Why Clannad After Story is Also Overrated (In the Form of a Review)Posted: October 1, 2014
Well, this was inevitable.
I don’t think most people who saw what I had to say about Clannad are really surprised that my thoughts on After Story are the same, but there’s also a fair amount of people that see After Story as this objectively perfect emotional roller coaster that nobody could possibly hate, and they probably want some explanations. A fair enough of a request.
However, this won’t be a purely negative review. It’s not like After Story is the worst thing I’ve ever watched or anything, it has its positives. And hey, maybe it’ll prevent people from saying stupid shit like “you went into the show biased” or “you didn’t watch it correctly”.
Oh who am I kidding, people will still claim things like that no matter what I say.
Let’s start with the positives, just to ease people in.
I liked the opening and its song. There’s no real analytical reason for it, I just think it’s animated well and I like the song. The vocalist has a nice voice.
The first episode was also really good. Nowadays it isn’t completely necessary since you can watch both seasons of Clannad back-to-back, but when it was actually airing there was a 6-month gap between them, so an episode that reestablishes all of the characters (and reminds you that Yoshino exists since he plays a more important role this season) was a good idea. It also helps that it was primarily a comedy episode; I’ve consistently praised Kyoto Animation’s sense of comedy, so more of it is always a good thing.
The episode also shows KyoAni’s animation prowess yet again with some scenes, and one of them was for the purpose of showing off Tomoyo’s badassery, so they get bonus points for that because Tomoyo is still Best Girl.
There was some nice directing in the episode, too. When Nagisa brings up Tomoya’s father. She says that he should invite his father to watch the baseball match, and then for the rest of the scene it never shows the two of them in the same shot together. It’s a nice way to show the divide between the two when it comes to the topic of his father. I mean, it’s a technique that something like The Royal Tenenbaums did better – being nowhere near as in-your-face about it and had more things to say – but it was still a good call.
Also, while Key still doesn’t know how to exactly be subtle, there were moments that were at least nowhere near as blunt as some of the stuff they pulled in the first season.
For example, there was a small bit in the tenth episode where Tomoya and Yoshino drive by a family walking on the road. Just a father, mother, and child being happy and Tomoya looking at them and smiling. The purpose of the scene is obvious, but it was short and nice.
There’s another example in the following episode, where Tomoya gets an official nameplate for his job. What was nice about it was that they never talked about the nameplates at all, it expected you to be smart enough to understand the significance of him getting an official one and what that means for him on an emotional level. A lot of shows would think you’re too dumb to pick up on something like that and would have a character explain it.
But probably the best example was when Tomoya was trying to get permission to marry Nagisa. When he finally manages to hit one of Akio’s pitches, it gives the impression that he either managed to hit it due to his strength of will, or Akio purposely went easy on him so that he would hit it after seeing how hard he was trying. I prefer to think the latter, but it’s nice that the show never confirms whether Akio did it or not, it leaves it up to your imagination. Even better is that going for that angle perfectly fits Akio’s character, because as I said when I talked about the first season, you’re never 100% sure whether Nagisa’s parents are genuine goofballs or just pretending. After Story does push the ‘pretending’ angle quite a bit more than the first season, though.
There are also a lot of more minor details that I liked throughout the show that were just minor touches. For example, I liked what they did with Kyou. Considering her volatile personality when she was hanging out with the gang in high school, I thought it was a nice touch that they focused in on the protective relationship she had with her sister and had that develop into her becoming a teacher, especially a preschool or kindergarten one. It was a believable off-screen development for a side character.
I also really liked their explanation for how Tomoya and Sunohara met. It not only let you know how that relationship came to be, but also fleshed it out more. I could just be reading too much into it, but I always got the impression that Tomoya was a “delinquent” as an extension of how he blames his father for his injury. His hatred for the most important authority figure in his life translates into a general lack of respect for authority. Sunohara then also is shown to have started his delinquency due to fight with upperclassmen: a higher social standing than him. Both of their reasons for why they’re the way they are is similar, but the events are very different. That’s solid, I like it.
However, the biggest positive After Story has is the same one as the first season: Tomoya himself is a really good character. I think a large part of his likability is simply how Yuuichi Nakamura voiced him. Not that other people couldn’t have also done a good job, but he was still a good choice. Of course, it’s not just the voice, it’s also how he’s written.
For the first season, I described him as a “troll with a heart of gold”, which is absolutely what his character was. It still is in After Story, but he grows and matures out of it as the show goes on. Tomoya’s just such an endearing character that you can’t help but grow attached to him. He’s amusing when he pokes fun at people and pulls pranks, but he’s also really down-to-earth when he needs to be. There’s this level of relatability to Tomoya that a lot of characters in other shows don’t manage to achieve because of just how remarkably human he is. He starts off not caring about much but then finds a reason to move forward and slowly works toward making something of himself. He’s fantastic.
Hell, he made Nagisa’s death scene actually somewhat work for me, and I fucking hate Nagisa. A large part of the scene was how it affected Tomoya, someone I actually care about, I was able to feel an emotion other than glee.
He also goes through a pretty solid character progression over the course of After Story: moving into his own place, growing more mature and responsible, dealing with the pain of losing the love of his life, and finally learning to cope for the sake of family and becoming a responsible father. The combination of this structure and Tomoya is absolutely the best thing about After Story, and it’s the reason it’s really easy to see why so many people absolutely adore this show.
I get it, I do, and if this were in any other show I’d probably be praising it to the heavens. But every time I want to like it, I can’t help but see the immense issues that bring it crashing back down.
If that last sentence alone made you hate me, then the rest of this probably won’t do anything to change that, because now it’s time to cover every problem I had with the show. These aren’t all major problems though. While all significant, that also includes minor ones that were more irritating than deal-breaking.
I can’t believe I even have to emphasize something like that, but my original post had people latching on to the more minor complaints I had and acting like I was saying they alone were the reason that Clannad sucked, so hey.
For the sake of convenience, I’ll try and cover these chronologically. A lot of the more major issues come up near the end of the show anyways, so all the more reason to.
The first issue is that, with the exception of a few scenes and the opening, the art and animation in After Story looks noticeably worse than the first season. Maybe there was an issue production-wise that KyoAni just never recovered from, because the first episode was mostly fine – it’s starting with the second episode that character designs and such start looking more sloppy. Though a far more likely explanation is that it was the amount of Imaginary World scenes they had to do that drained their time and money.
It’s not the biggest deal ever, but when the quality between two seasons takes a dip, it’s pretty noticeable and a bit jarring. If it would have allowed them to make the normal scenes look better, it probably would have been preferable to cut down a bit on the Imaginary World scenes.
However, that’s not the only issue that crops up starting with the second episode. While the first episode works well as an intro to After Story, the show then decides to give story arcs to characters that don’t even need them. Something a fair amount of people actually agree on is that you can just skip episodes two through eight. But that’s not enough for me, so let’s go over exactly what made these arcs stupid.
First is Sunohara’s arc, which literally amounted to nothing more than a clusterfuck of misunderstandings, assumptions, and people acting out of character. Seriously, in presentation it may have seemed fine, but when you stop and look at the events that transpired you realize just how dumb the whole thing was. Allow me:
Mei is worried about Sunohara since he hasn’t decided what he wants to do for the future, so Tomoya comes up with the incredible non-solution to give Sunohara a fake girlfriend. How this will prove that Sunohara knows what he’s doing with his life I have no idea, but hey maybe it’s a Japanese culture thing.
They decide on Nagisa’s mother (Sanae) being his fake girlfriend and start tricking Mei. There’s then an incredibly stupid scene where a young brother and sister seem lost and Sunohara doesn’t want to help them because it’ll get in the way of his date. It’s completely out of character for him to act this way, but the arc demands it.
We know from the first season that he’s not a genuine idiot or a jerk, he just plays the role of a total clown and gets serious when the time calls for it. This scene and later ones are based on him somehow becoming a total asshole now that he has a fake girlfriend: something that has no basis and is a massive stretch considering what has been established about his character so far. The writing is just drama for drama’s sake.
Anyways, the next day Mei lies to everyone and says she’s there to see a guy in order to test her brother to see if he still cares about her or something stupid like that. Tomoya tells Sunohara he should go after, but Sunohara says he shouldn’t leave the room in case Sanae calls, even though he’s well aware they’re just faking the relationship and again is out of character for him.
Tomoya and Nagisa reveal to Mei what they’ve been doing, and then Tomoya decides to cheer her up by heading into town with her. Some decently amusing shenanigans happen, and then Sunohara shows up. He suspects the most outlandishly possible explanation for why they’re together, but then again, Japan is a place where holding hands is on the same level as making out.
Then the dumbest thing possible happens. Tomoya, in his brilliance, decides to roll with the assumption in order to test Sunohara for Mei. I cannot even fathom how this conclusion came about in his head.
“You know, I could tell Sunohara how Mei has been feeling lately and we might be able to resolve this, but instead I’m going to pretend to be her boyfriend and then Sunohara will try and beat the shit out of me. That’ll make Mei happy. Damn I’m a genius.”
But Sunohara doesn’t do anything. And then they assume it’s because he doesn’t care, despite his initial behavior when he showed up indicating the exact opposite. Where did everyone’s brains go?
More things happen, Tomoya and Sunohara beat each other up, the misunderstanding gets cleared, and then everybody is happy again.
What was the point of this arc again?
Here’s the funny thing: you don’t need to develop your comedic relief characters. They’re comedic relief, as long as they’re likeable that’s all that’s really important. They had already accomplished this with Sunohara. Not that it matters considering there was no development here in the first place.
Because the entire arc was just everybody being stupid, it didn’t result in anyone becoming a better person and there was no real lesson learned, it just resulted in everyone ceasing their idiocy and the status quo being restored. I also dislike pretty much all of the other arcs in this series, but I can’t say that there wasn’t development as a result of them.
Kotomi learns to get over the psychological trauma of her parents’ death, Nagisa learns not to blame herself for (sort of) achieving the dream that her parents had to give up on, Yukine’s arc has two gangs ceasing their war with each other, and Misae’s arc has her possibly getting into bestiality. Sunohara’s arc has nothing.
Enough about his arc though, the next is Misae’s. Other than the obvious “why is this character that we’ve seen for maybe five minutes total even getting an arc” comment, it brings up one of Clannad and After Story‘s major issues: the haphazard use of supernatural elements.
You can implement supernatural elements into a grounded story, but you have to know how to do it. Clannad and After Story just throw supernatural elements wherever it’s convenient, mainly if Key thinks it makes the situation more sad.
Shima has a wish to make Misae happy, but then it turns out that he isn’t actually Shima, that was just his best friend. It’s never explained how he somehow managed to forget this very important detail. He just did because that way there can be a shocking and sad twist to the story. But it doesn’t stop there, because then he has to turn back into a cat for some reason just when Misae was falling for him.
This is Jun Maeda Writing 101, and it’s ridiculous. He doesn’t even bother trying to give an explanation for this stuff, it’s just “that needs to happen because reasons” or “she has a sickness that makes her weak in every regard and I’m not going to bother to look up a real disease that has that effect or even make up a name”.
The only supernatural things in the show are: Fuko, the stupid amnesia cat, and the imaginary world stuff. You might be able to argue in Nagisa’s illness. That’s it. That’s not “blending reality and supernatural together”, it’s just throwing fantasy in whenever because screw it, maybe it’ll get more tears out of people. As for the ending of the show, we’ll get to that later.
Speaking of not blending reality and fantasy together very well, that’s probably why the ending to the arc was incredibly stupid.
The end of the past story has Shima turning back into a cat because… who fucking knows. Maybe he had a time limit that was never mentioned or implied before. Anyways, the whole past story turned out to be a dream Tomoya was having. Not only does he pretty much instantly believe it to be true events that happened, but he looks at the cat and with a completely straight face asks it if it showed him the dream.
Just let that sink in. Obviously to us the connection is clear, but we’re the audience, but there’s absolutely no reason for Tomoya to wake up from a dream and think, “Oh hey this cat just somehow managed to insert a dream into my head that taught me about Misae’s past.” Yes, the cat looks like the one at the end of the story, but Tomoya could easily just have been making up this whole thing. Dreams tend to do that.
But then it goes completely ridiculous when Tomoya tells Misae the cat’s message and she instantly believes him. I get that he said something he shouldn’t have known about him disappearing during the festival in the past, but he seriously preceded this by saying he thought he heard that cat’s voice in his dream. She should have assumed he was crazy, or at the least it would have probably been more reasonable for Misae to think for a second about if she could have told him her story at some point, rather than asking desperately if the cat told him anything else.
Although, being crazy is actually an angle you can use to make sense of the whole thing: the cat isn’t actually Shima at all, and Tomoya is just assuming things for whatever silly reason and Misae is believing him out of desperation. The problem is that it doesn’t explain much beyond that unfortunately since the show basically confirms by the end that the story is indeed true.
I’m probably the only person in the universe that was bothered by this, but what the hell was up with this shot? I think it was supposed to be cute or something, like hearkening back to how she was when she met Shima, but it came off as sexual more than anything else. Like she was about to start humping the cat on the spot. She even says “guess I’ll play with you a lot today”, it was awkward as hell. What was the director thinking?
The final time-killing arc is Yukine’s, but there’s actually not much to say for this one. It’s actually pretty decently written and only significant issue is some wonky animation at times.. Just a shame that it’s for a character that absolutely nobody cared about beforehand, and probably still didn’t care much about after it was over.
All of these arcs are so unnecessary it makes you wonder why they were even there in the first place. It was probably just because they needed to pad out the length of the season, something that they didn’t even need to do in the first place since cutting out those episodes along with the Kotomi arc in the first season would have allowed them to make the whole thing work in a single season.
I know there’s the whole “light orb collecting” thing from the visual novel to make the ending work, but it’s fairly obvious that story angle didn’t work in anime format seeing just how many people call bullshit on the ending. A pure replication does not always make for a good adaptation.
Anyways, after these completely pointless arcs, we finally get to the good part of of the series: Tomoya. I already covered him being a great character in the positives, and I can pretty easily say that episode nine through fifteen are the best episodes of After Story. since they’re the ones dedicated to his growth from a high school graduate to a family man.
The only issue I had with this chunk is that Tomoya and Yoshino spend a lot of time together due to work, and they look almost identical. Their voices are different enough to generally know who’s saying what, but you really shouldn’t have two characters that are going to spend a lot of time together look so similar. It’ll only serve to confuse people. Not to mention, it’s anime. You have quite a few hair colors to choose from.
Some may have noticed that I didn’t include episode sixteen in that chunk of episodes I just mentioned: the one where Nagisa dies. That’s because, although I said that the scene worked somewhat since it was also focused on Tomoya, it doesn’t change that it’s still primarily about a character that the audience has no reason to care about outside of her connection with Tomoya.
I mentioned in my first season post that Nagisa doesn’t accomplish anything on her own, but the issue is a bit more complicated than that when it comes to After Story. The easiest way to explain it would be that it’s easy to get what Nagisa sees in Tomoya, but not what Tomoya sees in Nagisa.
I know people mention the fact that they’re both outcasts in a way, but that in and of itself isn’t enough to feel chemistry between two characters, especially when only one of them seems to be putting any effort into being, you know, a fleshed-out character. In fact, if I wanted to be especially picky, I could point out that them both being outcasts doesn’t really work since it’s for different reasons.
I mentioned earlier how it worked for Tomoya and Sunohara because the reason for their delinquency is the same, but the literal events leading to the mindset was different. It doesn’t work with Tomoya and Nagisa because they aren’t outcasts for even the same reason. One of them chose selective isolation while the other simply had a crappy hand dealt to them.
At best you can maybe argue Tomoya subconsciously regrets how he is and is envious of Nagisa’s positivity, but there’s hardly anything to back that up. There’s a difference between subtlety and nonexistence. You can fix that by simplifying it to: he really just wants to get away from his father and live a normal life, but then any of the girls fits that bill.
The way Tomoya acts in the relationship is solid, which is what I’m willing to bet is the main reason why more people don’t have an issue with Nagisa. But the foundation is just… not there. There’s no real reason given for why Tomoya wanted to pursue a relationship specifically with her, so everything after that just feels empty and lacks any impact. So I felt bad for Tomoya when she died, sort of, but I didn’t care outside of that.
I know I just made it seem like Nagisa is the weakest link of the Clannad series as a whole, but that’s actually not the case. The next arc is. Not the part where Tomoya has to learn to get over his depression and be a father, that part’s fine. I’m talking about the resolution to everything with Tomoya and his father. Which I guess isn’t really an arc but I need someway to encapsulate the whole thing while I talk about how completely awful it was.
Do you remember how I praised the tension between Tomoya and his father when I talked about the first season? Well apparently Jun Maeda felt the only way to resolve this was to make Tomoya feel guilty by revealing that his father went through the same things that he’s currently going through. Now, there is definitely an angle to make this work, but instead After Story decided to do it in the dumbest way possible.
So for some convenient reason, Sanae knows Tomoya’s grandmother, and contacts her to say that he’ll be taking a trip to where she is since Sanae orchestrated the trip. Of course she also had no way of knowing that Tomoya would actually go on the trip with his current mindset, but maybe she contacted his grandmother after he started heading there or something.
When they arrive, Tomoya feels like he knows the place, and starts to wander off, leaving his small child completely alone – but hey he’s still a bad parent at this point so it kind of works. He comes across his grandmother on a small hill, who says that she was told to wait there and he’d show up… eventually. Maybe.
She then proceeds to tell him about how his father very conveniently went through the exact same tribulations Tomoya’s going through right now: dead wife, caring for a small child through depression, etc. They even conveniently played in the same field Ushio is currently playing in! Tomoya happened to conveniently forget about all of this, including the very location he’s at. Why? Because then they couldn’t have a super sad revelation about all of this now if he hadn’t forgotten!
If you were wondering why I was being picky about conveniences at the start of explaining this meeting, it probably makes sense now. This resolution to the conflict between Tomoya and his father is just convenience after convenience after convenience after convenience. Some small, some embarrassingly large.
Having relationship trouble with your father? Hey you probably just happened to forget something about him, you shouldn’t do that!
If there was any single arc that was going to get me emotionally invested in how it resolved, it was this one, and they completely botched it. Hard.
The next major part is the big one that everyone knows about, but it’s going to be put to the side momentarily. I’ll come back to it later. Let’s talk about the ending itself first.
The reset ending is controversial to say the least, even a fair chunk of people who love this series are annoyed by the ending. It seems obvious enough why simply by what it is conceptually: a reset. It’s a bit more than that though, it comes back to something I was saying earlier: the show just doesn’t blend fantasy and reality together well at all.
If you try, you can argue the case that the supernatural elements in previous arcs are simply a means to an end: so they’re fine. I doubt I’d ever agree, but it is some land to stand on at least. The ending is a stretch too far, which is why even people find with previous events raised eyebrows at it. If they had blended the two together better, as I keep saying, then it probably wouldn’t have bothered so many people.
As most people argue, the deal is that Tomoya gets a wish because he built up goodwill or whatever with the previous arcs, which is the deal with the light balls that show up at the end of each one. They’re what allowed him to have his wish to reset time. Here’s the problem: that works in the visual novel format, but not the anime one. I’ll explain why.
In the visual novel, you have to go down each route individually, and when you reach the end of one, you have to start over. Due to this, you can consider each route you take its own parallel world, so when the ending essentially jumps to a new one at the end mid-playthrough due to having done all the other routes, it makes some sort of sense. The anime, however, is one continuous timeline, so when the ending has you suddenly jumping into a new world, you just see it as some weird time reset, and it’s jarring.
There is one upside to the anime version, however. While the visual novel has you basically playing multiple Tomoyas for these different routes to connect, you can view the ending in a really morbid sense of it just being a perspective swap to a new Tomoya, and the one who just lost his daughter is still alone and crumpled in the snow. You can’t really do that was the anime version since you’ve been following the same Tomoya the whole time.
That’s not to say these problems cancel each other out or anything, I’m not trying to decide which version is better, I just didn’t want to be completely unfair to the positive aspect the anime version brings while comparing the two. It still needs to combine its reality and fantasy better.
Also – and this goes for both versions – they probably shouldn’t have reset it so that Nagisa was alive again. The idea was that Tomoya learned to be a good parent in the end, but then bad things happened to him so the universe or whatever took pity on him for that and other good deeds and gave him a second chance. Sure that’s nice and heartwarming, but wouldn’t it make more sense for it to start again shortly after Nagisa’s death at the soonest?
Seeing as one of the bigger points was Tomoya learning to be a good parent, shouldn’t it reset so that he can do exactly that? Be a good parent despite the death of his wife? Of course Tomoya will be a good parent if Nagisa is alive, he won’t spiral into depression then. He was never literally bad at parenting nor an awful person, he just didn’t want to do any parenting because he was wallowing in grief and Ushio was a constant reminder that his wife was dead. So wouldn’t it make more sense for him to start over at Ushio’s birth, and be for her as she grows up this time? Ionno, it just makes more sense to me.
So far I’ve spent all this time explaining the issues that After Story and the series has, but I haven’t quite gone the full mile of explaining why I’d go so far as to call the show “overrated”. You’d think with a statement like that, I have some sort of personal issue with the series, yet I haven’t mentioned any.
Well there is something deeper in that bothers me that much. The problem is that for the longest time, I had no idea how to explain what that was to other people. So I decided to do some digging, and I found my answer.
Visual novels have different genres, like any story does. They also can be divided into various categories, such as whether they have adult content or not. Turns out that there’s a subgenre of visual novels known as “nakige” or “utsuge” games. Literally, “crying game” and “depressing game”, respectively. The point of the games is, as is obvious by the name, to get the audience emotionally attached and cry. One of the more popular visual novels to start the popularity of this subgenre was called One: ~To the Radiant Season~, which was developed by a company called Tactics.
You may have already been able to guess that the development team at Tactics that made the game then left the studio to form a new one called Key, and they went on to make Air, Kanon, and Clannad.
Why am I explaining all of this? Because understanding that there’s a set subgenre about making the audience cry explains a lot of things about how Clannad was written – along with Key’s other works, I’m sure. Something especially magical happens when you know about the sad parts that are going to happen ahead of time.
Clannad comes across as something that was written backwards.
It makes sense when you think about it. It feels like Jun Maeda came up with these specific, sad scenes, and then wrote what led up to them and around them. It certainly explains the finale of Tomoya’s father’s arc. He wanted a sad revelation that his father went through the same issues he’s currently going through, but due to Tomoya’s situation happening so late in the show, the only way he could make it work was by having someone show up and explain it because Tomoya conveniently forgot about it.
The whole backwards writing thing makes even more sense when you looks at the female characters. What’s the first thing you think about when it comes to a significant scene about Nagisa? When she dies from childbirth. Kotomi? Getting her parents’ lost suitcase. Always the scenes that were meant to draw the most tears out of you. The sole exception being Fuko’s arc since it was filled with a decent helping of comedy, so you might think of your favorite joke as the most significant scene instead of when she disappears.
When those are the most significant and memorable scenes, it’s probably because they were the ones that were most focused on. And that’s probably because they were planned out the longest. The backwards writing would also explain how that absurdly gigantic plot hole in Angel Beats came to be and somehow stayed in the final script.
To be fair, you can write this way and still make it work. What I’ve said so far probably hasn’t convinced a single person that Clannad and After Story being written this way is a problem, and I agree. That’s because it ties into a second, larger problem with the series.
Clannad feels like it’s being very condescending to its audience.
When people talk about this series, the discussion of “emotional manipulation” tends to crop up. Now, shows are manipulative by nature: that’s how you know what emotion to feel during scenes. Otherwise you’d just kind of sit there not knowing what emotion the director or writer is trying to get across.
Without it, you wouldn’t realize that you’re supposed to hate everyone in School Days, or that Cross Ange is intentionally absurd and supposed to be viewed comedically in that sense, or that Flowers of Evil is supposed to look ugly and unnerving since that was the entire theme of the show. The director and/or writer treat their audience with respect, and figure that the audience will be able to pick up on these cues, rather than take everything at a basic, face value. I mean, if you didn’t pick up on these things, you’d probably think the shows were awful because you’d see these things as the staff thinking these were good decisions for no reason and that they actually think the cast of School Days were good people, or that Cross Ange believed a lot of the actions in its show are okay, or that Flowers of Evil looked aesthetically pleasing.
The problem is that Clannad and After Story’s writing and directing don’t have this intelligence or faith in the audience. The only time it goes out of its way to push something are these sad scenes, where it just shoves it in your face, focuses on tears from the characters, and tries its damnedest to get you crying too. I mean, try and remember anything Nagisa added to the story through her own actions and will. The play from the first season doesn’t count because it never would have happened without everyone else doing a large chunk of the lifting and pushing her to go for it. I’m talking about any scene that helped establish or enforce her personality as a character that should be cared about. Anything that establishes her as a person.
Remember that time when Nagisa followed Tomoya around? Or that time when she… uhh… said something about whatever was going on at the time? Or hey, what about that time when she tried to tell Tomoya and Sunohara that faking a girlfriend was a bad idea… and then they just completely ignored her?
When you stop and think about it, her character feels like its sole purpose for existing was to give birth and die, therefore drawing tears from the audience. It’s the most significant thing she contributes to the story! The same thing comes up with Ushio: she wasn’t written to be this utterly perfect and adorable child because it made the most sense for her from a story and character perspective, it was because that’s the personality that would make people the most sad when they kill her off. It would have taken too much effort to write her as some problem child due to one dead parent and the other one being absent all her life, then getting over it at the same time as her father. Naw, just make her perfect from the start.
How about the fact that they describe Kotomi as being some kind of genius but then never use it in any way? Okay, they used it once for a joke during the baseball episode, but that was it. Don’t you think that aspect of a character should play more of a part? I mean it completely conflicts with her typical airhead attitude that you think they’d at least do something to remind you that she’s supposed to be super smart. But no, she reads books, so that’s proof she’s smart I guess. The only reason they decided on her being smart is probably because they had already written about her parents being the way you’re introduced to the concept of the “microscopic world”, so she must be smart too since her parents are! This is how backwards writing can screw you over if you don’t know what you’re doing.
It’s almost like Key thinks it’s developing their characters through these sad events, but that’s not how it works. You don’t make people care about a character by doing bad things to them, you make people care about them ahead of time so that when the bad things start happening, there’s already an emotional attachment there. Otherwise it’s just riding off the natural response of “it’s sad when people die”. It is, but this is fiction, you have to do more. If all it took was torturing your own characters to make people praise you endlessly, anyone could be a master author.
Let me explain it another way: they feel less like actual people, and more like caricatures. Yes, this isn’t real and they therefore aren’t real people, but that’s not the point. It’s kind of hard to get invested in events when you can see the strings attached to the characters. Most authors do a decent enough job of hiding those so you can get immersed in the story and its happenings, but Jun Maeda doesn’t seem to give two fucks about hiding because hey look, dead child! That’s sad and stuff.
This kind of thing explains why, when people recommend the series, it’s typically along the lines of “it’s the saddest/most depressing show”. You don’t see it being recommended to other people because it has a good story or characters, because the deaths are all people give a shit about since it’s the only significant thing some of the main characters do in the show. And they aren’t wrong, because that’s how it is written.
Everything about the series just feels so… analytical and cold (as ironic as that may sound coming from me right now). Like after it was sent out for people to watch and whenever people posted how it made them cry the staff would laugh and give each high fives because mission accomplished, like it’s all some big experiment. Key is literally powered by your tears.
I mean, you don’t need to have intense directing to be a good show, but when you can tell all of the focus was on the sad scenes, you can see where the priorities were. And having the goal as making the audience cry isn’t necessarily an inherent problem, but it is when it feels like even the writer sees his characters (other than Tomoya) as plot devices more than actual people.
I mentioned before that something magical happens when you watch the show and know how it goes ahead of time. Why do you think they’re having the whole gang get together shortly before Nagisa’s death? Because then it’s more sad when you know they can’t meet up like this again. These kinds of decisions come from the sole goal of trying to make these sad scenes affect people as much as possible. The irony is that when you do that the show loses its humanity. The scenes don’t feel natural, they feel like someone nudging you with their elbow as you watch and pointing at the tears of characters as they expect the same from you.
As a result, my favorite episode was actually the one that covered stuff from before the start of the series, because it was the only one that didn’t feel like it was full of ulterior motives behind it. The only time it felt like the characters were written genuinely due to an interest in them as actual people – most likely because there were no more sad events to lead up to, but still. This is what the rest of the series needed desperately.
I’m sure there are people shaking their head at what I’m saying right now, wondering why, even if I’m right, does it matter. If it got people to cry, then it worked, right? Not really.
Something people don’t do often enough is think about why something is making you cry, because you can absolutely cry for the wrong reasons. I mentioned it when I went over the first season, but I don’t blame people who found Clannad sad. For the most part, the difference between a general viewer and a critic is that the general viewer doesn’t look at something from the meta perspective of writing and directing. Most people take what they watch at face value, like with what I mentioned with School Days, Cross Ange, and Flowers of Evil earlier. I don’t doubt at all that people who take this show at face value end up crying.
But crying is seen as a very extreme emotion, and if a show can bring that out in you, it’s automatically assumed to be great. That’s not necessarily true.
My big issue with Clannad and After Story is that’s what they are: just an encapsulation of “shoot the puppy” writing. They introduce a cute thing, barely do anything with it except maybe taking the time to press the point that yes, it is indeed cute, and then they kill it or do something generally awful to it and shove it in your face. This is nearly every single arc Jun Maeda has ever written. Maybe it’d be different if he mixed it up every once in a while, but no. Why do you think he always writes about little girls? Why do you think the vast majority of his characters are meek, submissive, sometimes seemingly retarded waifu material?
It’s all just a big, sad science experiment to see how many tears they can get. It preys on the most empathetic part of your brain shamelessly without any actual effort put in. And it’s unfortunate.