Clannad: After Story Part 1 (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 12)
3 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 296 minutes approx.
Set shortly after the events of the first series, this whimsical slice-of-life anime continues, kicking off with a baseball game which serves to re-introduce the cast for the benefit of any forgetful viewers, before returning to the business of detailing the fateful lives of Tomoya Okazaki, Nagisa Furukawa and their fellow high school friends.
The first arc brings long suffering sidekick Youhei Sunohara to the forefront as his younger sister Mei shows up for a visit, worried because her older brother hasn’t figured out his future plans yet and fears he may end up a worthless lonely drifter. Mei’s plans to rectify this incur a number of interesting results, exhuming some of Youhei’s long buried demons in the process. Also stepping out from the shadows is Misae Sagara, the manager at the boy’s dorm, recalling a lost love from her youth as the show revisits its supernatural facet. Staying in this otherworldly vein, a tale of warring street gangs features Yukine Miyazawa, a meek young girl who spends her days in the a school library where she plays the role of unofficial nurse to injured members from both factions, in a dispute based around the absence of Yukine’s elder brother, gang leader Kazuto.
Finally our nominal protagonists Tomoya and Nagisa are back as the main focus, exploring their lives after graduation. Having been taken ill before the end of term, Nagisa is forced to miss school again and is forced to repeat her final year for a third time, forcing to go it alone as Tomoya and their friends have all moved on. This arc looks at Tomoya’s need for independence in his life as full time life at the Furukawa household – where he now lives – is a strain for him. He gets a job working with Yusuke Yoshino (whose history is explored in a later episode) as an electrician and finds himself a small but affordable flat where Nagisa spends most of her free time, playing the dutiful wife to Tomoya’s hard working husband. However, the proverbial “spanner in the works” is about to cause another disruption into their lives.
There is something quite divisive about the Clannad saga in how it manipulates the emotions of the viewer, with the evidence none more so palpable in this second outing. The set is to lure the audience in with some cutesy, almost farfetched comedy than BAM! – it hits you with a tragic, pitch black swerve which makes your heart jump and brings a lump top your throat – the moe characters designs suddenly possess on an unnerving air about them. Considering that the show’s origins are dating sims in which the player experiences acceptance or rejection and happiness or heartbreak based on their conversational choices, this covert cruelness is perhaps not that surprising after all.
Exhibit A would be the opening arc featuring Mei and Youhei. Since the latter character is mostly the resident comic relief, the antics in this tale not only border on the ridiculous but relish in such subversion. Wanting Mei to butt out of his affairs, Youhei invents a false girlfriend, only finding one willing participant for this fraudulent role: Nagisa’s mother Sanae (who Youhei thinks is Nagisa’s sister)! Mei then recalls how Youhei was at his happiest playing football so she makes it her mission to have Youhei reinstated in the school football club, unaware of the reasons why he left it in the first place. This is where the mood changes literally on the turn of a page. The members of the football team are drawn in a completely different at style to the rest of the cast as if to deliberately separate them as the villains of the piece, and the dramatic turn brings with it some unsettling violence, reminding us that even in a brightly coloured world as the one the cast live in, humans have a darker side too. The tonal shift is jarring; the impact is stupendous; the effect is lasting.
By having two consecutive stories both centring around someone who has deceased, a theme prevalent in the first series, the arcs for Misae and Yukine feel more like fillers. This isn’t helped by the two leads hitherto being on the periphery but both tales are at least suitably entertaining and certainly tear jerking affairs for some viewers.
The final disc is where the real drama of the set lies. Post school Tomoya has finally shed his delinquent reputation and accepts his role as a working man with maturity and gusto, although wholly unprepared for the toll it quickly it takes on him and his relationship with Nagisa. While Nagisa is there before and after school to cook Tomoya’s meals they barely spend time together due to his tiredness. Having to break a promise to meet Nagisa for the sake of his job is one of the harsh realities of being a working man that hits Tomoya hard. Then a phone call about his father sets Tomoya into a downward spiral.
This revelation and the fall out concludes this volume, making the frustration one feels for Tomoya engendered by his father’s actions all the more unbearable knowing that the continuation is a couple of months away!
Thanks to reality TV talent shows the phrase “emotional journey” has become an overused, almost empty cliché to make one’s teeth itch but it is a perfect description for Clannad: After Story. Your gut will be wrenched, your tears will be jerked and your heart strings pulled – and you’ll have a few laughs along the way. Often darker and arguably more mature than its predecessor, this remains one of the more entertaining and satisfying anime titles currently on UK release.
Ratings – ****
Man In Black