I can’t help it. The Fuko arc really does work after all, in spite of itself. Maybe the reason why the arc is so long is because it needed that time to settle in the viewer’s mind, but there’s something primal and powerful about where this story is headed that I can’t help but be touched by.
Maybe it’s because the I’ve been meditating on similar themes in ef~a tale of memories, because it turns out the Fuko arc is just as much about memory too. (And without a nasty love triangle added too.) It also helps that we have gotten to know Fuko a lot better in the past few episodes, her as well as her engaged older sister Ibuki-sensei. The central theme of Clannad is family, of course, and it works when Nagisa’s mother breaks down at the end of episode 8 and grieves over her lost memory because Fuko is, in some way, part of her family too. Owen has also pointed out, rightly, that this arc is being handled with much more emotional restraint than in previous Key works. They’ve finally learned: no need to jerk the tears out. Just show them sad situations with characters worth caring about and the tears will come on their own.
Episode 8 also answered a question that I’ve been asking–why don’t they just visit the “real” Fuko in the hospital? Now we know why, and it’s a workable answer within the context of this story.
To be forgotten is, perhaps, worse than death. We have gravestones precisely to remind us that there was a person with this name in our lives. We call funerals memorial services. This arc is yet another instance of the idea that people literally disappear when they are forgotten; it was explored intellectually in Serial Experiments: Lain and it’s prominent in Chihiro’s storyline in ef. I find it a very powerful, primal idea, and the increasing number and closeness of people who are forgetting Fuko and her starfish grows sadder with each passing episode. In a way I’m glad they’ve kept some degree of comic relief alive even this far into the arc, and I suppose it’s either an achievement or immersion that I no longer find Fuko annoying. I actually care about what happens to her now, and probably because I think the concept or theme taps into a deep-seated fear that many of us hold, especially if we are lonely and relatively solitary as many otaku are. Key has gained enough audience knowledge and storytelling chops to make it actually work this time.
My prediction (no spoilers in the comments, please) is that Fuko will die at the end of the wedding. Like in many ghost stories, the ghost can rest when her work is complete and her dream fulfilled. There will be a wedding and a funeral. All that will be left of her is the starfishes, but at the same time, people will remember who she is when they look at them. That would be a responsible and moving, if somewhat predictable, way to conclude it (ie., it’s the way I might do it were I the screenwriter!). It allows all the repressed grief that is all around to finally flow and also avoids the more horrifying conclusion of her being completely forgotten altogether, which I suspect Key knows would turn off the audience.
We’ll see if I’m right in episode 9, the conclusion. Which I’m actually looking forward to now.
For those who are interested: I nicked the title of this review, The End of Memory, from a short book by Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf (formerly from my school Fuller, now at Yale Divinity School). It is about the relationship between memory and forgiveness and is interwoven with personal reflections on how he tried to reconcile with the army officer who interrogated and tortured him in Yugoslavia.