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12 Days, 12 Moments: Day 7–The Starfish of Triumph

I return today to talking from films to TV shows for this installment of 12 Days, 12 Moments–and about the most popular show on the blogosphere, too. The end of the Fuko arc in Clannad marks, in my view, the maturation of Key as storytellers, where they at last succeeded in finding the right balance between sentiment and restraint and earning the emotions of its characters.


Day 7: The Starfish of Triumph

I always wanted to like Kanon (of which I’ve only seen the original 2002 edition) ever since I heard Fred Gallagher rave about it over at Megatokyo. I also really wanted to like Air, and I recognized its ambition throughout. But I have a problem: not only am I non-plussed at best by moe, I usually found the characters in Key titles to have insufficient development for me to care about their plight. And the stories of the girls was always about a plight, all right: illness or hospitalization usually being the number one choice, or being a reincarnation of a ghost, or both.

The Fuko arc doesn’t seem any different at first. In fact, it seemed like a cookie-cutter replay of the Ayu arc in Kanon, complete with the real girl being in a hospital. What I didn’t expect was, for one, the time that the storytellers spent to help us get from seeing Fuko as an annoyance–and what an annoyance she was at first!–to tolerable to someone who had a family and a past and was worth caring about. She is no Honey and Clover character, to be sure. We are not talking about first-class drama, even at its best. But the thing too is that she is not just the only one. There’s Nagisa and Tomoya, especially Tomoya, and while he has settled back into his comfortable Prankster Helper of Girls role in the more recent episodes he provided both emotional restraint and ballast to prevent scenes from becoming too maudlin. Owen has written articulately and in better detail than me about this matter. Plus, more to my liking, the theme of memory and forgetting was beautifully integrated without being obscure, or overly obvious. It was (mostly) shown, not told.

The effect is to make the inevitable bittersweet ending of the arc feel more genuinely emotional than any other Key story to date. (And yes, I include the end of the Misuzu arc in Air. Sorry, Air fans. Sometimes it came close, I admit, but still didn’t do it for me.) One need not cry–I didn’t–to really appreciate the distance Key has traveled in order to get to this point. They had to suppress their usual urge to juice up the scene with soaring music or with extravagant sobbing. They had to consciously build up to this moment rather than spring it on you, especially with the starfish. A lot of the added power too comes from the theme of family that runs throughout, which is also a step forward for anime in general toward creating more believable characters. So, while it doesn’t transcend its genre the way ef-a tale of memories does, the final moments of Clannad episode 9 are an example of this genre at its best. It’s definitely one of the triumphs of the year.

This is an Anime Blogging Collective post. Other participants include      

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