Clannad~After Story~’s Deus ex Machina: Wonderful or Ruinous?

Late to the party.

Its been a while since Clannad~After Story~ aired, and it has, likewise, been a while since everyone got into a tizzy over it. At the time, I didn’t feel terribly inclined toward making any input on it, as I stalled after a few episodes and didn’t finish it off until quite a bit later. I’d watched the movie before After Story aired, so I’d already seen what happens when magic doesn’t intervene and Tomoya just has to chin up and deal with the fact that his wife is dead. The movie handles it beautifully; overall, I think the movie just flat-out is better-executed than the TV series, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that the movie is a more straightforward story than the TV series is, as it dispenses with the harem elements. At the same time, there is one big thing the movie does that is a major cause of rage – when Nagisa sees a doctor when she becomes pregnant, the doctor informs her family that she could die giving birth… and her family doesn’t tell her! What a horrible thing to do! What kind of family does that?!

Anyway, I’m more interested in looking at the fact that the TV series essentially employed a deus ex machina for its ending, and the question of whether that invalidated what went before it or somehow cheapened the show as a whole.

The short answer I have for that is: no. I do not think that showing the events to be a premonition or a dream or hallucination on Tomoya’s part damages their overall impact or the show’s quality. While I appreciated the movie’s willingness to stick to its guns, so to speak, I also liked how the TV series ended and did not find fault with its maneuvering. I can understand why some did, and I think some of the criticisms are valid, even if I find their overall merit lacking and disagree with them ultimately.

Consider Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It is probably his most well-known story, and in part of it Ebenezer Scrooge gets a glimpse of his own future should he continue with his current behaviors and attitudes when he is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. What he sees is horrible, and convinces him that he must change his ways or he will come to regret it. This is a similar scenario to the one Tomoya comes upon – he had been doubting whether it was good that he and Nagisa met when they were in high school, and he continues to do so after his wife dies, to the point where he becomes incapable of functioning or being a good parent. It isn’t until he learns that he doesn’t regret having met Nagisa and everything that came after it that he comes to at the moment of Ushio’s birth. Perhaps it has all been a dream, but it has been an instructive one, one which allows him to grow as a person.

Alright, but A Christmas Carol lets the audience in on the fact that Scrooge’s visions are just that – visions. After Story, meanwhile, hoodwinks us along with its characters; the two stories aren’t really the same at all! Or so an argument may go.

I still don’t think the fact that the show pulled wool over our eyes is problematic.

There are two things in here that I like. The first is this idea that if you let constant doubts and regrets rule your life, then you will lose the things that matter to you. This isn’t to say that one should be wholly carefree and never think that they could’ve made some better decisions at points; that’s fairly impossible for most of us. But there is a large difference between thinking that you could’ve handled something better in your past and being so plagued by it that you become paralyzed. The fact is, once something has occurred, you can’t go back and change it, thus there is no sense in being constantly haunted by it. You have to get on with your life and enjoy what you’ve got – realize that you have things to be happy about.

Tomoya is lucky: he gets a second chance to do this, he gets to learn his lesson. In life, this generally is not the case, and this also contributes to the impact of After Story. There is something beautiful to see someone get a second chance at life in this way. There’s something entrancing about the idea of being able to go back in the narrative and do things differently and have a different outcome. That isn’t how life works.

I think I feel so strongly about this, and also what ended up prompting this post on my part, has to do with the fact that I’ve lost so many people in just the past couple of years or so. Yesterday, I lost a former underclassman of mine (I found out after I typed up the K-ON! post). After Story’s ending to me represents this beautiful little fantasy of being able to alter the way things turn out, even as I simultaneously think it is for the better that we do not have the ability to hit rewind on our lives or the lives of others. In fact, I’d go so far to say I’m glad that we can’t reach into the past to change things, as I don’t think we’d be capable of living at all if we did so – our regrets would consume us whole, our lives simply awash in redos and re-edits. You can’t live like that. Which is why After Story’s limited deus ex machina nature does end up being such a fantasy.

I don’t know if I’ve really gotten my points across in the way I would like to have. It all sounded better in my head, as is so often the case.

In closing, I would like to ask that you would consider making a donation to the Kristen Brooks Hopeline, an organization which, among other things such as awareness raising, helps fund and operate the National Hopeline Network, a suicide prevention number (1-800-SUICIDE). I know that not all of you are American, but I do not have much familiarity with similar organizations in other countries beyond the UK’s and Ireland’s Samaritans. Even if you do not wish to make a donation, I would ask that you would take the time to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicide and how to help a suicidal individual. My underclassman died yesterday of suicide, and I come from a field with a high rate (almost double the national average), so I consider it very important to know these things and that others know them as well.

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2 Responses to Clannad~After Story~’s Deus ex Machina: Wonderful or Ruinous?

  1. Martin says:

    I really liked the After Story ending for similar reasons – it was an uplifting, hopeful and life-affirming way of wrapping up the story…real feelgood entertainment. My own family have had their share of ups and downs in recent years, so the over-arcing themes of family ties and togetherness struck a chord with me too.

    And of course, what’s the point in making an ending that’s the same as the movie’s? As you say, the feature film is good in its own right and to take the same tack would’ve seemed pointless to me. As an aside, the movie was directed by the highly experienced and respected Osamu Dezaki…quite a departure though, considering how he’s better-known for the Golgo 13 movie and the Black Jack OAV! It struck me as more serious and ‘artsy’, while the TV show was more commercial and accessible.

    I had to revisit my own blog posts on the various Clannad incarnations, which reminded me how much I enjoyed them. I thought that, rather than being a deus ex machina, the After Story ending was a neat, and as far as I know unique, attempt to weave a feature of a VN gameplay into a linear TV narrative. Taking the game feature of ‘replaying’ the story and making it a plot device was really quite clever I think.

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