Anime Reviews: Clannad ~After Story~
Though bogged down early on by leftover character arcs, the main ~After Story~ material remains some of the most powerful drama in the entire anime medium.
Title: Clannad ~After Story~
Production: Kyoto Animation
Series Length: 25 episodes
Air Dates: 10/3/2008 to 3/12/2009
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: The culture festival has ended, the Theater Club's play was a huge success, and love is in the air. Now that Tomoya and Nagisa are officially a couple, they now have their entire lives ahead of them. That is, once they've finished their last few months of high school and enter into adulthood. However, some unfinished business remains between Tomoya and his father, who have yet to reconcile ever since 'that day', and he must also face his greatest challenge yet: getting Nagisa's father, Akio, to see him as a man worthy of his daughter. Elsewhere, in the mysterious Illusory World, the young girl and the junk doll prepare to embark on a journey to find the ends of the world they inhabit--to see if they truly are the only ones left. Both stories intertwine and both worlds intersect when the truth of the town of Hikarizaka, and the worlds themselves, are brought to light.
The Good: Kyoto Animation provides the same high quality in all technical aspects; increased focus on main couple; later episodes guarantee twin-waterfall tears
The Bad: First few episodes are mediocre; the ending is fairly confusing
The Ugly: There are not enough tissues to keep your eyes dry
I used to think I was a tough guy. I used to think nothing short of hideous physical injury could make me weep openly and shamelessly. Except for Old Yeller, but that's a given. And then, on that fateful day in August of 2011, I and many others were told that there was an anime that would make us cry. We were told this in a grave tone with a perfectly straight face.
The location? The "Best Anime Ever" panel at GenCon in Indianapolis, Indiana, where 4 panelists discussed roughly 30 of the best anime they had seen. The anime? Clannad, they said. My reaction? "Is that so, panel dudes? Let's put this to the test when I get home, shall we?" And so, I made it through Clannad with nary a tear shed, though some mistiness occurred during its more dramatic moments. "Is that all you got?" I asked, but then I realized I was only halfway done:
Clannad ~After Story~ still remained.
"I made it through 22 episodes without crying," I thought to myself, "so what's 22 more?" Oh, I soon learned what 22 more would be. I learned all too well what the series was hiding from me. And from that day forward, I would never shed a tear for anything (entertainment-wise) ever again, because ~After Story~ had bled me dry. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, for your educational and cathartic enjoyment, the most effective tearjerker anime ever made.
So without further ado, let's talk about what makes this series work. Firstly, and unsurprisingly, ~After Story~ looks fantastic. It's KyoAni, guys, it's gonna look fantastic. Everything from my Clannad review regarding KyoAni still holds true: bright and colorful art, fluid animation, great use of the visual novel's soundtrack (particularly during later scenes), and great voice acting in the Japanese version (once again, the English dub sadly failed to impress). But this is all to be expected, considering it's the same exact crew with the same exact voice actors. If you liked the visuals and audio from the first season, you'll like it here! If you didn't, well, sorry!
Another great thing about this season is the increased focus on Tomoya and Nagisa in their relationship. With that central concept, the story is free to go places that most high school romance anime are too afraid to go: What happens after high school? Will they go to college, or go straight to work? Will they pursue a career? Will they inherit the bakery? What about marriage? Or kids? Will they leave the city? Most romance anime agonize forever about whether the couple will get together, and that's supposed to tide us over; not here! We know right from the beginning that they'll stay together, the drama comes from what they'll decide to do with their futures. And you know what? It's about damn time, Japan! The central romance between Tomoya and Nagisa serves as our human connection to everything else, and that includes the series' darker moments.
Oh yes, bad things do happen. ~After Story~ doesn't pull its punches with them, either. I would be more specific about the tearjerker aspect of the series, but that's spoileriffic territory, but I will say that the issues brought up in the latter half are real, human issues that, once again, most romance anime won't touch with a 10-foot pole. For example, in other anime, the hero might not be on good terms with his dad because dad doesn't understand his destiny and his hero-ness; in Clannad, it's because dad got drunk and broke his freaking shoulder. And that's pretty much the only spoiler-free one I can give you fine folks at home. Because of the series' humanity in its characters and its drama, it becomes, in simplest terms, simultaneously depressing, bittersweet, and beautiful. As I mentioned earlier, it's powerful enough to make me weep like a little girl, and it's really hard to put into words why, but just trust me on this one.
Bad things may happen to the characters and it becomes a high point in the writing department, but the writing department has also seen its share of tragedies. Namely, in the form of the first 8 or so episodes of ~After Story~. Specifically, these first few episodes come off as B-grade character arc episodes from the first season. First episode, the characters play baseball. It's fun and all, but serves no real purpose. Then we get a few episodes about Sunohara and Mei. Okay, that's not too bad. Then we get 4 episodes about two extremely minor characters in extremely unbelievable situations. That was the line, and it has been crossed. If you absolutely must know about the girl from the Reference Room or the lady who manages the boys' dorm, then by all means, these are the episodes for you. Otherwise, you're gonna be drumming your fingers and tapping your feet until we get back to Tomoya and Nagisa's story.
And now, you've made it to the last episode. Your eyes are cascading, your lap is wet, your lips are quivering, but you must soldier on! One episode to go! And then...wait, what just happened? Wait, what? What?! And then it ends with that?! Then as your head's spinning and you try to comprehend what's going on, you remember that this series is based on a visual novel. A quick Google search later, you find mountains of posts and essays, and you say to yourself, "That's what just happened? How was I supposed to put that together?" and you would have a point. The last episode could have been handled much better, and a lot of confusion could have been avoided with just a few more sentences of exposition scattered throughout the series.
But hey, those are very minor flaws...well, very forgivable flaws in this otherwise flawless anime. If you are a fan of romance or drama at all, and if you can overlook the art style if it's not your thing, and if you are willing to make the 44-episode long haul, then you must watch Clannad and Clannad ~After Story~. You'll be depriving yourself of some of the best drama in the entire medium if you skip this one.
Final Score: 9 out of 10. Although it starts and ends on the wrong foot, the dramatic meat of ~After Story~ is more than enough to qualify it as one of the best, if not the best, romance anime ever made.