A quick glance around the internet reveals that Clannad: After Story is probably better thought of than the first series of Clannad, and I think this is because it abandons its harem anime origins and goes for something much more deep and thoughtful.
We begin where we left off, with Tomoya and Nagisa still at school, but now an official couple. While they are navigating the awkward early days of a relationship, the focus shifts to Tomoya’s best friend Sunohara and his little sister Mei. I didn’t mention Sunohara when I wrote about the first series of Clannad, but he was an irritating, over-the-top character, whom I disliked due to his impulse to start fights, particularly with one of the girls. Here the exploration of his character is much more interesting and well-rounded as he sinks into a deep depression. Tomoya tries everything to get some kind of a reaction out of his melancholy and withdrawn friend, including shockingly pretending to be sleeping with his little sister, who is far too young for that kind of thing.
As the series moves on, school comes to an end for everyone except Nagisa, who has to repeat due to ill health, and the focus gradually shifts to Tomoya and Nagisa and their adult lives. The series looks unflinchingly at some major life issues: finding your way in the world, the loss of the stability of the school routine, the harsh reality of money worries and having to get a job, moving in together, starting a family… and then tragedy strikes and Clannad: After Story becomes a very different series. Misery upon misery is heaped upon Tomoya, and he simply doesn’t cope. The last few episodes of the series are a rollercoaster of emotions, veering back and forth between despair and hope.
Right from the start of Clannad there have been strange fantasy cut away scenes, a couple of minutes each episode, which seemed to have no relationship to the main story: a girl and a robot, living alone in a deserted world. Is this a metaphor for something, or does it actually relate to the story of Tomoya? All will become clear as Clannad: After Story draws to a conclusion, although you have to pay attention. This is a series that demands a level of concentration from the viewer.
Hold tight through all the misery and tragedy, because ultimately this is an uplifting series, full of hope, and not just because of the triumphant return of Fuko Ibuki, one of the most fun anime characters ever devised. As a bonus, we get another what-if episode, so as a fun little aside we have been asked to imagine what life would have been like for Tomoya with each of the other girls, by the end of Clannad: After Story… except for Kotomi. It’s an unfortunate omission, as at one stage she seemed perfect for him and I was rooting for her to win his affections, but in the end she does little throughout this series apart from pop up for the occasional cameo appearance, despite her title sequence status.
Aside from that, Clannad will leave you feeling satisfied that you have got to know these characters intimately over the course of nearly 50 episodes, and enjoyed a series that tackles tragedy while ultimately offering a euphoric and hopeful viewing experience. It’s crying out for a spinoff, though. One day we must see more of the adventures of Fuko Ibuki! RP