Clannad 9–Did I Cry?

The state of the anime blogosphere right now

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.)

This is powerful…and earned.

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.

Literally.

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.

How this poor thing has been redeemed after all.

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.

14 thoughts on “Clannad 9–Did I Cry?”

  1. I overall agree with you that this is the best Key plotline… Except for Misuzu’s in AIR, oops. But either way I’m just a big AIR fan but not a Key fan so this being as good as it was… was surprising for me. Perhaps that’s because Kanon and the other stories in AIR other than Misuzu’s disappointed me so much, that while I’ve been looking forward to CLANNAD, I expeced something more like Kanon.

    Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case and I’m looking forward to how Nagisa’s story will be executed.

  2. Tess, I’m an AIR fan too. :3 Except my take on it is probably slightly different than others…

    Anyways, I’m still checking my rss feed for ADR. T_T guess those do take up a lot of time.

    Kotomi is so moe. Did you see her in the wedding? She was so confused! :3
    Confused = Moe.

  3. Pingback: Daijoubu
  4. Your point about Key knowing when to stop with the characters’ reactions is spot-on. This was a major flaw in AIR and seeing it corrected in CLANNAD is extremely refreshing.

  5. Yeah! Almost there… But what’s the matter about crying? I think that the Fuko’s arc is just the beggining, and in the near future you will cry (and I too…). And maybe it’s too early for comparisons with Air… And indeed, about crying, I stand for Kanon 2006…

  6. Took the words right out of my mouth. Or is it hands..? Brain. Synapses!

    I very much agree with your statements about the repeating but completion of the theme and that many key elements that usually deal the killing blow – making the audience cry – was played down to be quite subtle.

  7. Ohh by that episode I was really crying on the wedding when tomoya started crying and was having a really sad speech about fuko!
    It was so cute how tomoya and nagisa felt like parents for fuko!

  8. I just watched Clannad episode nine. I honestly didn’t think I’d cry, but in the end I did cry; and not just little tears forming at the corners of my eyes, but actual bitter sobbing. It’s odd, it’s definitely not expected.

  9. Itena: you know it’s been a while since I saw that episode. I take it you haven’t seen After Story yet. Apparently that’s giving people a whole bunch of tears too! So keep going, there may be more cryin’ to do :)

  10. Mike: No, I didn’t see it when I posted this, but I have actually just finished marathoning Clannad and Clannad After Story and oh boy did I cry! I haven’t cried so much since Saikano, and even then… I cried and cried cried cried and sobbed.

Leave a Reply