Reviewby Theron Martin, Dec 16th 2009
Clannad After Story
Sub.DVD 2 - Collection 2
In the wake of his momentous decision to marry Nagisa, Tomoya decides that he must get her father's approval, and Akio, of course, turns it into a baseball showdown. Once that blessing has been earned, and Nagisa has finally completed her senior year of school, the lovers move forward and formally begin their life – and family-building – together. For both, it is the happiest time of their lives, and a visit with old friends only reaffirms that. Life would not be life without a certain amount of fear, pain, and tragedy, though. As he struggles through his darkest hours, Tomoya eventually comes to fully appreciate something that he always felt he had been lacking: the warmth, happiness, and sense of responsibility inherent in family. As Tomoya and Nagisa's story comes to a close, so, too, does the saga of the robot and the girl in the uninhabited world.
Also included are two bonus stories. In “Events From One Year Ago,” Nagisa struggles to make friends during her first try at her senior year, while Tomoya and Youhei have their first encounters with Kyou. “Another World – Kyou Arc” explores a world where Tomoya and Nagisa never hooked up, a case where Tomoya finds himself forced to make a painful choice between twins who both love him.
Beginning in episode 9 of the first half, After Story stepped into rarely-explored territory as it delved into the What Happens After aspect of high school life for its central couple, culminating with Tomoya's marriage proposal. In this second half the series continues to tread down paths almost never seen in anime romances and does so with such a deliberate, carefully-measured tread that most of the episodes in the teens seem to fly by. By (mostly) setting aside its gimmickry and simply telling the story of these two individuals, the support they have from Nagisa's parents, and the family they try to form, the storytelling becomes thoroughly involving. Here the series' writing is at its very best, even finding places for the occasional bit of humor without shaking up the mood.
Of course, this would not be a Key/Visual Art's title without working in tragic complications, and boy, do these episodes pack a doozy! In some senses the entirety of both the original series and this one build towards this critical event in episode 16. Anyone who has watched the other Key/Visual Art's anime adaptations should have at least a reasonable suspicion about what is coming a couple of episodes before it happens, based both on the franchise's established tendencies and on hints dropped around that time. However, it is to the series' credit that, as the expectation of what will happen becomes more and more certain, viewers are more likely to feel a gnawing sense of dread building in their gut than roll their eyes and say, “oh, here we go again.” In fact, that and some fantastic artistic touches only make the crucial scene that much more effective when it happens. Knowing that something bad is going to happen, and that you cannot stop it, is in some senses even sadder than having the event hit you unexpectedly, even if in this case the scene is slightly overplayed.
But that is actually not the series' biggest emotional punch. No, that comes two episodes later, when the wonderfully-handled fall-out from the big tragedy combines with a major lingering unresolved issue from the first series into one simple but powerful scene set in a field of flowers – and really, one specific line of dialog. It is a scene practically guaranteed to leave viewers overwhelmed; at no other place in the entire Key/Visual Art's franchise is it more effective at inducing tears. Once that scene is in the books, two and a half more fine episodes pass, arguably some of the warmest in the entire series. They even make you feel for Tomoya's seemingly pathetic father and appreciate what all he did do, even if he did later screw up.
And then things crash.
Key/Visual Art's titles have often strained dramatic limits in their quest to set up tragic or cathartic moments, but they have typically been able to get away with it due to quality writing and effective emotional appeal. Here, though, they finally push it much too far and much too hard. The second big tragedy the series sets up is groan-inducing and, frankly, repetitive in execution. Even so, the writing still could have salvaged something if it had let that event stand and deal with its consequences. But no, the writers instead chickened out and used the long-expected convergence with the side story of the girl and the robot to justify a massive cop-out, one that cheapens all of the excellent writing laid down in the previous several episodes. The writers had a golden opportunity here to make a writing statement for the ages (in anime terms) and blew it.
Both the original approach and the cop-out ending do tie up one other loose end from the first series, though: that of Fuko's fate. No one should be disappointed by how this is handled, and her situation at the end is interesting enough that it practically begs for more elaboration.
The series' storyline actually ends with episode 22, but 25 episodes are present here. Episode 23 is a prequel story which flashes back to the school year before Tomoya and Nagisa met. It fills in some gaps but is ultimately not that consequential. Episode 24, the aforementioned “Another World – Kyou Arc,” is a pure “what if” case which provides a nicely-written piece that works best if regarded as a standalone story about teenage love. The final episode is a series recap accompanied by a minute or so of new animation and some uniting narration by Tomoya. Its most important role is to try to justify how the cop-out ending fits into the story actually shown in the late episodes.
For the most part the second half maintains the artistic standards Kyoto Animation set in the first series and earlier in this one, but there are some developments of note here. Aside from sometimes taking on a scruffy look, Tomoya does not noticeably change in appearance as he ages through the five years covered in this span. The girls do, however. Perhaps just adjusting hair and/or clothing styles accounts for this, but they definitely take on more mature looks. The design for the most important new character introduced here is fitting given family influences involved, and in perhaps the most visually significant gimmick in this set, the lighting trick used when that character appears in episode 17 is not only a very nice touch in its own right but also harkens back to the first episode of the first series. This is not something usually done this subtly in anime, but given the context it works beautifully here. Combined with the way one character is depicted during episode 16's key tragic moments, these are the kind of details which can raise a series to the next artistic level.
The musical score through this span is most characterized by two things: the frequent inclusion of moody insert songs and the return of the “Big Dango Family” song (sung by Nagisa in the first series and used as its closing theme) as a recurring backing theme – an appropriate inclusion, given the heavy family themes involved. Beyond the insert songs, though, the soundtrack seems limited in options and sounds a little too repetitive after a while. The opener and closer from the first half of the series both continue, with "Toki wo Kizamu Uta" proving more strongly than ever how beautifully it fits the series as an opening theme. The character to whom the dancing legs in the closer belong is also finally revealed.
Sentai Filmworks did a (for them) better-than-average job with this one, as it includes only one grammatical error in the subs and occasionally adds unobtrusive on-screen notes to explain especially Japanocentric references, such as celebrations concerning children of certain ages that even hard-core Japanophiles might not be familiar with. Extras are minimal, though; only a clean opener and closer are included.
Despite the stunts it pulls in its last two regular episodes, the second half of After Story is still the best-written quarter of Clannad. It effectively builds up and delivers its emotional appeal, reinforces the series' central theme (i.e. the importance of family), and peaks visually. For those who find the beauty and sentiment of the “happily ever after” ending sufficient to overcome how the ending takes the cheap way out, this will doubtless look like a masterpiece, and only the most cynical of souls will avoid shedding at least a few tears at certain points. Some will certainly feel let down by the ending, though.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B
+ At times intensely emotional, excellent artistic detail, top-rate opener.
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