Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Clannd Review: Part 2 - After Story
This blog entry is the second, and concluding part, of my Clannad review. This part of the two-part review will focus on Clannad: After Story.
Note: This review will include a lot of content spoilers. You have been warned! ;)
Since this part of the review won't include much background information on my own personal life as an anime fan in general, it will enable me to get into greater specifics. With Clannad: After Story, I'm going to have a couple sentences (or more) to say about each of the following sections:
Episode 1 Kick-off
Episodes 2 through 4 (Sunohara arc)
Episodes 5 and 6 (Misae two-parter)
Episodes 7 and 8 (Yukine two-parter)
Episode 9 turning point
Episode 10 through 12 (Tomoya becomes an adult arc)
Episode 13 turning point
Episode 14 through 16 (Pregnancy arc)
Episode 17 through 21 (Ushio arc)
Episode 22 Conclussion
However, before delving into the specifics of these ten tremendously
thought-provoking sections, I will make a few general observations, with the first alluding to the picture that I used above.
The "hidden world" underlying subplot involving the lonely girl and her lonely mechanical friend was handled exquisitely well by the Clannad writing team. The appearances of this disturbingly daunted duo were spaced apart between good intervals. They never felt like they were overly encroaching upon the main storyline, but they also maintained a frequent enough presence to foreshadow their eventual importance in that main storyline.
The Clannad: After Story opening is amongst the ten best anime openings I've ever seen, and is probably the best anime opening to be featured during 2009.
The background music was masterfully handled from start to finish. There's little doubt that the folks in charge of that would have made fine additions to Nagisa's Theater Club. ;)
With these general observations made, though... it's time for me to share my thoughts on the ten specific sections of Clannad: After Story!
Episode 1 made for an excellent launching episode for an anime sequel series, as it launched with all the force of a baseball struck soundly by Tomoya. It made for a seamless transition from the end of the original Clannad season to Clannad: After Story. The core cast was utilized well in this episode, and it gave fans of each of the key characters something to be happy about. It served its primary purpose, I think, of reminding fans of the original Clannad season of just why they loved this anime. All-told, I have no major criticism to make of this episode. Well... it might have been better if the celebration had happened after we see Tomoya bat in the winning run, but I can certainly appreciate the theatrical drive behind the plot direction of showing that celebration as a "flashforward" before showing the hit that made it possible.
Next is the Sunohara arc...
Episodes 2 through 4 went a long ways towards fleshing out the character of Youhei Sunohara. It took a character that had been used primarily for comedic relief during the original season, and helped to make him seem much more real, at least to me. While Sunohara certainly had his intense and meaningful moments in Season 1, he was so often used as the butt of the joke that it became hard for me to take him seriously at all. This arc changed all of that, all the while providing added insights to the characters of Mei Sunohara and Sanae Furukawa, as well as insights into the friendship dynamics between Youhei and Tomoya.
While After Story Episode 1 served the necessary purpose of seamless transition from the original season, this three-parter served the purpose of maturing the Clannad anime franchise, so to speak. It represented a bit of a break from the feel and style of the original season of Clannad, and it served notice to the viewer that the ultimately cheerful, happy, and victorious endings of arcs that typified Season 1 may not always be the case in After Story.
In a way, I was actually glad that all of the efforts of the protagonists continually backfired; especially the sports related idea of Mei's that was starting to represent a bit of a Clannad cliche. Some of the backfirings created splendid moments of hilarity, while other backfirings served to make the Clannad universe itself seem a bit more real to me. In real life, lasting solutions to important problems usually aren't as simple as playing a game of sports, or practicing with a sports teams. And here, Mei's idea, well-intentioned and understandable as it was, failed.
But while it failed, it did lead into some powerfully pulsating punching processions that were an unexpected delight for the eyes. I never knew Kyoto Animation had it in them to show brutal physical combat that actually had some slight shades of Kazuma vs. Ryuho from the final episode of s-CRY-ed. Beyond even this, however, it forced Youhei Sunohara to be more honest to himself, more open to Tomoya, and more appreciatory once more to his sister.
While I found myself questioning many of the actions of many of the characters in the arc (specifically, I felt that Youhei took more of the blame for the sibling squabbles than what he should have given Mei's abyssmal treatment of him during her earlier appearances in the two Clannad seasons), I was still impressed in the overall effect of it.
After Story than moves from cries of sibling affection to cat/girl love... ;)
Episodes 5 and 6 presents such a blushing sight for sore feline eyes, does it not? ;)
After this two-parter, there can be little doubt that "Katsuki Shima" is the luckiest cat around, ha ha! :D
These two episodes made for a nice break in the action, and a colorful charming contrast to the much more angst-ridden Sunohara arc.
Misae Sagara had been one of the least featured characters of the original season of Clannad, and hence it was nice to see After Story provide a bit of an added focus to her here, especially in how it helped to show why Tomoyo admires Misae so much and the similarities between the past and present Student Council Presidents.
Younger Misae was very easy on the eyes, as vicious as she was to the poor limbs of "Katsuki Shima". ;) In many ways, younger Misae was like a mixture of all of the "other" girls of Clannad; the ones that "lost" the "competition for Tomoya" to Nagisa.
Misae's younger self looked a lot like Kotomi, had the skills of Tomoyo, had the terrifyingly tumultuous temper of Kyou, and she had a sweetness that could compare with Ryou.
There's not a whole lot, really, to say about this two-parter, aside from what I've already wrote. I will add that it was a very heartwarming and pleasing story; in many ways it was like a modern romance fable. It certainly puts the love between a pet and his owner in a whole new light, doesn't it? ;)
From here we move into the Yukine two-parter...
Yukine pretty much spent all of Clannad Season 1 being a cute human female Yoda to Tomoya's Luke Skywalker. And just as Yoda's wise words, but lack of action, had left Warsies wanting wanton wicked wallops being delivered from Yoda to a servent of the "Dark Side", Yukine's wise words but lack of action no doubt left many Clannad fans wanting to see what the girl could do when the focus shined on her and her own life. And much like Yoda vs. Dooku, Yukine didn't disappoint when it came her turn to hold the audience's attention in Episodes 7 and 8. ;)
I found it funny that the rough gangs of Tomoya's city where honorable and polite ladies and gentlemen compared to a certain scummy school soccer team, but nonetheless, their feud had a fever pitch, and many nice twists helped along by the usual deceptiveness and pranksterness of Sunohara and Tomoya. Getting back to that for a second, I liked how After Story really highlighted the problems that can arise from deliberate dishonesty. This was a subtly casted "moral of the story" for much of After Story, and it was nicely played by the Clannad team to say the least.
So was, once again, the fighting scenes that we have in this anime. It's good to see that Kyoto Animation can handle these at least decently well when the plot calls for it.
My only criticism of the Yukine two-parter is that it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of her brother, even if only in a short minute or two flashback scene.
Nonetheless, Clannad gets props for taking three characters that sometimes got lost in the crowd of romantic conflict in season one; namely, the characters of Youhei Sunohara, Misae Sakara, and Yukine Miyazawa; and doing yeoman work to make them greater than merely the sum of their respective odditities and quirks.
And with that character upgrading complete, we then move... quite shockingly to me at the time, but quite logically so in retrospect... to the major turning point of Episode 9. Here we see the graduation of all the key school-based characters, except Nagisa, Tomoyo, and Yukine.
The Episode 9 graduation episode was a startling turn of events for me on initial watch throw, and it had left me questioning the wisdom of it, to be honest... particularly given how it threatened to divide up the cast into several separate parts. There can be no question that Episodes 9, 13, and 16 were all very bold, decisive episodes on the part of Kyoto Animation. Either one of them could arguably have concluded an entire anime series, at least if altered slightly for that purpose.
Those three episodes, as well as the episodes between them, were a distinctively unconventional approach to a "school life" anime, for in their three broad strokes, this school life anime metamorphosized into a more mature "slice of life" anime, it could be argued.
Beyond that, the most notable element of Episode 9 is how it put the focus squarely on the blossoming romance between Tomoya and Nagisa...
For me, personally, Nagisa Furukawa was the main strength of these "middle third" After Story episodes. Of the Episode 9 through 16 run. Of course, this meant that the events of episode 16 were that much more jarring, shocking, and heartwrenching...
The romance between her and Tomoya was one of sincerely sweet serenity, and I heartily approve of its every aspect, facet, and nuance... with one slight exception. Although, even this lone exception can perhaps be excused due to how Clannad might have had to err on the side of pure innocent love in order for Tomoya and Nagisa's romance to come off as brilliantly as it did.
That exception is that... it might have been nice to have seen a bit more sexual chemistry between the two. However, that may have taken away some of the romance's charm, and Tomoya's romance with Nagisa is still lightyears ahead of where most anime roamnces are. The key reason being that it is a romance that progressed at a healthy and natural pace, involving mutual feelings of caring and love that are gradually made more open over time in a believable manner. I also have to admit that Nagisa's amused and/or shy giggling at some of the softer moments between her and Tomoya is absolutely awesomely adorable... ^_^
Also, and to be brutally frank, it's nice to see a major anime romance where neither half is a tsundere, and where neither half needs a major attitude adjustment.
Another strength of the "middle third" was this guy...
Having Tomoya end up working alongside Yoshino was a stroke of genius on the part of Clannad's writers. It helped set the stage for Yoshino's bodacious bombastic backstory performance, and there was a lot of great content that the viewer could glean from that.
However... here is where my most controversial critiques of Clannad: After Story begin. This is the first of two parts of my review that I expect will meet with the most disapproval.
As wonderful as episodes 9, 13, and 16 were, I found most of the episodes inbetween them to be, well... a bit dull, to be frank. Part of it is purely an issue of taste, I'm sure. There wasn't much wrong with the actual execution of the plotline. In fact, if anything, it was too realistic; which is a disconcertingly odd criticism for me to be making, as I tend to love realism in my animes.
But Clannad: After Story showed me that perhaps anime needs its oddities and quirks as much as it needs realism, if not moreso.
For in episodes 10, 11, 12, 14, and 15, I found myself missing much of the primary and supporting cast a great deal. I missed Kotomi, Kyou, Ryou, Sunohara, and Tomoya.
After Story turned into the Furukawa family story, and while the Furukawa family are all groovy characters, with the amusing Akio antics and the sensuous Sanae sweetness and the nicely neat Nagisa, they still couldn't quite make up for the complete absense of most of the rest of cast.
Simply put, I wanted my Kotomi back... :(
Aaawwww... isn't she so tall and voluptuous, yet so huggably moe? ^_^
Clannad: After Story may have been even better if it had taken an episode or two to focus on the other members of the cast. It might have been nice to see a few scenes of Kotomi adjusting to life in America, or of Kyou beginning her teaching career, or of Tomoyo saving all the trees. ;)
Still... if mature realism and thoughtful execution were the main goals for the makers of Clannad: After Story episodes 9 through 16, I can't criticisize them too much... because it met those goals in flying colors.
Needless to say, though, I was greatly enthused with much of the primary cast returning, en masse, for episodes 13 and 16.
Nagisa's special surprise graduation ceremony, and her ensuing speech, were wonderfully wrapped like a gift under the Christmas tree. It was serious sentimentality that made me think a bit about my own life, and my own high school graduation slightly over a decade ago. Clannad: After Story certainly succeeded in causing feelings of school nostalgia to rise up from within me.
And then there is the utter masterpiece that is Episode 16. Episode 16 was one of the very best anime episodes that I've ever seen. It was flawlessly presented from start to finish, with every scene and scene transition just feeling right to me. It brought the "hidden" or "illusionary" world subplot back into center-stage, and Kotomi did a great job of linking that world to the actual world through exposition.
And the ending... and the drama... and the suspense... and the timing... of episode 16. It was a perfect effort shown from start to finish. Clannad: After Story kept me guessing at the actual fate of Nagisa right to the oh-so-bitter end. Tomoya's emotional displays throughout the entire birth sequence were clear and raw, yet so appropriate. It never felt overdone, or underdone. It was just right, in every respect.
Except, of course, that Nagisa died...
When I finished watching Clannad: After Story episode 16, I was deeply saddened for Tomoya and Nagisa's family, but I was simply too impressed with the sheer showmanship put on display by Kyoto Animation to be brought to tears. I couldn't help but think of the expertise of the craftsman even while the picture perfect craft itself tore at my heart strings.
Oddly enough, though, After Story episode 18 actually did bring me to tears. It brought me to tears for this reason...
Clannad: After Story made me feel... really, truly feel... for Ushio. She was born under the most regrettable of circumstances, and hence she was born to a father that, in some ways, resented her for something that was not her fault. I felt so badly for Ushio... and while I also felt very sorry for Tomoya, I was also angry at him for how he had neglected his daughter for a full five years.
Against this backdrop, I just couldn't help but cry when Ushio confirmed to her father how lonely she had been during those first five years, and how she had missed him. It was so tempestuously touching and monumentally moving.
Here I want to point out that I don't cry easily.
For example, touching as it was in the end of its second season, Higurashi did not bring me to tears. Akasaka brought me goosebumps, but that's a different matter... ;)
Only two or three times previous to Clannad: After Story had an anime managed to move me to tears... and that's with me having watched, in total, dozens upon dozens of animes from three different decades. For After Story to accomplish the feat, then, speaks volumes to just how immersive the anime could be, and how likeable these characters are.
Since Clannad: After Story speaks volumes for itself with the general quality of its content, then, I should try to end this blog entry, which I fear is growing voluminous, as soon as possible.
Let me just say, then, that I liked watching Tomoya make peace with his father, I liked the neat reunion between him and his daughter's sensei, and I particularly liked the return of Starfish Girl! :D
YES! FUKO-CHAN IS BACK, BABY!!! Welcome back, she who uses the third person even more humorously than Dr. Doom does. ;) :D
Fuko's Episode 19 return was very unexpected. It was a nice feel good story after Nagisa's passing.
So, all told, I liked episodes 17 through 21 more than I thought I would. They were all handled well, with Fuko's return coming at just the right spot.
But what I'm not sure I like... is the conclussion.
All through out Clannad: After Story, I detected a grand theme of life emerging. That theme is that change in life is inevitable, and that growth through life depends on adapting to those changes, and making the most of what comes your way; through all the tragedies, toils, and troubles.
The value of family is immeasurable in this grand theme of life that I felt that Clannad: After Story was trying to convey. And, ironically, part of that value of family comes from realizing how the lost of one family member, as painful as that is, doesn't mean that you should ignore other family members.
This is what Tomoya learned from his father, and his father's mother. This is what Akio and Sanae displayed in caring for Ushio after their precious daughter passed on.
But then... Nagisa is... retroactively ressurected, I guess you could say. That is the conclussion of Clannad. And while it is certainly a very happy one, I can't help but feel that it takes a great deal away from the grand theme of life that I felt that Clannad: After Story had been developing.
It also makes me feel like Episodes 17 through 21 are lessened considerably in their value by the turn of events. Do the events of these episodes even exist anymore, outside of the mind of Tomoya?
Overall, Clannad: After Story was an exceptional anime, but I can't help but wonder a lot if it's ending was the right one for it...
It does a reflect a trend in anime, though - a trend of pulling last minute switches that seem to go totally against overarching themes. I saw it in Gurren Lagann, and I saw it in Mai HiME. And, in fairness, those are two of my all-time favorite animes.
So, if nothing else, Clannad: After Story is in good company here... ;)
I hope, though, that one day, an anime will stay true to its grand theme to the very end - be it a happy ending where Nia actually lives, or a sad ending where Tomoya learns to live on with out Nagisa by his side.
And yet... if Clannad's most passionate fans were to argue that After Story actually managed to eat its cake, and have it too, I would be hard-pressed to argue the point with them. Clannad: After Story gives you the bold bitter ending of episode 16... the controversial ending that could have been... and it also gives you the completely happy ending of episode 22.
If there's one final positive note that I can make about Clannad: After Story it's that it's boldness is matched only by the character of its cast; a cast that was admirably kept to a manageable and well developed number of characters; something that the shounen animes of the day could take a lesson from. ;)
And hence, with this one final Clannad picture, I pay a tribute to that cast. :)