I decided to write down notes for this one, since this is perhaps the most important character route of CLANNAD. Also, there were quite a few thoughts I wanted to get off my chest, so be prepared.
Let me start off by saying that I’m usually not a big fan of the main/canon heroines in any given visual novel. It’s not that they’re bad, but more because they don’t interest me as much as some of the other available girls. They’re usually tailored to be more rounded and generally likable than the majority of the other girls, who are more catered to specific tastes (tsunderes, yanderes, lolis, etc). There are special exceptions to this (such as my personal case with Ayu in Kanon or perhaps even Misuzu in AIR), but CLANNAD is not one of them.
When I first watched the anime, I was drawn to Nagisa’s quiet, reserved demeanor. The opening episode did a fair job of introducing her character in an exaggerated, romantic way. But I only remember being drawn to her through that, and not much else. Eventually Fuko won my love for how cute and quirky she was, but Nagisa is the focus here, and while I could spend all day talking about the superiority of her predecessors, I’m choosing not to do that for the sake of focus and (hopefully) positivity.
So let me start with Nagisa’s good parts. Maeda certainly put some work into making her a legitimate character, with clear goals, labels and personality. Her passiveness and lawful good tendencies remind me of myself sometimes, particularly after I finished high school and started learning my way around social media. Her relationship with her parents does feel genuine, and although its never properly explained why, I can only assume her personality has a lot to do with them.
Despite these, Nagisa is still a divisive character for me. Many of her character strengths, more often than not, double as weaknesses the more I look at them. She has clear goals, sure, but her passive nature makes it difficult for her to show resolve in achieving those goals. I can’t recall when anything significant she did was the result of her own decisions. She’s entirely dependent on what others tell her to do, and that doesn’t really make for a strong character. What doesn’t help things is her false modesty about herself, which leads me to think she’s nothing other than what she tells herself she is. I hated it when Sayuri did it in Kanon, and I hate it here. It’s not appealing, and only serves to damage her character rather than help it. Also, I wouldn’t have a problem with her lawful-good tendencies if there was a reason as to why she acts that way. Unfortunately, her route gives us almost nothing to go by.
What her route does give us are two things:
some nice backstory for Akio and Sanae that ties into Nagisa’s love for theatre, and
Some clues toward the origin of the light orbs and the purpose of the Illusionary World in CLANNAD’s narrative.
Both are certainly important for the narrative, but there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to them in terms of developing Nagisa’s character. She’s pretty much static throughout the entire ride, even if she and TomoyaDango grow closer in their relationship. Their chemistry is good, but I never got the feeling they were really meant for each other. It reminds me a lot of his relationship with Ryou in Kyou’s route, particularly the fact that they had pretty much nothing in common and were forced into the relationship because Kyou wanted her sister to be happy. Throughout the route, however, it shows how the ones that were truly meant for each other were Dango and Kyou, even though it wasn’t out of the question for Ryou to be with him. After seeing that, I realize now that Nagisa is one of the least romantically-compatible with Dango in the entire story, and yet they’re together. Perhaps it means there’s an underlying message in Nagisa’s route, that there’s no such thing as two people being meant for only each other. There’s always another possibility.
(Introspection with After Story spoilers) Still, it leads me to question that while possibilities exist for Dango everywhere he goes, and he’s free to choose whatever end he aims for, he’s still collecting lights for the purpose of satisfying the wish Akio made to preserve Nagisa’s life. So it appears to me that Nagisa is more precious to him than any other girl, perhaps because he canonically chose her first and developed a bond towards his daughter. There’s a lot at stake for Dango, but again, there’s nothing stopping him from choosing a different path and finding a different happiness.
I’m probably getting too carried away with this, and I’m sure reading After Story will provide further clarification on some of my issues here. At least, I hope so. If not, at least I can be assured knowing that the rest of this story is about Dango’s personal development and no one else, so I can’t wait to see how things unfold for him…