Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wolfsbane's Introduction/Family (Part 1) and the Structure of Clannad


"We embark on the long, long uphill climb..."

An Introduction
When my friend Nathan started a blog to review and reflect on the anime Clannad(by which I refer to both seasons), he gave me a kickstart to do the same. I’ve been thinking of doing such a thing for some time now, but he had the impetus to get started before I did.

Clannad is (in my humble opinion) the greatest anime ever created. The series (composed of two seasons: Clannad from 2007-2008 and Clannad: After Story from 2008-2009) is based on a 2004 visual novel (a subgenre of adventure games that is similar to a choose-your-own-adventure book in video game form, which is often linked to the genre of “dating sims,” although dating sims are technically not visual novels, but rather a subgenre of simulation games) created by the company Key. It is Key’s third project of turning a visual novel into an anime, after Kanon (which I have not seen much of) and Air (which I view as a great show, even if Nathan thinks it’s slow).

Just saying it’s based on a visual novel is not an adequate description of what Clannad is, though. It’s a mix of comedy, drama, and romance; it’s often described as “slice of life.” But it’s also got more magical elements; in some ways, it reminds me of the genre of “magical realism.” Even that doesn’t perfectly describe it, though. The best description I’ve found is the one my friend Nathan wrote in his blog, which is that it’s a “modern-day fairytale.” For more information into the background of Clannad and what Clannad is (and for some good reviews and reflections on it), I’d encourage you to check out Nathan’s blog at

Now, a little about the blog. As I said, my friend Nathan inspired me to make this blog, but I’m not trying to copy off of him. Instead, we’re trying to coordinate. My blog will be based on describing different characters and themes and how they relate to Clannad as an integral whole. His blog explores the series by going through the episodes in order. Anyhow, because I view the show as a whole, my posts will be describing these themes and characters as they relate to the entire show, both the first season (Clannad) and the second season (Clannad: After Story). Seeing as this is the case, I warn you now: this blog will be full of spoilers. If you have not seen all of Clannad, finish it (both seasons!) before reading this blog. I will make no attempts to hide spoilers; this is a blog for those who have completed the show.

And a little about me (because knowing the background and views of a reviewer/reflector should impact how you evaluate his work). I am a strong Roman Catholic, and my philosophical views are linked to Roman Catholicism. This means I may, in my blog, relate Clannad to Christianity, because I definitely see some connections. I am also an idealist and a hopeless romantic. I am a somewhat introverted geek and am quickly becoming a fan of anime and all things Japanese. I can also possibly be a bit verbose in my writing, so forgive me in advance. And I believe all that sums up my views and myself pretty well.

Now the introductory stuff is over, so let’s start with the first reflection:

Family (Part 1) and the Structure of Clannad

I’ll start with a simple thesis statement for this section: Clannad is all about family. After all, the word “clannad” is an Irish word meaning “clan” or “family.”

I think the structure of Clannad is a strong proof to back up my statement. I find the structure fascinating. When viewers watch Clannad, some might view the smaller arcs, such as Fuko’s and Kotomi’s, as tangential to the main plot and, to a point, as “filler.” While they might not be mainly focused on the main plot (which I would hold to be the relationship of Tomoya and Nagisa), they are crucial to the main theme.

I hold that the structure of Clannad is similar to the structure of Air, another visual-novel-turned-anime by Key, and this structure is as follows: there is a main plot always moving forward, albeit sometimes slowly, and sometimes in the background of the current events. Though there are large parts of the show solely focused on this main plot, there are also many smaller story arcs involving characters connected to the main characters. Sometimes the events of these story arcs move the main plot forward slightly, and sometimes they may seem to not affect the plot at all. But these story arcs are always related to the main theme, and they help develop it and flesh it out.

That description may have been as clear as mud, so I’ll explain it better via example. As I’ve stated previously, and as should be obvious to anyone who watches Clannad, the show’s main theme is family. The title, the plot, and the first season ending theme (“Dango Daikazoku” = “The Big Dango Family”) all showcase it readily. Now let me explain how the structure illustrates the theme of family.

Obviously, the main plot is the relationship between Tomoya and Nagisa, which eventually leads to them forming a family, with their child Ushio (remember, I don’t apologize for spoilers). Even after the death of Nagisa, their family is the key plot, because it is a trip with Ushio (through the influence of Akio and Sanae, Nagisa’s parents, and Tomoya’s own long-lost grandmother) that knocks Tomoya out of his depression. The creation of this family and what happens to them (especially the astounding ending) is without a doubt the main plot of the series. The smaller stories do not always contribute to this main plot (although they often do), but they contribute to the theme of family and how crucial it is. Here’s a run-down of the minor plots and their connections to family:

Fuko: her plot is about obtaining happiness for her sister (a family member)

Kotomi: her plot is about dealing with the trauma of the loss of her parents (family members)

Kyou: her plot is about trying to hook up Tomoya with her sister, Ryou (a family member)

Tomoyo: her plot is about struggling to save the cherry trees because of her emotional connection of them with her brother (a family member)

Sunohara: his plot is about becoming a good big brother to his little sister, Mei (a family member)

Yukine: her plot is about keeping alive the legacy of her brother (a family member)

Misae: her plot is about the relationship with her former love and current cat (a family member in a way)

Yoshino: his plot is about his relationship with his wife, Kouko (a family member)

Do you see the trend now? And that’s not counting Nagisa’s conflict about her near-death experience as a child due to her parents, Tomoya’s rough relationship with his alcoholic father, Naoyuki (which is later explained by his long-lost grandmother, Shino), the relationship between Tomoya and his daughter, Ushio, and the process of grieving for Nagisa’s death gone through by Akio, Sanae, Tomoya, and Ushio. Plus there’s the girl and robot in the invisible world and the ending, which will take at least an entire post on its own to explain (though it will probably take more).

I hope I’ve convinced you now that the structure of Clannad is focused dually on the furthering of the main plot (Nagisa and Tomoya’s relationship/family) and the development of the main theme (the importance of family).

That’s my first reflection. I’m sure later on I’ll wax eloquently some more about the theme of family, but I hope this is a good introduction. From here on out, I will first explore the minor characters (everyone except Tomoya, Nagisa, and Ushio) in preparation for Nathan’s post on the ending of Clannad. Once that is complete, I will explore the major characters and then truly delve into the themes. So, I encourage you to leave comments and suggestions, and I once again encourage you to check out my friend Nathan’s Clannad blog at Thank you for reading. God bless, and peace.

P.S. I've decided to join Nathan in the quest to review and reflect on Clannad. I'll be posting posts from my blog クラナドの大家族(The Big Family of Clannad) on here from now on, at least as long as our subject matter matches. I hope you enjoy my new contributions!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I'm Miserable, and Wanna Be Happy (Part Two)

So I said I'd only do one post a week, but after looking at the former post I thought something was lacking, and realized that it was a bit of my own story. So much of my own thoughts about Clannad are about the impact on my own life that I can't help but write about it.

I really have trouble with the standard anime format, which takes four episodes to set up any show effectively. In my humble American opinion I think a show should be set up in one episode. Anymore than that and you drag it out. While I realize that, as an American, I have a shorter than average attention span, I do think it's just good policy. People shouldn't have to wait to find out if the show's worth watching, they should know pretty quickly. A lot of anime I've watched does turn out to be worth it later, but there's still the hurdle of the first four episodes.

Clannad isn't like the others. It grabbed me in one. It told me in one episode that there was another world, that it had some form of impact on the world of Tomoya, and that the whole thing would revolve around Tomoya and Nagisa, while still introducing quite a few of the main and supporting characters. While Clannad does follow the four episode formula, it's first episode is able to stand on it's own merit, something that I find isn't the case with most anime. What am I talking about? I'll post a few examples, and may God help me.

Kanon/Air: SLOW. SLOW. SLOW. Part of it is that the main characters just aren't that interesting in comparison to Tomoya (or Ed from FMA), and that definitely doesn't help. It takes a good four episodes for any semblance of plot at all to start forming, and even then it's not necessarily very exciting (Kanon, I haven't seen enough of Air to comment further)

FMA Brotherhood: I know I'll draw ire for saying it, but I hated the first four episodes of FMA Brotherhood. HATED. It was a sped up version of the first show that somehow managed to spit on all the memories I'd had. The Nina arc was especially bad, and I almost got up and left from the sheer inane quality of that episode. How are we supposed to care if this girl dies if we don't get the connection first? Yes, her father's still an evil man but the impact is lessened by the lack of exposure. Does that sound a little extreme? Probably. But that was my reaction to the dribble that is the first four episodes of FMA Brotherhood. (Now before anyone gets defensive, I love FMA Brotherhood, and it really is superior in practically every way to the original. I just don't like the first four episodes, that's all.)

Those are two examples I can think of off the top of my head that make me wanna rage, but I can probably think of more. My point is that any good piece of literature or visual medium should grab you from the first instant you see it. Clannad did that for me, even if that was only because I needed to hear someone say "Go find new memories". For me that was enough of a reason to watch the rest of the show, if only because I'd seen that someone knew what was going on. They knew about how much the past could hurt, and they wanted to go forward anyway. I wanted to see if Tomoya could back up his command "Go make new memories", if only so I could laugh at him in case he failed. I'm happy to say he didn't, otherwise I wouldn't love this show as much as I do now.

Now I'm not gonna say that I had it worse than anyone (I definitely didn't), but it was still pretty rough after the break up with this girl (we'll call her Jamie) that I was referring to. I had sunk a lot of personal time, stress, money, and tears into a really horrible relationship, and had fooled myself into thinking it was going somewhere. Imagine my surprise when I found it wasn't. I was confused, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, because so much of it had been spent in the service of  Jamie. I'd thought that that was all there was to life, and so when the relationship ended it felt like life had ended. I wondered why I was alive.

Yes, that's called pathetic. Moving along.

The opening three minutes of the anime turned that attitude on its head, and showed me what I really was. Selfish, delusional, and in desperate need of a good time or three. But I needed more, I needed to see it work. Clannad moved on to prove that to me, as I'll show in the following weeks.

Does that make me biased? Oh yeah, definitely. But that may not be a bad thing. My bias just might show a different side of what this (and any anime) is capable of. And that can't be a bad thing. Because no matter how nutty I am it'll show you a different side, and you just might walk away knowing a different thing or two.

And isn't that the point?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I'm Miserable, I Wanna Be Happy! (1st Theatre Arc)

This....(you're supposed to click on it!) the Second Most Important Part of Clannad! 
Real subtle, I know, but I figured I'd say it now. This section decides everything. Everything. Think I'm kidding? You just wait, you lucky reader, you!

The anime opens with a subdued blue hue, putting us into Tomoya's mood and world. Blue is a passive color, indicating that Tomoya has done nothing to change the way things are, and up until this point I don't know if he ever wanted them to change. Tomoya just lives his life passively, waiting for things to happen to him, but nothing will. Until Tomoya asks. He specifically asks for life to get better in this opening, and so God works with Tomoya's desire. How?


Tomoya feels Nagisa's fear. He's just as much at the bottom of the hill as Nagisa is, because he's afraid too. This the first impression of these two that we get, of their fears. But within Tomoya and Nagisa is the courage to break the past and live. But Tomoya actually knows what to do, he just doesn't think about it until he meets Nagisa. Hearing her declaration of love for a place that he wants to love is enough for Tomoya to reach out, and provide the answer that both he and Nagisa were so desperately looking for. I thought for a long time that it was Nagisa who saved Tomoya, but I'll have to admit that I was wrong. It was Tomoya who saved himself, he just needed Nagisa to know that he wanted to.

These opening episodes work off of this premise and show further that Nagisa and Tomoya are really the two closest characters in the whole show. They want to be unequivocally happy, a quality that goes beyond words and beyond all other similarities. As I watched this show the first time I always asked "Why not Kyou? Why not Tomoyo?" Those two have much more surface things in common with Tomoya, and they seem to get along better with him. But their primary interest isn't in being happy no matter what the cost. Tomoya and Nagisa are the only two who actually want happiness for themselves, first, and that's what makes the difference. Don't get me wrong, Tomoya and Nagisa are not being selfish, a point that's made later on in the anime (and that I'll cover soon enough). They're actually being incredibly selfless by focusing on their own happiness. Their focus starts to be fixed with the arrival of Ibuki Fuko, who will be the focus of next week's review. Tune in next time!

A thanks to the Clannad Fan Page (found here), who provided the video clip that I used. Props to Taylor for his commitment!

Friday, June 18, 2010

An Introduction to Clannad, Me, and Key

Clannad is the third anime based off of a visual novel from the company Key. It's also the best thing since sliced bread, hell, it tops sliced bread. 
What might a visual novel be? A visual novel is the video game equivalent of a choose-your-own-adventure novel. Players read the text and make choices based upon the options given them by the game. Clannad had a total of 13 endings, with one true ending. While I haven't played the visual novel I've heard that it's an amazing experience, filled to the brim with beautiful stories that make you laugh and cry. There's even some guys who walk away from the game feeling more mature, something that I would have trouble believing if not for the impact that Clannad's had on my life.

About Me
This is the part of the post where I start talking about myself. Not just because I'm arrogant but because I really do think it's important that you guys know a bit about me so that way you can know what to expect of me in these reviews. I'm in my early 20's, am a guy, and am Eastern Catholic. For those of you who don't know what that is click here! I do this, again, because I feel the more transparency in worldview the better. I'm going to review from my gut, and I won't weed out my thoughts on how Christianity and this anime work together and compliment each other nicely, because that's why I find this anime so good. Clannad really is the most Christian thing I've ever seen, and I'm out to prove it. There, you got my mission statement in the second paragraph, how's that for convoluted writing?

I first saw Clannad in my sophomore year of college. I'd just had a really bad break up with a girlfriend, and so one of my friends (we'll call him Marty for now), took me in and started showing me the most positive anime he could find. I'd only seen one anime before (Fullmetal Alchemist), and was more than willing to find out if FMA was a fluke or a sign of Japan's quality. Marty showed me Eureka 7, which I gobbled up in about a week! Hungry for more, I asked what we were gonna watch next. 

What Marty showed me was Clannad. Boy, if there were things that I needed to (and still need to) hear, Clannad shouted them all. At the top of its lungs. With a megaphone. I watched the first half of Clannad, enjoying the incredible character interactions and poignant moments, and cruised right into Afterstory. That's when things got weird. This show stopped being as fun and happy as it had been before, and began a more serious twist on the things that had been set up in the first half. Before I knew, I needed a tissue, and then another, and then another. And then I started throwing things (but that's for later).  What I'm trying to say is that Clannad changed my life, it was a tool that God used to keep me afloat, and I couldn't ask for a better floater.

An Intro to Key
A brief history on Key is also necessary to set up the stage of Clannad. Key is a gaming company famous for its modern day fairytale visual novels. Their preceding visual novels, each with an anime adaptation, are Air and Kanon. Many of the themes from these anime are transferred to Clannad, especially those of dreams and alternate lives and worlds. While I'm not going to get into a full-on review of Air and Kanon here, I will say that Kanon is a good anime in its own right, and that if I could get past the first four episodes of Air I might find it worthwhile. Seriously, that show takes so long to get started.... but I digress. Again.

At first glance Clannad is just like its predecessors. It's a modern day harem fairytale about a young man finding his family. There's all sorts of weird things going on with ghosts, reincarnated animals, and alternate lives. And of course, there's the girls. Those wildly unique, hilarious, and tragic women of the main character's life. All three animes' action center around the guy's interaction with the girls. Some of the characters are so over the  top that I wonder if Key doesn't have a dart board with traits. The writers are then required to blind fold themselves and throw at the dart board. Bonus points are awarded for hitting other writers, particularly the guys who made up the Fox girl arc in Kanon!

Fortunately that's where the similarities ends. First, Clannad is an all-ages visual novel, with no hentai (pornographic) content. Both Air and Kanon have hentai content, so there's two versions of each visual novel, with their respective anime being all-ages. Clannad is the only Key visual novel that was all-ages from the start, much to the chagrin of their earlier fans. Seriously, though, how can the addition of scenes that we'd never see in real life help a slice of life piece anyway? The last time I checked it wasn't customary to set up video cameras in the rooms of people having healthy relationships. Unless of course my friends (married or not) who joke about sex all the time are prudes.  Didn't think so. Perverts. 

I'll give my quick and (hopefully not so dirty) impressions of Clannad, which'll have to keep you until next week. Oh wait, did I mention this is a weekly thing, because I have a life? Yeah, I think I just did. 

Clannad is NOT Just Slice of Life
This is something that trips up people who see Clannad. They get so drawn in my by the slice of life elements that they forget that it's a modern-day fairytale. And I mean fairytale in our modern sense of the word, where everything ends well. Yes, I just spoiled that part for anyone who hasn't seen the show, it's a happy ending!

You Must See Both Clannad and Clannad:Afterstory
While I normally call both shows Clannad what I really mean is the compilation of two "different" shows (Clannad and Clannad: Afterstory). While they have different names it's really Season 1 and Season 2 of the same show, it's just that the arc that's explored in Season 2 was called Afterstory in the visual novel. While it shouldn't be much of a no-brainer that you have to watch this show from beginning to end, I say this because....

Clannad is All About The End
Kinda weird, ain't it? That you have to keep in mind that this show is all about the end? Well, it is. Everything about this show is to convince you that the ending can and will happen. 

"But that's it for this week?" Yeah, that's it for this week. I encourage you to check out the link that I put into this article, and, well, review ME, the reviewer. It'll work out in the long run, and you'll be glad that I took the time to do this little post before all the craziness starts.

Until next week!