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.
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.
One 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.Despite 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.
Snow 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.
We 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.
The 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.
Neighborhood 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.
“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.
Neighborhood 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.The 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.
Neighborhood #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.
Neighborhood 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.
Ultimately, 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.
Wake 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.
Rebellion (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.
In 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yeet yeet yeet. Fuuko’s arc is the part of Clannad that I enjoy discussing most. If Clannad was just the Fuuko arc, it would be one of the most absurd anime I’ve ever watched. Even more absurd is that Kyo-Ani decided to drag it out for a whole six episodes. That’s like one FLCL! All dedicated to Fuuko…
Of course I say that, but to say that Fuuko’s arc is about Fuuko is to miss the point entirely, because it’s not about Fuuko at all. Fuuko’s arc is basically a drawn out less compelling version of Mayoi Snail (though Clannad does predate Monogatari). Like Mayoi, Fuuko, who at first seems to be the focus of the arc, really serves as an agent that brings two other characters closer together. Mayoi Snail brings Araragi and Senjougahara closer together and ends with them becoming lovers, while the Starfish arc uses Fuuko to bring Tomoya and Nagisa closer together. The biggest differences are the means by which these arcs bring these characters together and their duration. Mayoi Snail takes place over the course of a single day, while the Starfish arc lasts a few weeks. Mayoi Snail limits itself to just six characters, two of which only appear over the phone or in flashbacks and another who appears for just one scene. On the other hand, the Starfish arc’s focus on the three central characters is diluted by the importance of the supporting cast and way the narrative ropes in the entire school. That’s not to say that it was a bad decision on Clannad’s part to involve its mostly maddeningly dull supporting cast, I’m just laying out the contrasts between these two similar arcs. Yes, even Kyou is dull, just compare her to actually compelling tsundere characters you’ve seen in other anime, or any Monogatari girl, and Tomoyo isn’t made compelling until after this arc. Obviously, I firmly believe that Mayoi Snail, which I consider to be one of Monogatari’s most foundational and underappreciated arcs, is far more compelling in the manner and degree to which it brings its couple together.
Mayoi Hachikuji is a far better character in her own right than Fuuko, and Mayoi has half as many episodes in her arc as Fuuko. Even though I’d say that Araragi and Senjougahara are the focus of Mayoi Snail, Nisio Isin still crafts Mayoi into a compelling character over the course of her arc. Mayoi comes across as hostile and defensive, not unlike Araragi’s first impression of Senjougahara. Like Senjougahara, Mayoi actively tries to prevent people from getting involved with her, but unlike Senjougahara, Mayoi does it out of concern for the people she encounters. Mayoi’s nature as an apparition isn’t revealed until toward the end of the arc. When Araragi is told that Hachikuji is the lost cow, he immediately realizes that this means Mayoi has been wandering as a ghost for eleven years, trying to prevent people from keeping her company. That alone is just a sad story, and all it tells us about Mayoi is that she is selfless and wise, having resolved to wander alone endlessly rather than preventing people from losing her way just as she had before her life was cut short. On the other hand, Fuuko’s sob story is that she’s the coma ghost of a loner girl whose primary character trait is that she loves her sister and starfish. Later on, it’s implied that she likely won’t ever wake up, though that ends up being untrue. Mayoi, on the other hand, is dead. Mayoi’s character becomes most tangible when she is reflecting upon her family issues with Araragi, in which she articulates her complicated feelings for her father, who she loves but who has been preventing her from visiting her mother.
Monogatari, like Clannad, is very much an anime about family. Clannad is pretty much the poster child for anime about family, yet the extent of Fuuko’s relationship with Kouko, as depicted in the six episodes of Fuuko’s arc is that Fuuko is a good sister and wants Kouko to be happy. Of the two sisters, Kouko, who receives much less screen time, is far more interesting. Nagisa and Tomoya express awe at Fuuko’s devotion to her sister’s happiness, but is it really all that impressive? I mean, Fuuko is a coma ghost, one that doesn’t seem to anticipate ever awakening, so she has all the time in the world. Fuuko doesn’t have to go to classes, and she receives information from her ears in the hospital, so she knows that her sister is hesitating to get married for her sake. Fuuko, being a coma ghost, knows that she can’t effect the world as tangibly as a conscious physical person can, but she can do her best and by a stroke of luck, she manages to find a couple of people that happen to know her sister that are bored enough to spend their time assisting in her efforts.
Kouko is actually interesting. Why the hell is Kouko spending every day in the hospital rather than going out and living her own life? Yes, the obvious answer is that she stays with Fuuko every day because she loves her, but I have a feeling that there’s more to it. At some point, wouldn’t Kouko be seen as lazy for quitting her job and spending every day with her sister rather than working? As long as somebody is with Fuuko every day, isn’t that enough? Why does it have to be Kouko? For some reason, Kouko must be the only family that Fuuko has. Why else would she take it upon herself to take care of Fuuko herself when she finally does awaken? Wouldn’t Fuuko’s parents want to live with their recovering daughter that had been in a coma for ten years? They would if they were good parents. In Kouko’s flashbacks during the arc, we see that they were living together before Fuuko’s accident, but it didn’t seem as though Kouko was the head of household, so I don’t think the sisters’ parents were dead.
My theory is that Fuuko’s parents wanted to pull the plug on Fuuko. They should have. Just Kidding. Kouko must have taken them to court and sued for custody of Fuuko. Regardless of whatever the real story is, Kouko is far more interesting than Fuuko because she really sacrifices time from a tangible life to care for her sister then takes her into her home once she awakens. On top of that, it doesn’t seem as though Kouko and Yoshino ever have children. Knowing Clannad, there must be a significant reason that a couple would decide not to have a child. Nagisa tells Tomoya to put a baby in her as soon as Tomoya asks her what she wants. Kouko is so dedicated to her sister that she refrained from having children of her own so that she can take care of Fuuko. But is Fuuko really a character worth taking care of?
My instinctual response is yes, but as soon as I try to think of additional qualities that make Fuuko a good character, my mind goes blank, so I’ll move on and explore how Mayoi and Fuuko function as narrative devices.
Mayoi’s case brings Araragi and Senjougahara closer together by putting on display some of each character’s anxieties and insecurities. By coming to understand a bit of each other’s vulnerabilities, Araragi and Senjougahara’s relationship becomes more intimate, which is demonstrated perfectly when Senjougahara declares to Araragi, “I love you.” The situation also provides an opportunity for Senjougahara to watch Araragi rescue somebody other than herself, which affirms the feelings that Senjougahara was harboring for Araragi. Fuuko brings Nagisa and Tomoya closer together by causing them to work and spend a lot of time together. Not only do they spend a lot of time together, they spend that time together caring for a child (though Fuuko is technically the same age as Okazaki). Nagisa even remarks at one point that she and Tomoya are like Fuuko’s mother and father, and at the end of the arc, the two start addressing each other by their first names.
Fuuko’s arc is so mind bogglingly stupid, but at the same time its absolutely delightful and charming. I think I’m good at talking about my feelings, so to wrap this up, let me do a bit of that and hope it will be compelling. Yeah, I really love Fuuko’s arc. Its so fucking silly, and I think its precisely because it feels so silly that it manages to also feel so sincere. But honestly, for this arc, I don’t have some dark personal shit that I can dig up to relate to it. I guess… I guess it feels so satisfying to watch because its so boring, its so much nothing. Just watching a little girl running around trying her hardest is entertaining enough for me, I suppose.
yeet fam (posting this introduction from a scrapped 10,000+ word piece on Clannad with little to no editing whatsoever. Enjoy the harrowing Notes-lore.)
Clannad, the anime adaptation, at least, is the worst. It’s not good. There are many reasons why Clannad is not good, and other people have explored those reasons far better than I could ever hope to.
In November of 2015, about six months after I started watching anime, I was a first semester sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. I was also in the depths of depression, a situation which deteriorated to the point where I had to file for a medical withdrawal from the University halfway through the next semester. I have yet to return to Notre Dame. Anyway, on a (most likely) cloudy evening in November of 2015, I had a dream. In that dream, I was on a date with on the wharf in Santa Cruz, California. It was a very vivid dream. It was warm, romantic and left me with a strong feeling of nostalgia when I awakened. I thought to myself, “if only I could dive back into that dream and stay there and never wake up, that would be truly wonderful…”
That, of course, was impossible, but since I knew I had felt that way in the past outside of the context of the dream, I figured that if I could remember what made me feel that way, I could experience it once again. As a huge fan of music, I often associate my favorite albums with a certain mood, feeling or atmosphere, and whenever I listen to those albums, I am able to tap into the feelings associated with them. The nostalgic feeling of my dream felt similar to those kinds of feelings I associate with certain albums, though the feeling from the dream felt far more immersive.
The evening after I had the dream, I listened to the album Devotion by Beach House. I had been listening to a lot of Beach House around then because that Fall they had released two albums, Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars. Beach House remains one of my favorite bands because of their ability to craft sensual music about love. When I was listening to Devotion that evening, I realized, “oh hey, this feels a bit like that dream last night.” It wasn’t quite the same feeling, but I spent the rest of that week listening to Beach House anyway.
The Friday after the dream, I went to dinner with a young woman with whom I had been spending quite a bit around then. She was a quiet mild mannered girl, and well, yeah, that was her. I was putting in a lot of effort to try to like her, since I had come to college with the vision that I’d find the woman with whom I’d spend the rest of my life with before graduating. At Notre Dame, this sort of thing isn’t unheard of, some seniors get engaged just before graduating, the phenomenon is known as “ring by Spring,” and it was a goal I had set for myself. Now, my only goal is just to return to being a student at Notre Dame, but that’s not important. While sharing that meal with the young lady, during one of the many awkward silences, my eyes met hers and my mind was flooded with cherry blossoms, weepy synths, and the distinct image of Nagisa Furukawa.
I realized then that the feeling from my dream earlier that week was derived from my memories of Clannad, which I first watched over the summer. It was one of my favorite anime at the time, though I had only watched a little over a dozen anime at that point. After I finished dinner, I went back to my dorm, hopped into my bed and started rewatching Clannad. Instead of trying in vain to slip back into the lovely dream I had earlier that week and sleep forever, something I would not have minded at all back then, I was able to tap directly into that state of mind by watching the show that first enveloped me with that warm loving experience, and that was better.
I’m currently on my tenth watch of Clannad, so I think I’m fairly qualified, at this point, to dive into it in depth. Clannad is one of the anime that I think about the most frequently. It’s truly an enigma because it’s, like, really bad, but also not. Clannad’s problems are plentiful, and the reasonable fans of the show will acknowledge the validity of them and still defend it as one of their all-time favorite anime. Often times, the defenses of the show these fans offer make it seem like the show is only worth watching for the last ten or so episodes. The most stubborn fans will insist that the show is amazing from start to finish, with the second half of After Story topping the rest in ways they couldn’t imagine possible. My sources for those statements about Clannad fans come from my experience spending time in each of those camps.
My position on Clannad is neither of those now. Nick Creamer, the most vocal and persuasive of Clannad critics that I’ve come across, argued that there is a great anime somewhere in Clannad, but it could have been done in half the episodes. Perhaps that is true, but I think that show would end up feeling very different from the Clannad adaptation that Kyoto animation did deliver to us, and I don’t think that I’d have had that dream if Clannad had been adapted in half the episodes. There’s no fixing Clannad. There is no way it could have been changed into some sort of incarnation that might remotely be considered a “good” anime.
Often times, when I rant about Clannad on twitter, I receive some replies that ask, “if you hate Clannad so much, why do you keep rewatching it?”
Well, I keep rewatching Clannad because I love Clannad. Clannad is good, actually. It may suck, and it may be the worst, but it is good. It may be a trashy harem filled with girls with crippling social anxiety, girls lacking basic social skills, and a girl whose backstory utilizes the exact same conceit as the main heroine from the source material’s spiritual predecessor, but it is good. It may have poorly characterized heroines who are rendered irrelevant once their arcs have concluded, but it is good. It also has a heroine who is prepared to lose her virginity to her sister’s love interest in a P.E. shed, but it is good. Actually, that’s pretty cool and it contrasted a lot against the other heroines, so I think that was actually a good thing, in fact, a similar situation arises in my personal favorite anime. When it happens in Clannad though, Kyou, the aggressive and strong willed heroine suddenly becomes super shy and submissive and it feels out of character, so Clannad doesn’t really handle that very well. When I say Clannad is bad, its examples like that, examples of the characters being handled poorly, in my opinion, which come to mind. Pretty much every decision regarding Sunohara, my least favorite anime character ever, was a poor decision. Sunohara is a cringe-worthy comic relief character in a series that shouldn’t have nearly as much comedy as it does.
It’s no secret that Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the Clannad visual novel is generally considered one of the most heartwarming anime ever made. It tugs at heartstrings in a variety of ways, like through its portrayals of the beauty of a family persevering through turmoil, of childhood trauma and the struggle to process it and of the miracle of life. The romance at its heart is often praised as being one of the best in anime, with Tomoya and Nagisa appearing in countless lists of top ten anime couples. The core theme of Clannad is that family is paramount. Clannad believes that families must always stick together no matter what. Clannad has a lot to say about what it means to become an adult, the value of blue-collar work, the difficulties of parenthood and many other things. Clannad also has a bit to say about queer sexuality.
The issue of LGBTQ+ rights in Japan has become more prominent in recent years. Fear of queer sexuality is common in Japan, as it is in the United States. Naturally, this increased presence in political discourse has caused the most reactionary voices in Japanese politics to cry out in outrage. Mio Sugita, a parliament member belonging to the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, wields one of these voices. She recently appeared on television and recounted being asked whether LGBTQ+ problems have a place in Japanese education, saying that she thought it was “definitely unnecessary.” When told that the suicide rate among homosexual children is six times higher than among children in general, she laughed and articulated her belief that teachers in Japanese schools have more pressing concerns. Despite knowing that she is on the far right, has fringe views and has been condemned by politicians on both sides, watching this clip still sent a chill down my spine.
In my opinion, whenever a big fuss is made over one reactionary openly expressing their hate, the number of people that share that view is always more than the media backlash would suggest. What I’m saying is that Japan, like the United States, has a great deal of progress to make in LGBTQ+ civil rights and acceptance of queer sexuality. My impression of the clip of Mio Sugita on television is that her attitude towards LGBTQ+ people is one of dismissal. Dismissive attitudes are focal point in the system by which hatred is reinforced and passed between generations in Japan.
And now, a little bit about me.
Once upon a time, a kid called me gay and I curbstomped him. I curbstomped the shit out of him. I stained that rocky gravel path red with his blood. I had just gotten off the bus coming back from church. As I stood above his body, smeared with blood and curled up in order to protect himself from any further curbstomping, I said, “that’s what you get when you mess with John Clark, boy… *loud manly aggressive grunt. *” I had been watching a lot of Looney Toons that summer before going off to camp, so I suppose I had been a little inspired by Foghorn Leghorn. It was so damn satisfying to watch him cry. I later learned that he had to get 12 stitches above his right eye. I had never been so proud of myself. I was sending a message to my peers that shared my cabin at that sleep-away camp: Don’t call John Clark gay unless you want your brains bashed in.
Outside of fighting a few times with my little sister, who I thought was out to get me, I had never demonstrated any violent behavior. This incident, during the summer before I started middle school, was only the second. In both cases, I became violent in response to gay-related name calling and got away with it because I lied and said the other kid had hit me first. The adults in charge never believed the other kids’ stories. They couldn’t fathom the thought of me violently attacking one of my peers. None of my behavior up until that point had suggested that such a thing would even be possible.
In my first year of middle school, a classmate tormented me with gay-related name calling, and one afternoon in late May, I punched him in the face on the bus home. It was so satisfying to watch him cry, though that was cut a bit short, because I had to get off the bus at the next stop. To be fair, I told him, “hey Kevin, I’m gonna punch you in the face if you call me gay one more time.” I was already set on punching him in the face, so when my stop was coming up and he hadn’t called me gay again, I just punched him in the face anyway. Right in the eye. It was the kind of punch that makes your fist hurt. I thought it was worth it though. It was particularly fascinating to watch the bruise swell up in real time. I remember laughing in amusement. I felt like I was on top of the world.
When his parents called the school, I pulled the same bullshit but ended up having to serve a detention anyway. With those incidents, I learned that I’m the kind of person that bottles shit in and then snaps, seemingly without warning. These memories were my first experiences with the concept of queer sexuality. The idea had filled me with so much fear and anxiety that I felt I had to fight for my life. I don’t look back fondly on these memories. It was petty and pathetic. It was also traumatic for me to witness myself cause such violence. Though I suppressed these feelings at the time, I became constantly aware and afraid of the potential I had for hurting other people. That stuck with me through high school. I ended up placing into the highest track for seventh grade, and there was a lot less name-calling from there on out.
As an adolescent male, there was no graver punishment than being branded as gay. That’s what it feels like when name-calling comes from bullies, or people you perceive to be superior to you, it feels like a punishment. The only thing that could bring me to challenge that authority was my intense fear that people would think I really was gay. Due to traumatic experiences I had when I was in second grade, experiences I’ll perhaps dive into another time, I came to associate bullies with authority. It wasn’t a healthy perception to have, but it’s pretty insightful when used as a lens to explore gay-related name-calling and bullying of LGBT+ students in Japan, where teachers sometimes join in on the bullying.
Why did I snap in each of those incidents? What was so gravely offensive about being called gay that would lead me to become so violent? Why is gay such a potent slur? It often has little to nothing to do with sexuality, but at the same time, it has everything to do with sexuality. In 2007, when I was in sixth grade, I was playing with Bionicles while all the other kids were out playing sports or playing video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. The only video games I played were Pokémon, Lego Star Wars and Lego Indiana Jones. Naturally, I never had anything to contribute when guys would stroll into class in the morning, raving about their heroism and exploits on the battlefield. I was too busy thinking about Bionicle’s expansive and complex lore. In addition, I have ADHD, so I’ve always been very impulsive. That combined with anxiety, tied to those traumatic experiences I mentioned, made me socially incompetent compared to most of my classmates. If life was a masculinity competition, I was losing, and that’s why I was labeled as gay. It had nothing to do with my sexuality. Well, maybe I was also particularly sensitive to it because there was a period of a couple weeks that year when I seriously questioned my sexuality. Anyways, being branded as gay has more to do with failing to conform to gender roles than it does with actually being gay. They called me gay because I wasn’t manly enough.
Thoughts along the lines of, “there’s nothing wrong with being gay” never occurred to me, and if somebody said such a thing to me, I don’t think it would have made me feel any better. John Clark knew that being gay was a bad thing. That misinformation didn’t come from my home; it came from my peers. I entered middle school and the regime of masculinity sorted all males my age between ‘gay’ and ‘not gay.’ The kids that conformed to gender roles naturally were on top. The kids that were designated gay could only remove that label by conforming to the behavior of the kids designated as ‘not gay.’
Adolescent males also throw around ‘gay’ while messing around with their friends. The difference is in the delivery. When it’s from a friend and in a lighthearted manner, it doesn’t feel like bullying. It’s not being used to dismiss that person’s very existence. That doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful. Even I engaged in playful gay-related name calling with my friends, though I quit relatively early. One day, in February of my first year of middle school, my friend and I were messing around in the auditorium before play practice and calling each other gay. The only other people there were the director and the set manager, an incredibly muscular high school sophomore named Steve. To me, he was the pinnacle of masculinity. He was a very easily irritated person, and I was always afraid that he would bully me. He also wore pajamas almost exclusively, which I thought was awesome. The director, Andy, excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he left, Steve walked over, grabbed my friend and I each by the collar, and told us that he never wanted to hear us call each other or anybody else gay in a demeaning way ever again. He told us that Andy was openly gay and asked us how we thought it must feel for him to hear us throwing around homosexuality as an insult. He said it was like we were stepping all over Andy. My friend was scared shitless in the moment, but he didn’t really adjust his behavior after that, except for when he was around Steve. I never called anybody gay again… I think. That moment stuck with me, and I often thought about it even after the name-calling had ended in seventh grade.
I had never questioned the idea that homosexuality is wrong and weird back then. It wouldn’t have mattered to me, what mattered to me then was the fact that those that branded me as gay thought it was wrong and weird. The possibility that there could be people that thought otherwise never occurred to me. All of my negative feelings toward homosexuality were rooted in my resentment for being labeled gay and being dismissed and put down for it. The wakeup from Steve call is something that I’ll always be grateful for because it laid the foundation for me to eventually realize that there’s nothing inherently wrong or bad about being gay. I’d never thought about how there were real people who were really gay and it was the first time that somebody other than my parents said that it was wrong to call to weaponize homosexuality as a tool for putting other people down. It was my first experience that challenged all the misinformation regarding homosexuality that was washing over me each and every day in class. On top of that, it came from the guy that I thought was the pinnacle of masculinity. I think it helped prevent me from getting totally lost in the hatred and fear that my experiences with gay related name-calling carried with them.
In the summer before I went into seventh grade, I really got into Avatar. There’s an episode of Avatar in which Katara describes Aang as being, “more in touch with his feminine side than most guys.” I was immediately able to identify with that sentiment, and even through college, I often used it to describe myself when it would be relevant to conversation. Even more influential than that was watching Zuko grow and change over the course of the series. Zuko started out as the villain, chasing his father’s approval. As the series progressed, Zuko grew softer and warmer as he struggled with which side he was going to take. Zuko, at the end of the series, was much less concerned with masculinity than he was at the beginning. That growth stuck with me so much that the one thing I most associate with growing up is growing out of the obsession with masculinity that grips most adolescent boys. Breaking that obsession with masculinity is, in my opinion, the key to combatting homophobia.
The strongest fuel for homophobia is lack of information. That’s the key to how homophobia gets passed between generations, and the only way to ameliorate that is through education. Most people don’t understand queer sexuality. I think this is far more common than people not wanting to understand queer sexuality, though there are many people that feel that way. To them, queer sexuality is a source of fear, something to be driven away. However, it is precisely because people don’t understand queer sexuality that they fear it. Those folks that fear queer sexuality don’t want others to understand it either and spread misinformation, even through education. The lack of any positive or accurate information means that the misinformation is likely to spread, take root and remain unchallenged. The kids grow up knowing only that misinformation, and, unless they research on their own, they never will understand queer sexuality, so it will remain for them something to be feared. And why would kids research queer sexuality if they believe they’ve learned, formally or informally, everything they need to know about it?
Not all folks that don’t understand queer sexuality are overwhelmed by fear and the hatred that it sows but that doesn’t mean those people will see the value of understanding queer sexuality. Activism and visibility for LGBTQ+ folks are the only cures to this system. The truth needs to overwrite the misinformation. The lesson, which I think can be drawn from the anecdotes I’ve shared, is that a few positive experiences with something could potentially drown out the darkness cast by countless past negative experiences with that thing. Those experiences changed me for the better. They saved me from potentially living the rest of my life in fear of queer sexuality. The best way to prompt people to question the misinformation they were fed and seek the truth, is advocacy for understanding. As time progresses, it will hopefully become impossible for the LGBTQ+ community to be ignored. I would say the United States has seen this come to fruition to an extent over the past 15 years, at least in urban areas. The internet is a vital source of information and means for maximizing visibility as well. This is precisely why LGBTQ+ issues have been discussed more openly in recent years.
Everything I’ve written so far has come research and reflections prompted by my most recent watch of Clannad. Clannad indulges itself in four ‘jokes’ that treat queer sexuality as a punchline in its first season. The first time I watched Clannad, when I wasn’t thinking critically, just mindlessly consuming, I laughed out loud to all four of these jokes. With each rewatch of Clannad, I’ve become more and more perturbed by these ‘jokes.’ I’m going to use the research and anecdotes I’ve provided to contextualize Clannad’s jokes that target queer sexuality and explore the implications of each of them.
Clannad’s first major gay joke is in the second episode. Tomoya is speaking with Ryou Fujibayashi, the class representative, who has a crush on him. Her sister Kyou, who also has a crush on Tomoya, mowed him down with her bike on her way to school that day. Tomoya starts to complain to Ryou, but Kyou, who’s in another class, comes in, cuts Tomoya off as he’s saying “bike” and pulls him out into the hallway. She tells him that it’s forbidden to ride a bike to school and she doesn’t want anybody to know because she doesn’t want to get in trouble. Tomoya walks back to his seat and, as if to continue what he had been saying before getting hauled off, he stands up and announces, “Kyou Fujibayashi is bi.” That’s the joke. Confusion and shock follows, and Kyou drags Tomoya back into the hallway.
This is the most simple of Tomoya’s gay jokes. Unlike the others, it’s not meticulously crafted, because it happened in the moment. In reaction to Okazaki’s announcement, many students wonder aloud what “bi” means. The confusion here is actually reflective of the lack of specific information about queer sexuality in Japanese schools. One of the students in the class reacts by saying, “you mean like male and female,” to which another student responds, “she does seem very masculine.” This absurd piece of misinformation, which might sound right to somebody that doesn’t understand queer sexuality, is never refuted by the show. It’s left uncorrected. Clannad actively participates in spreading misinformation about queer sexuality.
Clannad is also making light of the very serious issue of LGBTQ+ students being outed against their will. In Japan, in recent years, increased prominence of LGBTQ+ issues and representation on the internet and in media has caused more Japanese youth to begin to question their identity. Kids explore the more remote corners of the internet or stumble upon manga like Girlfriends, or anime like Flip Flappers, Love Live and Gatchaman Crowds. They meet other folks or see characters with whom they identify, characters that are endearing yet don’t fit into the artificial boxes of male and female, into which society tries to stuff anyone and everyone. In the stories they read, they find shared experiences, similar in nature to the way I found reflections of myself in Aang and Zuko. With this trend, more and more LGBTQ+ Japanese students are approaching teachers and coming out to them for various reasons. Examples of these sorts of exchanges include a young transgender woman requesting to wear the uniform assigned to girls, or to change in the girls’ locker room, or to sleep with the girls on the class trip.
Unfortunately, most teachers in Japan have no training in helping LGBTQ+ students and have only cursory knowledge regarding LGBTQ+ issues and experiences. Much of this knowledge is likely informed by harmful stereotypes. Even formal education in LGBTQ+ related issues is problematic, because in Japan, being transgender is still considered a mental illness. As a result, most Japanese teachers are unequipped to assist their LGBTQ+ students. This lack LGBTQ+-related training for educators causes a variety of problems, the most prominent of which are the cases in which a teacher outs an LGBTQ+ student to their classmates and/or their parents against their wishes. This isn’t always malicious. It is the natural result of a lack of education and a proliferation of misinformation. What is malicious is Mio Sugita’s assertion that educating students in LGBTQ+ matters is a waste of time. Luckily, the system is changing. More people in the Japanese government are pushing for LGBTQ+ rights and the education ministry sent a notice last year to all teachers that outing their students can cause depression and suicide.
In the United States there is an infamous example of a student being outed by his peers. Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University, took his own life after his roommate secretly livestreamed an intimate evening between Clementi and another male student via iChat. Dealing with the suicide of a classmate or somebody else at your school can be a traumatic experience. It happened a few times when I was in high school and at Notre Dame. The entire campus is shaken, even those that don’t know the deceased student. Though it doesn’t seem as though Kyou is actually bisexual, Tomoya’s cruel joke makes light of the act of outing somebody against their will, and all the baggage attached to the subject.
The second gay joke is much more calculated by Tomoya and is only possible because the writers crafted it. It wouldn’t have gone nearly as far if it only depended upon the natural outcome of Tomoya’s setup. Tomoya and Sunohara are helping Nagisa recruit members for the drama club, so Tomoya directs Sunohara to tell Ryou to come to the roof of the school because there is somebody waiting there that wants to confess their love. This is particularly cruel on Tomoya’s part because Ryou has a crush on Tomoya. Since Ryou knows that Sunohara is Tomoya’s “best friend,” she was likely led to believe that the one waiting on the roof to confess their feelings was Tomoya. If nothing else, she at least got her hopes up.
When Ryou reaches the roof, she’s shocked to learn that the one who wants to talk to her is a girl, Nagisa. Naturally, the charade would end shortly after Nagisa began speaking to Ryou, but the writers overreach and deliberately make Nagisa’s lines vague and misleading. The joke becomes artificial. After a lot of misleading build up, Nagisa asks Ryou to join the drama club, at which point Kyou comes out onto the roof, having been eavesdropping.
This scene mocks a very delicate type of situation, one in which somebody comes out of the closet to the person they are confessing without knowing how that person will react. The writers even have Nagisa say, “I’ve been troubled by it, but I decided to be brave,” mocking the immense courage required for LGBTQ+ students to come out and confess to somebody who likely won’t even be attracted to them.
When Ryou says that she didn’t expect it to be a girl, Sunohara chimes in saying, “Sex doesn’t matter, the important thing is the heart.” This is a good sentiment, but coming from Sunohara and in the context of the joke, it comes across as mocking homosexuality. Sunohara’s characterization, especially at this point in the story, is such that nothing he says is meant to be taken seriously. He exists to suck so that Tomoya can look good in comparison. He is presented as a character that ought to be dismissed and this extends everything he does and says. Clannad’s attitude toward Sunohara’s declaration is just as dismissive as Mio Sugita was in her interview.
The third joke, which seems to target transgender and genderqueer people, is probably the most intricate and calculated of Tomoya’s LGBTQ+ focused jokes. For this joke, Tomoya once again takes advantage of Ryou’s submissiveness and her feelings for him to craft his hateful prank. When Fuuko zones out in the hallway, Tomoya tells Ryou say to Fuuko, “I’m Okazaki, I’ve become a girl,” when she comes to. Tomoya further instructs to her say, “it comes off sometimes” if Fuuko asks what happened and, “for the time being” in response to any other inquiry from Fuuko.
After hearing from Ryou that “it comes off sometimes,” Fuuko asks whether “it” might come and attach itself to her. This is yet another artificial joke. Fuuko’s questions and responses were designed by the writers to have maximum comedic effect without any regard for how realistic it would be for anybody to say such things. I admit, the idea of a little cartoon penis running around in red sneakers and randomly attaching and detaching itself from various individuals is a bit humorous, but the fact that the writers thought it reasonable to believe that the audience would buy into this is yet another testament to the void of information and pervasive misinformation about queer sexuality in Japanese schools.
Fuuko’s immediate concern that the wild penis in red sneakers might pose a threat to her, her gender and her sexuality is a testament to the disposition uninformed Japanese students have toward queer sexuality. All of these jokes treat queer sexuality as something alien, and this joke also portrays it as a source of fear from Fuuko’s point of view.
The final joke targeting queer sexuality focuses on Sunohara. Many Clannad fans, including myself, have theorized that Sunohara might be gay and Kyo-Ani’s adaptation seems to put some effort into portraying Sunohara in a manner which does not rule out this possibility. If Sunohara is gay, then this joke would be the only one in Clannad which directly targets a queer character.
After the end of Kotomi’s arc, Tomoya and the various women he has assembled in his harem all decide to join the drama club, giving Nagisa the number of members she needs to officially reestablish the club. The last thing they need is a club advisor. In the time in which the drama club had been dissolved, the former drama club adviser became the adviser to the choir club. The choir club was formed by Rie Nishina as a means for her to continue pursuing her passion for music after sustaining permanent injuries to her hand in a tragic accident which made it impossible for her to play the violin. Sunohara devises a dumbass plan to show the members of the choir club that they shouldn’t let handicaps hold them back, hoping to somehow convince them to surrender their adviser, the one true good boy, Koumura-sensei. This was something they did not need to be shown at all and was incredibly insensitive on the part of Sunohara because it just reminded Nishina of the fact that she can never play violin the way she used to because of the injury to her hand. Sunohara’s plan was to demonstrate their ability to overcome handicaps by having the drama club play the basketball team three on three. Tomoya had been on the basketball team and was forced to quit due to permanent damage to his shoulder, a consequence of domestic violence. Tomoya wants to avoid basketball, so he turns down Sunohara. Sunohara persists, constantly chasing after Tomoya and trying to convince him to get on board with his incomprehensibly idiotic plan.
With Sunohara on his heels, Tomoya, at the end of the school day, grabs Nagisa and runs away. When Nagisa asks him what Sunohara is chasing him for, Tomoya tells her that Sunohara actually likes him. I’d like to note that, if that is true, which is a point of fervent debate, it would be another example of this show making light of the issue of LGBTQ+ students being outed against their will.
The subject of the joke is Sunohara, but the purpose of it is to freak out Nagisa. Nagisa’s reaction is the substance of the comedy this joke is creating. Nagisa’s response to this is framed for maximum comedic effect. Nagisa’s immediate reaction feels a lot more like horror than shock. She becomes frantic and restless. In his explanation, Tomoya leans fully into the show’s portrayal of Sunohara as being totally pathetic, saying, “Lately I haven’t paid much attention to him and it’s made him so lonely that he’s carrying on like that.” Nagisa tells Tomoya that he should consider Sunohara’s feelings seriously. That’s a wonderful thing for Nagisa to say, but unfortunately, the writers made that part of her reaction because it is supposed to be funny. The worst part of Tomoya’s relationship with Nagisa is the dismissive attitude he sometimes has towards her when she becomes assertive. Nagisa herself doesn’t seem too confident in what she is saying.
When Sunohara catches up and reaches for Tomoya’s sleeve, Nagisa grabs his arm and tells him to stop. She then lies and says that Tomoya is her boyfriend, hoping that she can “protect” him from Sunohara.
When Sunohara’s sister later overhears Nagisa mentioning it, Nagisa clarifies that Tomoya and Sunohara aren’t lovers and that Sunohara is just “forcing himself” on Tomoya. Nagisa adds that she thinks that “love comes in different forms for different people.” This is a wonderful sentiment. Unfortunately, it is undermined by the fact that this is all a part of one big joke. When Nagisa asks Tomoya to say something to comfort Sunohara’s sister, he directly undermines and dismisses any sincerity of Nagisa’s words by saying, “this is too much fun, I’m just gonna sit back and watch.”
For Nagisa, Tomoya’s deception recontextualizes Sunohara’s behavior as harassment, reinforcing various stereotypes in Japan regarding gay men. In my opinion, the second most prominent way in which homophobia manifests in straight cisgender men is in the fear of gay men pursuing them, and I think this “joke” plays upon the fear that many straight men have of receiving unwanted sexual advances from gay men. In addition, Sunohara’s thorough characterization as a connoisseur of sexual harassment and depravity matches harmful stereotypes associated with gay men. Ultimately, the drama club does follow through with Sunohara’s plan, and it works. Sunohara’s suggestion of this plan seems to be intended to be a redeeming moment for Sunohara, an opportunity for him to not be the literal worst. Tomoya turns Sunohara into the bad guy by telling Nagisa that he is gay.
So, what does it all mean? Well, if you are going to opt to adopt the dismissive attitude of the people that allow homophobia to fester, you’ll tell me that it means nothing because they’re just jokes. If you’re not in the mood to take the attitude of oppressors, you’ll realize that, either intentionally or unintentionally, Clannad essentially contains anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda. At first, that might seem like a radical jump, but there are four of these jokes in the first season of Clannad. Two of them span across two scenes and one even carries over from one episode to another. Three of them are very intricately crafted. All of them treat queer sexuality as a punchline and between them, they cover quite a variety of different manifestations of queer sexuality. The worst moment in all of these jokes is after Sunohara runs away during the fourth joke. Tomoya and Nagisa are both blushing and Tomoya tells Nagisa that it made him happy when she said he was her boyfriend. This moment establishes Clannad as a story where heterosexuality reigns supreme by putting down queerness. Clannad is not wholesome. The warmth and fuzziness of Clannad disguises a disturbing preoccupation with demonizing and dismissing queer sexuality.
Here, to cleanse your soul after having to read so much about my past and about Clannad. That was some fucked up shit.
For subtitles, I’ve seen a few different versions of fansub, but here I’m using Sentai’s subtitles for reference.
If you’re interested in all the technical stuff regarding LGBTQ+ students in Japan, or even if you aren’t, I suggest you read this report by Human Rights Watch. This is where I pulled my information from.