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.
So this is my first post since, like, July, right? To make a long story short, I’ve had quite a bit of trouble in my personal life over the past few years, yadda yadda yadda, I’m not in school right now and am in the middle of psychiatric testing to see if I have some sort of cognitive issue (other than ADHD, which, boy, do I have). Over the past year, I’ve come to realize that I have trouble stringing my thoughts together. Think about it this way: you’re walking along the shore leaving footprints in the sand and every few steps, a wave comes and erases your footsteps. That’s what my thinking has been like lately. In addition, I have crippling self doubt that has kept me from posting this up until now, despite the fact that I’ve been working on it since the first episode of Violet Evergarden aired. I want to get these thoughts out there regardless and contribute to the discussion, so I’m like, whatever, now, here you go Anitwitter. I won’t make any progress improving if I don’t do anything, right? Okay, on to the good (bad) stuff.
Also, check out Zeria’s video that does exactly what I set out to do here, except better.
Violet Evergarden is good. Yeah yeah yeah, the animation is splendid and it’s like one of the most beautiful anime productions ever, or something like that, yeah, everybody knows that and nobody is denying it. I think that what we’ve seen of Violet Evergarden so far is exceptionally well written. Yo, it ain’t hyped enough. This is so much better than Clannad.
Kyoto Animation produces good anime almost exclusively, but very few of them really gave me the impression that they were ‘smart,’ at least not as a whole. This isn’t a knock against Kyo-Ani at all, and it’s not to say that their shows are dumb, the stories they adapt simply rely more upon emotional intelligence and empathy. That’s the way it ought to be for those stories. A Silent Voice was very smart, I think, especially with the way it depicted Ishida shutting others out of his world. This is what I mean when I say its ‘smart,’ it finds a simple, creative and compelling way of visually representing the psychological state of Ishida.
I suppose that, for me, a ‘smart’ show is one that presents its characters, conceits or themes in such a compelling manner that I find myself reflecting upon it frequently.
Being smart alone doesn’t necessarily make a show good, in fact, being ‘smart’ isn’t even necessary for a show to be good. Even though my favorite show of this season so far is A Place Further than the Universe, I think Violet Evergarden is probably the ‘smartest,’ primarily because Violet Evergarden is heavily informed by psychology. Kyo-Ani manages to make important psychological concepts and their manifestation in Violet’s experiences accessible and even relatable to the audience. Casual viewers that don’t recognize the ways in which psychology informs the foundation of Violet’s character can still understand Violet’s story because of Kyo-Ani’s presentation.
Violet’s emotionless demeanor is the most obvious symptom of Violet’s problems. Violet’s story is one of a former child soldier that was trained into a doll now carrying out her final orders to live and be free. Violet takes pride in her identity as a weapon. She has been conditioned not to consider herself human and, for the most part, nobody else in the military besides (maybe) Gilbert seems to have treated her like a human. Violet needs to become human, to embrace her identity as a human, rather than as a weapon, in order to be free and truly live.
Though she has survived the war and has been discharged from military service, at the beginning of the series, I would not say that Violet is free. Violet’s continued commitment to military conduct is not simply out of force of habit. Violet is completely dependent upon orders. She can’t function without them. The first episode demonstrates this during the meal scenes. Violet does not touch her food until Hodgins vocalizes permission for her to eat. Hodgins has been out of the military for just as long and it takes him a while to realize that Violet’s mentality is still totally entrenched in the war. Violet’s dependence upon the structure that the military provided, demonstrated by the way she treats every job like a military operation and her approach to customer service, is just the most tangible evidence that Violet is not yet living free from the influence of the military, which robbed her of her childhood and groomed her into an ideal child soldier, an emotionless killing machine. I’ll note here that it seems as though Violet was taken as a prisoner of war, so it seems she had already been refined into a weapon by another military by the time she met Gilbert.
Why would Violet cling to such a state of mind, especially one so contrary to Gilbert’s order to be free? Well, I’d say that mindset probably safeguarded Violet from the potential horror of sitting alone with her thoughts and reflecting upon her experiences. Prompted by her encounter with Gilbert’s brother, that shoe finally dropped in episode seven, while Violet sat alone on the train.
Although Violet may be expressionless, her behavior reveals some of the specific ways in which her characterization is informed by psychology. The most obvious of these is her oral fixation, something which really stood out in the first episode. I’ll spare you the psychobabble and give you the sparknotes, or rather, the senpainotes version of what this means. Basically, Violet didn’t really get all the care and attention she needed as a child (infant, technically, but I don’t want to limit that arbitrarily), so she’s “making up for it” now by occupying her mouth with things like her dog plushie, putting on her gloves, and, most importantly, with the broach Gilbert gave her. All of this is reinforced by scenes where we see Violet curled up in the fetal position, another symptom of regression. Violet is trying to make up for the deficit of care and love she received as a child with love from Gilbert, something that makes sense given her background as an orphan and child soldier. Unfortunately, Gilbert ain’t coming back.
Violet is in denial with regards to Gilbert’s death. Accepting that death will only become more painful for her as she comes to understand what love is as an auto-memory doll. Violet is clearly repressing memories of her experiences during her time in the military. She remembered Hodgins from the night before her final battle, but in one of Hodgins’s flashbacks, it’s shown that he had seen her before then, fighting and killing in what I can only describe as an Atrocity Exhibition. Childhood trauma is almost always the subject of repressed memories. Being a child soldier, it’s difficult to imagine that Violet’s memories of that experience could be anything but traumatic. What is likely most traumatic about this, as episode seven has suggested, is that Violet was forced to kill. The military molded her into a moe murder machine, but it seems that, rather than directing her rage towards the militaries that wielded her as a weapon, Violet’s realization that she is indeed on fire will only cause her to hate herself.
If there are any aspects of Violet Evergarden that go underappreciated, let me know in the comments, I’m curious to hear what others have to say.
Monogatari holds a very special place in my heart. When I started watching Bakemonogatari, I was having a tough time. It was the last time I watched anime as a means of escaping the world, which, for me, seemed to hold nothing but failure. Monogatari was the first anime that made me really think about what I was watching and the first that I treated the same way I would treat literature. It wasn’t a decision I made on my own, Monogatari forced me to see myself in its characters. It wasn’t straightforward assertions of ideals, which can be found in many anime, which was able to break through my shell of denial, it was Monogatari’s subtlety and incredible characters.
One thing my mother often said to me around that time, when I had effectively become a college dropout, was that there is no difference between depression and cancer. My natural response, which I did not vocalize was, “yeah, except, y’know, everything.” Of course, I could comprehend the argument my mother was making. Even though people can’t see depression and don’t really take it as seriously, the way it can interrupt your life is similar.
That’s why I had to withdraw from my studies at the University of Notre Dame. Despite my mother’s encouragement, I couldn’t not consider myself a failure, y’know? Of course, how could you expect me not to blame myself at a time when I was mired in self-hatred? My mother never told me that my situation was not my own fault. I’m glad she didn’t let me play the victim.
No matter what she said, she wasn’t going to fully convince me of her comparison between depression and cancer. Nobody purposely behaves in a way that makes them more susceptible to cancer.
Nobody finds comfort in resigning themselves to a fate determined by cancer. Nobody with cancer is content to wallow in their own pain.
Nobody with cancer would hesitate to jump at the opportunity to have their cancer cured, if one presented itself.
Bradford Cox reflects on depression and other forms of sadness and self-hatred in the Deerhunter song, Revival. He plainly states that, “it doesn’t make much sense.” Well, ain’t that the truth? I can testify that doesn’t make much sense, having firsthand experience. I also imagine that it doesn’t make much sense to those watching their friends or family struggle with it. In fact, I know that it doesn’t make much sense to them because they’ve told me. Unless you tell people, they have no way of knowing what you’re dealing with, or that you’re dealing with anything at all. If you don’t let anybody close, the only people that will notice are those that have been there before and those that are still there.
Even those people, however, will never be able to understand. They’ll never truly be able to put themselves in your shoes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t care. Bakemonogatari’s first arc, Hitagi Crab, captures this experience perfectly in the scene of Senjougahara’s exorcism.
I’ll start with the central visual metaphor in this scene, the most concrete example of layered storytelling that I can prove without a doubt. Senjougahara’s exorcism illustrates not only the firsthand experience of struggling with your problems, it also illustrates the experience of watching others struggle with their problems. During the ritual, when Oshino is counting and questioning Senjougahara, the implied perspective shifts subtly from Araragi to Senjougahara.
Once Senjougahara has spoken about her emotional baggage and laid it all out, she is told to open her eyes and is asked what she sees. Both she and the camera are able to see the weight crab, beautifully depicted by Shaft.
Senjougahara answers, and Oshino says that he can’t see anything, and, when asked, Araragi says likewise.
Confused, Senjougahara says, “but it’s clearly visible… to me.” There’s the first layer. Our personal problems are ours alone. Even if somebody has been through a similar experience, nobody has shared in your specific struggles other than yourself. Depression and other problems of this nature, which everybody has to deal with as they grow up, are undetectable. They lie in the mind and manifest no physical evidence of their existence, at least not through natural means. They aren’t such concrete ailments as cancer, but they are no less real. The second layer is the demonstration of that point. The crab tackles Senjougahara, sending her flying across the room and pinning her against the wall. When this happens, the camera has been returned to Araragi’s perspective, and he calls out to Senjougahara upon seeing her launched across the room by a force that remains invisible to him.
Although Senjougahara’s problems can’t clearly be perceived by Araragi and Oshino, the effects that it have on her can be. With depression, one of the most outwardly obvious effects is loss of interest. When I was plunging into depression, the first thing people noticed was how much less enthusiastic I had become, how much more I was sleeping, how frequently I had started skipping classes. Even if your friends and others that surround you can’t perceive your problems in their own right, they can certainly perceive the toll that your struggle with them has taken on you. That is enough evidence for those that truly care for you to express their concern and reach out.
And, as with Senjougahara, the only way to truly deal with your problems, is to acknowledge and accept them, instead of repressing them.
Senjougahara’s exorcism is presented as a full blown religious ritual. It requires ritual cleansing of each of the participants and appropriate attire, which, for Oshino, is his white priestly garb, the only time we see it. Araragi is able to wear his typical school uniform, which is a black version of the typical ones modeled off the military that are used in schools across Japan. Senjougahara, however, having been asked to wear something demure, wears a beautiful white dress. It’s not too over the top, but I think it’s enough to evoke the image at which I am hinting.
Although it probably doesn’t leave much of an impression on the first watch, coming back to Monogatari and seeing Oshino in anything but a flowered shirt is pretty shocking, especially considering that Araragi’s typical description of him is “an old guy in a Hawaiian shirt.” Oshino certainly is a very laid back character, not lazy, as Araragi sometimes describes him, but he definitely gives very few fucks. The question you should be asking yourselves now should be, “what sort of occasion would get a guy like that to get dolled up?”
I’m trying to give readers the pieces they need so that they can put together themselves the imagery which I saw, and which I believe Nisio Isin and the staff at Shaft intended.
Yeah, the show frames Senjougahara’s exorcism as a wedding, and Araragi is the groom. This shouldn’t feel farfetched at all, considering Senjougahara confesses to him just three episodes later, but there’s a lot more to it than just foreshadowing.
One way in which Senjougahara deals with her problems, the weight of which she gave to the crab, is by isolating herself from the rest of the world and attempting to drive away anybody that might try to approach her. Marriage is a lifelong bond between two willing parties. While Senjougahara and Araragi seem to share a lifelong bond, at least at the current point in the series, the more important implication of this wedding is that Senjougahara will start to let other people into her heart, starting with Araragi.
That’s how she will begin to make it better. Shortly after her exorcism, Senjougahara approaches her father, who would later tell Araragi that she had been distant up until that point. In the third arc, she opens herself back up to Kanbaru, her friend from middle school, even though it must be difficult to involve herself with somebody who’s feelings for her she does not reciprocate. Later, off-screen, she meets the fire sisters.
She becomes Hanekawa’s confidant in Nekomonogatari Shiro. In the shot above, the same dawn lighting is shining into the cram school on the morning after the night Senjougahara spends wandering town in search of Hanekawa. Not only does Senjougahara open herself to a less-than-open Hanekawa, she even embraces and accepts her flaws, manifested as Black Hanekawa. She trusted Hanekawa enough that, even though she was certain that her home would burn down based on the fires at Hanekawa’s home and at the cram school, she still slept in her apartment that night. She trusted that Hanekawa would be able to accept the parts of herself that Senjougahara herself had accepted when she embraced Black Hanekawa. Of course, there are some parts of us that we alone can embrace, and for Hanekawa, that was Kako.
In Koimonogatari, we learn that Senjougahara and her father spend New Year’s with the Araragi household. She even had the strength to entrust her fate to the man that she believed ruined her family. Starting with Araragi, Senjougahara opened herself up to the rest of the world.
The story of recovery, be it from depression or some sort of other internal struggle, is never one with a clear ending. You never reach a completion point, you only ever have those times when you look back and realize how much progress you’ve made. It is a constant effort, but it is certainly worthwhile.
In elaborating on the implications of framing the exorcism scene as a wedding, it seems I have gotten ahead of myself. Most of the evidence for that framing is visual. If you were to read a transcript of this scene alone, you obviously would not be able to come to that conclusion. However, there is a conclusion that you might reach from only reading the characters’ dialogue that could be just as insightful. Oshino’s questioning of Senjougahara reads like a session of therapy. Oshino accepts Senjougahara’s response that she’d “rather not answer” to one of his early questions, but when she hesitates to answer the question regarding her most painful memory, her hesitation is what indicates to Oshino that he’s found the source of her problems.
Just talking about it, acknowledging that it’s a problem enables Senjougahara to see the crab, upon which she has left the burden of all her problems. Of course, mustering enough willpower to even “just talk” about your problems is no easy feat. When Oshino first told Senjougahara that she alone could save herself, Senjougahara told him that there were five conmen who had told her the same thing before him. Really, Senjougahara? Five? Yeah, we know Kaiki is a conman, God bless him, but that would mean not only that four other conmen happened to target her after that, but also that she and her father fell for the same trick four more times. What do I think?
I think that the other four were well meaning specialists, and that the problem was that Senjougahara had not yet reached a disposition where she was able to face her problems when she met with them. This time was different. This time somebody reached out to her, and seemed to care more about her wellbeing than she herself did. Senjougahara saved herself, but Araragi helped make it possible by reaching out to her.
I don’t really have a pretty way to tie this whole thing up. I hope that you’ve learned a new way of looking at Monogatari. I love this show for so many reasons, chief among them being the characters, who are as broken as we are. Monogatari is a series about dealing with your problems, and so, one of the inevitable messages is that everybody has their own problems. They might not be the same problems that you face, but, regardless, you are not alone.
I know Monogatari only works for me the way it does because I’m open to it and because I’ve taken the time to rewatch it more times than I’d like to share. If nothing else, these first two episodes, the Hitagi Crab arc, are certainly worth revisiting. It’s the most endearing introduction to a series I’ve seen in any anime. I love this show and I hope at least a little bit of what I’ve written makes sense.
Socrates: So, Kawahara-sama, I watched the anime adaptation of your legendary light novel series, Sword Art Online, and I must say, it was quite the fascinating experience.
Kawahara: Subbed or dubbed?
Socrates: Subbed, of course, Kawahara-sama. I might not be a master of high art like you, but I’m certainly no pleb. As I said, I was fascinated by the story you crafted, but, since I know nothing, especially with regards to literature and the art of crafting fiction, there are quite a few questions I have for you, regarding a variety of different aspects of this story which you crafted. Would you mind answering a few of them?
Kawahara: Of course not, buddy! And I’m glad you loved my story, I take a lot of pride in it.
Socrates: Really? I see… Well, before I get to those questions regarding Sword Art Online, Kawahara-sama, I have a question about you. I believe you’re familiar with the maxim, “give a woman a fish she eats for a day, teach a woman to fish, she eats for a lifetime.” Tell me, do you agree with that?
Kawahara: Absolutely, though I think I’ve heard it phrased, er, a bit differently. But yeah I totally believe that… Haha, I often like to say, “give a man a light novel, he eats for a day, teach a man to write a light novel (and it’s not very hard, trust me), he eats for a lifetime in his parents’ basement.” In fact, I made a point of making this idea a theme early on in Sword Art Online. In the first episode, our great hero, Kirito, teaches Klein (who is actually my favorite character, to be honest) how to play the game. Initially I was using it as an excuse to take care of some exhibition, but then I was like, let’s be all literary and shit and make this a theme! I’m sure you remember the scene, which was adapted in the second episode of the anime, where that one asshole interrupts the council held before they took on the first boss. He says that the Beta testers have to pay for allowing 2000 players to die because they went on ahead and left the noobs to fend for themselves. Then Egil comes in and reminds him about the strategy guide compiled by the Beta testers using all the information they had learned in the trial period. Everybody in SAO was given an opportunity to learn how to fish. There are other examples too, y’know, I actually really put my heart into this bit
Socrates: Truly brilliant, Kawahara-sama. I suppose that’s what you consider a theme, but I’ll have more questions about those later.
Kawahara: Woah woah woah, now that was definitely a bit sarcastic
Socrates: My whole point with bringing up the teaching-to-fish analogy is that it seemed to me, surely the lowest common denominator of your audience, that Kirito often distributed free fish. He has to fight Heathcliff to get Asuna vacation time. Isn’t she the vice commander? Wouldn’t it have better for her to learn to assert the authority that should accompany her position? Or does this guild take vacation time that seriously? It seemed out of character that she wouldn’t just be assertive on the basis of her position. Maybe my mind was just too feeble to accurately gauge your characterization of her up until that point.
Kawahara: Yeah yeah yeah, I’ve heard that a million times before, it was a way to get Kirito and Heathcliff to duel.
Socrates: Of course, what a fascinating way to push your story forward. I mean, I have more questions for you regarding that later. What about the dear loli? Even though Kirito warned her about the dangers, that didn’t keep her from getting tentacle groped on two separate occasions, or is it just that these poor women find themselves in these dilemmas regardless of the decisions they make?
Kawahara: Yeah, no, the situations these women find themselves in aren’t brought about by themselves, but, like, let me argue my case a bit, will you? It’s not just relegated to technical skills, the way the teaching-to-fish theme is applied in Sword Art Online. Kirito and Asuna’s relationship (y’know, the greatest love story ever told), is built upon the ways, you could say, that they taught each other to fish, right? Okay, so in the murder mystery vignette, it starts out with Asuna nagging Kirito…
Socrates: (As women are accustomed to do)
Kawahara: … because Kirito is slacking off while the rest of the front liners are working hard, but Kirito points out that it’s Aincrad’s nicest weather setting, so it’d be a waste to stay inside playing video games. Kirito teaches her to make the most out of her time in Aincrad. Asuna’s berserk focus on escaping was stressing her out so much that she was reaching her breaking point
Socrates: Was it? I hadn’t noticed, of course, as I mentioned, I am but merely the lowest common denominator of your audience. Technically speaking, with regards to screen time, there was only one scene with her between the end of the second episode and the scene you’re describing.
Kawahara: …Anyway, Kirito teaches Asuna to stop and smell the roses, and Asuna teaches Kirito that investing yourself in a relationship is worth the risk, right? I mean, he was never one to be social, but when he first tried it, well, it didn’t go that well, did it?
Socrates: I kind of thought Kirito kind of figured that out on his own, since he decided not to push her away, right?
Kawahara: Well, yeah, but I figured Kirito was willing to take the risk with Asuna because he knew she was strong…
Socrates: …Not as strong as Kirito…
Kawahara: Ha, of course not, but strong enough for him not to push against the kind of momentum their relationship was gaining after the murder mystery.
Socrates: So it’s better to invest yourself in relationships with people that are strong?
Kawahara: Well, I mean, at least in a death game, right? Just look at The Hunger Games! That being said, as cold as it sounds, I can’t say it’s the kind of principle I disagree with. Doesn’t it make more sense to ally yourself with somebody strong, strategically or romantically? Survival of the fittest, right?
Socrates: I mean, Kirito looked pretty emaciated at the end of the Aincrad arc, but I’ll give that to you.
Kawahara: Leafa recognized Kirito’s power and was quick to ally with him, despite him being “one of them (a race that exists only in the game)”
Socrates: What about Shinon?
Kawahara: Ah, good point, Kirito was able to seduce her by playing innocent and pretending to be a woman, but I think she helped him out ‘cause she saw a bit of herself in him.
Socrates: Anyway, back to the fish thing, I’m glad to hear you value that maxim, and your comment about how you so skillfully incorporated it into Sword Art Online actually transitions perfectly into my next question. Would you rather read a story about a character who is given a fish or a story about a character who learns or has learned how to fish? Which premise do you think would make for a more compelling story, Kawahara-sama?
Kawahara: Hmm, well, of course, as I’m sure you’ve already assumed, I would much rather read a story about a character that knows how to fish. I guess you could say that, for me, the key to making a great character is to make them a great fisherman, like Kirito is!
Socrates: I see; a great character must be a great fisherman. So then would learning to fish be what you consider character development, Kawahara-sama?
Kawahara: Character development? Ummm… yeah, well, I guess that fits pretty well with the whole metaphor, especially considering the examples I gave before regarding Kirito and Asuna… Wait, but it’s not like I can limit it to that, I mean, anything is possible in a story, right? The teaching-to-fish method is just one that I used quite a bit.
Socrates: As expected of your literary brilliance, Kawahara-sama, but I have a strong aversion to such open-ended answers as that one, y’know, they cause me to hurt myself in my confusion. There’s another anime light novel adaptation that I’ve watched and enjoyed, called Bakemonogatari. I think it might be able to give us some direction as we explore the idea of character development. Are you familiar with it?
Kawahara: Oh yeah, the Monogatari series is like my favorite harem anime… Lol, just kidding. Yeah, that’s one of my favorite anime, and definitely my favorite light novel series. I remember reading the first Monogatari novels as soon as they came out. I don’t know how Nisio Isin manages to write stories like those, where the characters feel so special and real. He’s actually quite a bit younger than me.
Socrates: I agree! Let me try to apply that show, at least its first five story arcs, to the fishing metaphor. Would you agree that in Monogatari, characters dealing with personal problems is the fishing?
Kawahara: Uhh, yeah, actually, well, not really in the case of the snail but I don’t know… Well, of course, I mean, that’s what Monogatari is all about, ain’t it? I guess since all of the apparitions are really just representations of whatever emotional baggage each character is dealing with, yeah, being able to deal with them would be like knowing how to fish. Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, Oshino’s mantra, “only you can save yourself, but I’ll lend you a hand” isn’t too different from the teaching-to-fish analogy we’ve been discussing. In Monogatari’s case it takes quite a bit of mental fortitude and humility for each character to actually go fishing. Nisio Isin really is fantastic, especially at writing great characters. Go on.
Socrates: So you’d say that character development in the Monogatari series is, like it is in Sword Art Online, when the characters “learn how to fish?”
Kawahara: Yeah, I’d say so, I think. Wait, no, but that… That’s way too specific, I mean, I’m not even sure that applies to Sword Art Online, to be honest, but we can run with that for the time being.
Socrates: Now, it may have very well gone right over my head, but how does that fit with Shinon’s character arc?
Kawahara: Lol, actually, now that you mention it, I’m reminded of the ending credits sequence from the Gun Gale Online arc.
Socrates: Oh yeah, I loved that, it was always my favorite part of the episode, and not just because it meant it was over.
Kawahara: Ouch. Anyway, that ED basically illustrates how Shinon taught herself to fish in that arc, right? Still, I don’t feel comfortable settling with that specific definition. I mean, this whole dialogue has gotten much messier than it was ever supposed to be.
Socrates: I agree, I was surprised with how poorly thought through my inquiries have been, it’s turned into more of an interview than a dialogue, really. Maybe we’ll do better in part two.
Kawahara: If there ever is a part two, I mean, does this writer ever not leave things half finished?
Socrates: Lol, good point. Anyway, back to the central question: what constitutes good character development? It may seem like a dumb question, but somebody asked the author to explain it the other day. What definition would apply to all the examples we’ve discussed from Monogatari and Sword Art Online?
Kawahara: I mean, character development, in my experience primarily as a consumer of stories, can be defined as a character changing over the course of a story or portion of a story while still being recognizable as the character they were established as in the beginning, but, I don’t know man, I’m just a light novel author. In my opinion, the characters and their development are the most fundamental substance of a story, especially in this genre, which is dominated by coming of age stories. Character development in light novels and in much of anime can really be understood as just growing up, y’know? Light Novels are written for angsty teens to read and escape reality while also affirming their way of viewing the world from which they seek to escape, so it’s not like there are many light novels that illustrate what it means to grow up… But what do I know, I was just minding my own business having fun writing light novels and shit, *sigh*. To the reader, I suppose I’ll see you in part 2, if it ever comes, I hope you were at least mildly entertained by this clusterfuck.
Y’know, I’ve watched a lot of anime. That is an understatement, especially since I could have seen at least twice as many as I’ve seen by this point if I hadn’t spent so much time watching and rewatching the Monogatari series. Although I just used the past tense, this is an ongoing process. I’m in a perpetual state of rewatching Monogatari, to the point that there is very little rhyme or reason to it. For the most part, now, I just jump randomly between the various story arcs from NekoKuro on. I’m not going to call Monogatari the greatest anime of all time, but it is certainly the most special to me.
There is so much going on in Monogatari, and that is yet another understatement. Monogatari means ‘story’ in Japanese, but exactly what is this story about? A lot of things. Now I probably sound like a dumbass, with my consistently ambiguous answers. I’d say that Monogatari captures the essence of the two most prominent dilemmas that arise in the human experience: the struggle to face and deal with our problems and the struggle to be together. And also a boatload of other things, including the relative merits of little girls, proper toothbrush etiquette and, quite prominently, the art of the stupid pun. I recently finished reading the first volume of Bakemonogatari, and in the author’s note, Nisio Isin basically says that Monogatari was an excuse to make a lot of stupid puns (the one he had in mind was the tsundere/tundra pun from Hitagi Crab). It’s a testament to Monogatari’s capacity to captivate its audience that it manages to be so popular overseas, given the fact that Isin’s puns fall apart in translation, for the most part.
Instead of trying to put together a cohesive essay on what Monogatari means to me, I’m going to ramble on until I have to go to class and take this test for which I haven’t studied. That’s in 38 minutes, so let’s see what comes to mind in that period of time as I type and listen to the 1984 album “Let it Be,” by the Replacements, which has really been growing on me. As soon as I finished typing the first sentence of this paragraph, I knew exactly what direction I’d be taking my charismatic rambling.
The choice I’ve made, to dedicate this time to blogging about Japanese cartoons rather than take control of the reins of my life and try to live up to my full and fantastic potential and study for this test, is precisely the sort of choice that tend to set the average Monogatari characters down the path to an apparition. If you’re not familiar with the series, Nisio Isin, the author, uses these apparitions to represent the psychological turmoil of the character they are afflicting. Almost every Monogatari arc involves a character avoiding their problems the way I am. I’m sitting here avoiding studying for this test because the task of trying to cram a month’s worth of reading into forty or so minutes is quite daunting, although I’m sure I could somehow manage to get something out of it that will help me on this essay test.
It’s actually just a quiz, and I’m sure there’s no way I’ll get under a B-. I totally BS’d my way through the first quiz and was able to pull off an A-, which surprised even me, I could probably manage to do it again. However, there’s a reason I’m sabotaging myself like this. If I do well in all my courses this semester, I’ll have to make the choice between returning to the University from which I withdrew just over a year ago on the eve before I first watched abrasive in your face panty shot that opens up the first episode of Bakemonogatari.
That was the lowest point in my life. Anime was my means of escape at the time, but Monogatari, which I was watching then for the first time, wasn’t going to let me off that easy. Instead of being able to forget about my problems with the sort of power fantasy I had been expecting, I found myself watching the most endearing cast of characters I’d ever seen be forced to face their own problems, often after doing everything in their ability to avoid them. Senjougahara avoids her feelings about her mother by repressing them, or in the literary framing of Monogatari, by dumping them upon the weight/emotion crab.
I was at the same place as Senjougahara when I first watched Monogatari, a deep depression characterized not by feeling incredible sadness, but by feeling nothing at all. Of course I pretended not to notice the parallels between Monogatari’s characters and myself the first several times I watched the show, but that was just another example of me avoiding my problems.
If there is a single Monogatari arc that best captures the stubborn persistence humans exhibit in avoiding their problems, it’s Tsubasa Tiger, or Nekomonogatari Shiro, which might very well be my favorite arc of the series. This arc, wow. At first glance, Monogatari seems to be a show that has ten thousand things going on at once, but I don’t think that’s quite the right way to think about it, and NekoShiro makes a pretty great case for that. There are indeed dozens of layers to Monogatari. It is packed with explorations of a variety of struggles that all people deal with. However, Nisio Isin focuses his attention on different subjects in each arc, so the show never has too many ideas flying around within the same contained story. In Nekomonogatari Shiro, the primary focus is the nature of the way humans avoid their problems. Mamaragi, in her brief exchange with Hanekawa, provides the story’s primary metaphor for the way we avoid our problems, regarding it as “averting your eyes.” Hanekawa adopts this metaphor in her subsequent reflections.
Hanekawa goes to ridiculous lengths to avert her eyes in Nekomonogatari Shiro. The key to Hanekawa’s success, thanks in no small part to Senjougahara, is that she realizes what she’s doing. Even once she has come to this realization, she still seems to subconsciously be making every effort to avert her eyes. She goes to the library (every book in which, according to the novel, she has read) for information to help her resolve the crisis she had found herself in, despite knowing very well that she won’t find anything useful. She doesn’t acknowledge the obvious implications of the fires burning down the places she’s slept until Senjougahara forces her to. She tries to get out of “playing cards” with Karen and Tsukihi as well. Its then that Hanekawa takes the next step toward facing her problems by discussing with the Fire Sisters what feelings they associate with fire.
Alright, and twenty hours (actually days) later, that quiz for my anthropology class, of course, did not happen, because, y’know the universe is ridiculously easy on me and I rarely get what I deserve. Well, actually, that’s not really the case anymore. Yeah, that quiz I didn’t have in anthropology? It was not the only thing on my plate. I also had a Philosophy paper that was due today at noon.
It was absolutely not my best work. As a matter of fact, I actually didn’t even make all the points I was supposed to make. I regret procrastinating it so much, I missed a great opportunity to make myself look cool by writing some cool shit about Substance-Attribute Ontology. I had a great analogy about the nature of substances in Descartes and Leibniz’s views and html addresses. I spent so much time avoiding getting started on this assignment. Why? And you know me, right? Writing and philosophy are like two of my favorite things.
Whatever, I totally bombed that paper. Maybe if I get the opportunity to fix my mistakes I won’t actually blow it. There is only one thing standing between me and returning to the University of Notre Dame, from which I withdrew a little over a year ago. I was supposed to return in the Winter but I bombed a class that I could have aced. In fact, it was a class I actually loved, so much so that I now plan on majoring in that field, anthropology. It’s not a reflection of my Idiot blood. My Father, God rest his soul, would never have let this happen. Maybe I’m like Araragi, and I’m doing all of this as some sort of punishment because I hate myself. I don’t know. If I want to fix everything and live happily ever after and follow my dreams, that’s still possible. I can still get my shit together. I suppose what will determine whether or not that happens is me, and whether I make the judgement that I deserve to be happy.
I was inebriated the first time I watched anime. If I hadn’t been, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. What show was it that captivated me enough to keep me from passing out while my friends went off-campus to another party? Gurren Lagann, of course. One of those friends, after I asked them if I could join them on their way to that party, began lecturing me on Gainax, Trigger and Imaishi, and told me, “now go back to your room and don’t come out until you’ve watched the first three episodes of Gurren Lagann.” I did just that. Oh boy. I was all like, what the hell is going on? I had no clue at the time how incredible this animation was. I ended up making it to episode eight before I stopped watching. That was the October of 2014.
I picked it back up in the following summer, which I spent almost exclusively watching anime. I’ve only recently come to realize how awesome Gurren Lagann really is. It is a masterpiece of anime logic and the gunmen aren’t the only things that defy physics (for better or for worse). This easily one of the most influential anime ever released. It marked the end of Gainax’s golden years, which stretched from 1995 to 2007. What a way to go out. TTGL’s influence can be seen most obviously in the productions from Gainax’s wayward daughter, Trigger. Kill la Kill obviously, and this season’s shining star, Little Witch Academia, are inseparable from the legacy of Gurren Lagann. Last year’s best show, Flip Flappers, consistently reminded me of Gurren Lagann. I’m currently about half way through my rewatch, which I’m taking it rather slowly. This show is so awesome, so bombastic, so everything that makes anime great.