Once upon a time, Tomoya Okazaki had been depressed. The child of a single, alcoholic parent and a delinquent at school, there was nothing in the world for him to live for, and he knew it. That was before he met Nagisa Furukawa, a sweet, docile, anemic girl with a dream to live and no strength or will to see it through. With the help of a strange bevy of friends and romantic options, Tomoya was able to guide the girl through the hard times that came her way, pulling her over every obstacle and believing in her until that dream could be realized… And once it was over, she had practically no choice but to pay him back by becoming his girlfriend.
In most anime, that’s where the story would end, but here, it’s not so simple… Their relationship is only the beginning of a winding tale of fate that will affect the boundaries of reality itself. As they leave behind high school… Along with their friends, Tomoya’s need to help people, and the hearts of half a dozen other girls… And embark on their journey into adulthood and the real world. This means taking a bold, courageous leap into independence, responsibility, and consequences as they get jobs and learn to support each other. They’re warned that there’s going to be trouble along the way, but nobody could possibly guess just how much heartbreak and tragedy is awaiting them… Because surviving high school and becoming a couple may be the beginning, even marital bliss is far from the ending.
Like it’s predecessor, Clannad Afterstory was produced by famed studio Kyoto Animation, the crown kings of the moe art style(A1 is the queen)… And yet it doesn’t look quite the same. The over-all style of Kyoto Animation is well known to have changed drastically in the mid to late 2000s, and a lot of people blame the financial success of K-On! for this shift… Their artwork used to be very solid and consistent even at it’s most active moments, but following this change, faster on-screen motion looks a lot cheaper, as though they found a more affordable method of capturing motion without sacrificing speed or energy… But it’s unfortunately highly noticeable, and it doesn’t look nearly as impressive as their work from the first half of the decade.
Basically, it started to look Gainax-y. Honestly, though, I don’t really think K-on! is to blame for this. Clannad Afterstory is their earliest work where I actually noticed this change, although it looks more prototypical compared to K-on. I mentioned in my last review how the artists were able to create life in the eyes of their female characters, and while their eyes don’t look quite as dead as I implied a drop in the budget would make them, they do still have their iffier moments. This can make faster fluid movements can appear choppy or cheap looking at times… It’s probably at it’s worst when Akio is moving his arms to rap… But thankfully, after the first eight episodes, bigger actions are few and far between, leaving a decent amount of money available for the rare CG effects and some of the better moments towards the end.
The music really hasn’t changed since my last review, so there isn’t a whole lot I can say about it. Instead, I’ll talk about the opening and ending, both of which are apparently beloved. Despite the show’s step down in animation quality, the opening looks a LOT better in Afterstory, despite their similarities. The song is Toki wo Kizamu Uta by Key veteran Lia, it not only sounds but also looks far more interesting than the generic, snooze worthy track that opened it’s predecessor. This opening begins rapturously, showcasing the supernatural lights and shots of the town on a far more visually arresting note. One thing I found odd is that even though the series has left behind it’s harem-y roots, it still announces the game’s romantic options in the opening. They had the good sense to get rid of Fuko, but that still leaves Kotomi, Tomoyo and Kyou, who’ve all been largely downgraded to supporting roles in what’s supposed to be Tomoya and Nagisa’s story.
The English dub has also greatly improved, with Steven Foster taking less and less of a role in the show before moving on from it completely. Clint Bickham is a decent writer who’s very good at transforming Japanese idioms and turn of phrase into something more accessible to Western viewers without bastardizing it. Janice Williams takes over directorial duties, and while Foster was a producer on the dub, it was short-lived. The acting is just as strong as it was in the previous show, despite a few tweaks here and there. David Matranga is still carrying the series, and Luci Christian is still sweet and supportive. She gets more opportunities at range, but said opportunities are limited… She alters her approach hilariously when Nagisa gets drunk, and her vocal work during childbirth(Yeah, I’ll be spoiling that here) are heartbreaking.
She plays her won child, which would be a great opportunity to show more of her abilities, if her child wasn’t as bland and artificial as pepperoni pizza. Illich Gaurdiola returns as Yusuke Yoshino, who is now Tomoya’s sempai at work, and while I enjoy him during his weirder moments… Take the glorious baseball game for example… The rest of his performance just sounds like one-note mumbling. The pitch sounds right for the sort of character he’s playing, but he sounds like he doesn’t want to be in the booth, and is just getting his lines out as quickly as possible so he can go home. I didn’t mention this in the last season’s review(although it applies there too), but Andrew Love and Kara Greenburg are the undisputed stars of the dub as Nagisa’s parents, Akio and Sanae. Both characters are almost bipolar in nature, showing vastly different attitudes whether they’re acting calm and quiet or crazy and over-the-top, but either way, they’re a joy to listen to. It probably helps that they’re playing the best characters in the show.
Now, I should probably begin by saying that yes, Clannad Afterstory is better than Clannad, to the point where I wish they’d reversed the names and called the first one Clannad: Beforestory. Because let’s be honest, the first season didn’t have much of a story… It featured a collection of small stories that were as interchangeable as the girls Tomoya was helping. The whole thing climaxed with a love confession, and while that may have been believable when you consider Tomoya’s self-worth issues, it doesn’t put up much of an argument for compelling stakes. Afterstory, on the other hand, drops the disjointed nature of the series and decides instead to buckle down and tell a solid, extensive story… Nine episodes in. Yeah, apparently there were still a few mini-arcs to get through, and I’ll be honest, they’re a chore.
The first episode, which revolves around the entire cast being reunited for a baseball game, is awesome, even if the plot may have been lifted from Haruhi Suzumiya. There’s some great comedy in this episode, and it does an admirable job of reintroducing the last season’s characters to the audience, as well as establishing where Tomoya and Nagisa are in their relationship. The next two episodes quickly go downhill as Mei comes back to town to check on Sunohara, and these are some miserable damn episodes. Not only are they stupid and entirely pointless, but they take the somewhat unlikeable Sunohara and turn him into what can only be described as a reprehensibly selfish creature. I’ll spare you A LOT of the details, but ultimately, Tomoya pretends to be Mei’s boyfriend to try to piss Sunohara off. He doesn’t, and later on, he reveals that even though they blatantly claimed to be sleeping together, he didn’t try to stop it “Because it was you, Okazaki!” Yeah, if you’re gonna trust a pedophile with your 12 year old sister’s virginity, it had better be Okazaki.
The following arc isn’t as bad, per se, but equally pointless, and deeply unintentionally funny. The woman who runs the dorm… Whom in any other show would be too unimportant to have a story arc, but this is Clannad and filler is it’s art form… And how a boy she fell in love with turned out to be a ghost, but she made a wish to turn him into her immortal pet cat. Yeah, just imagine the implications as she cleans out her one true love’s litter box. Then we get an arc for the quiet girl in the library who occasionally helps them with their problems, and while it’s probably the best of the three arcs, it’s still entirely lacking in purpose. As I said before, you could easily skip all of these episodes without losing anything in translation… But whether you watch it or not, that won’t change the fact that immediately afterwards, something amazing happens… Clannad finally begins to feel like a real story.
If you’re counting the first season, plus OVAs, this is around episode 34, and the main character finally begins to develop. You heard me right. No longer does he just exist to surround himself with broken people, help fix them and occasionally give us something to feel sorry for him about, oh no… He grows, faces some real flaws, and learns some actual lessons. He moves out and into his own apartment, supports Nagisa while she repeats her final year of school, and gets a job, actually having to learn his new trade from the ground up. He’s living with Nagisa all the while, pops the question to her, and goes through one of my favorite episodes as he tries to get her father’s permission to make the engagement official. It’s not perfect, but it’s clearly the best kind of writing the series has to offer. Which is a shame, because it all comes crashing down due to her pregnancy.
Well, let’s back it up a bit. Tomoya would be a great character in an anime where the rest of the characters were even close to having as much depth as him. The way it is, with Tomoya having this tragic past, all of this emotional damage, and an entire cast of other characters hanging on his every word constantly reminding him(and us) how great he is, he honestly just feels Mary-Suish on an almost masturbatory level. He gets an idealized wife, because that’s all that’s left of Nagisa after her play is over, leaving her as a straight up anti-character. Their marriage feels like a couple of kids playing house, which might be because they sleep in different beds and NEVER KISS. The moment when she announces her pregnancy(in the most infantile way possible) is probably the most shocking moment in the whole series. She gives birth, and their daughter is the perfectly idealized well-behaved child who will stay home alone and not get any trouble while her sole caregiver goes through a full-time workday. I mean, sure, she goes for walks on her own, but that’s never addressed as a horribly irresponsible thing for Tomoya to allow.
And speaking of Ushio, let’s get to the one spoiler I have to talk about(It’s not the only one, don’t worry, I’ll avoid the others); Nagisa dies during childbirth, an act I’m pretty sure she was written purely for. When this happens, Tomoya spirals into depression, and hands his daughter off to her grandparents… Which we learn after a five year time skip. This is where my appreciation of Tomoya as a character comes crashing down like a plane with a teddy bear on it. Yes, I know it hurts to lose someone, but wallowing in self pity for five years? I once saw a movie where Kevin James failed to file some important financial paperwork for a year after his wife’s death, and I called bullshit on that, too. If you have children, you have a responsibility to those children, and if you fail to even attempt to live up to that responsibility, I have no sympathy for you.
Which would be fine, if he were portrayed in an unsympathetic light from then on. I don’t mind horrible people in a story, as long as they’re recognized as being horrible. But the very idea that after five years, Akio never once stormed into Tomoya’s apartment to kick the crap out of his selfish ass is completely out of character for him. Even his daughter, after a bonding trip that’s full of more coincidences than the movie Rat Race, has no problem moving from her big house over the bakery into a smaller apartment to be with her stranger-daddy, even after undoubtedly forming parental bonds with her doting grandparents. Everyone treats poor Tomoya with an “Oh, you must have had it tough” slap on the back when he deserved a kick in the nuts, which destroyed his very real chances of earning my sympathy.
So what does this all lead up to? Well, harkening back to my last review, that depends. To half the viewers, it leads to one of the most heartbreaking and then uplifting tragedies of the anime medium. To the other half, it leads to emotionally manipulative tripe that barely deserves to lick their feet. I can’t really speak to which of these opinions is right… Oh wait, yes I can, because this is my review. The ending of Afterstory is terrible. We get a second tragedy, which I won’t spoil, and while it’s perfectly set up by the internal logic of the series, the punch is soon pulled by a sudden happy ending that’s so cheap, even people who explicitly understand the dream world logic call bullshit on it. Not only does it directly undermine the much-adored dark, tragic tones that everyone likes to sell it on, but it backtracks on some of the most important development that Tomoya went through in a way that can easily be compared to the Prince of Persia movie. Yeah, try washing THAT analogy out of your mouth.
Clannad Afterstory is available from Sentai Filmworks. Much like the first season, it’s available in both DVD and Bluray formats, for between the prices of forty-five and sixty dollars. Each season comes with OVA episodes, and there are three of them in this one… A story that allegedly takes place right before the beginning of season 1, and two episodes dedicated to the Kyou and Ryou story arc. There are also undubbed DVDs that are somewhat cheaper. Several manga and live action spin-offs have been created, but none of them are officially available in the States, although there’s a petition to translate and import the first visual novel.
Earlier, I said that Afterstory was better than the original Clannad, a statement I still stand by. What I probably should have specified is that better does not equal good, and in this case, it’s more a drop in the bucket than a noticeable mark in quality. Really, it was only able to pull itself above it’s predecessor by dropping the harem elements and developing it;s main character, both of which it did way too late, and not very well. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind while writing a tragedy is that you can’t make the audience like a character just by having bad things happen to them. Rather, write them to be interesting beforehand, so that we get to like them before those things happen. The only character we get to know on an intimate level is Tomoya, and we get to know everybody else through their relationships to him… Thus, when somebody dies, we don’t feel as though WE’VE lost someone important, but instead we’re expected to feel it through him. Nobody else gets a lover, or an interesting job, or anything else in the future, just Tomoya, and while he’s a good character by Clannad’s low standards, he’s just not good enough to get THAT invested in. I give Clannad Afterstory a 4/10.