Title: Clannad ~After Story~
Company: Kyoto Animation
Format: 22 episodes
Dates: 2 Oct 2008 – 12 Mar 2009
Synopsis: After the events leading up to Furukawa Nagisa’s stage performance at the School Founder’s Festival, Okazaki Tomoya graduates from Hikarizaka High School and begins the process of adjusting to the life of a full-fledged member of society, while Nagisa is retained for another year due to low attendance from poor health. Their After Story chronicles the next ten years in the life of the two, as they find joy, sorrow, and resolution with each other.
The first 8 episodes: Inconsistent and generally subpar within the overall narrative.
The “Torch” ED: Ranges from hilariously to rage-inducingly inappropriate.
The actual After Story material: Lives up to the hype of Key‘s best story ever told.
Lead characters: The story belongs entirely to the Okazaki clan, no doubt whatsoever.
Supporting characters: The lead characters would not have had the growth and development they had without them.
Animation: A notch down from KyoAni‘s best, but still of a high standard as always.
Drama: Exceptional, rivals even that of AIR (TV).
Episodes 16 and 18: The dramatic highlights of the series, and possibly in the running for the defining moments of 2009.
Ending: Ambiguous; your mileage may vary.
Let’s get the flaws of CLANNAD ~After Story~ out of the way first. To begin with are the first eight episodes; being side character arcs of the School Life material that make their inclusion as part of the series something of a misnomer, they came with various problems which makes them the weak link in the overall narrative. The Sunohara arc hurt both Sunohara’s and Mei’s characters more than it developed, the Misae arc seemed to be there for the sake of its own inclusion, while the Yukine arc had the bad tendency of stretching believability. “Torch”, the song used for the ending credits, is so inappropriate for the heavier atmosphere of the sequel that one may wish KyoAni had stuck with “Dango Daikazoku” instead, which was a more versatile song in terms of mood-setting. Finally, being a Key story which inevitably utilizes fantastical elements, the series ends on a rather ambiguous note that requires some connecting of dots to be fully satisfactory, and therefore individual reactions to it may have varying mileage.
Now we come to the question, why did I want to get the flaws out of the way first? The answer is because, despite their presence, the actual After Story material of the series truly fulfills the promise of it being Key‘s best story ever told.
A large part of what makes a story tick are the quality of its characters, and in that regard, CLANNAD ~After Story~ has the best cast possible to carry the storyline. It is no exaggeration to state that the sequel is all about Okazaki Tomoya and Furukawa Nagisa, for the story from Episode 9 onwards focuses on them and their life after graduation. Through the subsequent episodes, both Tomoya and Nagisa continually grow and mature a great deal from being with each other, even more so than they did in the first season, which is saying a lot. This goes for Tomoya in particular, whose interactions not only with Nagisa but with the different people around the town makes him probably one of the most well-developed male lead characters in anime to date. And therein lie the importance of the supporting characters; without their influence, especially those of the Furukawas, neither of the main couple would be this well-developed. This contributes greatly to the narrative’s main theme of family. This goes on even after a critical story milestone which changes the dynamics of the character interrelationships altogether, making the cast members of the CLANNAD narrative amongst the most complete cast in anime to date.
The dramatic portion of CLANNAD may have been relatively muted in comparison to previous Key/KyoAni adaptations, but the same doesn’t hold for CLANNAD ~After Story~, which boasts some of the most outstanding human drama for a Key story to date. The bulk of the heart and emotional appeal which was absent in the first season is all concentrated in the later half of this sequel, while retaining the maturity of the writing which sets the CLANNAD narrative apart from its predecessors. It is noteworthy that the exceptional pathos utilized within the story would not have worked as perfectly as it did if the first season had not focused on the relatively halcyon days of the schooling life of the cast, especially the main couple; put both seasons into the context of each other, and it becomes apparent that the time spent on the happier days of Tomoya and Nagisa is but an invitation for the viewers to make heavy emotional investments in the two, which is crucial for the execution of the high drama later on. Episodes 16 and 18, in particular, are destined to be in the running for the most memorable moments of 2009, for the dramatic climaxes in both episodes. The animation, while a notch down from KyoAni‘s usual high, is still some of the most wonderful visual sights to be seen in anime, and together with the soundtrack of the visual novel which are also used here, adds to the emotional power of the story greatly.
Yes, CLANNAD ~After Story~ may have a few more flaws than the typical Key/KyoAni offering. Yes, the ending is ambiguous enough that it may detract somewhat from the overall story for some. But when all is said and done, it is also one of the best examples of high drama in anime to date, thanks to great character development and strong themes, and may well earn itself a spot as a future classic to be remembered fondly for years to come.
The Rating: 9
Reviewed by: Ascaloth
NHRV Editor’s Choice – April 2009: awarded by Ascaloth
P.S. This is The Nihon Review chapter of the Triple Critique for CLANNAD (TV) and CLANNAD ~After Story~.
The Animesuki Forums chapter offers a thorough bit-by-bit rated analysis of both seasons in a whole, in a rated-category format within a forum post.
The RIUVA chapter offers a deeper look into the themes and characters as portrayed in both series, in the medium of an animeblog editorial