I think it goes without saying, but it’s hard to talk about what made Clannad: After Story without delving into spoiler territory. There are few shows I have come across that have taken a complete left turn in their storytelling and been all the better for it.
As the title might give away, Clannad: After Story is actually a sequel series to the original Clannad. You have to watch Clannad to get as much as possible out of After Story. It does make an effort to re-introduce some of the characters between seasons, but there are jokes and certain relationship dynamics (see: any scene between Tomoya and Kyou) that only make sense if you have watched all the previous episodes.
You would be well within your right to think that you are watching a standard harem anime. In fact, until you get to about episode 9 of After Story this is a harem anime; a good one, but not exactly an example of expert storytelling. Then everything changes.
Suddenly the very moe-style animation isn’t complementary, but juxtaposing. Why? Because life starts to hit home for the main couple of Tomoya and Nagisa. In fact, every hurdle that a regular person would have to deal with as they leave school isn’t just there, but 20 metres high and without any sort of ladder to clamber over.
Nagisa gets sick, Tomoya takes on a manual and exhausting job, Tomoya misses out on job advancement because his father ends up in jail. Oh and Nagisa dies in childbirth. Then Tomoya deals with 5 years of depression before his own daughter dies. It’s blow, after blow, after blow. You watch it wondering how fate is going to rear it’s ugly head episode after episode after episode.
Interwoven throughout the series is a more magical and sci-fi idea of an Illusionary World and a myth that if you collect enough balls of light (created by happiness) that you can be granted a wish. This world makes no sense out of context or in the context of the rest of the series – until you get to about episode 18 of After Story. Then there are enough pieces of the puzzle to figure out how this series will end. Okay, it’s a little bit of a cop out, but dear God Tomoya has earned a happy ending.
I can easily say this was not how I expected this anime to go. In the space of a few episodes it jumped from a 3.5/5 rating to a 4.5/5 rating. Sure there are things that could have been removed, such as the gang fighting episodes, but it’s a very interesting look at what it means to be an adult.