The cast assembles!
This episode feels like the “beginning” of Clannad in a lot of ways. No more do you have character introductions in which Tomoya just happens to run across a new girl with a strange quirk. Instead, he and Nagisa are on the move, pulling multiple characters together in order to keep their dream of a Theater Club alive. As much as I don’t think that the cast of Clannad work individually (except for Tomoya, of course) I think they work much better as a group of people. This is especially odd, because you would think that the opposite was true; visual novels generally focus on having one girl a route, so you would think that it would be awkward for these “parallel girls” to meet. KyoAni deserves praise for allowing these characters to interact with each other in interesting ways—even if they often retreat just as much to contrivances and silly humor.
There’s a scene near the middle of the episode where Kyou and her younger sister Ryou (brash blue-haired and shy blue-haired, respectively) outright tell Nagisa, right in front of the protagonist and his best friend, that she’s free to dump Tomoya at any time and hang out with her. It’s moments like that which pull me into this show: Nagisa’s spent days with Tomoya attempting to make connections with people, and then Kyou offers to accept her into her group right out of the blue. It’s a complete anticlimax, and I doubt that the show will follow up on it right away. But it’s a nice touch that as convinced that Nagisa is that nobody will take her in, she’s surrounded by people who would easily do so if asked.
The other way in which this episode is a “beginning” is that it introduces what might be the series’s first game-changing plot twist. I’ve heard enough spoilers from people to know that Fuko’s true identity as a ghost/coma-spirit/something isn’t an entirely foreign concept in Key works, but it is still a remarkably sober element in a series that has so far consisted of hijinks and occasional emotional button-pushing. I also thought it was pretty neat that Nagisa serves as the “key” that allows Tomoya to realize Fuko’s true nature, proving that she isn’t so useless after all!
I’m sure that our Adventures with Fuko are going to descend into melodrama eventually but as of now I’ll try to be optimistic. After all, nothing in this show has been outrageously over-the-top as of yet! Except for BASKETBALLL of course.