TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

TWELVE DAYS: SUGUHA AND LIFE-SAVING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
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THIS SHOT

I hit rock bottom in March of 2016. I was forced to withdraw from my dream school because my depression had made it impossible for me to succeed academically. I can remember telling myself that I’d manage to fix everything, but those were delusions. I was “averting my eyes” from the truth. I was so lonely. As my life started spiraling downwards, I never once considered asking for help.

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it me

I kept telling myself that I had the power to fix my situation all on my own, but every time I tried to focus on fixing things, I ended up just going to bed. I was spending so much time escaping into anime, especially shows like Clannad in which I could live my ideal wholesome trad fantasy.

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I love how I can just randomly insert these Monogatari screencaps an y’all can tell how they relate to my experiences. You can tell, can’t you?

I had reached the point where I figured that I don’t deserve the company of other people, but I still strived for companionship, always sabotaging my efforts as a way of sparing the person to whom I was trying to reach out the burden of having to deal with someone as rotten as me. Nobody had to suffer besides me when I spent time with anime. When my entire world finally came crashing down on me, I blamed myself for being lazy, piling on even more self-hatred than I had already accumulated.

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We all have that Ougi voice in the back of our heads.

It was not too lit fam. Anyway, part of me is still ashamed of the fact that I had to take a medical withdrawal from Notre Dame. I know I shouldn’t be ashamed and that I had long lost control of my life by no fault of my own, but I still haven’t internalized that.

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When I returned home, I spent like three months almost entirely in my basement, curled up on the couch listening to music or watching anime (It was during that period of time that I first watched Monogatari 20 times in a row). A few days after I got home, I rolled over on the couch in the basement and heard some noise. It was my little sister playing with her barbies, which she hadn’t done in a long time. I chatted with her. I’d been crushed with shame whenever speaking to anybody since getting home, but for some reason, I felt totally comfortable chatting with my little sister then. She was in eighth grade at the time. This became a regular occurrence, and she’d always tell me she loved me when she was done and went back upstairs. My little sister became my best friend and helped save me when I hit absolute rock bottom. Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.28.29 PMOne of the most compelling scenes in Sword Art Online is in the first episode of the Fairy Dance arc, after Kirito has met Sugou *gag* and learned that Asuna is going to be married off. Kirito is absolutely devastated. His wife is going to be married off without her consent to a creep that she hates and Kirito can’t do anything about. And yes fuck this conflict it fucking sucks. Maybe it’d be okay if he wasn’t so rapey and the objective wasn’t so blatantly for Kirito to protect Asuna’s “purity,” but oh well. Its a testament to how great a character Suguha is that this is my favorite SAO arc despite all of that. Anyway, with a creeper stealing his online wife, Kirito has totally sunken into a pit of despair. This is rock bottom for Kirito.

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You can’t see his eyes, so you know shit’s serious

That evening, Suguha enters Kirito’s room after he fails to respond to her when she tells him the bath is ready. She enters his room because she cares about her br- see, there I go, that’s way more specific than I need to be, I’m just stating the obvious. Anyways… Suguha’s perspective shapes this scene in Kirito’s room, which Sword Art Online utilizes as a representation of his now devastated internal world.

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Suguha opens the door to Kirito’s room, and with her brings light and warmth. The Nervegear, in the foreground, was responsible for stealing the already distant Kirito away from Suguha for two whole years.

She finds her brother sitting alone on his bed in his room. The room is illuminated only by the moonlight streaming through the huge window in the corner of the room behind the bed and is freezing because it’s the middle of January and he hasn’t turned on the heater. In the first three shots of Kirito after Suguha enters the room, his eyes are hidden by shadows. Suguha turns on the heater and asks what’s going on. Kirito tells her that he just wants to be left alone, which is, of course, the last thing you should say when you want to be left alone. Perhaps Kirito was subconsciously trying to reach out to Suguha in that moment.

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Love how she’s got a bit of that Virgin Mary look going on with that towel

The concern in Suguha’s voice grows stronger in response to that most obvious of red flags and we see a look in Kirito’s eyes more harrowing than anything we were privy to during his experiences in Sword Art Online. Our (new) heroine immediately swoops down on him, taking his hands in hers, and asks him what’s wrong and if he’s alright, to which Kirito initially responds that “its nothing.”

 

Suguha’s demonstration of her love for her brother brings warmth to the room (she turned on the heater) and to Kirito (grasping his hands). That warmth, that love, allows Kirito to open up to her. We get to see the extremely rare “vulnerable Kirito,” a side of him we’ve only seen him show Asuna. He apologizes to Suguha, expressing his despair, saying, “I’m so hopeless and weak,” then expressing his regret that Suguha has to see him in such a compromised state, something he had sworn not to allow happen. Kirito gives an extremely vague explanation of his situation, breaking down into tears in the process.

 

Suguha throws her arms around him, allowing him to cry into her, uh, bosom, and tells him to hang in there and not give up on being with the one he loves. She instills hope in Kirito.

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The next morning (after waking up in same bed as her), Kirito reflects on and affirms Suguha’s words of comfort and encouragement. And then he conveniently gets a message that leads him to the answer to all of his problems BUT THAT’S NOT IMPORTANT.

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*plot convenience inbound*

Just as Suguha brought love and warmth to Kirito when he needed it most and encouraged him to keep fighting, so too did my little sister comfort me when I needed it most. And since then, like Suguha, my little sister has always been my biggest cheerleader, encouraging me not to give up in my struggles to overcome myself. Oh, and now I’m finally going back to Notre Dame, I’ve finally finished clawing my way back up from rock bottom, and I was only able to do it because I had my little sister cheering for me all along the journey.

Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 11.29.26 PMScreen Shot 2018-12-24 at 2.31.12 AM.pngI’m gonna be writing more about Suguha, since this isn’t as much about her character as it is about the projections of my own experiences onto this one scene in particular.

TWELVE DAYS: WATCH LADIES VERSUS BUTLERS

Ladies versus Butlers is good, easily one of the best fanservice shows. If you know me, you know that my view is that the strength of a story is entirely dependent on the strength of its characters and the dynamics between them. This wasn’t something I expected from this show, but Ladies versus Butlers has what is easily one of the most entertaining and compelling rivalries in anime. I often say that fanservice and otherwise perverse fetish-fueled harem shows are often responsible for producing bombastic and charismatic female characters. Everybody loves Lala and Momo from To Love-Ru and Aqua and Megumin from Konosuba. Monster Musume has a more well-rounded ensemble cast, but all of the women have that fire in them that make them so fun to watch. Ladies versus Butlers has Selnia Iori Flameheart and Tomomi Saikyo.

Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 6.37.49 PMSelnia and Tomomi, I think, are much more multi-faceted than the examples I gave above. They’re not like Lala, who has no problems and makes a habit of causing extremely amusing problems for Rito. Selnia and Tomomi’s bombastic personalities are both fueled by their own insecurities, which are exacerbated when they are in each other’s presence. Selnia and Tomomi were deeply jealous of each other from the moment they first met and throughout the show, both are driven almost entirely by their desire to confirm their superiority over each other. Every scene that Selnia and Tomomi share is extremely interesting, and as the series goes on, they progressively become more entertaining and intense, especially in the scenes the two share alone. These are the scenes in which one of Ladies versus Butlers’ greatest strengths shines the most. The direction of Ladies versus Butlers is way better than a fanservice show has any right to be. As Selnia and Tomomi’s rivalry begins to substantiate as a competition for Akiharu, the main character, the staging of the scenes they share becomes increasingly theatrical.

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One of my favorite scenes in the series is in the fifth episode, when Selnia and Tomomi get locked in the bathhouse together… don’t you roll your eyes at me like that. No of course they don’t have towels. Y’know, actually I think I’m just gonna end it here.

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TWELVE DAYS: KIRITO AND UTENA

Note: I feel like this ended up being a bit of a flop, it was a mistake to compare Sword Art Online with something as rich as Revolutionary Girl Utena because the conclusions I draw will inevitably be reductive. Honestly, Utena is like a critique of everything SAO does.

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Kirito and Utena. What could they possibly have in common, besides swords? Not much, so this is gonna be a short post, unless I decide halfway to start gushing about how much I love Kirito (it didn’t).

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The fourth episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena starts with Miki and Utena about to duel, with Miki going on about how he has to possess Anthy to be able to protect her, after that, the rest of the episode is a flashback and it cuts to a scene where Miki is playing piano. In the Sunlit Garden arc, Miki fetishizes Anthy as a replacement for his sister and wishes to take possession of her by winning her in a duel from Utena. Utena goes on a rant about how Anthy shouldn’t be treated like an object, and Miki says the same thing VERBATIM to Touga and Juri when proposing that the student council be disbanded. In this arc, as is the case for most episodes of Utena, Utena is not the protagonist as much as she is a character that functions as a narrative tool used to prompt growth in the focus characters. Over the course of the series, Utena’s actions prompt most of the student council to fall in love with her.

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Kirito functions similarly as an auxiliary character throughout much of Sword Art Online. The best examples would be in episodes four and seven of season one, the Black Swordsman and Temperature of the Heart. Although it is much more direct in Kirito’s case, he, like Utena, functions to prompt growth in the focus characters of those two episode, Silica and Liz. Silica, well Silica doesn’t actually grow at all, but Liz does. Well, now that I think about it, Liz’s character development consists of, uhhhh, falling in love with Kirito. Okay, bad example. The better examples are the Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet and Alicization arcs. Each of those arcs focus primarily on the development of a character other than Kirito. In Fairy Dance, its Suguha, in Phantom Bullet, its Sinon, and in Alicization, its Eugeo.

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Suguha is by far my favorite of these characters, and her story is one of escaping into video game adventures with the mysterious Kirito to avoid having to face her complicated feelings for her brother. She originally got into VR games as a way of connecting with her brother who’d lost so much time in the real world because he got trapped in SAO. While unknowingly going on adventures with that very brother, she comes to learn from Kirito that there’s no difference between the virtual world and reality, something demonstrated hilariously when she realizes Kirito, who she fell in love with, is literally her brother, the guy she was trying to forget about. And though she had her heart broken twice in the process, Suguha managed to regain a close relationship with her brother (who’s actually her cousin).

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Sinon uses Gun Gale Online “to get stronger” as a means of coping with her past trauma and Kirito shows her that her conception of what constitutes strength is off base, allowing her to find her real strength. That being said, that arc also revolves around Kirito dealing with PTSD and having to face the fact that he’s killed three people, but the emphasis is definitely on Sinon’s journey. Like Suguha and Eugeo, the ED of Sinon’s arc focuses entirely on her. In Alicization, which puts more focus on Eugeo than those other two arcs put on their heroines, Eugeo is struggling to learn to think independently of the corrupt laws that govern their society. So, like, there’s kinda a parallel between Utena and Kirito. In the segments that focus on other characters, in both shows, the protagonists serve as tools for advancing the narratives of the focus characters.

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TWELVE DAYS: KOTOMI

Kotomi is, like, the worst of Clannad’s heroines.

Tomoya didn’t have to be Kotomi’s childhood friend for this to work out, in fact, it would have been better if he wasn’t. We don’t get any other glimpses of Tomoya’s childhood at that age until After Story episode 18. The only thing that these scenes tell us is that he’s wary around adults at that age. Well, actually, it wouldn’t have made sense for Kotomi to be comfortable talking to Tomoya if they weren’t childhood friends.

Kotomi doesn’t have much agency. Tomoya whisks her away on a tour of the school with the intention of making her friends and teaching her to be funny. Neither of these things did Kotomi ask for. The suitcase comes out of nowhere. Couldn’t Kotomi have overcome this on her own?

Kotomi has a rich internal world invisible to all those on the outside, she sees herself as being on a mission to complete her parents’ research as penance. As a result, it is almost impossible to get through to her. She talks to Tomoya because she remembers him, but what would the benefit be to her of interacting with others and making friends? How does making friends help her in her mission? I’m not saying that there’s no benefit of Kotomi making friends, I’m just questioning whether or not she’s able to recognize those benefits or if she’s just letting Tomoya drag her around. Why, Tomoya, why does she need to socialize more? Some people prefer to be alone, and Kotomi’s willingness to sacrifice her time to learn to socialize makes little sense in the context of her fixation on continuing her parents’ research.

Kotomi’s arc is just a really shitty version of Rin’s development in Yuru Camp, and unlike Yuru Camp, Clannad seems to be forcing Kotomi into socializing, whereas Nadeshiko slowly coaxes Rin into camping with the club. It’s hilarious that Ryou is basically a more nuanced version of Kotomi. It’s obvious that Ryou is just as timid as Kotomi, but has developed strategies to overcome that.

Kotomi, like many characters in Clannad, is excellently animated. Special care seems to be given to her movements compared with other characters. Kotomi’s movements are somewhat sluggish, like she’s some moe sloth. One example that really stands out to me is the scene where Tomoya approaches her in the library and she pats the floor next to her, urging him to sit next to her. The way she sidles on the floor of the library is also well done, and, in my opinion, is evidence of my belief that she isn’t as inattentive as she seems and simply doesn’t want to exert the energy to pay attention to people when they approach her. Ugh, it’s like she’s playing dumb!

Kotomi almost certainly fails to see the point in socializing with anybody other than Tomoya until she’s become friends with Nagisa and the Fujibayashi sisters. If Tomoya hadn’t forced her to introduce herself to all those people, she would never have left the library. Don’t get me wrong, I sure as hell am not praising Tomoya. Some people prefer to be alone. You shouldn’t force people to interact with others if they don’t want to. For Kotomi, there was no reason to have a social life. Her entire world revolves around her quest to complete her parents’ research, and friends would only get in the way. Of course, the way Kotomi was living up until this arc was not healthy at all, but Tomoya has no way of knowing whether or not Kotomi simply prefers to be by herself, and Kotomi is too weak willed to resist being pulled around the school.

Kotomi’s back story is handled extremely well, which is a shame, considering how contrived and manipulative it is. The highlight of these flashbacks is Kotomi’s father, who reminded me a lot of my own. The way he is trying to teach his daughter theoretical physics with a metaphor which he has clearly spent a lot of time carefully constructing felt very true to life, the way a real father would get excited when their child demonstrates interest in what they’re passionate about. As great as this, Eureka Seven does it better in its second episode, when Renton feigns interest in becoming a mechanic, causing Axel, his grandfather, to pull out a special set of tools he had been saving for Renton.

Another great moment with Kotomi’s Dad is when he asks her what she wants for her birthday. When Kotomi tells him that she wants a teddy bear, his voice is giddy with excitement, saying that he’ll find the biggest teddy bear there is. Kotomi’s Dad was so elated because it was the first time that Kotomi said that there was something she wanted. This moment is reflected in episode 18 of After Story, when Ushio stubbornly searches for the toy Robot that Tomoya gave her. When Tomoya says that it can be replaced, Ushio says that she wants the original, because it was the first time that Tomoya had picked out and bought her a toy. That’s a pretty great callback, five points for Clannad.

YEET this is the last Clannad post.

TWELVE DAYS: FLIP FLAPPERS AND FUNERAL

Triumph is not a word many people will ever associate with 2016. Last year was a pretty rough year for everybody, but nobody wants read about how much 2016 thoroughly sucked. I’m going to focus on perhaps the only redeeming aspect of 2016, which was, of course, Flip Flappers. Given that a majority of humanity’s suffering in 2016 was self-inflicted, I’m still not sure that we deserved such a fantastic work of art as Flip Flappers, but I’m not going to complain. Of course, in typical 2016 fashion, this masterpiece went largely unnoticed even in the anime community and continues to be criminally underappreciated. It is worse than bad things happening to good people; it is as if nobody realized these good people even existed. Of course, being a ridiculously well versed connoisseur of music (something with zero real world applicability), I am quite used to works of art that change how I see myself or how I see the world or how I perceive the human experience going unacknowledged and unappreciated by any humans with whom I actually speak. Whenever I think about that, it upsets me that so many people are missing out on such great, beautiful moving music. Funeral by Arcade Fire triumphed by winning the attention span of music fans across the country in the mid 2000s. Arcade Fire was able to rise above the ocean of competing indie rock bands because Funeral, the band’s debut album released in 2004, is itself the essence of triumph. Funeral is triumph over relatable obstacles that we all face: depression, the struggle with identity and the many other mundane toils of the human experience, and it does so by dreaming. Funeral exhorts us to adopt the disposition of a child. Dreams can come true, even once we’ve grown up, and we need to remember that in order to hold onto hope for the future.

And this brings us back to 2016, the year in which it seemed hope had finally been extinguished for humanity. But we had Flip Flappers (and when I say “we,” I mean the infinitely small fraction of humanity that spent each week this fall excitedly anticipating what adventures Papika and Cocona would embark on next). Flip Flappers, like Funeral, is triumph incarnate. These two works of art deal with all the same themes and struggles and both deliver a resounding message of hope for the world. Funeral and Flip Flappers aren’t concerned with what’s going on with the rest of the world. They are focused on the generation of hope through perseverance as an individual through all their personal struggles. These two works hinge on triumph. Flip Flappers is the most flamboyantly triumphant anime in recent memory, and Funeral might very well be the most triumphant album of all time. In dealing with their shared themes and conflicts, Funeral and Flip Flappers frequently mirror each other’s uses of imagery and tone. The expansive orchestral nature of Funeral’s instrumentation is the perfect match for the vast visual vocabulary of Flip Flappers. Funeral and Flip Flappers are exuberant celebrations of Life, specifically youth, of the beauty and struggles of growing up, and of the fantastical journey of self-discovery.

In order to make its message hit hard, the world shown from Cocona’s perspective in the beginning of Flip Flappers is dark and claustrophobic. Nick Creamer wrote about this in his crunchyroll column early on in the Fall season, and it provides a perfect articulation of the implications of the barren and oppressing world in which Cocona finds herself wiling away the days of her adolescence. Whether the viewer realizes it or not, they have been given a glimpse into Cocona’s mind, and this characterization is much more efficient, subtle and compelling than any rambling Oregairu-style monologue. Cocona is depressed.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.34.40 PMOne of the most original aspects of Flip Flappers is the probable source of Cocona’s depression. Natasha from Isn’t it Electrifying argued in an article for crunchyroll that it would only be reasonable for Cocona, who is clearly grappling with her sexuality, to suffer from depression. It’s a consequence of the alienation that she experiences from realizing that she is different from the rest of society, which assumes that all people are heterosexual until they say otherwise, and the difficulty of being different, especially when your differences may cause others to resent you. They may even cause you to resent yourself. The struggle to escape depression is equal parts self-discovery and regaining control of the direction of one’s life. Flip Flappers is one of the best depiction of struggling with depression anime has ever given.

Dealing with depression is, for too many people, an essential part of growing up, and the greatest challenge is always grasping the reins and seizing control of your own life. This is a theme that serves as a foundation for the entirety of the album Funeral. Flip Flappers and Funeral are triumphant because they tell of overcoming immense difficulty and taking action and seizing control of your life. They also are fantastic artistic documents of the power of love and self-discovery. The coordination between the anime and the album is not a direct song-to-episode one correlation, so I’ll just organize this essay using Funeral’s track list.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.28.11 PM.pngDespite what I just said, Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels) is almost a line by line parallel of Pure Input. The crunchyroll synopsis of this episode was “girl meets girl; girls go on an adventure.” That’s exactly what happens. Neighborhood 1 tells of two young neighbors who, at the height of a blizzard so strong that the snow has completely buried their homes, run away together. The meet by digging a tunnel to connect their windows, and then they run away, leaving behind their sobbing parents. Flip Flappers’ shifting settings of Pure Illusion provide mystical worlds that are spawned by characters’ thoughts and perceptions. The snow covered world Arcade Fire creates in Neighborhood 1 is very similar to the first Pure Illusion that Cocona and Papika visit together. Papika takes Cocona by the hand in Pure Input and brings her on an adventure to a winter wonderland within pure illusion. In both the show and the song, the snow can represent both the crushing weight of depression and all the other petty burdens that weigh us down as humans. In Pure Input, Papika and Cocona appropriate the snow for recreational use, throwing snowballs and building snowmen.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.14 PMSnow also represents the impermanence of youth and the magic of love (2018 note: no clue where I pulled that from but okay). Change is inevitable, it’s merely a matter of how we change and whether or not we embrace it. In the chorus of Neighborhood 1, the speaker reflects on how his/her partner helped them to change for the better during their experiences together after they ran away from home, from their parents, and never looked back. As the series goes on, Papika changes all the lead in Cocona’s head with her Golden Hymn, “Dai-dai-dai suki!” By going on adventures with Papika, Cocona comes to recognize what has been missing from her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.30.04 PMWe see the first sign of evidence that Cocona may be changing for the better after her half-transformation, which was triggered by her desire to save Papika. Cocona makes a decision, a decision to step out of her comfort zone to do something. She rejects her anxiety and indecisiveness to take action, and when she does so, she transforms and gains the power to save Papika. This is Cocona’s first step toward seizing control of her life.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.33.40 PM.pngThe theme of escaping to fall in love is also especially relevant to the fifth episode, in which Cocona, Papika, Yayaka and the twins have all been trapped in yuri hell, a version of their school that crosses the Class-S genre with horror. The Class-S genre revolves around very deep “friendships” between young women. The horror that Flip Flappers pulls from the genre is its expectation that these relationships inevitably end before adulthood. Bloom into You’s seventh episode also dealt with this notion, which Sayaka’s former girlfriend had left with her when she said she’d grown “too old” for their relationship. That notion is dispelled when Sayaka learns of the relationship between her teacher and the owner of a local coffee shop. Flip Flappers depicts an epic escape from the restrictions of the Class-S genre, one that I think is reflected by the escape Neighborhood 1’s young couple into the snow.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.21.16 PMNeighborhood 2 opens with driving drums. The drums carry on the momentum and the potential for growth, change and love that lies before Cocona now she has proven to herself that she is capable of taking action. Cocona must continue to push and play an active role in her own life, but she’s afraid, and understandably so, since Papika had nearly died in their first journey to pure illusion. In Neighborhood 2, the chorus reads like a cheerleading squad, singing, “come on Alex, you can do it, come on Alex, there’s nothing to it!” Cocona wants connection with Papika because she isn’t totally rejecting her. However, Cocona’s anxiety hinders her ability to express herself, as the chorus demands, “if you want something, don’t ask for nothing.” Within Cocona’s heart, her desire for connection with Papika doesn’t override her fear of losing Papika. However, as they plunge into pure illusion once again, the decision is no longer for Cocona to make. This song’s exhortations are relevant throughout the entirety of Cocona’s coming of age story.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.36.44 PM“Une Anne Sans Lumieree” is the intermission in the four Neighborhood songs that make up the first half of the album, and the mood becomes much less urgent. This reflective song, with its nostalgic guitar motif reminiscent of the Beatles’ “In My Life” and Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” allows us to open our ears and listen to sound of blossoming love. Cocona is inherently self-conscious and must be noticing bits of evidence that she may be falling in love with Papika, especially in school from the Yuri Hell, which is loaded with Yuri imagery. What makes this experience so blissful for Cocona is the fact that Papika both prompts and embraces Cocona’s feelings. Beforehand, nobody seemed to be able to relate to Cocona’s experience of being different, but Papika lives and breathes being different and, as shown in episode two, is embraced for it. The song repeats that “if you see a shadow, there’s something there.” Cocona is bright enough to realize what’s going on. Just as the show relies heavily on visuals to accomplish most of the storytelling, the music of “Une Anne Sans Lumieree” itself perfectly captures the feeling of falling in love. The coda of the song, especially, perfectly captures the acceleration of romance. The tempo picks up at the end of the song and it becomes much heavier. Once you realize that you are falling in love, you can’t step on the breaks.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.42.53 PMNeighborhood 3 (Power Out) is the first of three fist-pumping anthems on this album and is the thematic centerpiece of the album. It perfectly boils down what Cocona must do in her coming of age story in order to liberate herself from loneliness and depression. It is a call to arms to fight for what you want and for what you love. It also grounds itself in a very real stage of development for children in the suburbs of the first world. Arcade Fire’s third neighborhood is one populated by adolescents who no longer feel any responsibility to obey their parents, or whose parents have grown apathetic. Essentially, the third neighborhood is one without any parents, so basically any anime neighborhood ever. All jokes aside, the absence of parents makes this setting the stage in life in which you are forced to become independent. The energy and urgency of the song are perfectly suited to the challenges of self-discovery and agency, challenges that Cocona knows very well. The song is predicated on a problematic turn of events, but the decision of those in the song to go out into the town are framed as having ends other than ameliorating the situation. They go out to find a light, to chase dreams. At the beginning of the series, Cocona is faced with the dreaded career survey, a staple anime representation of uncertainty about the future, the most universal kind of anxiety. Part of Cocona’s problem is that she doesn’t have a light to go out and find.Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.55.33 PMThe kids in the song also go out to pick a fight, meaning they feel strongly enough about something to take a risk and go fight. Cocona first acts confrontational when Yayaka reveals to her and Papika that the end game for collecting the amorphous is world domination. These things that are important to us are fundamentally linked to who we are. Cocona expresses distress and reluctance to return to Pure Illusion after she realizes how their Inception inspired meddling changed Iroha-senpai. At the end, Cocona turns against her mother to fight for her independence and agency, which she built over the course of the show, and her relationship with Papika. She knows she loves Papika. Loving Papika is central to who Cocona is, who she has become. At the end of the series, it would be true to say that Cocona is Cocona because Papika is Papika. The power was out in Cocona’s heart before she met Papika, but as a result of their adventures, Cocona learned to take it from her heart and put it in her hand.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.22.01 PM.pngNeighborhood #3 is also very reflective of Yayaka”s personality. Yayaka is impulsive, and if you were to ask yourself which characters from Flip Flappers would ever pick a fight, the first name that would come to mind would be Yayaka. Of course, Yayaka despises this aspect of her personality and wishes somebody else could make all her decisions for her. Cocona, on the other hand, is struggling to learn to make decisions for herself, and must reject Mimi, her mother, when she says that Cocona can’t be trusted to make decisions for herself. One line in particular in this song captures Cocona’s mindset at the beginning of the story. Arcade Fire uses a storm as metaphor for growing up, singing “growing up in some strange storm, nobody’s cold, nobody’s warm.” Cocona rediscovers warmth when she meets Papika and Yayaka must ignore her orders and protect Cocona, who is a source of warmth for her. Musically, the melodic cacophony of Neighborhood 3 is a great reflection of the messiness of youth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.08.18 PM.pngNeighborhood 4 expresses frustration at how slowly things change, if they change at all. Cocona’s passiveness, her inability to make things happen on her own is captured in the song’s chorus, which says “a watched pot never boils, well I closed my eyes and nothing changed.” Flip Flappers contradicts this song by introducing Papika to Cocona, a wildcard who forces Cocona to start to change.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 10.39.13 PMUltimately, Papika and Cocona aren’t too concerned with preventing the bumbling Asclepius’s plan for a New World Order. They are concerned with each other and themselves. The song notes that all the neighbors are burning. Everybody else falls in love, and Cocona is having a difficult time navigating her first experience with romance. The Crown of Love, which comes next, reverts the focus to a key scene earlier in the series, the Mad Max pure illusion and the mask. Tension boils between Cocona and Papika in the first three episodes, exploding in a fight and a reconciliation. The Crown of Love is a plea for forgiveness, and is an important reminder that real love, a real healthy relationship needs both partners to be comfortable enough with each other to fight. Cocona is forced to that point by the mask, but it is not the last time they will fight.

Wake Up is the thematic successor of Neighborhood 3 (Power Out). Wake Up is about braving your way through life. For Cocona especially, this is a much more difficult struggle. The song exhorts children to wake up and seize the opportunities to make mistakes now. Cocona’s fear of making mistakes prevents her from taking an active role in her own life. Not only does Cocona need to “hold her mistakes up,” she needs to realize that mistakes are a fundamental part of growing up. Cocona has to wake up and start playing an active role in her life. In doing so, she has to accept who she is, regardless of how much her identity deviates from society’s norms, and then actively embrace Papika and her feelings for her. At the beginning of the story, Cocona is faced with the career survey, but she can’t see where she’s going. By the end of the story, Cocona has accepted who she is and has the confidence in herself to believe that wherever it is she’s going, she’ll be comfortable with herself.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.03.25 PMWake Up also repeats Neighborhood 3’s emphasis on agency with the lines, “with my lightning bolts a glowing, I can see where I am going.” Once Cocona learns to become independent and take control of her life, she’ll have less anxiety about the future. Yeah, Haiti’s lyrics are way too specific and violent for any reflection on Flip Flappers. Musically though, its lush and playful, which is an excellent description of Flip Flappers.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.32.30 PMRebellion (lies) is the final of the three anthems that dominate Funeral and it returns to the theme of embracing the naiveté and idealism of childhood. These are assets in the journey to knowing yourself and understanding life. The defiant message of this song is that happiness is possible, contrary to what the world tells us, and that’s not a lie.  Honestly, anything else I have to say about this song in relation to Flip Flappers would simply be retreading points I have already made. For example, the line “sleeping is giving in” is another exhortation to take control of your life and not running away from your problems. To be honest, the reason I originally scrapped this was that I figured it was all so obvious that it doesn’t warrant me going in depth.

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 11.05.04 PM.pngIn the Backseat just perfectly captures Flip Flappers’ understanding of dependency. The lines, “I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak” are a perfect portrait of Cocona at the beginning of the series and in episodes 11 and 12. In those two episodes Mimi returns and assumes the responsibility of making all of Cocona’s decisions for her. This is also exactly what Yayaka wanted, to have other people make tough decisions for her. The line, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life” is a great expression of how growing up is entirely oriented towards eventually becoming independent.

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Okay this was really messy, but I’m glad I’m getting it out there in some form, since so many people have expressed their desire to see it. Honestly, I didn’t even really touch on everything. Most of this was written in January of 2016, I can’t believe how much my writing has changed since then.

TWELVE DAYS: FUCK SUNOHARA

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Sunohara, master of corncobbing

Clannad is “the anime that made the world cry,” but it is also technically a comedy. Clannad’s poor handling of comedy and over all poor sense of humor have likely suffered the most from my repeated watches of the series. As a matter of fact, I remember appreciating the comedy very much the first few times I watched it, but now, it is nothing but grating. Clannad doesn’t integrate its comedy and drama well at all, especially when you compare it to something like Toradora, which aired the same seasons as after story. In Toradora, the comedy weaves itself in naturally without making the show seem like its constantly shifting between a comedy and a drama. The same cannot be said for Clannad. I feel like people will raise March Comes in Like a Lion as a counterpoint, and to that, I have not yet prepared a response.

In Clannad, almost all comedic elements come across as comic relief and feel shoehorned in, especially when they’re elaborate sequences that sometimes carry over between scenes and sometimes end in some sort of a gay panic punchline. Clannad does, however, handle its running gags very well, and it deserves recognition for that. Tomoya’s efforts to shoot juice up Fuuko’s nose, Fuuko’s appearances after her arc, and Kotomi’s devastating violin playing are all funny and seamlessly woven into the scenes in which they appear. I’m not considering “Sunohara gets kicked” a running gag because, well, it isn’t funny and it happens all the time. Running gags are supposed to be special, so they can’t happen too frequently, and the first season of Clannad is definitely oversaturated with scenes of Sunohara getting his ass handed to him. It’s just exhausting. As I write this, I’m dreading continuing my rewatch of Clannad because the next few episodes are Sunohara’s after story arc, which is pretty much, like, the worst. Sunohara is the worst, so naturally any narrative that focuses on him would be similarly lacking in value.

Clannad is not a comedy

Clannad takes itself too seriously. “But Senpai, Clannad is a comedy too,” yeah, uh, no it’s not. Clannad is not a comedy, not by a long shot. If I wasn’t opposed to low blows- well, I’m not opposed to low blows, so I’ll just say it outright: you have to be funny to be a comedy. Obviously that’s not true, To Love-Ru is one of my favorite anime comedies, but no part of me would expect women to find that show to be funny. That’s nothing against women, To Love-Ru generally treats women horribly.

No, Clannad isn’t a comedy first and foremost because of the way it undercuts its comedy in the very first episode. The first episode of Clannad is fairly brilliant for more than a few reasons, one of those being the way it frames Tomoya and Sunohara’s shenanigans. Clannad frames their comedy as a mask that hides the characters’ inner turmoil. They are just a mask for Tomoya’s depression, as demonstrated when their first scene together cuts back to Tomoya’s melancholy monologue. Perhaps the comedy is meant to feel forced because it is forced. I think that’s probably giving Clannad too much credit though. In fact, it’s a stretch even to surmise that all of Tomoya and Sunohara’s humor functions this way. There is one series where this is absolutely true, and that’s Monogatari.

For Sunohara and Tomoya, well, they’re high school guys, so naturally, most of their time spent together is spent joking around. At the beginning of the series, the pair have all but given up on school. While Tomoya begins to find himself more engaged in the conventional high school experience, Sunohara is still focused only on amusing Tomoya and himself. Sunohara’s sexual harassment of a Tomoyo is, more than anything else, something to do. It’s a means of amusement that entertains Okazaki and gives Sunohara himself pleasure because he’s a masochist. There’s no other reason that a character would so frequently place themselves at risk of getting owned. Sunohara loves getting owned, especially by women, but he’d never pursue one of those women for a relationship. Sunohara consistently demonstrates that he’s only romantically interested in seemingly weak willed moe girls like Nagisa, Ryou, Kotomi and Miyazawa. I only said ‘seemingly,’ because that’s not the case for Miyazawa. Sunohara is reasonably competent in the fights we see him in. Those fights are always with men, though he was willing to brawl with the student council, and are sparked by conflict in which Sunohara is genuinely emotionally invested. He knows he can’t beat Tomoyo or Kyou and would much prefer that they whoop his ass because that’s how he gets off and because it entertains Tomoya. When Sunohara gets owned, it’s not supposed to be funny because the show is playing it for laughs, it’s supposed to be funny because Sunohara himself is playing it for laughs. That being said, nothing Sunohara does is remotely amusing. Sunohara’s comedic shenanigans are intended by the character Sunohara to entertain Tomoya. Through Sunohara’s attempts to entertain Tomoya, the writers of Clannad seek to entertain the audience. This however, is incidental. Sunohara tries to make his everyday life a comedy in order to entertain Tomoya and himself, because that’s all they’ve really got left to live for, at least at the start of the series.

I don’t think you can call Clannad a comedy because it isn’t thoroughly a comedy. Clannad is a show with jokes. As I explained above, these jokes are, for the most part, told by characters to amuse other characters. When Clannad gets serious, it gets dead serious. You’d never have a moment like You jumping off the balcony to save a falling school uniform in episode 9 of Love Live Sunshine. That uniform that fell from above was loaded with history and Kanan tossed it out the window in defiance of Mari’s insistence that she join Aqours. That’s the good kush. Once Clannad decides to get serious, there’s no room for laughs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does, in my opinion keep Clannad from being a proper comedy. That’s good, because if I considered Clannad a comedy, it’d be the least amusing comedy I’d ever seen.

Throughout the first season of Clannad, Sunohara only has a few endearing moments. Those moments are when he struggles after forgetting about Fuuko and when he kicks Tomoya out of his room when Tomoya comes to him to avoid going on a picnic with the Furukawa’s. That’s it, that’s the extent of Sunohara’s appeal as a character before his arc, most of which Sunohara spends being the most un-endearing unrefined cretin imaginable. When the arc wraps up with Sunohara doing the bare minimum by protecting his sister, he is even less likable than he was when the arc started. I haven’t even gotten into all the things that make me actively dislike him. Should I even go into those things? Probably not, I have a feeling I’ll come across as a hypocrite since I love Araragi.

You know, on this watch, my tenth watch, I’m starting to realize that Sunohara is actually the drama club member who is most into it. The way he incorporates theatrics into his life feels very intentional, similar to the way Akio demonstrates his love of theatre through his lighthearted interactions with his family and how he uses them to keep a smile on Nagisa’s face. Sunohara masquerades as Kazuto Miyazawa for shits and giggles, then later uses the excuse that he’s in the drama club and was studying for a role. I feel like that excuse might actually be somewhat true. It gave him an opportunity to act, to march around as the character of Kazuto Miyazawa. Unfortunately, at the end of the series, we see that Sunohara has joined some sort of company and is only just getting his driver’s license, so it seems he is doomed to a life of unhappiness. Perhaps he never realized his true love of the theatre. Wow, am I actually feeling sorry for Sunohara? *cue weepy synths*

Sunohara is not good, I don’t like him. Naoko Yamada directed episode three of After Story, “Hearts out of Sync,” and she did an excellent job depicting Sunohara as, to use Nick Creamer’s words, “the Hitler of Big Brothers.” Nick Creamer also argues that, in order to have a redemption arc, a character has to be redeemable. They need to have some semblance of good in them, which Sunohara does not have. I’m inclined to agree with him because, well, I hate Sunohara with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul. However, there were instances in which Sunohara did things that weren’t bad and, dare I say, even came across as endearing. He was able to figure out on his own that Fuuko was the rumored ghost girl and he demonstrated concern and anger when he saw people seemingly ignoring her. This is why it is so jarring when Sunohara wishes to just ignore the girl being bullied at the playground in “Hearts out of Sync.”

Sunohara’s concern is not unconditional. He only got angry when Fuuko was ignored because he was invested in Fuuko. He was already on board the starfish express. This is the essence of connections between people in Clannad, the theme that Jason Moonfang called, “people complete people.”

I mentioned earlier that Sunohara is only romantically interested in moe blobs, vulnerable girls that he knows won’t challenge him. He wants to marry a woman without any agency, a woman who won’t speak up when she’s uncomfortable. He wants a woman who’ll put out whenever he tells her to, and won’t take issue with his obnoxious behavior. He wants a woman that he can trust to take care of the kids while he stays out after work, drinking with his colleagues and visiting hostess clubs. He’s kind of like Patrick in that classic episode of Spongebob where they decide to raise a scallop, except in Sunohara’s case, his wife won’t ever complain. He wants a woman that will quietly continue washing the dishes even though she knows her husband is out burning his paychecks in Kabukicho getting pegged by a dominatrix. He wants a woman who will always cry during sex, and only during sex, out of fear of what her husband will do to her if she cries at any other time. Everything I’ve just said is way too specific for me to ascribe it to Sunohara’s future self, but even so, I think Sunohara’s arc manages to set him on a path that won’t lead to such a future. No, Mei isn’t the one that I believe manages to set Sunohara on the right course, its Sanae.

Everybody loves Sanae, and so does Sunohara. Sunohara’s attachment to somebody that is supposed to be his fake girlfriend is super creepy, and it feels like he forgets that it is not real, and that’s not something that he himself was playing for laughs, he was convinced. Sanae offers herself up to be Sunohara’s fake girlfriend because she feels compelled to help him find his way. As much as I hate Sunohara, I can’t deny that, in a story like Clannad, when a character like Sanae, a mother, expresses a genuine desire to help somebody, they’re going to be successful. I believe Sanae succeeded in preventing Sunohara from bumbling towards a future in which he’s an abusive husband. Sanae has all the outwardly moe points that Sunohara is attracted to, but also has a strong will, something to which Sunohara has expressed an aversion. On their first date, Sunohara drags Sanae around without considering what she might want to do. Sanae doesn’t complain, which is exactly what Sunohara wants in a woman, and since Sanae doesn’t complain, Sunohara fails to realize that he’s being inconsiderate. However, when Sunohara wants to ignore the lost children, Sanae asserts herself and they lead the children home. Sunohara is visibly upset by the experience, but wants to continue seeing Sanae, despite the way she defied him. I think that, if Sanae taught Sunohara anything, it was to value strong women for reasons other than the fact that they kick his ass. She trains him to become a woman respecter. I’m kind of trailing off here because that’s really all we see of Sunohara’s dates with Sanae. What is certain is that Sunohara was prepared to ask Akio for Sanae’s hand in marriage, meaning that he fell for Sanae despite Sanae having agency and asserting herself. I don’t think that would have happened before.

Y’know, Sanae is such a great character that her caring about Sunohara almost makes me want to care about Sunohara myself. almost.

Also, I actually hate Tomoya more than I hate Sunohara.

fuckin Clannad fuckn sucks

TWELVE DAYS: SOME THOUGHTS ON TOMOYA

BxBvCshCEAAgUyY     Tomoya’s depression gradually fades away after he meets Nagisa. Tomoya’s attitude toward school before he met Nagisa was one of resignation and hatred. Tomoya expresses his desire to erase all of his painful memories in the anime’s opening scene. Over the course of the show, except at a few vulnerable moments, Tomoya is dismissive of these experiences when they come up. Tomoya’s actions lead him to join other characters as they explore the most painful memories of their own. Tomoya manages to avoid thinking about his own problems by thrusting himself into the problems of others, not unlike Araragi.

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“Mr. Okazaki, you’re no Araragi.”

DADDY ISSUES

Tomoya’s outward attitude toward his Father up until the Ends of the Earth was one of disgust and resentment.

In the first few episodes of Clannad, we see a few scenes in which Naoyuki approaches Tomoya at home. In those scenes we catch Tomoya the narrator off guard. Tomoya, during the scenes with his father, is much different than his usual aloofness would suggest. More than anything, when face to face with his father, Tomoya regresses to a more Shinji-esque character. In these scenes, Kyo-Ani’s expression work really drives home that Tomoya is still a child, one that has been hurt and handles problems by running away.

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Naoyuki is reaching out to Tomoya, trying to reconnect with him, and Tomoya responds by running away. These scenes also betray Tomoya’s aloofness and indifferent attitude toward his relationship with his father. If Tomoya really didn’t care about being family with his father, he wouldn’t cry out in episode two, “don’t treat me like a stranger!”

OH ALSO, TOMOYA DOES NOT NEED TO FORGIVE HIS ABUSER. CLANNAD IS STUPID ABOUT THAT.

Tomoya’s desire to help Nagisa, Fuuko and Kotomi is fueled by his resentment for his father and his resentment for himself. Tomoya knows he’s fallen to pieces since the incident with his father. What Tomoya hates most about his slip into delinquency is that he sees himself becoming his father. Tomoya’s desire to become a better father than Naoyuki drives him to help all of these women that he comes across in his school. This may also explain why Tomoya seems to treat all these girls like children.

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Tomoya carries with him a burden of self-hatred that he lets slip into his speech from time to time. For example, in episode seventeen of After Story, Tomoya asks Ushio, “are you sure you want to go on a trip with a guy like me?” Tomoya, between his meeting Nagisa and [the last time Nagisa gets sick] her death, made a lot of progress towards coming to love himself, but after blaming Nagisa’s death on himself and coming to regret all of that time, Tomoya walks back all of that progress. And also actually becomes exceptionally shitty by abandoning his daughter.

Naoyuki’s violent episode when Tomoya was a freshman ruined Tomoya’s school life by forcing him to quit Basketball, the one thing that gave him purpose. Without Basketball and filled with resentment for his father, Tomoya lapsed into delinquency after that incident. That must have been when Tomoya came to hate his school.

Along with the untimely death of Tomoya’s mother, this incident is his and Naoyuki’s shared sob story. The portrayal of Naoyuki in the anime is very interesting. Despite the way Clannad is filtered through Tomoya’s point of view. Every depiction of Naoyuki is supposed to be sympathetic, and I often doubted that he ever hit Tomoya at all on my first watch. Should Kyo-Ani have animated a flashback to that incident? Hmmmm.

Even though Tomoya came to hate school in the wake of his forced retirement from the Basketball team, it wasn’t as though there was nobody at the school that cared for him. Koumura-sensei, noticing Tomoya’s growing disinterest in school, orchestrated his first encounter with Sunohara. In doing so, Koumura brought into a Tomoya’s life a reason not to totally give up on school. A person with one friend is much more social than somebody without any friends, in my experience. It’s not explained in the anime how Kyou became friends (though none of them would have admitted it) with Tomoya and Sunohara, but I have a feeling it wouldn’t have happened if the latter two weren’t already friends. Tomoya was likely en route to voluntary total social isolation before he met Sunohara. Koumura-sensei saved Tomoya from becoming totally antisocial. Without that intervention from Koumura-sensei, Tomoya would have adopted an Araragi-esque loner ethos and probably wouldn’t have been inclined to reach out to Nagisa, let alone embark on his woman-saving crusades of Clannad’s first season.

Tomoya’s perception of each heroine is partially determined by Tomoya’s perception of himself. Tomoya’s perception of each heroine changes based on how Tomoya sees himself in relation to them. ‘Cause he’s a selfish bastard.

Tomoya, in his first interaction with Fuuko, is condescending and takes it upon himself to take away something from her as a disciplinary measure with Fuuko’s best interest at heart. Imagine that you get a B- on a test in Math class because you’ve been texting in class lately rather than paying attention. Then imagine some stranger comes and takes your phone away from you so that you have no choice but to pay attention. That’s what Tomoya does to Fuuko… Fuck that! Who does that? Who the hell does Tomoya think he is? Everybody has a right to make shitty decisions, but Tomoya just takes it upon himself to take Fuuko’s carving tool away from her since her hand is hurt. Nobody asked you, Tomoya! What gives you the authority to just march in and take things that aren’t yours? This is mirrored in episode seventeen of After Story when Ushio’s toy breaks and Tomoya fixes it. After fixing the toy, he tells her to let it dry after before playing with it, but she does not listen and the toy’s wheels stop working. Unlike the case with Fuuko, Tomoya doesn’t actively prevent Ushio from playing with the toy before the glue finished drying. Though it might not have been his intention, this was a far more effective parenting decision. Tomoya treated Ushio like a big girl and allowed her to make her own mistakes. In Ushio’s case, she probably learned from this mistake the importance of listening to adults. Ushio’s mistake was also a step toward her learning the value of patience, which is probably one of the most important things for children to learn. Tomoya’s approach to parenting Fuuko, on the other hand, was to make it impossible for Fuuko to make her own mistakes.

That being said, Fuuko probably didn’t need Tomoya’s aggressive parenting. Tomoya’s first impression of Fuuko is that of a kouhai stubbornly continuing to hurt herself. In Fuuko, Tomoya saw an opportunity to demonstrate to himself that he can be a better parent than his father. In designating himself as the father figure, Tomoya’s lasting impression of Fuuko became that of a child in need of guidance. After Tomoya realizes that Fuuko really is a goddamn coma ghost, he realizes that he actually feels a sense of responsibility for Fuuko. Little does he know that Fuuko is way more mature than him.

So why does Tomoya feel motivated to help all of these infantilized helpless heroines? Everything we know about Tomoya would seem to suggest that he wouldn’t be inclined to waste his time with other people, least of all those like Nagisa who are trying to get the most out of high school and enjoy things like club activities, which Tomoya and Sunohara feel they had snatched away from them. Sunohara even says as much when he notices Tomoya spending time with Nagisa. It’s all about Tomoya’s Daddy issues, that’s what runs his life throughout most of Clannad.