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.
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.Read More »
After a long hiatus, it’s finally time to finish Fuko’s arc. Given the gap in posts, we could probably all use a quick refresher of main ideas. Of primary concern in Fuko’s arc is her existence in time and her ability to affect change across time. She’s a girl split between two times and two existences, and most of her efforts in this arc are to bridge those two times/existences together in some way. The sculptures are the most concrete example of this: a physical symbol in the present of the emotions of a girl stuck in the past. Of course, for characters who aren’t split in this way, Fuko’s two realities are incongruous and need to be resolved somehow.
What we want to discover at the arc’s conclusion is whether Fuko truly causes change in the present and how the characters of the present manage to remember her (if they do).
To reach any kind of answer to these questions, we need to look at the interplay of emotion and reality, particularly near the arc’s conclusion. After forgetting Fuko partway through the episode, Nagisa cannot remember why she has one of Fuko’s starfish, but she knows she “feel[s] calmed” whenever she looks at it. As I mentioned, this is our core symbol for the bridge between Fuko’s emotional efforts and the reality the other characters live in. At this point, we can put Fuko’s goal (what she wants to accomplish with these sculptures) into more logical terms. I’ll be direct.Read More »
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.Read More »
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.Read More »
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.Read More »
As we begin to make serious progress in Fuko’s arc, it’s necessary to take a closer look at Kouko Ibuki. Though the arc is obviously about Fuko first and foremost, Fuko’s efforts themselves are almost entirely about Kouko. We’ll complicate that seemingly simple claim shortly. “Kouko” as an idea is much more than her singular character. Out of her relationships and representation, we’ll try to figure out what this arc is really about.
I could have began this post from several other points or subjects, but as I wrote I found it made the most sense to focus specifically on Kouko and her personal dilemmas. She will become, in that way, a locus from which other pertinent topics can diverge. She is also important enough to warrant attention that establishes her as a significant topic of interest. We need to distinguish Kouko as a character just as much as we distinguish the arc-having heroines like Kotomi or Tomoyo. I suppose this is another way of saying Kouko has enough depth and deals with major thematic concerns directly/intensely enough to warrant singling her out and defining what she “represents.”Read More »
True to my word, there will not be any consistency in the format of these posts whatsoever. We’re just following my whim here, and my whim for this week is to not use those helpful section breaks again. But don’t worry! I’m sure I’ll switch back soon enough. My inconsistency is my consistency.
We could debate whether this episode or the next is the real start of Fuko’s arc, considering this one is divided roughly in half between general exposition and actual Fuko content. Even so, we’re presented with the main conflicts of the arc (Kouko’s wedding and Fuko’s hospitalization) in this episode, which inevitably focuses our attention entirely in Fuko’s arc. Since things are about to get more serious over the next few episodes, I figured we’d take a moment to talk about Clannad’s (perhaps I should say Jun Maeda’s) humor.
Obviously the straight man is an essential comedic archetype across cultures, but (at least in my experience) its incarnation in Japanese comedy seems especially common and pronounced. From traditional manzai to its representation in variety shows to “tsukkomi” and “boke” becoming archetypes we apply to anime characters almost in the same way we would a term like “tsundere,” comedic styles involving straight man types are extremely prominent in these media. I also believe the writing of straight man/tsukkomi characteristics into stories like anime is more intentionally designed by creators and more evidently picked up by consumers. Like I said, we point to characters in anime and call them tsukkomi, but we never really do that for characters in Hollywood comedies. That is judgment we reserve for something like Abbott and Costello, though even then we don’t think so concretely about the roles. Of course, this is just anecdotal analysis, but I think the jist of it holds true.Read More »
Our third week of Clannad brings with it a third post and a new format. The past two posts have been arranged as a chronological flow of analysis that I tried to demonstrate some kind of logical progression within. That structure worked well enough, but I also feel it has its shortcomings. Partly as a matter of remedying those shortcomings and partly because the main ideas of this post will be more difficult to link together into a coherent storyline, I’m experimenting a bit with structure this time. I want to divide my thoughts into clear sections.
Clannad is a story made up of a lot of key recurring elements, and one of the best ways to engage with it is to trace those elements throughout the series. For that reason, organizing posts into distinct sections that clearly mark which specific element they deal with might make that job of “tracing” easier for both you and me. All that being said, I’m not committing to this structure by any means. I’m leaving myself open to continue experimenting or to return to old structures–whatever seems to fit the episode and topic at hand.
The above text has been my own repeating element: some unnecessary ramblings about my writing process for these posts. I’ll apologize for wasting time, but I can’t promise I’ll stop. Anyway, on to the show.Read More »
Welcome back to our long climb. I have no doubt in my mind that the hardest part of this project will be thinking up new introductions for each post. Well, at least I’ve gotten this one out of the way.
Last time, we opened up a lot of puzzle boxes about the relationships between time, change, life, and death. Our characters are going to be working through these puzzles all story long, trying to sort out their own feelings towards these topics as we make our own interpretations. Behind all of this is an emotional thesis: “I hate this town.” I had begun to clarify that “town” shouldn’t be taken entirely at face value. The “town” in question is more than just a location with geographical borders and city ordinances, etc. As we’ve already heard from Tomoya himself, part of what the “town” encompasses is the idea of his school days–their repetitive, boring nature that serves as nothing but a brief respite from his home life.
We’ll flesh out our idea of the “town” just as we build up our understanding of those puzzles I mentioned.Read More »