The Fuko arc kicks into full gear, and the result is something that feels, well, much more like previous Key productions and less like the refreshingly different feel of the earlier ones focusing on Nagisa. Key has always been sentimental, but I think this arc feels a bit excessively so, to the point where I felt a bit emotionally detached the whole time.
The entire review presumes that you know what Fuko’s true condition is. It should thus be considered a spoiler in its entirety.
I realize my initial surprise and liking of Clannad is probably for different reasons than most of the people who were highly anticipating its release. I’m not really a fan of moe (I’ll grant that I smiled and chuckled at Fuko’s antics once in a while, though, especially her star-crossed spacing out), and every previous Key production has disappointed me in some way as far as storytelling goes. Clannad, for the first time, seemed relatively down-to-earth and emotionally grounded, even subdued; the two leads had meaningful families and interacted meaningfully too; the character introductions were dispensed with in about two episodes. The humor is frequently sharp and well-timed, and Tomoya is actually a worthy male lead for a change. I was waiting, of course, for the tear-jerk factory to kick into high gear eventually, and it seems this is the first instance. It feels in many ways like a rehash of a similar storyline in Kanon, complete with the idea of a spirit of a comatose, as opposed to dead, girl. I suppose one can call it a return to form of sorts, but it’s not a form I’ve particularly appreciated. (At least the characters seem to be aware how weird this situation is. I suppose even Key must succumb to the overall trend toward meta-humor these days!)
Another thing is the structure of the plots: I don’t think the RPG/video-game references are accidental. The game roots of the show don’t just show up in obvious ways like naming the girls in the OP, using the same seiyuu, same music, etc. It’s reflected in the very goal-oriented, even quest-like story arcs. They’re even quantifiable goals: first Nagisa and Tomoya were trying to gain enough members to reopen the theater club. Now they must help Fuko make and hand out enough stars so…she can become visible to her sister again? Wake up from her coma? We see the outcome of one goal at the end of episode 6, though, and I have to admit, that moment felt a little painful despite the knowledge that it was coming. Fuko’s not the only one who will feel deep hurt and disappointment at that moment, though oddly enough, the preview shows mainly humor scenes. The final scene of 6 really ought to be the climax of the arc. But we’ll see.
It might be that some of my detachment from this arc is a combination of its programmatic nature and the fact that it felt much more fantastic–dare I say outlandish?–than the part that preceded it. Stepping back and thinking about it, what are the characters doing for two episodes? Making wooden star(fish) for the spirit of a comatose girl so that students will show up for said comatose girl’s sister’s wedding, and hoping for a reunion between said sister and the spirit. (I’m very surprised Tomoya and Nagisa have made no effort to actually visit comatose Fuko in the hospital.) Said spirit is visible to everyone but the one who loves her most, and successfully pretends to be someone else to Nagisa’s rather gullible parents. They all pitch in to make wooden starfish. Granted, looking for theater club members, weird interior dramas, and the like isn’t exactly the stuff of slice-of-life drama, either. But it’s not, well, carving wooden starfish for a wedding for a sort-of-ghost.
And Fuko not only gets to wear a maid uniform. She even gets the standard harem show male fan club, too.
Not everything is bad, though. The humor is still pretty good, especially when Tomoya, that bastard, plays a hilarious joke on a spaced-out Fuko. What are you doing, picking on girls half your mental age? I laughed heartily anyway. The “Skills Mastered” screens weren’t as well-timed as some of the previous video game references, though. Sunohara continues to be fairly funny, too. Tomoya and Nagisa’s interaction also continues to be solid, though perhaps part of the reason why is because since nearly the beginning of the show they’ve always been busy trying to work on something. Eventually, they’re going to have to come to grips with themselves–not just their relationship, which is touched on briefly in a fairly standard romantic comedy scene with Ibuki-sensei, but their own respective internal problems. That’s the part I’m most interested in seeing.
It’s still early in this show, which is slated for 24 episodes, and so I’m far from writing this show off, but I think I’ll patiently wait for the end of this arc. Sorry, Fuko fans. She just ain’t my lucky star this time around. It takes more than being real cute around stars and pushing straws up noses to get me to really fall in love with a character. (Come on, Kimikiss Mao…)
PS: When are they going to stop using the same melancholy synth music during sad scenes?