Philosophy of adaption

Well, I think Kyoani and its creative minds were surely in a syncretic state – they had to balance viewer satisfaction with satisfying their own artistic minds. They had to balance – what Cuchlann and I fight about – the meaningless of art and the superimposed politics of art, entertainment. [This would probably apply to everyone who's ever had to publish something.]

So then let us say, “to excise, or not to excise, that is the question.” In order to provide the viewer with a narrative that avoids resets Kyoani would have needed to remove arcs, ends, and possibly rewrite some material. Yet they decided to include all the original material in the adaptation. The relationship between these two choices – that of “chastity” or “adulteration” – is not hierarchical. This is not a political question, it is a philosophical question1, and as such, the significance is not in the result of the deed (higher or lower viewer ratings, more or less money) but in the inseparable morality of the deed itself – the two are merely artistic choices devoid of any intrinsic meaning, therefore, both having no meaning, they are equal to one another.

So for some reason I don’t like bringing up talk about the VN and aspects of adapting material. Yeah, Clannad is an adaptation, yeah, aspects of linearity fail sometimes, that’s inevitable. I’ve been working under the presumption that it is literally impossible to encapsulate the aspect of VN replayability in anime, therefore it’s rather silly to compare an anime to something it is intrinsically incapable of doing because, remember, we’re operating under the philosophy that, basically, the means justify the ends (not a typo). Even if you were to reverse the position, say that Kyoani alters source material, rewrites a few endings, there would still be things that version would be intrinsically incapable of doing, like providing those very reset ends you removed and so forth. [hear hear!]

Psychology of time

Valsiner (2005) writes that

[t]he co-existence of different bases for time measurement in human cultural practices reflects the historical complexity of measuring time. Efforts have been made to turn time into reversible units, similar to measures of length, weight etc. These static depictions of time can be seen as examples of “reversible time”. Surely such units are convenient cognitive illusions, yet they have their practical utility. Thanks to that, continuous events can be turned discrete (for example, there can be specifiable “end points” to experiences such as sitting in a lecture hall…). By trying to measure time, the duration notion is lost and time becomes represented in ways similar to space. Practical needs for social organization of life activities in societies guide the thinking of persons about time in the direction of overlooking the irreversibility of the duration.

In sum – time is irreversible as it flows, intricately linked with our experiencing our relations with our worlds. As a result of human cultural history, we have attempted to describe it in terms of stable units, which have served practical purposes. For the understanding of development, units of time that are used in science need to retain some features of irreversibility.

The take-away message is that in our viewing of Clannad (or any sort of time travel) we have to separate psychological time from narrative time.


[There are some epistemological nuances here - the narrative as a whole doesn't "regress" because the progression of the narrative is tantamount to a developing human psychology within irreversible time, but the narrative does indeed return to events that happened within a past that was established within the framework of relative events of the holistic narrative.]

Previously, Pontifus had written:

I’m having a hard time convincing myself that Clannad is tragic at all, ultimately, when all its tragedy is erased by magic.

But this is a reductive view which equates constant psychological time with narrative time. If we were to say truly that specific events onto which we have attached personal meaning were erased it be tantamount to memory loss of the viewer. Thus we can expand our graph:


Here, because excel sucks for 3-axis graphs, psychological time = ∆0 because it is always constant. For every instance of psychological time we establish a narrative event, that ratio is 1:1. But narrative events can regress, so even in a ∆0 of psychological time there can be a +/-∆x narrative time. Finally, emotion is always situated in irreversible time (psychologies cannot transverse time) and thus, for the sake of this study2, we can set up some syllogisms:

∆emotion = ∆0psychological time
∆narrative time = ∆0psychological time
+/-∆emotion ≠ +/-∆narrative time

A change in emotion equals no change in constant psychological time.
A change in narrative time equals no change in constant psychological time.
A +/- change in emotion does not always equal a +/- change in narrative time.

Figure 2 is a hypothetical calculation of Pontifus’ psychology of Clannad. His psychological time is constant, yet as narrative time regresses his emotional level drops drastically. This is because, as he stated, “tragedy is erased”, which is just to say that narrative time regressed within a constant psychological time. But, as opposed to an Aristotelian notion of tragedy as an end product, it is clear that even a regression in emotion is a process that cannot disregard one’s history.

Even Nazarielle said:

…after what happened, it’s hard for me not to think that they were just trying to hit us as hard as they could, knowing that they could later reverse the sadness and make us all happy at the end. In hindsight, I can’t help but feel that it’s all rather artificial or fabricated. [emphasis added]

But for Nazarielle to explain his discontent, he must first explain the process by which this discontent arose. The process of emotion-building is invaluable because irrespective of what these emotions entail, they are always the basis for a developing psychology. And to explain more fully the process model within this developmental psychology, a fourth data series is need: reflexivity.


For someone like Pontifus or Nazarielle, or nearly everyone in the ‘sphere, reflexivity is crucial – it’s writing, blogging. If there is one thing that is not altered by emotion in irreversible time nor narrative time it is reflexivity – it is cumulative, you cannot erase it (unless you perform a frontal lobotomy or something).3


1 To be specific, deontological, I think. Politics is philosophical, but I was just using these semantics for convenience…
2 Obviously this assumes human psychologies aren’t active outside of watching the anime, but bear with me -_-.
3 and of course randomly dropping shows would constitute low levels of reflexivity, but that doesn’t mean it’s not cumulative.

This entry was posted in Clannad ~After Story~, Current, Editorial, Editorials, Thematic Studies. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Haesslich
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 1:34 am | Permalink

    This post misses the most important part:

    A Sarcastic Fuko is Fine, Too.

  2. Posted March 15, 2009 at 1:40 am | Permalink

    I can tell I’m too tired to read this when I can’t even tell what your point was. Hopefully I can remember to reread it tomorrow.

  3. Posted March 15, 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    I applaud you for your valiant efforts. I am impressed.

    But yes your point is evading me a little. Good night good sir.

  4. Posted March 15, 2009 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    Ooookey… That was one hell of a great explanation of the more nuanced aspects of reset ends in general.

  5. Posted March 15, 2009 at 2:07 am | Permalink


  6. boku yuna
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 2:17 am | Permalink

    I agree that I didn’t enjoy the ending of Clannad: AS. It was very dissatisfying for the reason that by resetting everything, the viewer tends to feel cheated over the emotional attachment built up over the course of the series. We have cried over Nagisa’s death, Ushio’s death – and then HELLO THEY DIDN’T DIE SO YAYY.

    Works well for the VN, but not for an anime.

  7. Posted March 15, 2009 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Kyoani does like to twist things up a bit, but we should make sure to know that it’s impossible to psychologically go back in time! (unless your memory is altered)

  8. Posted March 15, 2009 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    If a post is written and nobody around understands it, does it exist?

    P.S. Clannad AS ending rocked, I did the happy dance (although I knew it was coming from VN experience~). I think if I had never played the VN I would have been a bit confused since the reset is much better explained and has a much better flow in the VN. However, I think they did an admirable job with the anime adaptation, and if they had rewritten it they would have incurred the wrath of a million otaku.

  9. lelangir
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    dude even GAGURI got a O_o face? what is za warudo coming 2?

    Pretty sure kitsune could correct me on cognitive psychological notions of how memory/emotion/time are related (i’m no psychologist).

  10. quint
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    bravo lelangir!!!

    it’s an interesting point you’re making. I think any deus ex machina ending event has an impact on our collective sense of prior emotional commitment to the series – but any time endings use time as a broad brush to change the dynamics they spent 6 months building it does risk leaving us emotionally flat and lost.

    There are plenty of examples where we see other methods of achieving this ‘screwing with the viewer’ – most typically it’s in flashbacks — we ride along with the protagonists back in time to a point where we now understand some wrinkle that totally alters the emotional context of prior episodes. Lelouch was full of this (it was pretty much a weekly plot device) and Haibane executes it masterfully. Some misuse time as a denouement and essentially ruin the long emotional buildup of otherwise perfectly good series (thanks Gainax). This is why your argument for reflexivity is so valid.

    The reset of the tragic alters the emotional context of the series in review – but not for those along for the ride itself. Personally, perhaps explaining with a series of curves, one for ‘the emotional sense of series itself, as we feel about it, up to this point’ – each superimposed over the other, each being one episode further along… Crusader, for example, would reach a point in the first season of Gundam 00 where his dislike for ‘our little terrorist buddy’ would poison the curve, but alter the emotional context going forward (anti-heroes are a bitch for this sort of thing, ask Thomas Covenant).

    Perhaps then, further delving into graphs, one might split those curves into different emotional components to try to better capture the altering components that sum together to create the series reflexivity.

    Still – i think to expand on your first point – that it would be difficult for the series to have captured the essential nature of the multi-path of the games and kept the ‘Clannad as an exploration of the meaning of family’ theme without THIS SORT of ending. That doesn’t mean they had to go there – most wouldnt try – but if you’re going to try, man, it’s hard to get it any more right. Brilliant work on their part.

  11. Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Well, I do think you’re right that we need to separate “psychological time” from “narrative time”, but, in regards to what pontifus was saying here, it’s more about what’s contained within the text, although then you said that stuff…

  12. Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    @All: The take-away message is that in our viewing of Clannad (or any sort of time travel) we have to separate psychological time from narrative time. I thought it was pretty clear.

  13. lelangir
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    @quint: yeah, that’s absolutely right. The incremental revealing of a character (lelouch, as you said) is a way for the present to make us reflect back on our emotions in the past. Can those emotions be changed though? – they already happened. I’m not sure. But I still feel that reflexivity is the most important thing – reflexivity is that element which connects the future with the past and present.

  14. Zentari
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 10:03 am | Permalink


    >>The take-away message is that in our viewing of Clannad (or any sort of time travel) we have to separate psychological time from narrative time. I thought it was pretty clear.

    ah, ok, got it.

  15. Posted March 15, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    IIRC, the discourse time / story time distinction is one of the things narratologists tend to go on about — I don’t know if that’s exactly the same distinction that’s being made here, but they sound similar and they definitely apply to more than just time travel.

  16. Zentari
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Ok, who’s idea was it to post with my nick ? A shame this place doesn’t have tripcodes…

  17. Posted March 15, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    @IK: Dunno, haven’t formally read any narratology, I just found psychological/narrative time to be a (more or less) articulate way of describing the split, and yeah, it accounts for flashbacks, amnesia, stories within stories, etc., I suppose.

    @Zen: Yeah, no hard feelings, well, I have no remorse with editing comments, but as has been established in the corpus of meta theory, words constitute one’s nexistence, so I have, you could say, a duty to myself to better the discourse on my nexistence, which would entail me editing the crap out of comments.

  18. Bob
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    … who deleted my real comment -_-

  19. Posted March 15, 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    The main problem with CLANNAD’s ending in the TV series was the fact that it felt trite and, ultimately, a betrayal of all the emotional attachments the (TV) viewer had build with the characters, as it would seem that they were hammered by emotional low point after emotional low point… Only for those events to be erased almost casually by a magical plot device that was mostly downplayed for the two seasons (Fuuko and Misae aside). A game player, however, would know for a fact that the True End (Nagisa surviving) only comes after a lengthy playthrough of ALL THE OTHER MAJOR ROUTES of the game in a proxy Easter Egg hunt, as a sort of reward for the player working through all those routes (for the uninitiated, the average CLANNAD route takes anywhere from 1 to 2 hours to complete, and even then after a few reloads). It works in the context of the Non-Linearity of the VN, but it stumbles in execution in the TV series.

  20. Posted March 15, 2009 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I feel that a lot of Clannad discourse comes from the fact that we are conditioned to either see a series as following laws of reflexivity/thomas theorem or seeing the narrative as linear. Clannad tries to exist in both of these places, which it manages to do well artistically. However, since a television series is by nature (influenced by larger audiences) ruled to be linear, there was dissonance at the end when the two concepts converged. So we buy into this mixture and invest ourselves in this world that can play both sides of the fence. For me the reset defiled that investment and left me with a linear conclusion. Both worlds died in the first one and we were left with the end that we originally “wanted” but the characters weren’t who I thought they would be.

  21. Zentari
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    @lelangir: If you want to say something , say it using your own damn nick instead of mine.Making your point using less than 9000+ words might be impossible for you but this at least should be easy…

  22. soyahoney
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I have noticed such things in which you have stated in your post. Although, I tend to ignore them because they will interfere with my fangirling mind. The anime and especially if KyoAni is involved, will mesh together psychological, realistic, and supernatural themes. At the end, I enjoyed the series even if most people tuned it out. ^^

  23. lelangir
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    purely: that’s an interesting thought, I like the notion that we’re preconditioned to view tv series in a binary, either linear or nonlinear, though is there anything else? I can see how previous emotions can seem to be “defiled”, maybe that’s like you find out your wife of 30+ years never loved you and was a whore (or something?)? Though, I wanted to get – at least a tiny bit – the psychological mechanisms behind “emotions”, and “time”, though I’m no cognitive psychologist, as I’ve repeatedly said…

    @zen-chan: wut wut wut :( smoked cheese, aru ka? only 1057 words :( :( :( i no understand yur point :( :(

    soya: fangirling minds are wonderful things

  24. Karisu
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Maybe I’m in the minority (which I’m shocked to find out), but I thought Clannad’s ending was perfect. I was very happy with how the story resolved. It had all been setup from the very first episode. Heck the very last shot of the show was in the season 1 OP (Ushio laying in the grass, Fuko looking down at her).

    Rewatching the series knowing exactly what’s going on in the dream world and all the other little hints that are scattered throughout the show will be a joy.

  25. RM
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Clannad has become the Neon Genesis of Harem Anime. Complete with a seemingly nonsensical ending. However, unlike NGE, the ending actually makes sense if you think about it. Tomoya hated this town but he ended up helping so many of its residents and releasing Ushio’s light.

    If you think about it, it wouldn’t really make sense that Tomoya helped all of those people linerally. He has been looping time over and over again that finally resulted in the miracle ending. Dues ex machina only applies if the ending came out of nowhere. This was not one of those endings.

  26. Posted March 16, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink


    “Is there anything else” I’m not quite sure what you mean, but if you’re referring to a third form of narrative…I am sure that they are out there, however in accordance with thinking/design methodology it is explained that current interactive conventions really only follow these two paths. In a sense, any visual media with which you can’t interact is is literally categorized as linear. However, from your analysis I think we can see that this isn’t completely true. The discord and your thoughts are starting to bridge the viewing into interactive non sequential cognition….even if it is purely psychological.

    Congrats btw, you made me think and reread your post. That really never happens. In all dumb honesty I first thought that it was a satirical joke. hehe

  27. lelangir
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    karisu: actually you bring up an extremely salient part – I wonder if this should even be counted as dues ex because Kyoani planned it from the start. Cop-out, or fatalistic choice? The latter – so it’s the viewer’s fault for being upset with all this. Nice reminder!

    RM: i dunno…

    shin: the only posts of mine that are “satirical jokes” are sexually hyperbolic joke comics ;) – this is srs bsns dood.

  28. catface210
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Just saying that when that whole explosion happened, my face: 0~o’ What the fuck.
    Thanks again, Kyoani. Making me go through this all over again and then pulling a “Hey it’s all good. None of that actually happened.” Didn’t something similar happen in Kanon? >>
    Oh well, it still wrapped it up nicely anyway. Mad, but still happy it ended like that. I had a feeling that they were going to do that anyway. *sigh* Oh well, I guess it’s a nice ending once I get over them putting me through all that drama…And after I fume for a bit.

  29. Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:21 am | Permalink

    …..wayyyyyy over my head.

3 Trackbacks

  • By The closing bracket « Pontifus on March 20, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    [...] represents the final few textual cues (provided you read/watch the end last), the culmination of narrative time; it becomes a lens which will forever tint my thoughts on all events before it. In Clannad’s [...]

  • [...] lelangir’s tl;dr response: The take-away message is that in our viewing of Clannad (or any sort of time travel) we have to [...]

  • By Are-are » Next Episode: Baka-Raptor on June 1, 2009 at 5:13 am

    [...] my readers on notice that their comments are subject to censorship (unlike that sleazebag lelangir, who censors comments without warning) – Letting my readers know that I take the time to read every word they [...]

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