Monday, November 15, 2010

The School's Trees with Andy: Winter is Coming: Tomoya and Tomoyo

A number of people I know were befuddled by the "Another World: Tomoyo" episode. To them I say: hold off a bit, I'll touch on the topic of "another world" in another post. Today, though, it's time for a look at one of my favorite episodes in the entire series, and that's Tomoyo's "another world" arc. It's brief, for sure, but in a single episode the creators of Clannad manage to pack in an entirely unseen aspect of this character, and to tell a plausible and at times painful love story.

Quiet Starts the Winter
The alternate story of Tomoya and Tomoyo begins slowly and softly. It's not filled with the awkward stumblings of Tomoya and Nagisa. Rather, this couple sort of...happened. Tomoya explains it best here. We also get to see something which comes back again and again in this episode: Tomoyo wants Tomoya to stay by her side, to stay with her. She's found something precious in this relationship, and she wants it to stay.

This quietness is one of my favorite things about the Tomoyo/Tomoya pairing, though at the same time it turns out to be one of its challenges. Being a reflective person myself, and one who naturally prefers being with someone and knowing that they care about you to talking with them...I can appreciate this. I can understand what it's like to be this way. Tomoya and Tomoyo have an understanding that they belong.

Of course, such peace and quiet can't last. Complications quickly arise, and that's the focus of this episode. It highlights a very real component of love, too: it's not enough for two lovers to care only about themselves. They live in a big world, and there's all sorts of people depending on them, all sorts of circumstances that affect them, all sorts of consequences they have to deal with. This story is about two lovers coming to terms with the outside world.

Tension and Sacrifice
The guy in this clip is a grade-A jerk.

Sure, maybe he has a bit of a point, but he's not incredibly concerned for Tomoyo's wellbeing so much as he's jealous. In this little meeting here, we see a conflict. The abstract struggle between Tomoyo's heart and Tomoyo's duty is made very, very real. Her heart wants to be with Tomoya, the match that she's found, the one whom she can care about, the one whom she is at peace with. Her duty, though, tells her that she can't be.

It's a grim twist of irony. Why? Because she took on this duty because of her heart; she seeks a high position so that she can preserve the sakura trees for her brother. Her heart's gotten her into a place where she's bound up into something she doesn't want.

And she tries to make it work even so. Tomoyo is ridiculously stubborn. Even though she doesn't show it, she refuses to let the danger to her position shake her. (There's a reason Tomoyo's theme song is called "Her Determination")

Drastic Action
Tomoya knows that it can't last. He can tell that even she's just dodging an inevitable fate. So he does something incredibly painful to fix the situation.

He lies to Tomoyo, telling her that he never loved her, and breaks off their relationship. Thus begins a remarkably painful portion of the episode. Tomoya goes through a drudge of life. He passes Tomoyo without pausing for a glance of recognition, tries applying to jobs, and everything is bleak and gray, just like at the start of Clannad.

There's an interesting difference, though. It all gets summed up in the very end of the episode, which I think is one of the more poignant and beautiful moments of the series. Tomoyo explains that Tomoya's been doing just fine. When they were together, he was learning something. Being with someone who cared so much for something, he understood what it meant to take responsibility. It may have not taken on a dramatic form as with Nagisa, but the relationship of Tomoya and Tomoyo taught him how to stand up and be a man.

There's something about this scene that just moves me. It's not that the ending is happy. It's not even the idea that Tomoyo is willing to sacrifice everything to be with Tomoya. No, it's something even more powerful. It's the fact that she believes in Tomoya. She believes in his goodness, and she believes in his loving heart. Why else would she have watched as he grew, and fallen even more in love with him, even though he had told her that he didn't love her? She believed in his love, so much so that she couldn't truly accept what he'd told her.

And she believes in his ability to rise. When Tomoya tells her that he'll drag her down, that she has higher places to go than next to him...and she tells him that he's not as low as he thinks he is. She's telling him that he, too, can rise. And shortly after, he says as much. "It's a little late, but I'll go to where you are, too." Tomoya has come a long way.

Ironically, the color scheme used for this end sequence is practically identical to the beginning of Clannad. It wouldn't appear like anything has changed...but everything has changed, on the inside. The circle is finished.

There was something, though, that I really, truly liked about this episode. It's something that caught me by surprise, and something that deepened characters like nobody's business.

A Different Tomoyo
When I saw that clip up there, I was pretty close to floored. It took my expectations of Tomoyo, and did a perfectly rational and surprising thing with them. It's also something which made me even more of a Tomoyo fan. Put quite simply: Tomoyo gets hurt.

Reread those three little words for a second. Tomoyo gets hurt.

Yeah. You heard that right. Tomoyo is one of the strongest characters in the show, taking a seat just behind the Furukawa parents, Ushio, and even Nagisa herself. She's physically strong, but also ridiculously stable. Her past is filled with tragedy, and she and her family have pulled together and grown stronger because of it. Even emotionally, she's incredibly strong. And then we get hit with this lovely little tidbit.

You can hurt Tomoyo. Really easily, actually. All you have to do is gun for that which she cares about the most. She's found a heart to be with, and she's made that her aim and desire.

Doing something like that automatically makes you vulnerable. What impresses me the most about Tomoyo's strength is this vulnerability. Her's not something we'd think of at first. But it's something powerful, something incredible.

To love, you must be capable of being hurt. You have to take that leap. You have to make that risk. Without this jump, you can only go so far. Tomoyo's thrown herself into this with her very being, and it's that dedication that I can admire.