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!

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