Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: East Lansing, MI
And, 22 at last unveils the whole kit 'n' caboodle. It happened pretty much as I expected it to, albeit with some additional material in the second half of the episode that I found enjoyable, though I would have preferred to see more interaction, but I've wanted that since I played through the visual novel.
That said, I'll try to sum up my thoughts here, for the most part raw and unedited, coming off watching the conclusion raw earlier tonight, though of course I knew the jist of what was to occur long before tonight. These are not thoughts on the series as a whole, which I plan on articulating, but not here and now (probably after 24 assuming there is a 24).
There are spoilers for the conclusion I'm not going to worry about censoring (subs are available; this is the episode thread) and you have been warned.
In short, yes, Key (and Jun Maeda and Kyoto Animation by extension) toyed with your emotions and it's honestly bad writing from a linear storytelling standpoint. But, it's important to note here that the idea that somehow everything was wiped away clean and didn't happen at all is a false one, though quite easy to fall into, though I think less so considering how this was presented by KyoAni, who I think did a fantastic job at adapting this work and indeed enhancing it. But to fully illustrate this, you have to understand the significance of the Illusionary World.
As was finally revealed during this episode, the girl who has been there from the very beginning has been Ushio, and the robot contained Tomoya's soul/light. From this we can infer that Ushio's soul is tied to the Illusionary World and has been from the beginning of where the story begins, way back, 46 episodes ago, at the bottom of a slope on a April morning. At this point, from the very, very beginning, there has been a universe in which Tomoya and Ushio died much in the same way they died near the end of episode 21 of After Story. The Illusionary World exists outside of time, but its genesis is there, in the closing moments of Ushio's life.
Now, we can fast forward a bit, past an awful lot, up until Nagisa starts drafting her play, the source of which she does not know, but is quite similar to those sequences of the Illusionary World. At the time, you'd probably be forgiven for thinking that it's perhaps Nagisa who is that girl in those sequences, but in retrospect we know better.
Nonetheless, this is the signal that Nagisa is also tied to the Illusionary World and has been from the very beginning as well. Sticking to the same arc, we get an indication as to why this might be, when Akio explains that Nagisa, falling ill, found herself close to death on a winter's day years ago, and because of Akio's pact with the city, Nagisa's life was spared. Nagisa gained a new chance at life from this, but was also tied to the town at this point, cursed, as it were, to live a life on borrowed time. Still, she is alive, and through this miracle, is eventually led to Tomoya Okazaki's side, first as friend, eventually as girlfriend, and finally as his wife.
Nonetheless, borrowed time is just that, temporary. Nagisa, tied to the changing town, finds herself suffering her yearly ailments at the same time as fate literally converges upon them and Ushio is born. The first time we go through this, Nagisa does not survive, but her bloodline does, and the curse, as it were, is transmitted to their child, just as tied to the city as Nagisa was. Ushio, too, is on borrowed time, which catches up to her as we see in the series. Still, because of Tomoya's actions, because he reconciled with his daughter and father, because of all of this, he gains two incalculably important things to the resolution of this series.
1) The happiness of his father.
2) The love of his daughter.
The former, going by the words of Yukine Miyazawa (episode 8 of After Story), obtaining an orb of light grants you a wish. Which is all well and good, but Tomoya doesn't realize he has the damn thing until after he's dead, so we have an issue. Which is where the latter comes in. Without the love of his daughter, without the events of the past arc, Ushio would have never built the robot for her father's soul to occupy. She would have never interacted with the world and communicated with her mother-to-be. She would have remained as alone as she would have been in that reality where Tomoya didn't care enough to be her father. It is because he embraced Ushio that he obtains the ability to use his second chance, to use his wish to grant him what he's wanted all along.
It wouldn't work any other way. Now, yes, you could remove the mysticism and optimism that has pervaded throughout Clannad and end the story with Ushio's fate catching up to her and Tomoya following her to the grave shortly thereafter. You could even cut out all that stuff, and let them end on the happy note of their reconciliation. But, in the end, the trials and tribulations that Tomoya suffers through are not for naught. He doesn't forget about them; he can't. In essence, he is granted a miracle because he himself has helped others to reach happiness, not the least of which was his own father.
Now, taking that stage, we have to think, Tomoya has been granted the ability to make the one thing he most desires. This is not just a revived Ushio. Nor is it a Nagisa who survives because she never met him.
It's a family.
One in which all three of them are a part.
Nothing else would make sense from his perspective. Nothing else would work as well as the conclusion to this unfalteringly optimistic story. No, it's not realistic. But it's not intended to be as such either. As the conclusion for characters who inhabit a world in which miracles are possible and are the result of helping others find happiness, however, it works.
Sappy, cheesy, melodramatic writing designed to invoke strong emotions from its audience? Undoubtedly, yes. It has no basis in reality, neither this story nor this series' incessantly optimistic worldview.
But, at the same time, they connected with me. Very few stories accomplish that. I may just not be jaded or cynical enough, though I am enough so that I am quite aware that I'm being manipulated. And, in the end, emotions created by fiction are by their very nature manipulated. So, all I can really say to Key and KyoAni is that they succeeded.
They got me to care. And for that, I have to give them credit.