I mentioned possibly doing a longer post on this subject, and I may yet, once Clannad is finished, but I need to collect my thoughts on the matter first.
You may not think of Clannad as exhibiting the design flair of a late eighties/early nineties Disney film, what with its huge-eyed Key style, willingness to hit where it hurts, bare modicum of interpretive ambiguity and such. But then, perhaps you’ve never seen Disney’s short adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” which, strangely, was the first thing that came to mind when I considered the visual flavor of After Story’s twenty-first episode.
“Little Match Girl” lacks the pastels of Clannad. But it does have snow — and, while Clannad isn’t known for its snow like Kanon is, the prevalence of cold in “Little Match Girl” serves to make an enemy of the setting, and Tomoya, we know by now, is always willing to brand his setting a mortal foe. When he does so, the city has a way of losing all its color in response.
(I apologize for the tiny “Little Match Girl” screencaps; I was working with a very low-quality file. Given that it’s not even seven minutes long, you could easily just watch the thing yourself if you want elaboration upon my examples.)
Equally uninviting, and equally dangerous, perhaps; there are times when Tomoya’s city really does seem bent on his demise. As I’ve mentioned, this could result in Clannad being a satisfying little tragedy (like “Little Match Girl”), provided KyoAni doesn’t…well, let’s just wait and see.
Now here’s an interesting contrast. In both cases, we have a young girl finished off by the elements (or presumably so, in Ushio’s case; the cold certainly doesn’t help, I assume), but while the titular match-selling girl finds herself out in the cold due to neglect, Ushio is carried into the arms of the elements by her father, who, for some reason, thought it’d be a good idea to honor his daughter’s wishes to go on a trip even though she was dangerously ill. Nagisa pulled through as a child; is it unreasonable to assume that Ushio might have, under the right conditions? Tomoya seems to be his own worst enemy, through no real fault of his own; after all, he impregnated Nagisa (she wanted a child, true, but he could’ve insisted on adoption), and it was the pregnancy that led to her death — I’d call it low mimetic tragedy if I didn’t expect the ending to neuter it.
“Little Match Girl” also makes use of the idea of lights (in its case, flames) as connections to “another world”…
…though the other world in that case is very obviously illusory. The girl dies in spite of all the food and warmth she conjures from the depths of her match-flames, and I figure that makes the story all the more potent. Will Clannad’s other world prove equally intangible? I doubt it.