Clannad and Failing at the Ends of the Earth

Ushio and Tomoya's dad show me that not all is loss, that I have hope.
clannad ushio and nagisa
Art by 茨乃 | reprinted w/permission (https://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=3429365)

We live in a culture that’s about big displays of love – grand marriage proposals (all caught on Facebook Live of course), fancy trips around the world, heart stirring confessions in the rain. We want immediate gratification in our love, for our hearts to be set afire. The long, challenging work of a relationship is boring and hard; we’d rather see and experience the short term without worrying about the long.

At first, Clannad After Story seems to be selling that same tale that our culture does. Episode 18, entitled, “The Ends of the Earth,” takes a bad father (two, actually) and leads him on a journey that builds into one of the most emotional series of scenes in all anime. It feels like there’s no hard work and all pay-off. All is forgiven as Ushio embraces her dad – he’s learned his lesson, “gone to the ends of the earth,” and is loving his daughter like he should.

But maybe things aren’t that simple after all. Spoilers ahead.

A closer inspection reveals that Clannad is telling us something much more meaningful about love. The lesson of grace, for one, is heavy. I definitely relate to Tomoya and his struggles, but to be frank, it’s hard to feel loving toward him since he’s doing something terrible in the wake of loss. He’s ignoring the one who needs him most, which is what makes Ushio’s childlike love so powerful – this child is not only finding rest in her dad, but she is saving him.

But Ushio isn’t done. No…because the truth is, Tomoya hasn’t gone to the “ends of the earth.” But Ushio will.

clannad girl and robot

When Tomoya’s unable to do so on his own, Ushio takes him with her, even to the brink of death.

In the course of Clannad, we’re shown these dreamy sequences involving a girl and the robot she created. By the series end, we realize that the girl is Ushio and the robot is Tomoya. After her death, Ushio continues to strive forward, to make a miracle happen that will heal her family. So against all odds and logic and life and death, she is able to make her way back and heal this devastated family. Ushio has gone to the ends of the world, to the ends of the universe. She’s worked hard and done the impossible.

Back on the earthly plane, and again in episode 18, we also another metaphorical “ends of the earth” that Tomoya has not traveled. His own father is the one who has walked a long journey in raising his son. He fails over and over again, but when it’s explained to him what his father did, Tomoya immediately realizes that his dad has love harder and more stronger than he ever has. In the face of similar loss, Tomoya quit, while his father never did.

Tomoya and his dad

Failing, but loving, day by day

I sometimes think about these broad declarations of love, about saying to my loved ones that I’ll love them for all time or in any situation, that I’ll love God and follow him, again, to the “ends of the earth.” But such declarations make me uncomfortable because I often fail to love in relatively easy moments, when something small goes wrong or when I’m in a bad mood. How can I declare that I’ll love them to the point of death?

But Ushio and Tomoya’s dad show me that not all is loss, that I have hope, even as they show the same to Tomoya. Ushio demonstrates that love is working day by day, in the face of impossible odds, and doing it anyway – and indeed, that love can find a way. While she provides motivation, Tomoya’s dad shows me something else – that I will fail. I’ll may even make very big, irreversible mistakes. But loving means moving forward as best I can, with my own limitations, and saying that even though I’m sometimes – too often – a basketcase and a bad husband/father/son/friend/mentor, I’ll keep trying. It’s a hard, painful, messy kind of love – but ultimately that’s what love is.

 

Otaku. Dad. Occasionally Korean. Enjoys Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and Meg Ryan movies. Self-anointed sushi chef. Ghibli. Oregairuuuuu. Forever stuck in the 90’s. Thinks the 80’s was better than it was. Jesus is King.

6 Comments on this post.

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  • omo
    5 September 2017 at 9:00 am

    > We live in a culture that’s about big displays of love

    I like this statement because it’s both a phrase that feels right but simultaneously runs against my own observation of how Japanese people idealize displays of love. Very this blog I guess.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      6 September 2017 at 3:54 pm

      I think it maybe it cuts to the chase about how we are as humans…not always for the worst, but certainly in some cases.

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  • Luminas
    13 September 2017 at 12:05 pm

    Luminas again, dropping in after a bit of an absence. :]

    “I sometimes think about these broad declarations of love, about saying to my loved ones that I’ll love them for all time or in any situation, that I’ll love God and follow him, again, to the “ends of the earth.” But such declarations make me uncomfortable because I often fail to love in relatively easy moments, when something small goes wrong or when I’m in a bad mood. How can I declare that I’ll love them to the point of death?”

    With God, it strikes me as a much easier proposition than with people, I think. Think for a moment and ask yourself whether you could really imagine living without Him. If there’s really a single thing you wouldn’t do to make Him happy. My guess is that you’ve failed on numerous occasions to be a good Christian (really, who hasn’t? That throwing the first stone verse is salient pretty much all the time) and you see this as betraying God, and….it might be. But not for long, and I don’t think at the core of the relationship. The funny thing about people is that it’s in the little things in life, with few lasting consequences, that we most often fail to love as we should. But maybe I’m more optimistic about human nature. What I’ve seen is that, when it comes time to lay down your life for what you value most, most people do. Because existing without it just isn’t an option. Because they’d go to Hell itself rather than exist without it in Heaven. That’s why people throw themselves in front of a bus rather than give up their principles, or their children.

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    • TWWK
      15 September 2017 at 4:01 pm

      Hmmm…intriguing line of thought. I pretty much agree with you. I also wonder what God thinks of all this…is part of his mercy in knowing that so many of us are more likely to deny him than deny a family member or other loved one? That he knows so intimately how often we taken him for granted, and showers mercy even in the face of our big failures in love and our smaller ones?

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  • Paul Dang
    16 September 2017 at 7:40 pm

    How did my post disappear? Oh, well. I just wanted to state earlier this was another excellent article I heartily agree with.

    Leave a Reply
    • TWWK
      18 September 2017 at 1:54 pm

      We’ve been having some glitches with the comments. :/

      Thank you for your encouraging words!

      Leave a Reply
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