As Time Changes – Clannad #11
Episode 11 is primarily exposition, with much of its focus dedicated to building relationships between Kotomi and the rest of the cast. We get some gestures toward future arcs and conflicts, as well as some hints about the coming drama in Kotomi’s arc, but mostly our time is spent growing more attached to Kotomi. Therefore, this feels like an appropriate time to discuss a smaller (but important) issue within Clannad: labels.
Tomoya is a “delinquent;” Kotomi is a “genius;” Kyou is a “class rep;” and so on. These labels function like they do in the real world, by tagging characters with certain prejudices and expectations in our minds. Once you’ve assigned someone their label, you expect their actions to follow a particular pattern in line with that label. For example, Tomoya the delinquent is supposed to skip class, pick fights, and pull pranks. Someone assigned his label should follow that pattern of behavior across any period of time.
Of course, Tomoya does do all of these things, so we see how labels can be both prescriptive and descriptive. A label predicates the behavior of a person; a label results from the behavior of a person. Clannad’s interest in labels comes down to this potential cycle of behaving a certain way, being labeled in response, and then continuing to behave in accordance with that label. The story is interested in where such labels fall short of the truth, what power they exert on the person being labeled, and how someone else’s labels impact those around them.
The arcs of most of the heroines (and later Tomoya) do a lot of work to highlight the failure of labels to fully explain a person or their behavior. For Kotomi in particular, she’s labeled early on as a genius girl who doesn’t need to attend class and who must be naturally refined and delicate. The episodes of her arc we’ve seen thus far already dismantle those expectations in comedic ways: Tomoya repeatedly stops her from cutting pages straight out of library books and her violin playing is clearly anything but delicate.
As we get further into her arc, we’ll see how other attributes like her calm demeanor are not only not representative of the whole but are in fact misleading when it comes to the truth of who Kotomi is. Additionally, her academic ability is revealed to be the result of certain circumstances and experiences rather than an innate and immutable quality of Kotomi herself.
We’ll explore those ideas more directly as we move through these episodes. It’s also worth storing this argument away to remember during Tomoyo, Mei, or Yukine’s arcs as well.
All that being said, Clannad isn’t eager to dismiss these labels entirely. Rather, the story recognizes the importance of such labels for establishing reputations and relationships that have very real effects on each character’s life. We can already see this playing out in Episode 11.
Kyou asks Tomoya if he’d consider dating a girl who loves him, to which he responds that any girl interested in a “delinquent” like himself would quickly get tired of him. Kyou tells him that there’s a “certain appeal about delinquents, especially to honor students.”
Although the conversation begins in a personal way (Kyou asking Tomoya if he personally would date a girl), it soon shifts to this style of abstraction through labels. Both characters speak about labels like “delinquent” and “honor student” before they speak about any real person. Tomoya’s joke about Sunohara having the same appeal as other delinquents actually sheds this layer of abstraction to point out the troubles with talking at the level of labels. Sunohara is certainly as much a “delinquent” as Tomoya, but he’s clearly not what either character has in mind as they discuss romance.
The reference to Sunohara also prompts us to think about who the “honor student” in this dialogue is. An initial reading suggests that the label refers to Ryou, as Kyou has been playing matchmaker for her sister all season long. However, we’ve also seen hints of Kyou’s interest in Tomoya (hints that will grow more obvious as time passes), so there is a second possible reference here. Not only does “honor student” avoid mentioning Ryou by name, it also avoids stating that Kyou herself is interested in Tomoya.
Interestingly, labels are what allow Tomoya to joke his way out of any real answer. Kyou’s initial question targets Tomoya as a person, so he pulls back to speak about his label as a delinquent instead. Had Kyou asked for Tomoya’s answer about a specific girl liking him, this move becomes much more difficult. If she responds to his comment about delinquents by saying a specific girl has an interest in him, not as a delinquent but as a person, then his joke about Sunohara becomes impossible as well. Speaking about labels before people leads to the conversation swiftly losing all potential of sincerity.
We’ll see in future episodes that putting labels before people leads to more severe consequences than an avoided confession. Thinking of people in such a way pushes certain interactions off the table, leaving only certain others available. In Episode 11, this means nothing more than Tomoya making a joke instead of responding to either twin’s feelings properly. In the future, it will bear more significance as a force that changes the course of relationships, careers, and lives. But as always, that’s a topic for later.