The school year continues for Tomoya and Nagisa, and with it comes more people for Tomoya to help. First up is Mei, who is still deeply concerned over how much her big brother Youhei’s behavior has changed toward her since the fight which resulted in him leaving the soccer team two years earlier. Even shock treatment and a fake girlfriend (of surprising origin!) don’t help; only more drastic circumstances will suffice. Next, a dreamy trip down memory lane reveals an incident from Misae’s past which connects to her present. Later, Yukine’s involvement with gang members opens up an unexpected aspect of her life and hidden sorrow.
Eventually, though, time and the school year progress. Nagisa’s shaky health results in her missing graduation and having to repeat again, but Tomoya must move on into society, finding both a job and at least some sense of direction, as most of the rest of the gang goes in their own directions. Nagisa remains a constant source of support, however, and gradually Tomoya comes to realize and appreciate what is truly most important to him. Where one may falter, two can stand strong.
In the original Clannad game, After Story is the bonus story thread which opens up only after a player has completed all of the individual girl-focused threads. Those familiar with the game (or with games of this type in general) will find the anime version to retain that same structural feel and progression; the first series settled all of the major-character individual stories, so now it is time to look at the stories of minor characters and pursue one major one further. For those not familiar with the game, After Story has the typical structural feel and progression of a second season which follows a major climax at the end of the first season: it piddles around for a while before getting its legs back under it and continuing the main story. Either way, the look and sentiment of the franchise’s content remains consistent. If you liked the original, you will almost certainly like episodes 1-12 of the follow-up.
The first half can be divided into two distinct and only slightly overlapping parts: the Helping People part, which spans episodes 1-8, and the Advancing the Storyline part, which spans episodes 9-12 but will clearly continue strong into the second half. The three mini-arcs which make up the former are all stories fairly typical of the first season, ones which mix some occasionally very funny humor with character drama, a healthy dose of sentiment, and in one case another bit of the supernatural. The side story of the girl and the robot alone in the world also sporadically returns during this time. Although these arcs, like most of the first series, give the impression of just serving up juicy little vignettes, only as the story advances through the later episodes does the real reason for their presence become clear: everything up until episode 9 just sets the stage for what happens from that point on.
And that is where the series truly kicks into high gear: when it actually shows how things progress after the central couple finally, definitively, hooks up, revealing that “happily ever after,” if it comes, is not going to come right away. Tomoya’s transition into the adult world is a sequence of events rarely played out in anime, as normally stories either run up to this point or start right after it. As such, those parts where he is struggling to get established and still manage his relationship with Nagisa have a more personal and real feel to them than any of the manufactured sentiment seen anywhere else in either series. Nagisa waking him up in the morning and cooking meals for him in his new apartment becomes more than just a tired anime cliché: they are her way of showing support for Tomoya’s efforts and remaining close to him when they cannot be together as much anymore. During this time, everything that Tomoya has done to try to help others eventually leads him to important realizations about what really matters to him: a sense of family which fights off the loneliness, something which he never got at home. That leads to the long-anticipated (but amazingly low-key in execution) climax at the end of episode 12 – and kudos to Sentai Filmworks for wisely choosing to end this set on that note rather than also including episode 13 (of a possible 25). That is the moment which should be allowed to linger until the second half of the season becomes available.
Kyoto Animation maintains the same artistic quality standards seen throughout the first series: good, but definitely not their best. The girls’ summer uniforms, which lack the tan jackets, are not as sharp but not quite generic, either, and the character designs effectively de-age Misae and Yoshino during their flashback scenes. As before, the only real CG is seen in the robot in the “end of the world” sequences.
The soundtrack merely carries over most of its recurring themes from the original series, so its quality here is more symptomatic of very effectively using what it has than impressing with anything new. Lia, who did the OP and ED for Air and the last-episode ending theme for the original series, does both of them here, with the soulful opener “Toki wo Kizamu Uta” being not only quite superior to the more ordinary closer “Torch” but possibly the best opening song of all of the Key/Visual Art’s adaptations.
As with the first season, this one has no English dub, but at least the subtitles are free of the typos which plagued the first season and do include an occasional explanatory note where certain jokes do not translate well. The first letter of longer lines will sometimes run off the screen on some TVs/monitors, however. The only real Extras are clean opener and closer, and Sentai seems to be getting a bit lazy with its trailers; all of them on this volume are just the series openers.
After Story does clean up a couple of lingering details, such as how Yoshino ended up as an electrician after formerly being a rock star and what, exactly, happened between Sunohara and the soccer club. Tomoya’s relationship with his father is still a work in progress as this set ends and the “end of the world” story still apparently has more to tell, but Fuko is barely mentioned at all and remains an unresolved thread; presumably this will be dealt with in the second half? On the plus side, the series throws in a few nice jokes and references to other Key/Visual Art’s titles for dedicated fans. Overall, it is a title which should thoroughly satisfy fans of the franchise and thoroughly flummox most who never appreciated the first series.