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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Guest Review: Clannad ~After Story~ Part 2

Clannad ~After Story~ DVD Collection 1
Studio: Kyoto Animation, Key
Sentai Filmworks
325 minutes/2 discs

Once again, guest blogger Gaosalad aka Jeremy is here with another awesome review, this time the second half of Clannad ~After Story~! Don't forget to comment here and tell him what a great job he's doing - and visit his blog as well!

The second set of the After Story line is more or less life in fast forward. So many important events speed by making it really hard to decipher what direction this show is trying to go. The show also has a bad case of bipolar disorder. One minute it will be perfect and peppy and the next it is depressing as suicidal. Despite this, I still gave the second season a shot, and in what quickly became a chore, I found myself writing a follow up review. So let's take a plunge into Clannad After Story part two.

The cutoff point of episode twelve was actually a good place in retrospect. Starting with thirteen, we get a whole new change in Tomoya as he challenges Nagisa's father to a duel to win her hand in marriage. Oh yeah, it's a baseball duel. In a predictable fashion, he wins (eventually) and marries Nagisa. They move in with each other and become a legitimate couple. This is where things get serious, right? Nope. The two of them don't even share the same bed.

This leads me to my first major complaint with the series. Tomoya and Nagisa have the most annoyingly perfect relationship ever. "I didn't mean to upset you" followed by "No it was all my fault, dear" becomes the norm. It has been a problem I've had with Key for a while now. Either they are hot or they are cold. Clannad was the first game produced by Key to be all ages and not have sex involved. Is that really an excuse to make the characters so annoyingly unlike any human couple I've ever seen?

This leads up to Nagisa determining that she wants a child. Without warning the show fast forwards two months and a part-time job later where they determine that she is pregnant. We realize just how brilliant Nagisa really is when she is prompted as to how this happened. "We have sex and sex makes babies!" Yep. You heard it straight from her. Apparently somewhere off screen the two of them took three minutes to share the same bed before they passed out to continue on with their perfect lives.

Complications come up with her pregnancy and in the big twist of the series, Nagisa dies during childbirth. I knew this scene was coming, and it took a lot for me to finally watch this episode. It is emotionally draining and a really strange high point for the series. All of the emotional buildup from the past series all concluded with Nagisa's final moments. The scene carries on for a long time as Tomoya tries to keep his wife awake, afraid of what might happen if she passes out. His efforts are futile and his wife eventually slips away. I really did expect this scene to take place closer to the end. I mean what could they possibly fill the remaining eight or so episodes with?

It turns out they fill it with Tomoya struggling to be a single father. The next episode picks up with him explaining how depressed he was after his wife passed. Fair enough, I guess. He meets up with Nagisa's mother, who talks him into a vacation with the whole family, but when he arrives at their house, both Akio and Sanae are nowhere to be found. The only person around is a little kid. That's Ushio? She looks like she's five! Wasn't she born in the last episode? How much time has passed? Oh. Five years.... Five years!? What a HUGE cop-out!

Anyway, five years later, Tomoya decides to be a parent finally and take care of his own child. Along the way he finds his grandmother and (thank god) Kyou shows back up as Ushio's kindergarten teacher. The fact that every one of the main characters from season one sans Kyou are now gone entirely makes me angry. I mean couldn't they at least explain where they went. Is Ryou still alive? Did Kotomi ever graduate from that nameless American college? Did Fuko ever wake up from her coma? She did? Oh. Well yeah, Fuko reappears and becomes Ushio's playmate, but they still fail to address how she woke up, or even her emotions of missing out on the last seven to eight years of her life.

Plot holes aside, the story moves on with Ushio contracting the same disease that her mother had and getting very ill. After asking time after time, Ushio finally convinces her father to take her on another trip even though she is sick. She tries her hardest, but eventually passes out in the snow. Cut back to the mysterious robot boy and the girl in the "other world". The girl, too, has fallen prey to the snow and passed out. The robot tried hard to encourage her to continue on, but she reveals she cannot leave the world or all the hopes of the world will die. Instead, she sends the robot back, calling him "daddy". Wait. The girl -- and the robot -- Ushio and Tomoya? All this time? You mean that we were being tormented by a character that didn't even exist in the first season? As a reward for all his help, she sends him back to the moment where Nagisa passed and granted his wish to keep her alive.

The last moments of the series are very rushed. We are given 'closure' for the more minor characters. Ryou has a three second clip of her being a nurse. Sunohara is still getting scolded and Mei finally has grown breasts. Kotomi... can drive an American car? Oh and all we get for Tomoya is her hair blowing in the wind? That's it. That is all the pay off we get for the girls we grew to love over the past forty odd episodes. The final moments of the actual series are Fuko stumbling across the girl from the "other world" who we now find out to really be Ushio, sleeping underneath a tree and exclaiming how she would like to be her friend, in typical, awkward Fuko fashion.

Well the series is over right? All's well that ends well! Wrong again. In typical Key fashion, every possible outlook must be explored. There are three 'bonus' episodes. One of them is a prequel, one is a summary of both seasons, and the last is a second "Another World" segment, exploring one of the games endings. The summary and prequel episodes felt like a waste of time, and the Kyou chapter, while entertaining, kind of stole the show away at the last minute and felt out of place... Kind of like the Tomoyo arc stapled on to the end of season one.

I have to wonder if the budget for this season was cut short in its later half. A lot of the animation was replaced by still shots with the characters narrating things, and many of the rich backgrounds were reduced to just white backdrops. It reminded me a lot of the show "His and Her Circumstances" -- it had a very interesting plot, but the animation started to hinder it. (At least this show didn't have a card-board cut-out episode). Another thing that really bugged me with the animation was that damned CGI fan. It kept popping up over and over. It looked so poorly out of place, like they felt the need to add it in after the fact. Is it really that hard to hand draw a fan? Why did it need to be in CGI?

Aside from the CGI fan, the only real complaint I have for the visual aspect of the show is the character design for Ushio. Her look is a carbon copy of Nagisa. I know it is her daughter, but I'm pretty sure Tomoya had a little something to do with the creation of that child. Why only show her as a mini-Nagisa? The other characters, no matter how transparent they become towards the end of the show, all age quite well after the five-year gap. Even Fuko has a slight redesign after she awakens from her coma.

The voice acting remained very good for the second half, as expected. The voices were all spot on. All of the actors were able to capture the emotions of the traumatic events that take place. The only thing that really breaks away from the feel of the show is the pronunciations of certain words. The main culprit is their daughter Ushio. How could the director not catch that the voice actor for Tomoya was mispronouncing the main character's name? He is the only one who says "You-shio" as opposed to "OO-Shio". I know its nit-picking the dub, but either the other characters didn't have the balls to correct how a father pronounced his daughters name or everyone else says it stupid. The only other big stick out is how Sanae says "Dango". I mean this word is said so often in the show, both seasons, and there is no excuse for saying "Dayngo".

Something I didn't mention in my review of the first half is the treatment of Ryou in the opening theme. The only real glimpse we have of this previously major character in the opening is her crying. One would assume she would get some attention and this would be explained. Nope. Nowhere in the main story do we ever see anything similar. As a matter of fact, she is just kind of put on a bus and sent off to school, never to be seen again until the finale. This scene is only shown in the extra episode "Another World: Kyou Chapter". Why include this really dramatic looking scene if it’s not part of the actual series? I know they wanted her in the theme, so why not choose one of her (albeit brief) appearances in the series?

I was also surprised to see the theme animation stay the same. I know that Ushio was left out on purpose so that they could have her be a surprise later one for those who haven't played the game, but after she was born and Nagisa passed, I expected to see her more prominently.

Complaints aside, I would like to point out that I really did enjoy the series. The music is amazing, other than the few parts I pointed out, the characters feel and act very real. The story, while being easy to follow, isn't completely predicable. Once I got over the bitterness of Kotomi, Kyou, and Fuko becoming background characters, I really was able to commit myself to the show and submerge myself in it.

The enjoyability of the show rests solely on the person watching and what they liked about the first season. If you found yourself liking the central love story between the loaf Tomoya and the shy Nagisa, this series will be yours for the loving right around episode eight. If you liked the hilarious violin playing of Kotomi, Kyou's amazing humor, Tomoyo beating the crap out of Sunohara while also remaining likable and engaging, or Fuko's hilarious magical girl attacks, I'd say forget about the second season entirely. And if you liked anything about the game or either season of Clannad, don't ever watch the movie. Oh please, editor-san, don't make me review that non-canon mind fuck!