When Community Fails: Tomoya and the Failure of Clann

The beauty of Clannad is in how it shows love expressed through family of all different kinds – that kind of love has the power to heal, to restore, to give life, even in the midst of extraordinary difficulties, even when life itself isn’t fair. There’s a sincerity to the series that’s lacking in most anime; even though the series incorporates elements like fantasy and slapstick comedy, it’s centered right here, right in the heart. Maybe it isn’t surprising, then, that a story that so positively emphasizes community realistically (if not intentionally) also demonstrates how it can fail.

Major spoilers ahead. If you haven’t watched Clannad, I suggest you turn back from this page, go to the interwebs, and start it. It’s worth the watch. Then maybe come back when you’re done.

In episode sixteen of After Story, there’s a melancholy that haunts the episode right from the beginning and through until it’s devastating end. It starts with the clann/clan gathering for a New Year’s celebration, with a pervasive feeling that the get-together isn’t happiness and the same old interactions from high school, but a sadness in seeing how things have changed. The friends have visited each other rarely since graduation. Sunohara has been busy with work, the twins with school, and Kotomi studying abroad. Even without the event about to occur, this feels like the last celebration for the group (Note: I can’t quite remember how the group responds in later episodes—it’s been a while since I’ve seen the series, which I’m making my way through again).

Then the unthinkable happens: Nagisa dies during childbirth. Tomoya is ruined. He decides to pour himself into work (and alcohol) and abandon his newborn child, trusting in Sanae and Akio to raise her. And there is no indication here, in the hardest of times for Tomoya (though of course, the worst is yet to come), that any of his friends made any solid effort to reach out him, to be there for him, to be family (scroll down to Clannad on this page for some discussion of the friends’ disappearance).

Kyou and Tomoya
“…so worried that we did absolutely nothing.”

Excuses are given. The series seems to take the angle and Sanae, the group mom, suggested that the friends stay away. In her wisdom, and her intimate knowledge of Tomoya, she knows he’ll eventually come around. And of course he does, so it seems like a wise piece of advice indeed, and it’s also something that I personally need to learn as a parent (“let them make their mistakes”), but in the context of this show, I don’t buy it. It’s not what I would expect of those characters judging by how intense their relationships had become and how much Tomoya and Nagisa meant to them.

Kyou Nagisa Tomoya
The connection still remains in Tomoya’s heart and mind.

You have to buy what the narrative is selling with you, and it’s foolish to go on too much of a tangent, to make your own head canon. So I don’t want to delve too much into reasons for why the group (Tomoyo, the outsider, included) didn’t gather around Tomoya like family and support him in all ways possible, except to say that it was perhaps a circumstance of the people they had become and of their already-distancing relationships. It became too easy to come to the conclusion that some of them reached when discussing whether or not to visit Tomoya in his grief: “We agreed it was best to leave you alone.”

I believe community is utterly vital for life. It’s necessary to be able to thrive with lives that approach our very best. I’ve suffered through long seasons where I’ve lacked authentic community. Even now, I don’t have the community I desire, and it sometimes hurts me deeply when I’m suffering and no one supports me – when it seems no one really cares.

Tomoya’s reactions to Kyou when he sees her again indicate that he is okay that his friends didn’t rescue him as he tried to do with them in high school – maybe it’s because he realized they were only really friends for less than a year, such a short time; or maybe he realized that of all the answers, the best for him was that he needed to be isolated and then gently led back when the time was right. After all, Tomoya’s loss was an incredibly painful and difficult situation.

The answers for how to care for the hurting are rarely wrapped up tidily with a white bow, but I think that just impresses upon that when we don’t know how to help our loved ones, we’re only really left with two choices: to cease being community, or to be a community that loves. And when put that way, the choice is crystal clear.

You can stream Clannad and Clannad After Story on Hulu.

11 thoughts on “When Community Fails: Tomoya and the Failure of Clann

  1. I think it this way: Tomoya acted exactly like his father, even to the point of deliberately distancing himself from his friends, convincing himself he lost everything, although his co-worker Yusuke was there, to try to snap him out of his depression. I think he thought all that he did was a mistake, from making so many friends that the consequence was now making them and him suffer because Nagisa died. He didn’t want to remind himself at that point of anyone in high school, since they reminded him too much of Nagisa. Remember that his closest family, Sanae and of course his daughter, visited every week, but he paid little or no attention. I doubt he would pay more attention to his friends.

    Of course, this is only an opinion, but it exactly mirrors the identical things his father suffered, except in one important aspect, of course.

    1. I think also that in this case, KyoAni went the literal route of the VN. In the VN, only Sunohara was very close and the rest of the girls weren’t. Even then, I guess that Key didn’t want the main character helped by their best friends when facing major problems in their life. So we are left to speculate.why it happened so.

      1. Wasn’t there something about Sunohara trying to reach out to Tomoya and Tomoya starting a terrible fight with Sunohara in order to drive him away?

        Which was why it ended up falling to Kyou to represent the firends in reaching out to Tomoya later?

    2. Oooh, that’s a good point! I’d never thought of it that way, that Tomoya was imitating his father. I think that makes sense from a storytelling standpoint, as the comparison becomes less subtle after Tomoya speaks to his grandmother. It also makes sense as this visceral level, where Tomoya is living the life the way it was modeled for him, even though he actively rejected it.

      I also agree in regards to Sanae, and I think his in-laws did a very good job of supporting Tomoya. They parented like they always had with Nagisa, very thoughtfully and patiently. But his friends…still, I don’t have much love for them. They may not have been able to get across to Tomoya, but they also barely tried.

      1. In the episode, where he speaks with Kyou, they thought he needed time to recover, so they decided not to meet with him. I think they were all also starting their work or still in school when Nagisa’s death occurs; it does take more time to become a nurse or a kindergarten teacher. And I’m sure some of them got a little into debt which they had to pay back. Maybe I’m liking Tomoya’s friends more, that’s why I can excuse them more. But that’s how I see it. It isn’t easy living at all!

  2. I always got the impression that early in his grief Tomoya lashed out at his friends driving them away. This made them decide to give him space and time to heal.

  3. I found another explanation, which fits in quite well. I believe Tomoya was already broken when you watch the very first episode of Clannad. Whenever he helps people, he’s actually running away from his own troubles, especially with his father. He buries himself in his work and Nagisa. He always changes the subject whenever Nagisa brings up his father; that is also why he runs away from his own house and lives in Nagisa’s home. This is why he felt getting close to someone like Nagisa was a mistake once he loses her, since he didn’t want to feel such pain from losing them. All he wants to do is wallow in his misery. Not even community can help with a person, if the person doesn’t want help in the first place. That is why he finally found peace when he reconciles with his father and gets that orb of light.

    1. You’re absolutely right that if someone doesn’t want help, there’s only so much one can do. And yet, that still means giving up at some point. We’re not privy to how “hard” each friend tried—some might have gone to great lengths and some, not so much. And I think that’s true to real life…friendship and love is really tested when the receiver rejects it.

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