire series and although we sometimes see them in the middle of an arc, they always serve to break up the narrative. As we begin to build connections between the lights the robot sees in the Illusory World and the ones Tomoya sees in the real world, this segmenting function of such scenes grows more apparent. We’ve collected a new orb of light, let’s return to the Illusory World before moving on.
The less obvious signals come in the form of the repetition of daily activities. As you’d imagine, daily activities are quite subtle, especially when you’re just observing them in an anime. However, Kyou’s bike will serve as a good example that also teaches us how these less obvious signals still manage to clue us into the soft reset.
In one of the opening scenes of Episode 10, Kyou rams into Tomoya with her motorbike just as she did at the beginning of Fuko’s arc and plays it off in much the same way. This repetition might trigger a bit of deja vu but isn’t out of the ordinary for a cyclical show like Clannad. The thing that signals a story reset here is the way the incident is treated by the characters: Kyou speeds off again and Nagisa and Tomoya share a simple moment of confusion. It would be difficult to imagine this scene playing out this way near the climax of Fuko’s arc (even more difficult to imagine during the latter half of Kotomi’s). This is the kind of lackadaisical scene that can only occur outside the core of a dramatic arc, which is why we see it repeated whenever we are transitioning between arcs.
This doesn’t mean we have to see these specific scenes every time the story resets. It doesn’t have to be Kyou hitting Tomoya or Tomoyo beating up Sunohara. It’s the atmosphere surrounding those types of interactions that really signals a reset. The worries and tension of the previous arc are dissipated, now we return to daily life. Thus, we witness the kinds of silly activities that these characters have time for now that they aren’t engaged with a serious dramatic issue.
The most important difference between these soft resets and the hard resets of the visual novel is each’s impact on the “true” romance of Tomoya and Nagisa.
The visual novel has attached to it the generic convention of a true ending, and this true ending is the ultimate force driving players to complete the narrative. Of course, players may be most actively motivated to play the next route simply because they like the heroine in question, but conventionally a visual novel of this type isn’t completed until you’ve experienced the true ending in contrast to all the other endings. In Clannad especially, each heroine’s route is designed as an exploration of the storyworld, its themes, and the emotional thesis at its core (in addition to being a story about that particular heroine). What you experience and learn in the other routes gives you the emotional and structural knowledge to understand and appreciate the After Story route.
Clannad uses this structure to build anticipation of the true ending while simultaneously leaning on the player’s literacy of generic conventions. It’s a “best of both worlds” scenario in which the player can experience a fulfilling romance with any of the heroines and progress to the true ending. Each route can be a self-contained and individual unit to some extent: the love between Tomoya/the player and the heroine exists in full within the route. However, the player can carry outside the route the thematic development of the route and its explanations of Clannad’s more magical elements. It’s selective permeability. You take what applies to the story as a whole with you, and leave behind what belongs solely to that route.
I’ve been referring to each character’s narrative in the anime as an “arc” rather than a “route” for this reason. The narratives in the anime are not self-contained in the same way–they bleed into one another and exist on a continuous timeline. Tomoya cannot have a totally fulfilled romance with any heroine but Nagisa, and thus all romance is delayed until the end of the first season. We essentially enter Nagisa’s true route from the start and pass through altered versions of the other routes along the way. As a result, many of the emotional realizations a player would experience route-by-route in the visual novel have to be delivered or explored in different ways. We can’t reach the end of Kotomi’s route in the same way, but we need to leave her arc having gone through a similar enough experience.
This, as well as general issues related to delaying a romantic resolution so long, will be something we’ll keep an eye on as we move forward. In many ways, Fuko’s route poses the least severe problems of this kind, which is probably part of why we get her arc first. Kotomi’s route, on the other hand, is one of the most difficult and important of the series. The anime certainly grows through some growing pains in future episodes, and we’ll attempt to understand those issues in relation to the resets I’ve written about here. It will also be important to consider this discussion when thinking about the status of Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship in future arcs.
So this is a sort of transition post for a transition in the story. We’ll proceed with the knowledge and understanding we gathered during Fuko’s arc, approach Kotomi’s arc seeking to gain more understanding, and grapple with some interesting complications along the way. As always, hopefully the next post comes sooner than this one.