We live in a culture that’s about big displays of love – grand marriage proposals (all caught on Facebook Live of course), fancy trips around the world, heart stirring confessions in the rain. We want immediate gratification in our love, for our hearts to be set afire. The long, challenging work of a relationship is boring and hard; we’d rather see and experience the short term without worrying about the long.
At first, Clannad After Story seems to be selling that same tale that our culture does. Episode 18, entitled, “The Ends of the Earth,” takes a bad father (two, actually) and leads him on a journey that builds into one of the most emotional series of scenes in all anime. It feels like there’s no hard work and all pay-off. All is forgiven as Ushio embraces her dad – he’s learned his lesson, “gone to the ends of the earth,” and is loving his daughter like he should.
But maybe things aren’t that simple after all. Spoilers ahead.
A closer inspection reveals that Clannad is telling us something much more meaningful about love. The lesson of grace, for one, is heavy. I definitely relate to Tomoya and his struggles, but to be frank, it’s hard to feel loving toward him since he’s doing something terrible in the wake of loss. He’s ignoring the one who needs him most, which is what makes Ushio’s childlike love so powerful – this child is not only finding rest in her dad, but she is saving him.
But Ushio isn’t done. No…because the truth is, Tomoya hasn’t gone to the “ends of the earth.” But Ushio will.
In the course of Clannad, we’re shown these dreamy sequences involving a girl and the robot she created. By the series end, we realize that the girl is Ushio and the robot is Tomoya. After her death, Ushio continues to strive forward, to make a miracle happen that will heal her family. So against all odds and logic and life and death, she is able to make her way back and heal this devastated family. Ushio has gone to the ends of the world, to the ends of the universe. She’s worked hard and done the impossible.
Back on the earthly plane, and again in episode 18, we also another metaphorical “ends of the earth” that Tomoya has not traveled. His own father is the one who has walked a long journey in raising his son. He fails over and over again, but when it’s explained to him what his father did, Tomoya immediately realizes that his dad has love harder and more stronger than he ever has. In the face of similar loss, Tomoya quit, while his father never did.
I sometimes think about these broad declarations of love, about saying to my loved ones that I’ll love them for all time or in any situation, that I’ll love God and follow him, again, to the “ends of the earth.” But such declarations make me uncomfortable because I often fail to love in relatively easy moments, when something small goes wrong or when I’m in a bad mood. How can I declare that I’ll love them to the point of death?
But Ushio and Tomoya’s dad show me that not all is loss, that I have hope, even as they show the same to Tomoya. Ushio demonstrates that love is working day by day, in the face of impossible odds, and doing it anyway – and indeed, that love can find a way. While she provides motivation, Tomoya’s dad shows me something else – that I will fail. I’ll may even make very big, irreversible mistakes. But loving means moving forward as best I can, with my own limitations, and saying that even though I’m sometimes – too often – a basketcase and a bad husband/father/son/friend/mentor, I’ll keep trying. It’s a hard, painful, messy kind of love – but ultimately that’s what love is.