No. But that doesn’t stop this from being the most heartfelt, genuine, and overall best Key plotline ever. Here’s why.
My predictions for the Fuko arc ending were off in the most important respect: Fuko didn’t exactly die. We didn’t get the funeral + wedding combination I was expecting; she remains in her comatose state instead, with the hope that she will one day awaken. I was right about everything else, though, that somehow people would remember when they see the star, and that the wedding would be a success as a result. The ending was thus in a sense predictable. But I’ve always held that execution is more important than outcome, and that good stories can survive spoilers. It’s about how the story is told that matters. And the way this episode is told is successful indeed, especially given Key’s prior track record. (Possible plot hole: we saw how Tomoya and Nagisa’s memories were jogged back into shape. How did it happen to everyone else? The star wasn’t enough for even those two, Fuko’s closest friends, at first.)
It’s an emotional success precisely due to its understatement, which is perhaps why I didn’t cry on this viewing. Okazaki cries hard exactly once, at the moment when it is most earned and warranted–at a moment of profound joy as well as grief. In retrospect, having Fuko die would in fact have been too much. The music does not soar, as in a Hollywood movie at this point, but instead a quiet insert song in Engrish plays in the final scenes with the ghostly form of Fuko and her sister at last reunited. (It is this song seems to be making people cry. I have been known to shed tears only on second viewings, though–such it was for The Girl Who Leapt Through Time–so they may evacuate my tear ducts yet.)
It’s also a thematic success. The theme of family is stated directly only once, and the even more potent idea of wishes literally being passed along to the next generation of the family–enacted by the wedding–couldn’t have been handled better. That silly wooden starfish turned out to be a great symbol after all of those wishes. I also love how the arc came full circle by the end, but with resolution–everyone crying out “Starfish,” and Fuko now asking for the thing that has made her ghostly half-life worthwhile and what this story is all about, friendship and its close relationship to family. Anime too often chooses the vague, mystical ending. This had the right mix of bitter and sweet without a sense of overt manipulation, at least compared to previous Key dramas. It felt light and natural for once, growing out of the characters and the situation.
What this is, of course, is a classic ghost story in the mold of Ghost–the spirit here is benign, is trying to finish a task, and expresses the idea of love crossing even the boundary of death (or in this case, a permanent coma). The ground for making it genuinely emotional was prepared by the fact that we have a much more solid bunch of characters who are experiencing it; Tomoya, Nagisa and her family, and Fuko and her family feel more “alive” than the strange and oft-randomly appearing girls of Air. They are alive, incidentally, because they feel more connected to things like family, the place of the town, than previous ventures. Ghost stories can’t really work well without that, because what we are haunted by is our pasts (how else would we recognize them?). And giving a character a real past means, well, giving them more depth. There were several points where the plot could have easily forced the characters into excess, but was stopped because the writers were wise enough to know that is not what these people would do at this moment. (Especially with Tomoya.) That’s better storytelling, folks. That works.
Well, count me as a reluctant but wholehearted fan of the Fuko arc now. The fact that it even won an old doubting snob like me over shows that they’ve achieved something. It ain’t groundbreaking, except maybe for these people and this genre and it ain’t the most emotionally intense scene I’ve seen this season. But it was worthy and satisfying. You could make an OVA out of just this arc and it would be great, and one of these days I need to watch just this arc by itself, all at once, and see whether it really does hold up as a singular story.
And whether, at last, I will join the rest of the blogosphere and cry.