With all the Stars in the Sky, I found You
Clannad is, ostensibly, a video game centered around Tomoya Okazaki’s Senior year, with a focus on becoming the boyfriend of one of several girls. Counter to this vapid description, it’s brilliant on several levels. (If you know what visual novels or choose-your-own-adventure books are, you can safely skip the rest of this paragraph. The rest of you (ha!) follow me.) Visual novels, the genre in which this game exists, are books pretending to be video games; they present walls of text, an occasional choice which typically have a large bearing on the way the story unravels, and supplemented by a small set of recycled pictures-further supplemented by the occasional graphic which floored me as much as the action these accompany. Of course, each visual Novel will usually have a small added feature which is outside of the norm, Clannad being an exception. Clannad simply does what the genre entails with near perfection, enough so, that a user with a negative predispositions will bawl at regular intervals.
The choices allowed are very impactful, but they’re also very… conformed. They only pop up occasionally, sometimes after an hour’s worth of reading,’ and the choices are scripted and simple, usually being as restricting as two options, and occasionally being as extravagant as three.
However, there’s actually quite a bit to the choices given to players. In judging them, there’s all the basic standards to consider: the ability to change the story in a meaningful way ; the intricacy found in interaction between choices (one choice may be minor, but effect a later dialogue in a major way, another may cause the protagonist to hint at a confession which can completely change a relationship. It’s all very abstract, and a bit like a puzzle); etc. I don’t intend to base their impact on normal methodology, instead I mean to illustrate how the agency produces a beautiful subtext reinforces the work’s value.
Each choice serves as a gate; they screen different realities. In one existence, Tomoya makes a slight bumble and he and his dear friend part ways uncomfortably. In an identical universe, he gives a momentary slip and lets his feelings bleed into the open air. When considered, the sheer scope of possibility begins to dawn: a dozen critical decisions bridge the opening and ultimate resolution of every reality. At each of these points, fate parts, and Tomoya’s life inverts permanently. This makes every ‘playthrough’ unique and rare, a single point in the sky- especially since the events usually only last an in-game month, a tiny segment through the course of most human life.
Serving as a counter-point, a very specific series of occurrences is considered ‘right’. Nagisa Furukawa, the girl featured before any other, is the one displayed the most-twice any other. She is also the one through which the ending is wired through. To reach her, Tomoya climbs against his regular nature, through difficult surroundings, and even across the boundaries of this dimension to produce the miracle of a life with his destined. The game never says it, but Nagisa is clearly the one and only.
Now, I come to the work as a whole. What is it? I see it as the answer to a very specific question that could only be answered in the halls of heaven. “How would things have turned out if I did this differently, and then this, and what about that…?”It is Tomoya spending days with the fabled tablet-in-heaven, seeing how small changes would have changed the way life unwound.
So, as I see it, the work, besides being a reflection of life as a whole- it takes a very balanced, if non-chalant, world-view- is a celebration of life, fate, and simple existence. At several points, it’s pointed out that the character is changing his outcome, and is fighting destiny. So, the story doesn’t imply that fate is as unyielding as stone before the rubber chisels of man. Rather, it’s stating that we each choose our own fate, but, we only choose one. That out of the millions and millions of little opportunities we each receive, we picked exactly the ones we picked. That out of the trillions and trillions of fates we could have hmm’d near the orifice of existence beyond our existence, we lived ours. That, of the hundreds of partners who could have made us content, we only found the love that we did.
Edit: Clannad later prompted the production of 50 some episode anime series. It is easily viewed from youtube, is dubbed, and is a very high quality production.