I have never once cried whilst watching an Anime, nor at any piece of media since I was in my early teens. And that’s a damn shame, it’s odd but in the three shows above I was really hoping that they would do that, “come just make me cry, I want to feel your characters pain”. That’s what I was thinking towards the end of these series, but none of them ever managed to actually elicit the tears I wanted.
Now don’t get me wrong, these are all fantastic shows, I’m sure they would have a lot of people crying on numerous occasions throughout, they all hold 9 ratings on my MAL account, but for me they just never cleared that final hurdle into “masterpiece” territory.
I’d like to go through the three shows, ending with my favorite, and contemplate why they didn’t have this effect on me.
(Spoilers a plenty incoming)
Clannad: After Story
Fun fact: Clannad comes from the Irish word for family (Clann)
This is actually originally why I watched the show, do you know how much actual Irish gets into any foreign media anywhere? It’s close to nothing. (I’m Irish, by the way)
Now I was only ever particularly enamored with After Story, the show’s first season felt contrived to me at times, the arc with Fuko I found particularly so, but I understand that part of the issue is attempting to condense a huge visual novel like Clannad down into 23 episodes, I’ve played a couple routes from it, the game is long, very long. So when the second season comes around and they focus on one heroine (Nagisa Furukawa) the show really shines, showing exactly what it is that Clannad has to offer: a great tragic love story.
In after story the main character Tomoya gets together with Nagisa and it focuses on their relationship and the troubles that come along with Nagisa’s recurring illness (which has forced her to again repeat her last year of school) which serves to try and separate the two in a way but watching the two persevere through all this is heartwarming to say the least, I’m not all that keen on the sort of “true love” happy romance that Clannad was up unto this point but it is done very well.
The show is not done with pulling at the heartstrings and the arc where Nagisa becomes pregnant with a daughter called Ushiro and dies shortly after childbirth is what sold me on this shows greatness originally. Following this we see Tomoya’s depression and strained relationship with his daughter in a way that is itself quite upsetting, the way they built up his relationship with Nagisa before this really sells his pain. And not content stopping there, the show has him reconnect with his daughter, ready to continue his life for the first time since Nagisa’s death, only for Ushio to succumb to the same illness as her mother, I was ready to start tearing up at any moment.
So why didn’t I?
The story couldn’t stomach it’s own ending
Clannad’s error is quite apparent and really comes down to one thing: It had a REALLY happy ending.
I’m not opposed to happy endings, when they actually fit. Clannad tries to have it’s cake and eat it too, wanting the audience to feel all this sadness and then also giving all of it’s characters happy endings, in a way that undercuts the story that just happened. Tomoya literally wishes everything back to being OK! He goes back in time and nobody dies and they all live happily ever after.
This ending would be fine if we hadn’t reached it in this way, if you had skipped all the death and sadness towards the end of the show and just given me this ending, it might’ve been a bit boring but it’d work given the story preceding it. When you give us that depressing final arc though you better fucking stick with it, Ushio doesn’t even have to die! If she lives and the show ends with the hope of her and her father finally starting a real life together, it would’ve been fantastically bittersweet. Or if you really want to go all out and have Ushiro die and have that be your ending (maybe showing how that affects Tomoya) it might have had me crying that ending was incredibly upsetting until it was just poofed out of existence.
If you’re making a sad, or bittersweet show make sure it stays that way until the end.
AnoHana is great all the way through, when our main character Jinta is suddenly able to see his dead friend Menma it brings him back together with his friend group which broke up years ago after she died.
Working through their hang ups on Menma’s death, building back bridges that time has broken and seeing how they have changed as people since her passing is a moving and saddening thing. When we get to the final scene when Menma goes away, I’m once again ready for those tears to fall.
So why didn’t they?
Who am I meant to feel sorry for?
I think AnoHana’s problem is that it deals with too many characters problems in such a short space of time. Each is interesting and dealt with well individually but when we get to that final scene I’m left wanting. It doesn’t help that at the very end all the characters besides Jinta can suddenly see Menma which sort of takes away the incredibly painful thing of watching the skepticism of those around him when he tells them he can he Menma. Whilst each characters plight is sad by itself they don’t add up to make anything more upsetting, especially when at the end everything is pretty much solved.
Give me more time with theses character, or leave Jinta’s problem for last, being that his main problem is how he has lost his friends and how that affects him, his problems are mostly solved before we reach the climax. If we were left with a MC with difficulty to solve right at the end, the show could build on it’s other characters sadness, but instead it tries to do too much at once.
The show lacked the focus that could’ve made it a masterpiece.
Plastic memories is my favorite show out of the three here, I’d highly recommend it. Set in a world where android life has become almost indistinguishable from actual humans save for the fact they live for only about 82,000 hours (roughly 9 years), Tsukasa Mizugaki gets a job at the department responsible for collecting these androids or “Giftias” when their time comes and is partnered up with a veteran retrieval Gifitia Isla, whilst working together the two develop a connection and fall in love. The only problem is that Isla has only 2,000 hours left to live.
It’s an intriguing story about a guy trying to get a girl to open up to him after she has already shut down, accepting her rapidly approaching death, which provides an incredibly bittersweet feeling as we know that every moment something doesn’t go absolutely smoothly, the two are wasting the precious time they have left together, even when those missteps are absolutely normal.
By the time Isla’s time comes around and she asks Tsukasa to take care of her decommissioning, I was again ready for the waterworks to commence.
So again, why didn’t they?
You gave me too much time to prepare
I appreciate that the show lets us know early that Isla’s time is nearly up, pulling it out of nowhere late on might have seemed contrived. But still, when we learn of exactly how long Isla has left it’s only the second episode! We have 11 episodes to come to term with the facts and it lessens the impact slightly, Tsukasa himself doesn’t learn about it until episode 6, which would’ve been a more fitting time to reveal it to the audience.
Even then, setting an exact time on her life was a mistake. It’s important that we know Isla’s death is imminent but when you tell the audience exactly when it will happen and give us time to prepare for that, we will be. What if, for instance, the Giftia’s lifespan varied by a couple thousand hours per unit? We wouldn’t be able to prepare because (in theory) it could happen any time. We all know that it will happen in a finale, but if you gave us that variance one could reasonably expect it to happen in a potential second season or OVA, not being ready for death is part of what makes it so upsetting.
I had just accepted Isla’s death at this stage, so while the series was fantastic and had me on the verge of tears for most of it’s second half, it couldn’t push me over the edge. This is not to take away from a series that has so much going for it, and one I’m sure would have the ability to have others crying that it didn’t for me.
You just gave me too long to prepare.
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