Why Clannad is Overrated (In the Form of a Review)Posted: December 3, 2012
Before I even write anything review-wise, I should remind everyone that “overrated” is not the same as “bad”. This is kind of a funny thing to clarify, considering up until a few days ago, I hated Clannad‘s guts. The first time I watched it, I had the expectations of it being some pinnacle of writing in regards to drama or whatever people hype it up to be. It not only failed to meet those expectations, but put them into a box, lit the box on fire, then threw it off a bridge while making overdramatic poses.
I rewatched it for the sake of writing this post, and it was a lot easier to enjoy it when my expectations were it being absolutely terrible.
Of course, there’s still plenty of faults with the show, but there was also a decent amount I enjoyed. Though what I find absolutely hilarious is that my biggest complaint against the show could have been fixed with a very simple executive decision. Well, that and the fact that for a lot of the things the show did wrong, it also had an example of how to do that exact thing correctly. You’ll see what I mean.
Oh, and this only covers the first season, because seasons are required to stand on their own merits. Also because I’ve heard all the things I liked about Clannad got toned down in After Story, and all the things I hated got cranked up. Yay.
Jumping straight into one of the biggest issues, most of the female cast are about as interesting as wet toilet paper. They either have no discernible personality (Nagisa), seem to have no actual reason for liking Tomoya (Kyou), or both (Ryou). Well, okay, to be fair to Nagisa, she does have somewhat of a personality, it’s just an extremely obnoxious one.
The whole “cares about others more than herself” deal is an alright personality trait, but the only other one she has is stupid. No, I mean as in it is literally a stupid personality. And it’s the incredibly annoying kind of stupid, where they say “desu~” at the end of nearly every sentence. The thing is almost a cheat code to make any character seem twice as dumb.
Now I could spend minutes just pointing at each character randomly and detailing them, but I should be a bit more orderly about this. I’m going to go through each character arc chronologically (as dictated by the show) and address my complaints and compliments for each one and the character the arc is for.
First up is Fuko’s arc, and there’s only one thing to say right off the bat when it comes to this one: what in the hell is Fuko?
You see, for any story there’s an important line to set decently early on: the boundary of realism. Stories aren’t as simple as “realistic” or “unrealistic”, there’s millions of lines between those two. Some stories will have magic be a common occurrence, while the idea of ghosts is preposterous, and others will be vice versa. With Fuko, it’s impossible to establish that line because you’re never told what the bloody hell she is.
Is she a ghost or an apparition? No, because the characters are able to touch her. Is she just a figment of everyone’s imaginations, seeing as how she gets forgotten over time? No, that can’t be it since apparently she’s still wandering around even when people can’t see her.
Without this line, you don’t know where to set your expectations in regards to phenomena happening. For all you know, a magical unicorn that grants wishes will show up to solve everyone’s problems. And yes, there’s the whole “other world” deal going on with the girl and junk robot, but it’s made very obvious that it’s disconnected from the main story. Oh, and the whole hit counter thing when Tomoyo kicks Sunohara, but that’s done for comedic effect, so it’s obvious that it’s also disconnected from the legitimate events that happen in the main story.
Now you may say, “Well, it’s not important what she is!”, but it is. You see, since the main drama is revolving around her disappearing from people’s sight and memories, it’s important to know the context behind it. Why? Because if the audience starts to question the concept, the immersion is completely broken.
Take for example the scene where Sunohara has forgotten her, but she’s standing there with a starfish carving. So… can he not see the starfish carving too? Is there not just some random wooden carving floating in the air? When Fuko puts it in his hands, he looks down and wonders where it came from. Okay, so I guess things Fuko is touching also can’t be seen. But wait, that doesn’t make any sense because there’s a few times where Tomoya tries to show her to people, and he puts his hands on her shoulders. He doesn’t suddenly disappear from their sight, so I guess it’s just Fuko they can’t see. But then that doesn’t make sense because people would see floating starfish carvings and a party hat going all over school. Speaking of which, why does nobody ever trip over Fuko? I mean if she’s always walking around school when people can’t see her and she can be extremely airheaded so then wouldn’t that mean people would walk into her and- AAAAAAAAARGH.
My mind is trying to make sense of what Fuko is even when her arc is at it’s end, so I’m not able to appreciate anything. It certainly doesn’t help that they break their own pre-established rules at the end by having her magically float down to her sister who can for some reason now see her.
I don’t know, maybe I’m just not a romanticist, but I feel like if you’re going to bring fantasy elements into an otherwise very grounded story, you’d better have a damn good explanation for it all.
Though it wouldn’t even matter if I was able to enjoy the arc, because the show proceeds to shit all over the struggles and drama that was in it in later episodes by having Fuko randomly show up for comedic relief. I’ll admit, those sections are pretty funny, but it completely destroys the themes and such from her arc, essentially making it seem like a humongous waste of time. The one thing saving it is that Fuko’s arc isn’t actually just about her, but I’ll save that for later.
Oh, and there’s also the fact that the arc is funny. I mean, the show in general is funny when it wants to be, but Fuko and Tomoya bounced well off each other as far as both actions and dialogue goes. Even when it was one-sided, like when Fuko spaces out, it’s still funny to watch Tomoya troll her.
The next arc is Kotomi’s, and there isn’t much to say about it actually. Honestly, the only purpose to the arc seemed to be to introduce the topic of the “microscopic world”, which never even ends up playing a part in this season. I’m guessing it’s a set up for After Story or something.
There’s an overall aspect to the series that becomes prominent starting in this arc that I’m going to talk about, however, I first want to address the blatant plot hole in the ending to the arc before I get to that.
Kotomi’s story ends with her parents’ suitcase being found and it being delivered to her. This is due to a letter that was found in it with writing on the envelope that said to deliver the suitcase to their daughter if it was found.
Uhm. When and why did they write that?
The story says her parents died when they went down with a plane due to it breaking or something along those lines. Did they write it as the plane was plummeting to its doom? The writing was pretty neat and they were even able to put their signatures or whatever, so that seems unlikely. Besides, why would they just happen to have some paper and an envelope handy for the situation? So does this mean that they wrote that letter ahead of time? But then why would they need to write a letter like that ahead of time? Weren’t they just going to give her the gift when they got back from their business trip?
Considering the resolution to this arc is how her parents loved her so much and got her the stuffed bear, this kind of plot hole completely disintegrates the whole dramatic tone the show is going for once you notice it.
And speaking of dramatic tones…
This is the arc where Key shows their usual methods of generating drama, which is by making people cry, and being overdramatic to the point of being unrealistic. The scene I’m talking about (at least it was the one for me), was where Child-Kotomi goes into her father’s study and burns what she thinks is a copy of the thesis.
First of all, the idea of burning it rather than just shredding it up doesn’t seem like something a child would do, but it’s somewhat passable since if I recall, the matches were right nearby so that could have put the idea in her head. However, a kid would not then proceed to sit in a corner and cry their eyes out while the room starts to catch fire. It also irked me that Child-Tomoya was able to grab the doorknob and open the door when a good portion of the room was on fire. Realistically, that doorknob would have been pretty hot at that point. Perhaps not boiling hot, but he wouldn’t have been able to calmly grab it for a few seconds before thrusting the door open. Then Child-Kotomi is still sitting in the corner and crying. At this point a child would have gotten the hell out of that room due to the heat, and she should have started suffocating or maybe even died from the smoke the fire would have caused.
This is why drama is a tricky subject to write. You want to be as dramatic as possible for maximum effect, but if you go just slightly too far, the audience’s immersion and suspension of disbelief will be broken. This can be different for each person, sure, but there’s usually still a general line you do not want to cross. For example, the scene in episode 22 where Akio yells at Nagisa on stage to not worry about him or Sanae is just stupid. The message itself was not, but it was ruined with incredibly overdramatic motions on Akio’s part, and a ridiculous amount of “dramatic” camera angles on part of the show itself. If they hadn’t don’t those two things, it honestly would have been more dramatic.
This is also an example of something the show also manages to do right, though. This being the tension between Tomoya and his father. It never does anything overdramatic between the two, or even completely explain the story behind it. You just see Tomoya looking disappointingly at his father, or sometimes when his dad tries to do something, Tomoya gets this seriously pissed-off look on his face and leaves. Those interactions are miles more dramatic then shoving the camera into people’s crying faces or having them do over-the-top hand and arm motions when talking.
But getting back to Child-Kotomi, there’s another point I want to address: why do Key works always revolve the drama and tragic backstories around little girls?
I mean, it’s your choice what characters you want to do, it’s your work after all, but the fact that it’s always girls – usually young ones at that – makes me a bit wary of Key. Are they not confident enough to write drama for male characters or just adults? Are they scared that they won’t be able to force tears from people unless they have these bad things happen to young girls? As I said, it’s up to writer what they want to write, but it just seems slightly suspicious, like they aren’t confident enough in their writing so they feel like making little girls cry is a good fallback to make the audience sad.
Which reminds me of the last point in regards to drama I wanted to mention: the massive focus on characters crying.
Now, having characters cry is not inherently a bad thing, after all, it’s natural to cry when bad things happen, but when you focus way too much on the characters crying, it’s almost like the show doesn’t feel like you’ll feel genuinely sad for what’s happening, so they try to make you cry by showing other people crying. This is stupid and exploitative, because it unfortunately works on some people. Nothing against those people, all my blame goes on the writers and/or director of the show.
“Wait, why is that a bad technique?” I hear you ask. Well, other than it being shallow as all hell, it’s basically the equivalent of a laugh track. If writers or directors don’t feel like the audience will know when to laugh or think the jokes aren’t funny, they’ll have a laugh track so that audience is subconsciously told, “this is where you’re supposed to laugh”. After all, laughing is contagious, and people want to treat crying in the same manner. Now, some shows are more guilty of this than Clannad (*cough* Ano Hana *cough*), but they still do it.
The next few episodes aren’t really an arc, but I like to consider them to be Ryou’s, Kyou’s, and Tomoyo’s arcs, since they’re featured pretty prominently in them. There isn’t much going on as far as plot goes for these episodes, so I guess I’ll just talk about the characters.
I said before most of the female cast wasn’t very good, and the Fujibayashi sisters are a good example. Ryou is honestly a completely worthless character. First of all, she has no personality. You might say she has a shy personality, but that’s really only occasionally with Tomoya. She holds plenty of normal conversations with him, other people, she seems to have plenty of friends, and she’s the class representative or whatever. Those don’t sound like things a shy person would do.
The show also never shows why Ryou likes Tomoya. She just does, and that’s it. Ryou may as well have been replaced with a piece of cardboard. They’re about the same in regards to feeling like an actual person.
They also never explain why Kyou likes Tomoya, but at least she has enough of a personality to make you actually care about her. Though the show tries to push that she has an aggressive personality, it’s not consistent. She has just as many normal conversations with people as she does aggressive encounters. It’d be more correct to say that she’s volatile, or she has a short fuse. That and she’s got enthusiasm and confidence.
It’s just too bad that it seems like she doesn’t have a life outside of Tomoya. Think about it, what is Kyou doing when she’s either not with Tomoya, or at home with her sister? You never know because the show never says. There’s even a scene where she says she can’t do something because she’ll be busy “doing stuff”. What stuff? Skiing? Rollerblading? The world will never know.
Now, I hope I don’t have to explain why it’s important for a character to have a personality, so I won’t. Rather, I’ll explain why it’s important to show that the girls like Tomoya. You see, due to the fact that these various girls like him, there’s supposed to be some very small tension going on, so that at the least, you’ll feel bad for the girls that don’t win his affections. If you’re simply told that a girl likes him, it becomes a plot point rather than something genuine about the character. So when they don’t end up winning his affections, you couldn’t care less. They even try and make it all dramatic, and they cry, but you don’t feel sad because the characters lost something they don’t even seem to need. At best they were simply physically attracted to Tomoya, but that just makes the fact that they didn’t end up with him a good thing; now they can actually find someone they genuinely like.
At least the two male characters are well-written. Tomoya is the delinquent and troll with a heart of gold, and Sunohara is the delinquent, idiot, and clown with a heart of gold. They honestly carry the show since most of the female cast is so lacklustre.
However, if you noticed, I said most of the female cast. That’s because there’s one character that’s actually handled well. Yep, that’d be Tomoyo. She has a personality, has a life outside of Tomoya, and we’re actually shown how she falls for him.
Tomoyo’s a vigilante, she’s confident, tries to help out people where she can (like how she patrols during the Founder’s Festival for troublemakers), but at the same time, she’s trying to be seen as more feminine. It’s not the most complex character personality or struggle ever, but it’s very solid.
As for life outside of Tomoya, you know that she’s working towards become the student council president, so you can assume whenever she’s not on screen, she’s doing work to make that happen. You even get to find out later that she wants to join in order to save some cherry/sakura trees, and why she cares about them. Again, nothing overly complex, but still very solid and hits all the check marks.
The way she falls for Tomoya is actually decently subtle, a word I didn’t think Key had in their dictionary. They occasionally chatted for a bit whenever Sunohara was being stupid, but later on Tomoya actually saves her from being recruited by the Judo Club captains. Tomoyo is impressed that he stood up to them, and while talking with him, realizes that he’s a pretty nice guy. At this point, she basically considers them to be friends; Tomoya is most likely thinking the same thing. The next episode, she tries to be helpful by waking him up to get to school on time. When she goes to talk to him about being tardy during lunch, Kyou shows up and takes him away due to a previous promise. Sunohara then asks Tomoyo if she’s interested in Tomoya. She says that’s not the case, but then after thinking for a second considers that it actually might be a possibility. From there, she continues to hang out with him and wake him up, and her feelings for him grow along the way.
If Sunohara hadn’t asked her what he did at that one lunch, she may very well not have developed feelings for Tomoya. She just saw their relationship as being friends, and Sunohara’s the one that planted the idea of romance in her head. Due to that, it actually happens. Honestly, I think that was extremely clever. It’s just too bad the rest of the female cast couldn’t have gotten the same level of development and such.
And now we finally reach the last arc – Nagisa’s. Oh boy is there a lot to say about her character and the way she was handled in regards to the plot.
I hate Nagisa. She’s annoying. I said way back at the beginning that I have a bias towards characters that end their sentences with “desu~”, but Nagisa is annoying for more reasons than just that. Her personality is just the annoying kind of stupid. She’s not fun to watch, she makes me sigh with almost everything she says. Though it’s weird that they managed to make Nagisa stupid in an annoying way considering her parents are basically the prime example of how to do stupid in an endearing way. This is probably because half the time you can’t decide whether they’re genuinely stupid, or if they’re just playing around. But it’s done extremely well, and they’re two of the funniest characters in the show. Every show should look towards those characters as an example of how to do dumb characters in a funny and entertaining way.
Also, Nagisa can’t do anything on her own. She accomplishes absolutely nothing in the show without Tomoya’s help. He helps her start the club, he helps her study for the play, he admonishes her when she does something wrong, etc. etc. She does nearly nothing of merit. The only positive about her is that other than being stupid, her personality is that of someone who cares more about others than herself.
Perhaps I’d like Nagisa more if the show hadn’t handled her progression with Tomoya in a completely stupid way. Remember before when I said that Fuko’s arc wasn’t just about Fuko? Well the arc was also to give progression for Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship, since they basically acted as parents to Fuko, something Nagisa herself says in one of the episodes which makes them both blush. There’s also the occasional slight flirt in the arc, such as during the maid café part for the Founder’s Festival, where Tomoya tells her she looks the part.
However, then the show starts the Kotomi arc, where Nagisa gets all but abandoned so Tomoya can follow Kotomi around everywhere. That’s a good five or six episodes where Nagisa is hardly ever seen. Then the next four or so episodes focus on Kyou, Ryou, and Tomoyo, especially when Nagisa falls sick again. Then finally after she recovers, it’s made obvious that Tomoya has chosen Nagisa.
So basically there’s a giant chunk in the middle that completely disregards Nagisa, despite the fact she’s the main girl we’re supposed to like the most because she ends up with Tomoya.
I said way back at the beginning that this could have been fixed with one simple executive decision, and that’s to swap the Fuko and Kotomi arcs. Sure, there would’ve been a slight disconnect in regards to Nagisa from the intro episodes, but having Fuko’s arc lead into the fact that Tomoya chooses her makes infinitely more sense than abandoning the focus on her right in the middle of the show. Of course a few of the minor events that happen in each arc would have to be shuffled around a bit in order to fit the continuity, but it would have been worth it. Or you know what? They could have just removed Kotomi’s arc entirely. It was just overdramatic ridiculousness that introduced the plot point that Tomoya knew her as a kid which is information that never ever got used after her arc. It’s like the director just liked Kotomi, so they decided to animate her route without any actual confession at the end.
Anyways, my point is that it’s important to care about the relationship between the two people who actually get together, and putting a giant chunk of time where they hardly spend any time together right in the middle of the show is kind of a detriment to that.
You know who should have gotten a legitimate arc instead of Kotomi? Tomoyo! …Okay that’s just personal bias speaking, but she’s far and above the more interesting character! In fact, the show should have ended with them getting together. There’s a reason that when Key decided to do a spin-off, they chose Tomoyo.
Anyways, the only big positive I can give Clannad is that it was really funny when it wanted to be. It’s not too big of a surprise, Kyoto Animation has always been good at comedy when they aren’t so focused on moe. It almost makes me wish Clannad was a comedy rather than a romantic drama or whatever genre people like to call it nowadays.
Fun fact: this is the longest post I’ve ever written. It’s just over 4000 words, which makes it even longer than my post on why there’s no such thing as objectivity. I’m not sure whether this is something to be proud or sad about.
Anyways, this took absolutely forever to write up, but I kinda of like this ultra-analysis style of reviewing. Perhaps I’ll do this on more shows from now on. Or at least shows that somewhat deserve it, because I’m not going to spend days analyzing a completely mediocre show.