Nice counterpoints to my post. It gave me something to think about and I have some (admitedly really long) counterpoints (to yours) on why exactly I disagree, though I do see where you are coming from. There is a TL;DR at the bottom if people don’t wanna read the lengthy response I wrote out, though it has more context and detail than the TL;DR has. Anyone who has not read nor watched After Story nor the OVA’s shouldn’t click on the spoiler tags (obviously).
Tomoyo: [spoiler] Sure, his feelings of inferiority had a part to play in him breaking the relationship. However, there is more at play here. As you mentioned, yes the student body judged him unfairly because of his reputation and they were relating it back to Tomoyo. Tomoya saw first hand that him staying with her was hurting her chances, despite the fact that the students (as they are in all high school anime) were being judgemental pricks. So was he really only thinking about himself when he broke up with her? His own feelings do play a part in this, as love itself is generally selfish and in some respects, Tomoyo was being selfish in her own selflessness to keep the relationship together. It would only cripple her chances at achieving her goal and Tomoya has likely in some aspect been conscious and aware of this. I don’t feel like he was ignoring her feelings here and in some aspects, he was being mindful of it. Tomoyo, in this case, was spreading herself too thin and despite her noble efforts to spend time with Tomoya where she can, she was clearly not well equipped to juggle all these issues herself. Despite the fact that Tomoya may still be a delinquent, I didn’t feel like he was purely being selfish and ignoring the other person in this relationship, since staying like this and hurting her own chances at being the Student Council President because of his own feelings would have been more selfish and harmful if anything.
Tomoya’s feelings of insecurity/inferiority here are in a way, still him showing that he does in fact care. These thoughts have some selflessness to them I argue as he is still thinking of her and putting his own desires aside. While there is definitely a self-absorbedness to being insecure and having that complex, for that inferiority kick that you mentioned to happen, he would’ve had to be thinking about Tomoyo’s goal. And once she had achieved it, it was a better time to have a relationship in. Deep down, both Tomoyo and Tomoya must have known it. Tomoyo was the one here who wanted the relationship back and did a lot of the work, but an important thing that Tomoya made her realize was that there is a right and wrong time to fight for a relationship. In the end, it was still Tomoya’s decision to go back to her anyway. [/spoiler]
Ushio: [spoiler] Alright, so yes, him leaving after Nagisa’s death in delivery WAS a morally terrible thing to do. However, to say he was forced to do it I think is a stretch and to say he doesn’t care about Ushio at all I strongly disagree with.
Sanae, from my understanding, was asking Tomoya to go on a family visit. She (who might be the kindest, thoughtful and loving person in the Key universe I argue) would never just forcibly make someone still decimated by grief over the delivery be with his daughter, despite that indeed is the right thing to do. If she did, then it’d be pointless in making Tomoya as a person/father grow from this. She had to have him willingly come with them on the family visit. And if he really didn’t care about Ushio to begin with, despite some apprehension and resistance he had shown to the idea, would he ever have eventually accepted? Both Akio and Sanae knew more than anyone that Ushio needed Tomoya in her life just as he did her and forcing them to meet would be wrong, despite good intentions. It was a conscious decision on his part to not only take responsibility for him running away before but also giving Ushio the father that she needs.
Just like with Tomoyo, his reactions to the situation were more caring and even selfless than it may seem at first. He never forgot what he did and in many ways, he might not even have known how to go back with all the shame and incredible amount of guilt he felt. And even when Sanae and Akio both disappeared, he didn’t necessarily just bolt and leave her there stranded. He stayed strong and despite his own feelings of total worthlessness, asked her how she felt about being with his father who abandoned him for years. This is not something even his own father did much of.
Like I have mentioned many times, what I argue really matters here is his actions after the tragedy and how he made up for it. Tomoya didn’t run away and especially once he started to reach his own conclusions about his mistakes (note that none of them scolded him for his actions) and it further strengthened his resolve to be the best father that Ushio deserved. A good counter-example to yours is when he told Ushio about Nagisa and what kind of person she was, despite how painful doing so was. This is another action that proved just how caring Tomoya really was. In addition, this wasn’t something that others even had to tell him. Him righting his wrongs was essentially up to him and he alone had to stop living in denial so he could repair a broken family that could only get worse with the passage of time. Despite the difficulty and length of time getting there, he overcame his own turbulence and not only did what was right but also started being the best person and father that he could be to Ushio. [/spoiler]
Naoyuki: [spoiler] This one I think is especially unfair to Tomoya, considering the neglectfulness of his father and that Tomoya was indeed in a toxic environment (will touch on further soon). Of course, he would be stubborn to come back and acknowledge he tried his best, he had little else proving otherwise in his own viewpoint. His grandmother offered a perspective that he hadn’t thought of because he was deeply hurt from his father’s neglectfulness. In a painful and negative environment, it is easy to forget that parents are still parents. In a sense, you could see Tomoya as being even worse than his father for straight up leaving, but contextually there is a bit more to that action. Whenever a child is abused or neglected like that, they are likely to repeat the same sort of attitudes that they were raised in and pass them down onto their children. Tomoya neglected his own daughter in a similar way that his father did, but the big difference is what they ultimately did to change it. Tomoya’s father indeed was “there” for his own son, but never particularly made a strong enough effort to be a father to his son. He in his own way had made a few attempts and did provide for him, but he was unable to overcome the grief of his loss. He arisen ultimately the better person, which was proven by him telling his father that he wasn’t so bad and that he recognized that his father tried his best. The fact that someone else had to offer a more grounded perspective doesn’t make his actions here (or anywhere else) any more disingenuous, as he needed someone who loved him to help him through a tough time and try to look at the past with a more rational outlook and perspective (like any other human would in a really tough time in their lives).
While it may seem unrelated, there is something very important to Tomoya himself that isn’t being addressed. People in many aspects are a byproduct of their environment, especially when said element is negative. You can see this in many other Key protagonists. There are indeed characters like Riki and Otonashi that had arguably worse backstories, but both of them had a home of positive reinforcement, kindness and love. The Junker easily had the worst environment of everyone in a world already thoroughly trash and discarded by humanity’s foolishness, thus he was incredibly jaded and hardened from being in this environment for so long. Okazaki’s character is no exception, as he lived and for a good duration of the anime and VN, was still living in a abusive and neglectful environment. Thus, he didn’t have a Kyousuke to look up to nor a proper parental figure to guide him in these situations to know what he should do. People like Akio, Sanae and others helped guide him because he desperately needed it to grow and to become the person who he was by the end. No one really “forced” him to do anything, as the points you brought up were still choices that Okazaki made. He could have chosen to stay with Tomoyo, despite all the circumstances and her potentially hurting herself in her own thoughtfulness. He knew that Ushio deserved a lot better than a deadbeat father who ignored her because his father was too weak, so he put his own guilt aside and still went through with it, even when Sanae and Akio purposefully bailed. Tomoya could have kept running away from his own responsibilities and the past itself and pretend like it never happened. He could have also chosen to ignore his father and still write him off as a terrible, horrible father. Each time, he was offered a different viewpoint or an opportunity and took it into consideration not only for himself, but for others.
It would be one thing if Clannad had ended whenever Nagisa passed on and Tomoya just ran away. The episodes that happened afterwards were incredibly vital to his character and him becoming a much kinder, thoughtful and compassionate person. I see where you were coming from and how these actions may make him seem far less caring, but given the context and environment, I still stand by what I had said. Would he have done the same thing over and over again with others? I feel that’s mostly speculation but when the anime ended, he now had that warm, loving web of support so he could continue to keep growing better as a person. So I would be inclined to say no.
TL;DR: [spoiler]I don’t feel that Tomoya was really “forced” to make any of the decisions that were for others benefit, nor that he is uncaring. Many of these dilemnas dealt with his own feelings of insecurity and his emotional bias in the situation and like anyone else, he needed the love and guidance that he never received properly as a teenager to overcome them. That doesn’t make his actions any less kind or thoughtful, as when we see other friends or family members make bad decisions, we talk to them and help give them different perspectives or opportunities to move on and heal in their times of need.
In Tomoyo’s case, his own thoughts of him dragging her down had a fair bit of confirmation from his environment, since as you have pointed out, society itself wanted them to be apart. It was also beneficial for Tomoyo ultimately for her dream and even though it may seem he is only thinking about himself and ignoring others, I argue he was being conscious of both his insecurity and Tomoyo’s dream. Insecurities in themselves, when relating to others especially, can be seen as selfless.
In Ushio’s case, Sanae would (and in my eyes didn’t) force Tomoya to be in Ushio’s life. She was persistent, yes but never forcibly brought this upon Tomoya. She did it because she loved them both immensely and knew that it was best for them to be in each others lives. Besides, there is a distinction between persistence and force, as one involves willingness by the other party to partake in the activity. He actively had to make a decision to come along and start to own up to his responsibilities as a father and be there for his daughter and ultimately he did (which also shows that he isn’t uncaring as a father either). Even when Sanae and Akio left the family trip and it forced Tomoya to spend time, he was considerate of Ushio’s feelings and asked if she still wanted to continue the trip, something his father never did. That and him resolving to be the best father he can be for Ushio proves that he does in fact care for her. Otherwise, he would have continued to ignore her and give in to his own self-pity. He even told her about his mother, something that no one suggested to him that he had to do, as everyone understood how difficult that would be for Tomoya.
Regarding Naoyuki, of course Tomoya wouldn’t want to meet his father. Confronting someone who abused and neglected you (even if he still tried to be the best father he could be in his own way) is never easy and he needed an outside perspective on his father and the situation they dealt with for him. He needed that emotional support when looking back on it as it was a very difficult time for both his father and Tomoya. She only told him how she felt about it and didn’t impose her own will on him. Just like with Sanae’s offer, he had to make a decision whether or not to continue to run away from his past. He ended up admitting to his father that he in fact wasn’t terrible and now that he was a parent himself, saw that he only did the best he could in his own way.
I stand by the claim that Tomoya did all of these things willingly when analyzing the situation in its full context and wasn’t forced to do anything. Not only that, but there are a lot of times in life (including ones with other Key Protagonists like Riki) where our protagonist needed guidance, reassurance or emotional support. The three examples you listed don’t necessarily have people telling him WHY he should care, as in each of those, he receives different perspectives or opportunities which help him make the best decision. And in my opinion, this isn’t that different than other Key protagonists. Each three examples were offers that he decided to do the right thing in, which also reinforces in my opinion that Tomoya is indeed the protagonist that has the most heart.