As the twenty-second episode of ~After Story~ puttered to a halt, I hung my head in shame — shame for my falling for it at least partially and being sort of happy in the end, but mostly shame for KyoAni for doing exactly what I thought they’d do.
To be fair, it wasn’t that bad — Clannad provided solid entertainment all the way through, and for that it deserves credit. I’m fairly quick to drop any show that I wouldn’t rate 7 or above on MAL, after all, and I never once felt the desire to cut Clannad short. The title of this post should not by any means be taken literally (if such a ridiculous portmanteau could ever be taken literally). But Clannad could’ve been…I don’t know, something else. It is as Nazarielle said:
What I’d love to say is this: somehow the junk doll and the girl make it over to the ‘real’ world and that both revives Nagisa and Ushio. This would be ideal, but so unrealistic that I can’t really see Clannad pulling a silly trick like this. It’s basically a cop out. It completely trivializes the emotions we spent on Nagisa and Ushio.
He adds later that “all the emotions spent on the stuff that happened after Nagisa died were null and void,” and I’d agree, to a point — the emotions still happened, but the conclusion didn’t seem to follow up on them in a satisfying way.
I’m hesitant to sit here and harp on what Clannad isn’t when I could be trying to figure out what it is, but I think I can get to the latter by way of the former, so bear with me. I think it’s safe to say that Clannad is not, ultimately, tragic — it employs truckloads of tragic elements, and it managed to make me want tragedy, but it certainly isn’t tragic in the same way that Air is tragic. Air has its problems, sure, but it is a robust examination of tragedy and catharsis — it has classical/high mimetic tragedy, in the sense of great people falling from great heights; it has post-Victorian/low mimetic tragedy, which, according to some critics, focuses on the place of the average individual in society (think Death of a Salesman or The Glass Menagerie); and the whole thing is practically catharsis incarnate, considering the ending. Despite having known the Clannad visual novel’s good end for almost the entire duration of the show’s run, I had come to want a satisfying low-mimetic ending, in which Tomoya, a normal guy, suffered through the tragedies of life, and had to live with the aftereffects, as we all do. Such an end needn’t have even been wholly depressing; he would’ve lost his first wife and child, true, but his problems with his father would’ve been put to rest, he still would’ve had de facto parents in Akio and Sanae, and of course he could’ve leapt eagerly into the arms of Kyou-sensei, who was snubbed in favor of Nagisa even though she was probably the first to have feelings for Tomoya. All may not have been right with the world, but it would have been satisfying in the same way the Tomoyo Chapter OVA was satisfying, focusing on things as they are in the world rather than things as they would be, given magical other worlds and time travel.
This is very revealing of my preferences. I profess to be thrilled that the cyclical nature of Fryean modes seems to have brought us back toward myth and romance in recent decades. It’s probably safe to label Clannad romantic; it includes characters (specifically Tomoya and Ushio) who, in their otherworldly incarnations, transcend average humanity, and it employs a setting in which good deeds do not go unrewarded (Tomoya earns the magic lights by completing each character’s arc in a “good” way, after all). But, for me, there must be some anchor in the low mimetic. I prefer characters who are not several degrees greater than those around them; stories of prophesied archmagi and “chosen ones” make my skin crawl. That’s not to say that great individuals cannot be central to stories that feel true to life — relatability is, I think, independent of Fryean mode, and more dependent on individual readers (and possibly on plain old quality of writing) — but I’m more inclined to give a story about the rabble a chance. Perhaps I’ve been influenced more by the literary establishment I claim to dislike than I care to admit to myself (though I still prefer the low mimetic over irony most of the time, and I still think postmodern fatalism is dumb)1.
Clannad does restrict its characters to the confines of average humanity most of the time, and I like that. What I don’t like, necessarily, is the show’s giving Tomoya a life that feels authentic, albeit tragic, and then revealing in the end that the man behind the curtain wasn’t low mimetic tragedy after all — insofar as everything works out in the end, the family ends up together, etc., it was romantic comedy2, from Tomoya’s perspective. Honestly, it didn’t have to be one or the other; there’s this thing called tragicomedy. Tomoya could’ve lost his family, and, through force of human will, made a new one. In that case, the other world would’ve been more a metaphor than a tangible thing, and it’d be hard to call Clannad romantic at all — I wonder if my dissatisfaction lies somewhere in a deep suspicion of romance in general, something I didn’t know I had.
You might argue that Tomoya suffered enough, that living through years of loss was adequate to render the show tragicomic, and you could make a good case for that, I think. After all, tragicomedy requires an ultimately good end, I believe. But I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Clannad is tragic at all, ultimately, when all its tragedy is erased by magic.
1Frye notes that resentment toward or dissatisfaction with the previous dominant mode is common, so perhaps there’s no avoiding it.
2The city’s characterization as a family muddles things a bit; possibly it’s actually low mimetic comedy, or it’s both low mimetic and romantic. On a related note, romantic comedy is often idyllic, and one could probably argue with some success that the suburban/small city idyll has joined, if not replaced, the pastoral. The city as family may have less to do with society than with idealizing that sort of city, or both may be the case.