Sunday, July 18, 2010

Kotomi: Atonement and Divine Mercy

“Those who seek out truth must not be arrogant. You must not laugh at miracles, just because they cannot be explained scientifically. You must not turn away from the beauty of this world.”
-Kotomi’s Father (Episode 13: A Garden of Memories)

Kotomi’s arc contains some of the rare instances where God and miracles are explicitly mentioned in Clannad. While their use may seem minor or unimportant, these instances actually serve as red flags for deeper meaning in our excavation of the series for an understanding of God. Digging a little bit deeper, we can see a struggle to find the goodness of God. We can find a story of failure, atonement, and mercy.

A Beautiful World

Kotomi’s parents were scientists famous for the beautiful way they were able to explain the world. Her father gives an elegant explanation of the universe as an orchestra of harps, while her mother insists on the beauty of simplicity in the universe. They seemed to find a beauty and an order at the very root of existence.

In Metaphysics, one way of understanding God is as being in the most proper sense. That is, what is the greatest form of being imaginable. Whatever that being would be, we call God. Kotomi’s parents’ view of the universe as beautiful and ordered could represent a view of God that is beautiful. However, as Kotomi states in the show, she was never able to express things as beautifully as her parents did, and, likewise, her view of God is not as pristine either.

A Scary Place

While Kotomi’s parents see the universe as beautiful, Kotomi herself is quite afraid of the outside world. As a child, she mostly kept to herself, never leaving her yard, and only managed to make one friend. Instead of exploring the world, she kept to herself and to her books. The outside world was something other, something different, something to which she could learn about, but not relate.

And then there was Tomoya. Tomoya was different, she said. He came into her world from the outside, and brought joy. He showed her, inadvertently, that the outside world was not all bad, scary, and unreachable. However, when tragedy struck, when Kotomi needed him most, Tomoya was absent. Could the outside world really be trusted, be understood, be loved?

Fall From Grace

One event that probably keeps Kotomi from seeing God’s goodness is the death of her parents. Her parents died suddenly in a plane crash, their important thesis was lost, and Kotomi was left utterly alone on her birthday. When her parents left for their business trip and missed her birthday, Kotomi felt abandoned by her father and her mother. She became upset, even telling them that she hated them before they left. When her parents died, Kotomi felt utterly abandoned, by her Father, by her Mother, by God.

As Kotomi parents’ life work dealt with the beauty of the universe, the loss of that thesis could represent in a sense a loss of the vision of God’s goodness. Even when she is told that a copy of that thesis may exist, she burns what she believes to be that thesis. She is not ready to except the goodness and beauty of God and the world, not when she has just been so horribly hurt, so utterly abandoned, and left so desperately alone.

During this crucial moment in Kotomi’s life, her one friend, Tomoya, is, at least for her, inexplicably absent. Tomoya told Kotomi that he would come to her birthday party, and would bring his friends to the party as well. Unfortunately, none of Tomoya’s friends want to go to a girl’s birthday party, so, ashamed of his failure, Tomoya does not come. However, Tomoya does not abandon her entirely, and, coming to visit her late at night, saves her from a fire she created in her distress. Sadly though, the damage of the event is done, and afterwards Kotomi withdraws to herself, fading even from Tomoya’s memory.


“From now on, I’ll be a really good girl. I’ll never say anything selfish. I’ll study hard. I’ll read a lot of books too, and become a worthy person. So please, God. Please bring Mother and Father back to me. Please bring them back to me.”

God is mentioned for the first time in the anime in Kotomi’s desperate prayer following her parents’ death. She somehow blames herself for the death of her parents, almost viewing the tragedy as a punishment for her selfishness. She sees God, not as good and beautiful as her parents saw Him, but as vengeful and terrible.

Sorrowful for having destroyed in a fit of rage what she thought to be her parent’s thesis, the culmination of their lives’ work, Kotomi tries to make amends. She begins collecting scraps of newspapers discussing her parents’ death. However, she feels like this is not enough, so she moves on to cutting out anything in any book that refers to her parents and collecting these scraps as well.

However, Kotomi is human, and all of her feeble attempts to make things right are not enough. They cannot bring back her parents or their thesis. The world remains a scary place. She sees others as bullies and bad people instead of as friends. She remains alone, unable to heal her self, unable to atone for her sins.

Divine Mercy

However, just like the Fuko arc, Kotomi's story does not end in despair, but hope. Tomoya, years later, finds Kotomi again. Kotomi is a little more open to Tomoya than to the rest of the world, because he was her one friend. Though he has forgotten her, Tomoya amazes Kotomi by befriending her anew. He tries to introduce her once again to the goodness of people, to the goodness of the world, by helping her make friends and showing her that not everyone is a bully.

Though Tomoya failed to support Kotomi years before, he is almost miraculously given the opportunity to make it up to her, by helping her sort through her troubled past and by helping throw her a birthday party with all of his friends, just as he promised long ago.

Kotomi, too, is given the forgiveness and love she needs when Tomoya helps her face a “bad man” who holds the truth of her past. Kotomi did not burn her parents thesis after all. What she had burned was a catalogue of stuffed bears that her parents were using to pick out the perfect birthday present for her. And when her parents briefcase was miraculously retrieved from the plane wreck, the case contained not the sought-after thesis, but rather a large stuffed bear and a letter to Kotomi from her parents written right before they died. By preserving the bear and the letter, rather than their research thesis, Kotomi’s parents revealed that their life’s work was not a matter of science, but rather Kotomi herself. Their daughter was to be their legacy, the greatest work of their life.

This miraculous revelation undid the spiritual harm of that tragic event. While her parents remained dead, Kotomi no longer felt abandoned by them. Their dying act was to show her their love and to work to give her hope. Kotomi was also relieved of the guilt of having destroyed the thesis. Ominously, she almost did destroy their true thesis, though, had she died in the fire. However, due to Tomoya’s miraculous timing, she was spared.

The miraculous suitcase was passed from person to person over the years, traveling the world until it finally reached Kotomi. Kotomi needed this to happen to show her that human beings, that the outside world, is not evil and frightful but good and beautiful. Human beings are no longer bad men and bullies to Kotomi, but have proven themselves to be inherently good.

Finally, her parents’ letter gives Kotomi encouragement to live her life. “Do what you want to do. Be who you want to be.” No longer is Kotomi chained to the “sins” and the memories of the past, but she is set free to live her life, to enjoy the present and dream of the future.

These healing came about, not through the works of those injured, but rather, through miraculous happenings, achieved through the goodness and good will of others. And, in these miracles, we can see the hand of God. Not the vengeful and terrible God seen earlier by Kotomi, but rather a loving and merciful God, who teaches us through our struggles, who shows us that the world is indeed a beautiful place, and that we are not alone.

Special thanks to Clannad Central for the pictures and videos.


  1. This is an awesome review. I loved this episode.

  2. Pretty cool. I like that summary and outlook of Kotomi's arc. Particularly the idea that she was closed, on the verge of breaking out into the world, and then thrust back into her inner sanctum. People can be like that. The outer world is scary, and it takes a certain courage to see it as beautiful.