OK, I was wrong. The arc is as much about Mei as it is about Youhei, and about what it means to be a responsible brother. Curse you, moe cosplaying hot Sanae for being such a red herring!
Leave it to Key to turn around a pretend “romance” into a story about family–which I should have guessed, given that is the title of the show and its principle organizing motif. Yes, the maudlin “stuff that happened in early childhood” is starting to come out, with the all too easy parallel of the lost brother and sister and of Mei and Youhei’s own past. Yes, the rather over-the-top attempts to make Youhei jealous near the end–I mean, it ends with Tomoya all but saying that he slept with Mei, a moment that honestly made me wince not out of prudery but out of sheer aesthetic frustration–are as subtle as a hammer. And yes, the transformation of Youhei from bumbling idiot into a defeated, passive Shinji is far too quick. That’s the problem with mini-arc stories that have to accomplish everything in a few episodes.
And yet: there is something about it that actually kinda works. It may have something to do with how family is a pretty primal theme to be talking about in the first place, and that there is something genuinely sad about discovering how Youhei Sunohara has, in fact, declined morally over the years. My guess is that the arc will end with some sort of redemption for him, probably invovling soccer, and as any good otaku show should involving plenty of Mei saying “onii-chan” too much. (Oh man, it was a bit much in this episode in her pretend-date with Tomoya, and it resulted in the funniest scene in the episode when Kyou, Ryou, and Kotomi show up. It also resulted in the episode’s saddest scene when Youhei simply walks away without saying anything. Yes, the scenario was contrived. But Clannad should never be accused of excessive realism, only relative emotional restraint.)
Is there ever going to be an anime that treats an older brother/younger sister relationship as its main topic without bringing up hints of incest or the whole onii-chan thing at some point? (Koi Kaze is thus disqualified, all its virtues, realism, and seriousness aside. And Grave of the Fireflies…well, all right. But that’s one of a kind.) There was the fine example of Fullmetal Alchemist for a show about brothers, and we have quite a few shows about sisters; Minami-ke for starters. Not that we have a lot of this in our media either; I titled this review not only after the bizarre Evangelion movie titles but also after one of the few American movies that does talk about brothers and sisters, a movie where incidentally the brother is also a screw up and the sister the presumably “responsible” person, and the two of them reopen old wounds when they get together. Of course, in that movie, they were both adults with plenty of time for living a life apart; Youhei and Mei are still kids, away from home, and Youhei is struggling with what seems to be a relatively fresh wound as his sister waits for him to become someone she can count on again. It’s already laden with the usual anime schtick about imoutos, but it could be a start of something just a little different. At least I hope so.
Hinano said this arc made her cry in the game. Surprise me, Key/KyoAni.
Disclaimer: this review was written by any only child.