After 112 hours (according to Steam), the end of Tomoya’s journey is finally here.
CLANNAD was the first Key work I experienced, and it was during a time in my life when I felt torn about who I wanted to be. I was in a prestigious dual-credit collegiate high school, but my grades were just barely average because I spent more time goofing off than working on the mountains of homework they expected me to finish. I wanted to be a game designer, but I had little resources or time to work with. I neglected exercise more often than I should have. I wasn’t a bad student; I did attend classes on time and I sincerely tried my hardest to stay at the top of my game, but I was faltering. I started watching anime in the hopes of easing the stress off my brain.
My siblings despised CLANNAD, but everyone else I knew praised it. I wanted to see who was right, which is why I started watching. The anime was a captivating experience, probably not life-changing, but it did change my opinion on what anime was truly capable of as a storytelling medium. Upon completing After Story, I fell into a deep depression that lasted roughly two weeks. An unsteady change of heart was taking place in me. I wanted more, so after a while, I jumped into Kanon 2006. The rest is history.
Reading the visual novel four years later, it almost felt like a new experience for me. I say almost because I still had a vague recollection of the anime’s plot, so while many things felt familiar, others still felt new. Routes like Kyou and Kappei, Koumura and Misae, and even some of the character arcs in After Story were all completely new to me. They opened my eyes to some of the pieces of the puzzle I was missing before when I watched the anime, and I thought they were good at worst. CLANNAD certainly has a lot of stellar routes in it to make up for its not-so-great ones.
I’m sure everyone agrees, however, that After Story is the real meat of CLANNAD. Like AIR before it and Refrain after it, it tells the story that I feel Maeda intended to tell from the beginning. What sets apart After Story from the aforementioned routes, however, is its overall mood, pacing and structure. (AIR route and Refrain spoilers) AIR is a straightforward route with small choices that either serve to give the player bad endings or progress the story. The overall mood is fairly ominous with a ton of drama surrounding Misuzu and her curse, as well as Haruko’s struggle to become the mother Misuzu never had. Refrain, on the other hand, is much darker in tone due to the seeming helplessness Riki has thrown himself and everyone else into. It’s also pretty straightforward until the very end, when the player is asked, “Is it enough?” After Story features several branching stories that all tie in to the main story of Tomoya and Nagisa’s relationship and development as characters, some of which are obtained through specific choices in Nagisa’s route but are required to complete the story. I imagine it’s impossible to fully experience CLANNAD without resorting to a walkthrough for this very reason, but I digress. After Story strikes such a fair balance of lighthearted humor and crippling drama that, in addition to its length, it actually feels like its own standalone story.
It also manages to minimize the one complaint I usually have with final routes like this: repetition. Most of After Story is original writing, using only a few scenes to call back to Nagisa’s route and other events to emphasize a point Tomoya’s internal monologue makes. This helped the pacing of the route overall for me, and the quality of Maeda’s writing does a lot to help make this a memorable route.
I’ve already mentioned in previous character threads how excellent each of the character arcs are, so I’ll instead talk specifically about Tomoya’s development. At the beginning, Tomoya had a very difficult time finding a reason to like anyone or anything. He despised living because his life was crap, and he could only wish that his life would change in some significant way. Nagisa started him on the path towards finding that happiness, even if it meant getting to know others who disagreed with him, hated him, or wanted nothing to do with him. Through his courage and devotion, he grew to understand that he had to supply happiness to others in order to achieve what he ultimately wanted.
After Story expands on this line of thinking by establishing parallels between himself and the residents of the town he comes across. He comes to understand that he is more like the people he meets than he thought himself to be, and if he isn’t careful, he may end up making the same mistakes they once did. Tomoya then comes to realize that even though his own life was never fair, that didn’t mean others had to suffer the same as him. This especially held true to Ushio, who to him was the most precious thing in the world to him other than his own life. That’s why, when the both of them died in the snow, Tomoya followed her into the Illusionary World and began the endless cycle of retrieving light orbs for the sake of changing the fate of the people he loved.
If I had to condense how I feel about this route in a single paragraph, I would say that it is perhaps the best-written final route I’ve read. It was entertaining, thought-provoking and deeply involving, and it almost brought me to tears at one point. I feel like I understand quite a bit more about it than I did watching the anime four years ago, when I hardly knew about Key or the themes their stories had. I feel the importance of family in this route serves to drive the true moral behind CLANNAD: that you are not more important than everyone else, and true happiness comes from helping others find that happiness.
I would like to thank everyone who has invested in and showed their support during my journey through this fantastic visual novel. Special thanks to @Mogaoscar for gifting me the game in the first place, admins @Pepe and @Aspirety for the insanely helpful walkthrough on the main website, and @Karifean for helpful input and the contributions he made to my next CLANNAD-related journey. You guys are all amazing, and I’m glad I can call you all my friends/family here at Kazamatsuri. See you all in the CLANNAD Side Stories discussion! o/