Saturday, July 31, 2010

The School's Trees: The Trust of a Child

As I said before, this is where things actually take off. This is After Story, one of the most moving masterpieces of all time, this is....

Baseball? What?



Yes, the writers put us into a BASEBALL game at the start, with Tomoya being relied upon to supply the players. By now I'd gotten used to the writers taking what would normally be filler and making it crucial to the plot, so I didn't mind. But baseball? What did these guys have in mind this time?

This:



The last few minutes of this opening episode scream foreshadowing. Tomoya is put into a situation where only he can save the hopes and dreams of his friends, with Nagisa's success hanging on his willingness to try? Gosh, that sounds so familiar!  That sounds like Nagisa dying and Tomoya only having to make a wish... only here, he doesn't choke. What saves Tomoya here is that Nagisa is alive and waiting for him. And so he musters it up into one shot, and BAM! Out of the park the ball goes, and Nagisa comes back home. The family has won, because Tomoya believed.

The writers have been setting up this scenario over and over again, trying to tell you in all the ways they can without actually telling you what's going to happen. Remember the basketball scene? Where Tomoya shot and made the basket? That's another time the writers put the foreshadowing on heavy. The beginning is a mirror of the ending, making a beautiful symmetry. Seriously, everything lines up. Anyway, on to more serious issues.

Sunohara's Arc
This is the arc that deals with Tomoya's cruelty towards Sunohara. Tomoya has always been a bit of a prankster, but his shenanigans towards Sunohara have always been particularly hurtful, and it comes to a head here. What on earth prompted Tomoya to do this to Sunohara in the first place? I personally think this scene from the Afterstory Bonus Episode



Could it be that part of Tomoya's intentions in telling Sunohara that Sanae is Nagisa's sister is some form of revenge for having to watch Sunohara play a cruel prank on Kyou? I'd like to say that it's more than half of it. Tomoya really hated what happened there, and has probably held a grudge against Sunohara ever since then, and lost all pity for Sunohara. So, yeah, this really is Tomoya's revenge. And boy, is it a big one. Tomoya lies to Sunohara and tells him that he's dating Mei, and that starts a chain of events leading up to this:



What I love about this scene is that most of what Tomoya is saying is self-reflective. He's not just talking to Sunohara here, but himself. Tomoya is just as afraid of being what Sunohara is, but has become just like him: bitter and cruel. In fact, Tomoya has become worse than Sunohara in his attempts to get even. He really enjoys hurting Sunohara because he believes that Sunohara's too soft and needs to toughen up.

But the words I thought it was alright if it was with you! are enough to jolt Tomoya out of his cruelty. And wouldn't it jolt you? To be told that all the times that your friend has listened to all your dumb pranks was because he trusted you enough to suspend reason itself? I know that would change me, and it changes Tomoya. From here on out he'll never play pranks again, and becomes quite gentle.

OK, one more time just for the hell of it!
Why's this so important? Because if Tomoya hadn't changed here, he may have still had that mean streak with Ushio around. Imagine someone with Sunohara's level of trust in Tomoya, but they're much younger, and you have Ushio. Without this pivotal moment Tomoya may have permanently damaged Ushio. What, you don't think Tomoya is capable of that? After watching him cruelly torturing his friend Sunohara throughout the entirety of this show, even though Sunohara sees more good in Tomoya than Tomoya does in himself? Tomoya's capable, and at the point of his life where Ushio meets him he's even weaker than he is now, so he'd be willing. Without this arc Tomoya would have destroyed Ushio. 


Still not convinced? Fine. Sunohara relies upon Tomoya as a child does a father to keep him out of harm's way, to give him advice on how to deal with girls, and to be there when he needs him. He's also as annoying as a child, acts like a child, and overall needs as much guidance (and beatings) as a child without ritalin. When you think about it, all those humorous moments with Sunohara are actually very dark humor, because each and everyone of them attests to Tomoya's failure. The fact that Tomoya doesn't have a good example from his father is part of the point. Tomoya is only acting as he sees his father acting. But here he's shown that it's not enough to imitate your father, you have to be yourself. Well, he's shown that partially. The  rest of that character development comes along after Nagisa dies. But for now, this is enough for Tomoya and for us.

This arc is one of the reasons I love this show so much: it's willing to change the status quo. While Tomoya never stops playing around with Sunohara his level of cruelty drops, meaning that half of the plots that could have been started (Tomoya being a cruel bastard to person x) are no longer possible. It was a bold move, but a good one. Even today when I watch this arc I'm amazed that they took something as "subtle" and long standing as Tomoya's pranks and ended them, because without this change Tomoya and his world wouldn't have been nearly as believable, because people do change over time. Nagisa stops doubting herself. Akio opens up. Tomoyo stops being a gang leader. Kyou finally becomes gentle. Kotomi gains confidence. But all these changes happen because of experiences that teach them that what they're doing now isn't good enough. That change is needed. That they must break out of their ruts and become something new.

That they must become human. 


A special thanks to the Clannad Fanpage for graciously uploading all the videos that I've used in this post. Taylor went through a few hoops to get me this stuff, and I'm grateful for the time and effort he put into these videos. I'm also grateful to all the people out there with Clannad blogs whom I've "borrowed" pictures from. Your work makes this blog possible, even if you don't know it.