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