Saturday, August 21, 2010

The School's Trees: Midnight (Week of Tears, Part 3)

Suffice to say Tomoya isn't down and out yet.

And neither was I. Even though I couldn't answer the question I couldn't give up. A part of me still fought on, silently defiant of fate, wanting Okazaki to be happy while the rest of me wondered why the hell this series even tried anymore. They'd already broken Tomoya, so why torment him any further? Why not just let him accept fate?

Oh, you bastards.....!

That's it!  I thought. I've had enough of this bullshit! They went and introduced her of all people?? The one person who we all know is gonna die? No, I'm not gonna get attached. I'm not gonna...

Fuuuuuuuck! He's trying again. Why? Why do this to yourself, Tomoya? You know it's just as useless as I do. There's no point, Tomoya, there's no-

She forgave him. A little child went and did the one thing that no one else in this show could do. She just did...

I wish I could have words. I want to. I want to tell you what I felt, what this means for Tomoya, what this means to the story, what this-

But there's no point, is there? You already know. 

And so silence is the best treatment.

From here on out I couldn't keep my eyes dry. It was impossible. Even though that nagging fog-horn in my head kept announcing Ushio's death I kept watching, unable to tear myself away from the redemption of Tomoya. I couldn't stop watching the final meeting with Tomoya's father, Fuko waking up, Kyou returning, Ushio quickly becoming my favorite character of the whole damn series. None of it was avoidable. But the whole time I knew.

I knew.

I knew.

And yet I couldn't stop.

The question still hadn't been answered. If anything, it'd been exacerbated. Why is it worth living if we die in the end? At every corner it confronted me, and instead of answering the question they let Ushio die. It was too much.

"Fucking bastards!" I took my sandal off, chucked it at Marty's computer screen, and broke down.

But when I looked up I saw something funny. Marty was smiling through his tears.

Something was up.

But what? Where was the punchline in this tragedy? How in the world could they make this a happy ending?

And that's when I remembered the lights...

A thanks to Clannad Central for putting up these videos, as well as the poor person I stole the image from off the web. Thanks for making this page what it is.

Please pray for the soul of my grandmother, Gloria. She died two dies ago, in a hospital in Philadelphia. I'll be going to the funeral next week, so there'll be no blog post from me, since I'll be driving there and back again.

I didn't know my grandmother terribly well. I moved all the time when I was younger, and so I couldn't get to know her. But what I did see I loved. Grandma was the strongest and sweetest woman I'd ever known, able to turn from stubborn to caring at the drop of a dime. She made sure that everyone was always taken care of, and to this day I don't think she ever forgot a birthday of mine, or anyone else's. Even when she contracted Parkinson's Disease her care for her family didn't diminish, as she fought for 15+ years to hold onto whatever ability she had left. When my grandfather died at the beginning of this year, she started to do better, and I hoped that I would be able to see her one more time. Alas, it was not to be. Earlier on this week she grew mysteriously ill and passed away, after putting up a fight that lasted two and a half days. I ask for your prayers, and thank you for the ones that you have already given. I hope to see her again some day.

Because in my mind she isn't dead.

She's home with Grandpa.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eternal Memory!

To my grandmother, Gloria, Eternal Memory! Eternal Memory! Blessed repose, and eternal memory.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The School's Trees: The Brightest Darkness You Can Find (Week of Tears, Part Two)

Unlike most people, I'd never really thought about Nagisa dying. There was so much going on, y'know? I mean sure, when someone spoiled it for me in a youtube video I smacked myself in the head for not thinking about it. It's not that I was surprised, I just hadn't gotten there yet. Tomoya had just proposed and I was still "recovering" from that. I was full of those emotions still, and couldn't process as I watched the next few episodes. I knew it was coming, but I didn't want to believe it. I couldn't. Not after all of this. Tomoya and Nagisa had come so far, Tomoya, no I- had learned so much. Surely it wasn't all in vain?

Could fate be avoided?

I couldn't believe my eyes.

Throughout the series I felt my mistrust of God and the world evaporate along with Tomoya's. I found myself believing again, possibly in the same way that Tomoya did. Maybe the world really was as kind as it looked, maybe things really were that good, maybe the proposal was still possible, maybe I could still recover like Tomoya did.

But Nagisa was dead.

All I could do was weep. Gone was the sublimity of happiness, sadness, and hope in my tears. All there was was despair. Tomoya had concluded the same thing as I did.

It was pointless.

What's the point of doing anything if we die?  

If all my hopes and dreams and efforts end in vain why try? Shouldn't it be better to never try to begin with? But I couldn't accept that. Life wasn't this depressing, and I knew it! So I searched my mind and my past for the answer. But I couldn't find an alternative. Nagisa was dead.

And so I cried.

I heard crying and turned around. There was Marty. He'd taken off his glasses, wiping his eyes as the tears streamed down. I felt like we were mourning the death of a mutual friend, no- we were mourning the death of a friend.  We were mourning the death of a very dear friend. All our memories were tainted now, and nothing could be the same. Nagisa was dead.

The room faded to darkness with the end of the episode. We made sure of it. No cheery ending for us.

I sat there, arguing with myself. Surely there had to be some hope, somewhere! There had to be an answer to my question. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I agreed with Tomoya. It would have been better that he'd never met her. It would have been better if I had never grown up, never survived the obstacles of my childhood, never gone to college, never met Jamie, never gone out with her, never made any mistakes, and never tried.

Death was the only answer.

My thoughts were interrupted by Marty's roommate's need to sleep, so I excused myself for the night, wiping my eyes and putting on a smile for the precious few people who were awake. But the question still stuck with me as I lay in bed.

What's the point if we all die?

What if the nihilists are right? My lack of an answer was the only thing I had. I'd never had something closer  to me than a pet die. I'd never thought about these questions before, because I'd been so concerned about surviving. But what if it didn't matter? Death was around the corner, and it wanted me as badly as it wanted Nagisa.

And I had no answer for it.

My sincerest thanks to Clannad Central for keeping up with me this week, especially in light of my grandmother. She's recovering quite rapidly, and astounding the doctors, thank God. Thank you all for your time, and God bless.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The School's Trees: Always and Forever (Week of Tears Part 1)

There are times in your life when something happens upon you and grabs you, makes you think, makes you feel, makes you realize things that you thought were impossible aren't.  These moments are filled with more happiness and sorrow than you thought could coexist, but somehow mix into a completely new emotion. I think it's not an emotion anymore, but being that gets introduced, the ability to be perfectly happy and perfectly sad at the time time. The few times I've had an emotion like this have been some of the best moments of my life as I realized that everything, even the evil, could work out for God's plan and goodness. Art can do that for people, and these Clannad posts that I'll cover this week did do that for me. These are game changers. Even though time has worn away at all the novelty of these episodes they still continue to make me realize what I truly want and need: to be joyful/happy. To be with God.

More sappy to come later. For now, on to the actual blog post. This arc is focused on the surprised joy of Tomoya, as he moves on with life. He graduates highschool. He starts looking for a job outside of Akio and Sanae's bread shop, and finds one with Yoshino Yusuke and the power plant. He even gets a new place!

Y'see that? Tomoya blushed. Holy crap. Think about that for a second, people. Tomoya Okazaki, bitter delinquent, blushing at the thought of living with Nagisa? Be still my beating heart, the boy's growing up! Granted, he's still seeing the negative things first, but the fact that Tomoya can see anything good at all, even on a second try, is something. Y'know what else is weird? Tomoya's the emotional one of this little couple. Look at him, and at all the following clips and such. Every time it's Nagisa being the voice of reason, being the strong one. Tomoya was the emotional one to begin with, he just hadn't given himself permission to be that way. Nagisa had always been the strong one, but didn't think she was truly capable of being that way. The two of them confirm to the other that it's OK to be themselves. They bring out the best in each other, because they see the good in the other person and honor it, which gets the other person to respect themselves more.

But it doesn't just stop with these two, however. It extends to everyone else outside of themselves. I mean, look at him!

Did Okazaki just giggle? Anyway....

He shows up to work, and is exactly what he is: a kind and anxious person. Okazaki has changed. Notice how it took a few years of build up, however. This change didn't happen overnight. It took Okazaki a little while to do this, even with Nagisa. That's a very important (and true) thing about relationships: the changes don't happen overnight, but they will happen as long as you honor what's good in the other person. Nagisa's refusal to give up on Okazaki has led to this, and boy did it pay off.

And then there's Yusuke's speech. Oh my gosh, this speech is awesome. I could go on and on about this speech, but that would not only betray the point of this particular blog post but it really is best summed up by just watching it:

This speech is just...true. I don't know how else to say it. It's true.

The story continues with Nagisa bringing up the fact that Tomoya's father has no idea where he is, and weirdly enough, Tomoya seems a bit more receptive to talking to him... that is...until his father screws things up for him at his job, and kills a well-earned promotion. Tomoya, furious and a bit jaded, goes outside and...

... the single most beautiful thing I've ever seen happens...

I cry. Every. Single. Time. I can't help it. But I guess before I get into what this particular video clip means to me, I should probably take apart what's going on, right?



Tomoya's more than disillusioned. He feels that he's been cheated by the town, by God Himself (the two are often used interchangeably in Clannad). Hitting a wall has been described as a type of self-harm to me, and it seems to fit here. Tomoya's furious at God's apparent lack of love for him, and so he decides on some level that means he's not good enough. So he starts to destroy himself. But why not forget about God, or attempt to destroy Him? You only destroy things that you hate. Tomoya believes that God is good. Tomoya just happens to believe that he is evil himself. You only destroy things you hate.  But Nagisa stops him, not by grabbing his hand, but by showing that his self-destruction saddens her. Why? It's not like Tomoya sees any worth in himself (as he professes). It's that he sees worth in her. As much as Tomoya hates himself he wants to be around to love Nagisa. And that's what stops him. That's what gives him pause. He wants Nagisa to be happy.

And that's what gets him to propose.

Is it a perfect intention? Hell no. But are anyone's intentions for anything entirely pure? Hell no. What's important is that Tomoya wants to love her forever, which is more than good enough. I don't mean love in the sappy Hallmark-ised sense of the word. I mean actual love. Tomoya wants to live with Nagisa and give her all the love he can give. That's why it's good enough. Tomoya doesn't want anything for himself, he only wants to give to her. What follows is Nagisa's affirmation of Tomoya's proposal, which makes one of the most powerful, complex, true, and (ironically enough) thoroughly unromantic scenes ever. It's a scene that shows that love can and will happen through all the brokeness of our lives, that nothing can stop it as long as we ask for it.

As far as my own personal story with this story goes...

I'll confess that I hadn't shed one tear for this show until this point. Sure, I'd grown a little misty at Fuko, and Shima's arc had moved me deeply. But I hadn't thought of this show as anything truly worthy of my emotions until Episode 12 of After Story. That's when I broke down. All the things with Jamie came back to me all at once. All the lust, all the hatred, all the anger, all the betrayal, all of it. It all hit me as I watched the proposal. The utter stupidity of what I had done hit me like a ton of bricks, and so I cried. I finally admitted to myself that what I had done was wrong. I felt guilty. And so I cried.

But as I watched I realized that I hadn't destroyed myself. I was still alive, and that what I was watching was still possible. I could still do it. 

And that only made me cry harder.

In the strangest mix of happiness, sorrow, contentment, and yearning that I'd ever experienced I bawled, and hugged my legs to my chest. Despite everything going on I knew that I was OK, that I was going to make it. That I could change. That things would get better. That I was alive, and that that was a good thing. That I was alive, and that meant I didn't have to feel alone. That I was alive, and that I could defeat my own perceptions. That I was alive.

I am alive.

My sincerest thanks to Clannad Central for the videos, as well as my especial appreciation for their support of this week. Taylor's an awesome guy, and I hope that you guys give him the credit he deserves for slaving over all these video uploads for me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The School's Trees: They Don't Have a Home (Gang Arc)

Y'know, there are times when I feel it necessary to say everything, and spell it out for y'all. Not that you're stupid, but I think it's helpful to make things as clear as possible, so that way I don't look like a raving lunatic. There are times, however, that it feels redundant to say something that's so clearly spelled out in the anime that it makes my head hurt. The following video is evidence of such a time.

There ya go, kiddies. The entire point of this arc is summed up, in a nutshell. These kids are still trying to form family, even when the one that they had isn't working out. It's so ingrained into us as humans that we really have no choice about it, because who chooses not to have a family? Well, beyond the nutballs of society...  But the point is made. We need family.

So why don't the gangs work out too well, then? Because the people who form these families only have the brokeness of their former lives to reference to, and so they recreate it. Don't believe me? Well, you apparently don't know anything about gang wars (or this arc), because they definitely recreate the trouble in their homes. So running from it won't help, not matter what happens you'll bring your darkness with you. This is a point that escapes Tomoya who's in their very shoes. Instead of facing his father, he ran away to Nagisa's house. Does that make Tomoya like them? Yup. Tomoya's motives are almost identical, his anger is similar. The only difference is that the family he picked was stable and loving to begin with, which is a stroke of luck on his part. The gangs are a contrast to how lucky Tomoya is, showing that not everyone gets Tomoya's chance at pure happiness.

But for some people, it's not enough that the offending party (their parents) are out of the picture. They have to remove everyone that reminds them of the evil that was in their lives. Why wouldn't they want to remove evil, or things that remind them of evil? That makes sense, right? And so gang wars seem to come up. But there are people who don't have that baggage, who watch our fights and wonder what the hell is going on, and why good people are putting demons on other good people's faces. Who isn't living in the past. Yukine is one of those people in that unenviable position. Well, Yukine decides that enough's enough, and so...

I often wonder why the hell this works, until I saw this scene. Yukine represents something good in the present, and the fact that she was hit represents their present (and future) being threatened. You can only hold on to the past for so long, until it destroys your present and future. The gang members realize this and...

Settle their differences, once and for all. Because nothing is worth Yukine's pain. Sometimes, as painful as the past is, it's not worth destroying the present. Tomoya needs to learn this, and fast.

Unfortunately, it takes a little more than this heartwarming arc to do that for him, as we'll cover next week, in the Week of Tears. Expect a blog post Monday!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The School's Trees: Y'Know, I Don't Like Cats..(Katsuki's Arc)

My apologies for being late once again, but finals and a friend's wake make meeting deadlines a little difficult. Pray for the soul of Angela, please? She died Monday.

Katsuki's arc is, by far, the strangest arc in Clannad. It's strange because it has nothing and everything to do with the plot, and is inconsequential yet essential. Do not let the fact that this arc is only two episodes long and only shows about 10 or so minutes of the main characters fool you. This is possibly the most important arc in the entire anime. Why? Because it shows the rules of how the lights work. And that's necessary to see how Ushio is allowed to allow Tomoya to bring Nagisa back. But, before that, I'd like to look at the tradition of animals-become-humans in Key's history, most notably in Kanon


As some of you might not be aware, I'm gonna bring this up: most of Clannad is not original, but are plot devices borrowed from earlier Key works. I won't say all of the stuff they borrowed (for fear of spoiling a really beautiful ending in Kanon), but one of the things they borrowed was the animal becoming a human thing. They borrowed it from their work Kanon, which showcases a fox-girl known as Makoto. In Kanon Makoto is a fox who is befriended by the main character during his summer break. She (the fox) falls in love with the main character and wishes to be with him, and somehow that wish is granted. Enter the redhead in the above picture. Eventually the spell wears out and she regresses into fox-dom, saying her trademark "Awu!" more and more often. Eventually she dies and disappears, never to be seen again. It was beautiful. It was sad. I hated it. 


Her voice in Japanese is so bloody annoying!!! I hate, and I mean hate, that "awu!" sound that she makes! Gah! I was almost cheering when she died, if only because I didn't have to hear that bloody sound anymore. Makoto almost ruined Kanon for me, and I was desperate to see what the rest of the anime had to offer. Shortly thereafter, Kanon proved itself in my eyes. Granted, that took 12 episodes, but hey. Belief is a good thing...


Katsuki is Key's latest take on this concept, and as far as I'm aware it's their last. And just as well, because this arc is beautiful. From start to finish this story is hilarious, poignant, heartbreaking, heartwarming, it's all over the place. Katsuki shows up to Sagara while she's in highschool, and tells her that he can grant any one wish for her. It takes two episodes to convince her,but the journey along the way is nothing short of amazing. Kaktsuki shows that he's an animal in a very subtle way. He's loyal to the point of stupidity, doesn't entirely understand human interaction, and doesn't self reflect in the way that most humans do. Katsuki acts like a very sweet cat, even in human form, which is why the following scene a bit heart wrenching...

This covers the first rule of making a wish: Be specific. Sagara and Katsuki had no idea that Katsuki was a cat, so she only asked for him to love her forever. Katsuki's form was not permanent, but a temporary shell granted to him by The Light so he could accomplish his mission. To ask for the wish to be granted would take away his "shell", and would return him to being a cat. It's a sad moment, but unfortunately neither one of them knows, so therefore they can't make the proper wish. But are they really supposed to to? I mean, Katsuki was a cat to begin with, and therefore his destiny wasn't supposed to stay intertwined Sagara, nevermind any human. To have him stick around as a cat already "bends" the rules of the world, but to have him stay human? This brings up a tentative second rule: The wish must be made personally. It can't be just whispered to the heavens, but to a real person standing in front of you. This is one of the most genius things in Clannad, because how many people have had their wishes granted by a random occurence? Not very often. But by people? Almost all the time. Katsuki becoming a person was a natural part of the process, and shows some amount of intelligent design in the wish making process. To have something this complex and personal implies a personal God looking over the scene and letting it happen.

"But God denied the wish", you might say. "If God existswhy did He deny the wish? "It certainly seems like God "screened" her wish, decided it wasn't the best for her, and changed it, doesn't it? The why's summed up later, when Tomoya tells Sagara that she needs to continue to live and find as much happiness as possible. This brings up the third of these rules: The wish made must give you true happiness. If there's a better way, God will take that instead, while granting your wish in a way that doesn't interfere with your greater happiness. While Katsumi was supposed to be in Sagara's life for a time, the fact that he's a cat originally means that he shouldn't (and couldn't) be there for Sagara in the way needed. He already showed a lack of understanding in human interaction, but imagine as time went on and they had kids. Can you imagine a human that was formally a cat attempt to take care of children?  I mean, licking can be fun and all, but it's a tad bit ridiculous when you do that to your own kids. Not that we ever saw Kastumi do something like that, but you get the idea. Also, Kastumi was able to say "When you took me down like a pro wrestler, I could smell your scent" without a hint of blush as he did. Guys, would you like to try that on your girlfriends without the least bit of innuendo there? Go on, go and say it to her, come back, and tell me how that went.

OK, did she think you were being gross and that you were coming onto her, while you felt horribly shamed for existing? That's a sign that you're not a cat, but a normal guy. Relish the shame, guys, relish the shame.

All joking aside, what I'm getting at is this. Katsumi was never intended to be human, and so therefore wasn't built like one. As much as he loved Sagara it really was the love of a pet for his master. Need proof? Look at the sentimental ending for this arc.

In short, what Sagara was asking for wasn't the best option, so God took her request and granted it in the way that He could: Katsumi would become a cat again, and would follow Sagara forever. While it isn't the ending that we were looking for, it is proof that someone is on the other side of curtain, pulling strings so everyone can become happy. Sagara got what she really needed: a pet that she could be kind to all the time. And Kastumi got what he wanted: a kind and loving master. And God, in His infinite wisdom, allowed that to be so. While we don't necessarily see at the time why God allows certain things to be a certain way God sometimes needs to deny us of what we think we want so that He can give us what we really want. This is the heart and message of this arc: God will always give us what's truly in our hearts.

God is good, even when we don't understand why. And for that I am thankful.

A thanks to Clannad Central for uploading the videos for me separate of Brandon (and hopefully Sean). I had a lot going on this week in the form of finals and my friend Angela's death. I hope you guys don't mind (not that you have a choice), but I'm going to talk about her a bit. 

I had left McDonald's three years ago, proclaiming that I'd rather be homeless than work there again. It wasn't that the people I was working with were bad. I hated the job itself. So when I became desperate three years later, I realized that my earlier proclamation was... not as strong as I'd anticipated. I was back in McDonald's. And that alone made me want to puke. I wanted nothing to do with that place, and was bitter that the circumstances of my life had led me back to the one job that I couldn't stand.

Angela made that place bearable for the first few months as I readjusted. She was kind (even when I wasn't,) let me know when I screwed up (even when others wouldn't), and asked me an incessant amount of questions about myself (especially when others wouldn't). In short, she became my friend. I warmed up to her, and in consequence, the other people in the store, and before I knew it working there was just a chore that was lightened by the presence of people that I knew and trusted. While I never hung out with her outside of work I thought of her often and hoped that, whatever she was doing, she was happy and at peace.

Imagine my surprise on Thursday when I found out that Angela had died Monday. 

I won't get into the details on a blog (I'll only say that she wasn't a suicide), but please pray for her. She is my friend, and I hope to goodness that she'll be waiting for me when I go Home, because I think she'd want to be there. Thank you for your patience, understanding, and prayers. God bless.