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Clannad ~After Story~ PDF Print E-mail
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Monday, 30 January 2012 00:00
Clannad ~After Story~With the first season of Clannad having set Nagisa up as the "winner" of Tomoya's affections, After Story comes along to tell us how their life together turned out. And, this being a KEY production, it's not a happy story. Tissues at the ready...

You can split After Story into a couple of sections, really, and that's the way I'm going to deal with it - saving the important bit for last, of course. The first nine episodes are much in the same tone as the first season - the gang are still in school, still having fun together, and while graduation is on the horizon for at least some of them, the difficulties of adult life still aren't being given much thought. Which is all as it should be, really, and if you're looking for the series to play to its comedy potential, then this is really where it gets the chance to do that. Being a Key show, throughout this section there's that little nagging feeling at the back of your head that has you wondering when they're going to start pulling the strings, but fear not, there's nothing here that'll have you clearing specks from your eyes. It's just fun, for you to enjoy while you have the chance. Because Things Will Get Worse before too long.

Similarly, the final section of the series - episodes 23-25 - take place separately from the rest of the season and stand on their own: one goes back to Tomoya's and Sunohara's early school days, before the gang of friends ever really new each other; and we get another "Another World" episode, this time giving us the Kyou ending (and with my being a big Kyou fan, that'll always be my "true end", official canon be damned). But it's the episodes sandwiched in between them, 10-22, that are really the important part of After Story - and they're powerful stuff.

Unfortunately, trying to talk about them without digging into spoiler territory and really ruining the impact of the series is hard. After Tomoya's graduation, he heads out into the world of work - and with Nagisa having to repeat her senior year a second time because of a recurrence of her illness, they quickly discover that there are certain difficulties associated with being a couple when one of you is still in school, as Tomoya tries to juggle work obligations with the things he'd like to do with his girlfriend. Add in the stresses that Tomoya is put under when his father is arrested for fraud, and it's a difficult time for both of them - but relationships grow through adversity, they say, and it's at the height of Tomoya's despair that he and Nagisa agree to get married. It's not long afterwards that Nagisa announces that she's pregnant, and a happy family life beckons for Tomoya, Nagisa, and their soon-to-be-born child.

This is a Key show. That doesn't happen.

This is where I start being deliberately vague about what happens in the rest of that 'arc', covering a timespan of around 7 years, during which things happen that would drive any normal person to the pit of despair. What we see of it is heart-rending stuff, and some of it left me almost angered. Both feelings come from the same source, really. Key are masters at the art of emotional manipulation - their style of doing that isn't subtle, perhaps, but it's bloody effective, and there are two particular scenes in the story of Tomoya, Nagisa and their child where they rip your heart out - in episodes 16 and 21. Doing that once in a series is usually enough, doing it twice is unusual - and the way episode 21 plays out, you can clearly see what they're leading up to, what's about to happen, and I honestly reached a point where I was ready to switch off - I simply didn't want to see it happen. But like a train wreck it's hard to turn away, and so the series on two occasions plays with your emotions to the point where you care, perhaps enough to shed a tear or two. Or more.

But then Key do something that I really wish they hadn't. They hit the reset button.

It comes from the "true end" of the source visual novel, and it's a very carefully crafted reset button, one that's foreshadowed all the way back to early in the first season, if you pay enough attention - a plot line that never seemed to have any point, but that was left in plain sight so that when it was eventually called upon, no-one could say that they didn't have a chance to see it coming. At the same time, it was done in such a way that I doubt very many people caught the significance of it until the reset button was pushed. But while not wanting to take anything away from how well it was done (there's begrudging praise here), it cheapens the whole impact of going with the emotional flow of previous events to then turn around and essentially cheat to give the series a happy ending, and that's what angered me.

That aside, though, After Story is without doubt Key at their best. Playing with emotions is what they do, and they do it blatantly - but whereas the powerful scenes in Air or Kanon felt a bit off or forced to me, the equivalent scenes in After Story feel more natural - you can accept that what Tomoya and Nagisa are going through is something that could happen to anyone, and that makes it more "real". The first season of Clannad didn't live up to its hype for me - After Story, on the other had, very nearly does. Not the best series ever, but still a damned impressive story that should be on anyone's must-see list.

Rating - *****