For my 12th and final post in my “12 moments in anime 2009” series I’m choosing Clannad’s (both seasons) triumph of storytelling. Much of the following text has been excerpted from my loved filled reviews of both series, so I you like what I have to say go back and read my old reviews.
“Tell Them Stories”
I have chosen to title this article/post “Tell Them Stories“, using a quote from Philip Pullman’s book The Amber Spyglass, the third book from the His Dark Materials book series. It comes at a point in the book where Mary Malone (one of the main characters) needs to impart important knowledge on to the adolescents, Will and Lyra. Mary needs to impart this knowledge upon Will and Lyra to facilitate an important awakening within them. Mary struggles with how to do this, does she preach to them like a Sunday school teacher, or does try to teach them like a public school teacher? No, while walking around, Mary sees uncountable ghosts exiting the land of the dead and they implore her to “Tell Them Stories, Tell Them True Stories“. Upon hearing this, her course of action is set, she’ll use what humankind has used for most of it’s short history to impart shared cultural values, “Storytelling”.
Since the beginning of human history, from our earliest days when we were gathered around a fire inside a cave, we told stories, and the record of those stories were recorded for future generations on the charcoal drawings still found on the walls of those caves. The tradition of storytelling has always been used throughout human history to pass down shared cultural values, ask us important moral questions, teach and enlighten us, make us laugh or make us cry, strengthen us or occasionally frighten us, entertain us or sometimes bore us, but most importantly, storytelling bonds us together in shared emotions and experiences.
I think that the following discussion of storytelling by Philip Pullman has it exactly right, I only wished I was brilliant enough to pen these words.
“The sharing of stories takes time, but it is worth the wait, worth the meandering, worth the stuttering and stumbling and the struggle to find the right words. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but once upon a time lasts forever.”
Many of the greatest tales or stories begin with “once upon a time”, or ”a long ago”, or “once there was”, or “mukashi mukashi”, but no matter how they begin they take us on a journey to another place and time where we can lose ourselves, if only for a moment, in the trials and tribulations of the characters. We laugh, we cry, we feel exaltation as we follow the characters down their long paths, and in the end, maybe we learn something about ourselves along the way.
To me Clannd’s story began with the simple question of ”do you like this school?” and we follow Nagisa’s and Tomoya’s journey as they begin their long climb up the hill to school and to an adult life until they reach “the place where wishes come true”. Since I’ve always considered Clannad a fairytale it’s fitting the the story wraps up with Tomoya telling his daughter a story under a shade tree, once upon a time. The tale of Clannad is a tale of human magic where acts of kindness, mercy, and love have redemptive and transformative powers. But, to me, Clannad’s greatest gift has been the emotional escapism almost every episode provided me, I laughed, I cryed, I felt the sadness and pain as Tomoya and Nagisa walked their long hard path to the future, and felt utterly contented when “they lived happily ever after”.
Below are a few portions of some of my previous reviews written about certain aspects of Clannad such as, storytelling and human magic, the power of love and kindness, and emotional escapism.
From my review of Clannad episode 1 (storytelling and human magic).
Now to the storytelling aspects of Clannad, Key’s greatest asset has always been it’s ability to weave together a great plot that knows how to pull at the viewer’s heartstrings, and I feel that Clannad is going down the right path. Like past Key projects Clannad deals with the impressions of how time should flow, and how it must flow forward. In AIR and Kanon time does not flow properly, the characters are suffocated and stifled by the past, caught and held in a limbo like muted world until they are able to deal with the past and move forward. In the anime Voices of a distant Star, and The Promised Place of our Earlier Days the main characters are haunted by the desire to recapture the feelings and the motivations of youth, reaching back for what is past and can never really be recaptured. The Key stories are about wanting to move forward and living life like it should be lived, we must grow, progress, mature, love, and change (hopefully for the better).
I also like how Key includes elements of dreams and magic in to their stories, most of the time it’s small magic, not magic on the grand scale of shows like Scrapped Princess and so forth. Key’s magic is small scale but powerful, a human magic brought forth by human actions and acts of kindness, compassion, friendship, caring and love.
From my review of Clannad episode 10 (emotional escapism).
The world of Clannad is the perfect male fantasy world, a world where all the girls are cute with almost all of these girls being kind and gentle, a world where even the most hard edged and gruff girls really harbor a heart of gold. This is a world where all the sweetest and cutest girls don’t have boyfriends and are just waiting for a normal guy to come along and touch their souls, this is emotional escapism at the purest level, a world where gentle and lonely souls flutter around each other like moths around a flame until they finally meet creating the perfect emotional connection. Clannad is also a world where even a girl laying in a coma longings for connection, human contact, and love is so great it can cross the boundaries of human consciousness to touch the lives of others. This is emotional escapism of the highest level, and I’m buying into it.
From my review of Clannad episode 14 (the power of love and friendship).
In the Clannad universe, love, compassion and friendship are the greatest powers in the world, these powers can transcend the boundaries of space, time, and reality to effect all those coming in contact with it. Also in this world the power of love also increases with each person it touches, as it touches one person it gathers strength and intensity before moving on to touch the next person. But one thing I’ve always liked about the other Key titles including this series is that they always stress that’s it’s always better to move on, to move forward, to move towards the future, staying in the past leads to stagnation and nothingness.
From my review of episode 21 (A child’s understanding and adult decisions)
Nagisa is a pure girl, trusting, caring, and loving, she has shown many times in the series that she places more value in the happiness of others than in herself, but Nagisa has also shown that in some respects that she can be a little slow in some aspects, so when she read her parents’ diaries she only really picked up on the parts that confirmed her darkest fears, that her parents had to give up their dreams because of her, she chose to ignore parts where her mother wrote that she would have never traded these times with her child for anything. In this respect Nagisa shows that she still has a child’s understanding of the situation, and this is made worse by her parents evasiveness.
In a great deal of anime one of the most popular reoccurring themes in their plots are the famous “go for your dreams or bust plot line”, I find a lot of these stories to be very exciting and uplifting because it brings back memories of youth, when all things were possible, I could be President, a rock star, a billionaire, the sky was the limit, but there comes a point where a child’s dreams and a child’s understanding of life collides with adult decisions. Nagisa’s parents made an adult decision after they nearly lost their daughter over a lapse in judgement brought on by a selfish moment, after the near loss of their daughter they decided to place her care above their personal wishes and goals, they reached a point in their lives when they realized where their greater responsibility lay, their daughter.
Nagisa still being a child thinks that it was a either or choice, her parents dreams or caring for her, she feels that they chose her over their personal happiness and that they might/probably are unhappy now. What Nagisa doesn’t realize, and it was her parents responsibility to teach her, is that a decision like this is a false choice it’s not a zero sum game. They made an adult choice and failed to properly communicate their feelings about this to their daughter, her father could have told her something like, I love you more than anything in this world and I wouldn’t trade this life I have now for all the money or fame in the world. They should have/could have told her that as adults we have sometimes acquire greater responsibilities than following a dream, and one of those responsibilities is caring for the most important thing in our lives, our children. And as Nagisa’s father has probably realized, and the Rolling Stones put voice to in their song “You Can’t always Get What You Want“
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime, yeah,
You just might find you get what you need
Neither Nagisa’s father or mother seems to be unhappy with their current lives, while she might not be a teacher, and he might no longer be an actor, they both have a loving spouse and a loving daughter, after all sometimes the dreams of youth give way to the satisfaction of a fulfilled adult life.
From my review of Clannad ~After Story~ episode 21 (the helplessness of a mortal man and tomoya’s moment of magical thinking)
For me what really stood out about this episode was Tomoya’s strength of character. After receiving the “fatal” news about Ushio’s illness Tomoya showed only one moment of weakness, and Akio quickly set him straight. A man has to be strong until the very end for the ones they love, and a man has to protect the ones they love to the best of their abilities.
Any father would give anything, even their own life to protect their loved ones, but Tomoya faced the worse possible situation. Tomoya faced a enemy he had no chance of defeating, if you saw a car getting ready to run over your child you could push her put of the way sacrificing yourself, or you can step in front of a bullet for your child, but Tomoya’s enemy was far worse. Call it a curse, call it fate, or call it destiny, but in the end, it was a no win situation.
I feel that Tomoya quickly realized that Ushio was going to die, and if he tried to fight, it would be like he was battling God. So, Tomoya decided to submit to fate and wrap Ushio in the a protective layer of love and kindness. While Tomoya’s heart was being ripped out his chest he only showed Ushio a gentle smile and a calming voice. In the end, Tomoya was able to grant one of Ushio’s wishes, he gave her the trip with daddy that she wanted, and he did the best that a mortal man could do. Well done Tomoya, I’m sure Nagisa and Akio would be proud.
But there’s a limit to how much suffering and pain any one person can take before it overwhelms them, and with Ushio’s death I think Tomoya’s reached his limit. At the end of the episode Tomoya again asks himself if it would have been better if he and Nagisa had never met? Tomoya slipped into what I call “magical thinking”, this best described in Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” (great book, if your haven’t read it, do so). In the book, the author experiences such overwhelming grief and loss over the death of her husband that she begins to obsess about if I did this, or if I did that, could I have changed to outcome? The question that Tomoya has answer for himself is did his love for Nagisa and Ushio mean more to him than their loss? If he’s chooses the path of stagnation will that bring him anymore joy in the long run? If Tomoya chooses the path of love and loss will there any salvation or mercy for him and his family? I don’t know, but I feel that the old saying ”it’s better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all” will hold true, or I pray it will.
From my review of Clannad ~After Story~ episode 22 (the place where wishes come true)
The moment of possibilities, and the place where dreams come true.
It seems that after Ushio’s death, the world held it’s breath, and Tomoya temporarily existed in both the real and the dream world, he had sort of reached his Omega point. We discover that the girl from the dream world is his daughter Ushio, and she probably came into existence the moment Tomoya and Nagisa first spoke. When Ushio admits that she’s also a orb of light (an expression of happiness) it all fell into place for me, Ushio was Nagisa’s orb of light, her happiness, her expression of life, and her fondest desire.
When Tomoya first met Nagisa she stood rooted at the bottom of the school hill, she loved the town and school but she wished for change, she wanted to move forward, make friends, progress, but she was filled with the fear that nothing would change. So, when Tomoya spoke to her it was her fondest desire, time began to flow, nothing can stay the same forever, Nagisa began her path to happiness creating the dream of Ushio in the process.
I feel that Nagisa’s and Ushio’s relationship with the city was very different from Tomoya’s and the other city dwellers, when Akio begged for Nagisa’s salvation the land and the city granted his wish, but at a great price. Nagisa, and her daughter were linked to the rhythms and emotions of the city, while this might not seem like a big deal, it was, Nagisa and Ushio are after all only made of mortal flesh. Everything requires balance, when Nagisa was saved without Akio using a orb of light, something had to be payed back in order to balance the equation, did Nagisa and Tomoya create enough happiness (orbs of lights) to pay the city back, or as the Beatles put it, “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make”
When Tomoya shouted that he didn’t want this to happened, and for Nagisa to save Ushio, he actually held an orb of light in his arms (a dying orb) and Ushio reacted to Tomoya’s cry. When Tomoya fully enters the dream world he reached the point where all things are possible (the Omega Point) with the right choices. Because Ushio died in the real world and Tomoya is thinking about not speaking to Nagisa at the bottom of the hill Ushio’s ability to maintain her existence and the existence of the dream world was fading, and the only thing she could do to help Tomoya was to confirm that his and Nagisa’s love did mean something and was worth cherishing.
So, if Tomoya chooses to let Nagisa walk back home alone there would have been no Ushio, no dream world, no multiple orbs of light, Nagisa would have still died in the future, and Tomoya would have continued to live in his mono-colored world of misery. But, because Tomoya confirms his unconditional for Nagisa and finally throws away his doubts, the world let out it’s breath. In Omega Point theory the universe is considered to be a computer and all it’s living creatures are information inside the system, and when you reach the maximum informational and computational capacity, all things are possible, life and death, reality and fantasy become meaningless. So, once Tomoya reaffirmed his love for Nagisa he ensured the creation of Nagisa’s orb (Ushio) and all the other orbs and he was able to hit the cosmic reset button, Nagisa lives and she and Ushio’s illness are wiped out.
If you think that this is too far fetched, just consider the possibility that all of Tomoya’s pain and suffering from the moment of Nagisa’s death only occurred in his mind, in a dream, he just lived through all that possible pain in an instant. His wish might have been granted the very instant when he held Nagisa hand and thought she was dead, Nagisa lives and Tomoya’s vision of a horrible future fades like when you awaken from a terrible nightmare to find yourself safe under your covers.
In the end, I feel those who judge Clannad harshly because of its ending are looking at the series with the wrong set of eyes. We have two ways at looking at things, the first way to view something is through the eyes of logic and science, and the second way of looking at something is to look at it through the eyes of our hearts. Clannad is a show that must be viewed through the lens of our hearts, after all, is it anymore illogical to have Clannad end the way it did than it is to accept that you can find a giant robot buried in the ground, or that people can possess other strange powers?