Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Clannad After Story
Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
At last, Tomoya Okazaki and Nagisa Furukawa are officially a couple. It may be their last year of high school, but their lives are just beginning. First, Tomoya must mend a rift with his best friend Sunohara after a goofy scheme goes awry, and other friends have to work out some personal issues as well. After Nagisa's poor health forces her to repeat the school year again, Tomoya decides to support her by getting a full-time job. The two of them eventually decide to start a family after Nagisa graduates, but a sudden tragedy leaves Tomoya with almost no reason left to keep on living. Now a grown man, Tomoya wonders whether meeting Nagisa was ever worth it in the first place. The balance between despair and hope in his heart could decide his fate ...
The original Clannad was a typical love story: high-schooler Tomoya Okazaki met various girls, helped them work through their personal problems, and eventually chose the one true love of his life. For most dating-sim adaptations, that would have been a good enough place to stop.
Clannad After Story, on the other hand, is a life story—one that transcends the "go out with your high school sweetheart" formula and looks at everything that happens afterwards. It's a one-of-a-kind tale that deals with working life, marriage, birth, and death, and does so with heartfelt seriousness. Some of the plot twists rely on a little metaphysical magic, and everything runs through a filter of heightened emotion, but the core of the series is still very, very real.
Not that one would expect such life-transforming experiences based on the initial arc. At the outset, Tomoya wades through side stories of two to three episodes each, playing the observer (and occasional helper) to minor characters whose personal problems need fixing. Although each story still has its emotional ups and downs, the overall impact on the main characters' lives is minimal.
Only after Episode 8 does the focus shift back to Tomoya and Nagisa, and even then it takes a while for the narrative to get going—the whole business of graduating, getting a job, and finding an apartment feels like a dry, routine process. (Then again, it should; that's how real life works.) The most powerful stage of the journey begins once Tomoya and Nagisa settle down together and face the pressures of the adult world. This is where the story breaks new ground: while other series stay encased in high-school bubbles forever, this one explores the turmoil of workplace politics and estranged family members, the worries and wonders of childbirth, and handles life-shattering events with the seriousness they deserve.
The final arc is all about redemption and repairing one's family ties—but not without putting Tomoya through the ultimate wringer of despair first. That extreme contrast between tragedy and hope is what makes the series resonate so strongly; how many times have we heard that one cannot appreciate happiness without first having known pain? The finale of Tomoya and Nagisa's saga is the perfect moment of triumph—the story revisits its most pivotal moments, the characters re-affirm the idea that life is worth living, and scenes of comfort reveal that all is well. (And hey, those cryptic "girl at the end of the world" interstitials kind of make sense now!) The only letdown would be the three episodes after the main story is over, as they turn out to be side-stories (and one all-encompassing summary) that lessen the emotional impact.
Gorgeous visual presentation is another reason why the series remains so memorable—and it's not just in obvious techniques like high-framerate animation and vivid, detailed backgrounds. Observant eyes will notice the color and lighting as the seasons change (when it's summer, you can tell it's summer), as well as the characters' expressive, meaningful gestures (in both dramatic and comedy-action scenes). It's during memories and dream sequences that the artistic creativity really comes out, though—the interplay between color and black-and-white when Tomoya and Nagisa first meet, the visual pacing as thoughts of Nagisa flash in Tomoya's mind, and the hazy, all-white environment of Tomoya's "bad dream." Amidst such a polished effort, the character designs are really the only question mark—one has to accept that super-stylized hair and bug-eyed faces are part of the aesthetic, even though they take away some of the story's true-to-life quality.
Music also plays a key role in the emotional language of the series, with plenty of piano and string ballads to set the sentimental tone. As always, the most crucial moments are scored to the "Nagisa" theme (better known by the lyrics "Dango, dango, dango...")—a theme that becomes even more powerful because of all the memories associated with it. However, the soundtrack also makes the mistake of recycling certain musical cues until they lose all meaning ("Oh, here come those synthesizers again"), resulting in scenes where music is playing just for the sake of playing. In a surprising reversal, a ballad serves as the opening theme song, while a more upbeat number closes out each episode—although considering how heartbreaking some episodes are, it's actually a wise idea.
The voice acting on the English dub is solid, if not quite as confident as the Japanese recording. David Matranga as Tomoya manages to span the entire emotional range: he cracks one-liners in the more lighthearted episodes, but can also be dead serious when the character's life falls apart. Luci Christian brings a cheerful, girl-next-door quality to the role of Nagisa—someone that viewers can relate to, even if she is portrayed as near-saintly sometimes. The dub does have its missteps, though, like some strange casting choices for minor characters (beware the little kid with a manly voice) and Japanese names being accented on the wrong syllable. The three-disc set also comes with an English commentary track for the series' most pivotal episode, although asking the two principal actors to comment on the entire series within a single episode seems hardly fair when there's so much to say.
Clannad After Story is a journey that goes places most other school-themed anime would never venture. In any other story, life ends at graduation, or when the guy gets the girl, or when the teenaged robot pilot defeats the evil faction trying to take over the world. But this is a reminder that the end of one's youth is merely the beginning of another life: one that may be filled with unspeakable agony, but also with indescribable joy. The opposite ends of the human condition, and everything in between, come together in this beautifully animated saga. A saga that is not a love story, but a life story.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Heartbreak, hope, and stunning visuals come together in this tale of young adulthood where even ordinary life proves to be something extraordinary.
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