Clannadstrophe

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 badClannad 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.


Endnotes

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.

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14 Comments

  1. lelangir

     /  13 March 2009

    Hah, interesting!:

    I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Clannad is tragic at all, ultimately, when all its tragedy is erased by magic.

    Well perhaps you could view this in process vs. product – the end result would not be tragic, but the process surely was tragic at parts. But does being tragic make you wholly a tragedy?

    I would disagree with that bit I quoted because saying Clannad isn’t tragic does neglect those very instances of tragedy. Also – what if I dropped the show at ep. 21? That does not invalidate the show, it just means my personal meaning-construction of Clannad is not a 1:1 ratio to a generalized reception of the show in its entirety. In essence, paradoxically, incompleteness is completeness.

    I think I would, however, agree with your perspective when looking at Clannad as a narrative whole (despite MADDENING time travel etc.). Tragic elements are tragic, and although it may, in the end, be a tragicomedy, the comedic elements do not territorialize and paint over those past tragedies ex post facto. I think this is what some theorists call entification, when complex processes are discursively transformed into descriptive labels. The classification “tragicomedy” is in fact a process wherein tragedy precedes comedy (or what have you), you cannot merely say that things are “tragicomedic” because that ignores the constructive process of narratives and the personal meanings people construct in tandem with the airing of an anime.

    Reply
  2. Nazarielle

     /  13 March 2009

    Perhaps I shouldn’t have said the emotions used on Nagisa were null and void. The point I was trying to make was that Clannad seemed to be, as you said in another post, just trying to do the saddest thing possible, just for the sake of tragedy, because it knew it could reverse it later. I’m not saying they did it just to provoke a reaction (ok, maybe I am), but after what happened, it’s hard for me not to think that they were just trying to hit us as hard as they could, knowing that they could later reverse the sadness and make us all happy at the end. In hindsight, I can’t help but feel that it’s all rather artificial or fabricated.

    Reply
  3. Ubiquitial

     /  13 March 2009

    Now you’re reading Fyre? How much of an Effigy of Cuchlainn are you?

    But that’s besides the point

    The ending was kind of coy. They had us build in anticipation for this [supposedly] tragic end and instead, some sort of freaky time-travel ensues instead.

    As for it being a tragicomedy, it’s just Key being, well, Key. If they didn’t get you attached to the characters, would their death really be significant to us?

    I liked CLANNAD. I would have liked it a lot more if they gave it an ending of the same impact as that of AIR.

    (Though this was the best Key-game adaptation in terms of adaptation to anime, I believe)

    Reply
  4. Looks like they literally went with the visual novel plotline. I guess fans of the VN would probably rage if they had (heaven forbid) attempted to deviate from the source material and give a (again, heaven forbid), worthy ending. Haven’t reached the end of the anime yet but i have a basic idea of how the VN goes, so the way it appears to me is more a matter of faithfulness to the original material (and the associated fans) rather than any real intentional decision.

    I slightly disagree with the “average humanity” bit – yes, the characters are all very average, but the ending is hardly the only supernatural event. Although Clannad throughout is quite good at evoking tearful feelings (the “baaaw”, as the vernacular would have it), I can’t help but feel that many of the arcs throughout are always “cheap shots”. Events such as Fuuko’s “ghost end”, Shimako’s “cat end”, etc. are prime examples.

    Additionally, the situations and circumstances that surround the characters are ripe for tragedy from the outset – Okazaki is a delinquent who doesn’t get along with his father, and Nagisa is a sickly, naive, and too kind family girl. From the outset any savvy viewer is going to have the suspicion floating in the back of his mind “the girl’s gonna die, isn’t she?” It’s not quite as cheapening as the supernatural elements, but I find it lacks impact compared to characters who actually have a long way to fall. The set-up is a little too convenient for tragedy sometimes, I feel.

    That being said, I do agree that Clannad has been quite the tragedy – it certainly jerks out tears quite well with each episode.

    Reply
  5. Cuchlann

     /  14 March 2009

    I haven’t seen the show, obviously, but I can say that “tragedy” and “comedy” are defined by their endings, and not the stuff that leads up to said endings. There are some pretty awful things in the beginnings of some comedies, for example, like the threat of *beheading* if the daughters in Midsummer Night’s Dream don’t marry the right people. In fact, as comedies are also, in part, defined as stories that begin in bad situations and better themselves, the terrible, sad moments you’re describing in Clannad sound like more support for such a reading — and I’m guessing from the picture it ends with a child? Classic Old Comedy, with procreation and/or rebirth as the integration ending.

    Also, Ubiquital, people did read Frye before I did, I promise. Pontifus owned that book before ever he met me.

    Reply
    • Ubiquitial

       /  14 March 2009

      Well, I disagree on part. Comedies don’t nessecarily have to end in a comedic fashion. Tragedies do, but comedies have more significance put on the process.

      And CLANNAD was very tragic until the end. Thus, I like to think that the entire ‘good’ end was created in the dying Tomoya’s mind as he loses his sanity and escapes into delusions.

      About Fyre, I just thought that you, as you read him quite a bit. that you had some influence over him. But ok.

      Reply
  6. Pontifus

     /  15 March 2009

    @lelangir

    You bring up some concerns I have as well. As Cuchlann mentions, I’m pretty sure that the tragedy/comedy/etc. labels as per Frye are applied after the whole of the narrative is consumed; they have a lot to do with the ending, and Clannad’s ending is decidedly uber-happy. I am not, however, suggesting that Clannad’s end overwrites or annuls its tragic elements; it had so many that, despite knowing the game’s good end, I had half come to suspect that KyoAni would change things up and go wholly in the tragic direction.

    So, as per your post on THAT, I’m using “an Aristotelian notion of tragedy” here. This is, as I think you’ve demonstrated well, not the only serviceable notion of tragedy. But I think we can still make use of it without implying that the emotions we felt during tragic moments are retrospectively null somehow. When I say that Clannad’s tragedy is erased, I don’t mean that it’s removed from the reader’s conception of the text, but simply that, in the in-text fictional timeline, it’s replaced for the characters involved by nicer things.

    @Nazarielle

    So the writers of Clannad felt that they could throw caution to the wind and kill off anyone and everyone because none of it would be real in the end anyway? That’s an interesting thought. If that theory is correct, I’d wonder if the creators doubt the readers’ ability to process tragedy, and, further, whether they’re justified in their doubts.

    @Ubiquitial

    I didn’t get the impression that Tomoya died at the end of 21, but I like that angle, so I’ll have to keep it in mind. Or, well, my liking of that angle is tempered a bit by my desire to see Tomoya live on after the death of his wife and child because that’s what people have to do, but still. It’s interesting that Clannad’s tragic elements were numerous and significant enough to enable a reading like that.

    For my part, I still think Kanon beats Air and Clannad in terms of KyoAni’s adaptations. The end is still a little deus ex what-the-fuckina, but at least there are more tangible consequences, and it’s not ambiguous. Of course that’s just personal preference though.

    @vendredi

    You’re right about there being abnormal characters throughout. I didn’t mean to give them the shaft; I just had Tomoya and Ushio on the brain when I wrote this. Those situations add to the show’s romanticism — and now that I think about it, some of them serve as pretty satisfying little sub-tragedies when taken by themselves. Everyone else has to endure life as-is; why not Tomoya? Now I’m even more dissatisfied.

    As to the setup being “too convenient” for tragedy…you know, I never thought of it like that. I just figure the non-tragic end feels like a cop-out after a sufficiently tragic buildup. Maybe Key and KyoAni are doing something interesting with tragedy-vs.-comedy that I just don’t get.

    @Cuchlann

    Yeah, what you said. Your mention of Old Comedy makes me think of Greek tragedians who became sort of infamous for their use of deus ex machina to save characters at the last minute; I think Euripides was one. But the ending of Clannad is a little more extreme than one character being plucked from the jaws of death at the last moment, what with the time travel and all, so I’m not sure there’s much of a parallel there.

    Reply
    • lelangir

       /  15 March 2009

      Actually, me not being a cognitive psychologist, events as they happen probably can significantly alter “the past”. Since, hypothetically, the mind only imbues a certain amount of “in the pastness” to memories, what holds events in the past is a really thin glue. But the emotions attached to these contextual memories are even slippier perhaps – can we retreat back into memory and say “this is exactly how I felt 10 years ago?” I don’t know…

      But given that, I’m still not sure if we can separate the viewer’s feelings from the all that happens in-text since, as would be the DoTA answer, the viewer gives the text meaning. If “[tragedy is] replaced for the characters involved by nicer things,” that still must include all of the in-text chronology. It’s not that things are “replaced”, per se, just that the chronological text-events regress while still progressing constantly in a narrative timeline. I don’t know if I’m making any sense, though I’m still not 100% I get the argument in general (屮゜Д゜)屮

      at any rate, nice topic.

      Reply
      • Pontifus

         /  16 March 2009

        When I say that Clannad “is,” in the end, comedic, I mean that, in my estimation, its textual cues are likely to result in a conceptual text that is in Aristotelian/Fryean terms comedic, with its good end and all, not that it’s inherently comedic independent of readership. And I’m separating “chronological text-events” and “narrative timeline” into two distinct processes; the latter isn’t too much of a consideration for me here, which is not by any means to say that it isn’t important. What I think I’m trying to say is that I agree with you fundamentally; saying that Clannad is comedic in terms of the end result of chronological text-events is only the beginning of a more robust investigation that must at some point consider narrative timeline, but I don’t really feel compelled to pursue that, as I’m pretty satisfied with the way you’ve done so already :P

    • Cuchlann

       /  15 March 2009

      Adding in lelangir’s thoughts on the past, I think it *could* be considered a traditional deus ex machina, re-imagined — of course, I’m just going on hearsay.

      Also, yes, Kanon was so much better than Air.

      Reply
  1. THAT Animeblog - RESET END OH SHI-
  2. Final Thoughts on Clannad ~After Story~ « Grand Punk Railroad
  3. The closing bracket « Pontifus
  4. anitations - collected discourse on Clannad AS end

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