A common criticism that I hear about Clannad is that the ending ruins the show. People seem to think that the events from episodes 17-21 of After Story were all a dream… YOU’RE WRONG!!!
In order to explain what really happened, we’ll have to go back to Series 1, specifically Kotomi’s Arc.
Clannad’s Ending Explained
In case you forgot, one of the key (no pun intended) plot points of the Arc was that her parents have been doing ‘very important research’, this research is later revealed to be the possibilities of multiple worlds. This is later brought up in episode 15 of After Story. Remember this.
In episode 8 of After Story, Tomoya notices an orb of light ascending into the sky. Yukine brings up the legend of the town, being that people are awarded orbs of light when they help others who are in need. If enough of these are collected, a person could potentially wish for whatever they want to.
*I apologise for bringing up episode 16 in the next paragraph. I shed a tear just writing about it*
Fast-forward to episode 16 of After Story. Nagisa is in critical condition, as she is in labour. The baby is delivered, however, Nagisa passes away *let those manly tears flow*.
5 years pass and Tomoya rekindles his relationship with Ushio, as well as wishing peace for his father, with his father moving to the countryside with his mother. This scene is crucial, as Ushio notices an orb of light which enters Tomoya’s chest.
Fun times ensue, until one day, Ushio is struck with the same illness as her mother. After repeated refusal, Tomoya agrees to take Ushio on a trip. Unfortunately, she also passes away (I can’t see what I’m writing through my tears), leaving Tomoya on his own.
Some have speculated that Tomoya also died here, as he now no longer had a reason to live.
Do you remember the sequences with the robot and the little girl? They weren’t irrelevant, rather they piece all the information together. In the final episode, the girl in the other world reaches the end of her journey. After saying some things, she calls the robot ‘father’.
The Robot is Tomoya, the Girl is Ushio
Meanwhile, Tomoya is back where the anime started, he is on the hill slope where he met Nagisa for the first time. He has conflicting feelings, ‘If I didn’t talk to her, none of this would have happened’. She walks past him without saying a word, but at the last second Tomoya shouts out for her, runs up and hugs her.
In this moment, it’s as if Nagisa knows what has happened.
Tomoya wakes up and is beside Nagisa during the birth, only this time, she is alive and Ushio has been delivered. We then get a 5 minute video going through the next 5 years. Most things that Tomoya does is the same as before, but with Nagisa by his side.
So what does all this mean?
Well, the world with the girl and the robot is a world created by Tomoya and Ushio, comprising all the orbs of light that Tomoya gained from helping people throughout the series. If you look closely, you can see an orb of light appear at the end of each arc.
Tomoya collected enough orbs of light to be granted an ultimate wish, so he wished for time to reverse back to when Ushio was born, only with Nagisa surviving the delivery.
He still remembers everything that happened during those 5 years, so he knows what to do now. He has to go to the field with Ushio and talk to his grandmother; he has to make amends with his father. This time though he will be even stronger because he has Nagisa to support him.
In the recap episode, episode 24, Tomoya recounts the entire events of the anime, including that which happened after Nagisa died, to Ushio. Proof that he remembers what happened during those 5 years. Unfortunately Ushio is asleep while he is explaining everything which is awkward
On a side note, I love how the anime does this CG from the VN ^^
The big thing to note is that the anime is based off of a Visual Novel, and in the VN there are 13 orbs of light to collect. When you start After Story in the VN you will have at least 7 orbs, and you will see the bad end, where Ushio dies… That’s it. You can get more orbs of light during After Story which will unlock the true end where Nagisa is revived.
There is one more major confusion surrounding the final scene of the anime. We have an extended ‘epilogue’ where Fuko can smell a familiar girl. She follows the smell and finds the girl from the illusionary world under a tree.
Firstly, she is attracted to the smell because the girl is Ushio from the illusionary world. But why is she there? It’s kind of an easter egg for VN readers. Like I said before, you collect orbs of light in the VN, and when you collect one, it is shown on the title screen under the tree to the left. After all 13 orbs of light are collected and you complete the true end, the orbs of light are replaced with the girl from the illusionary world.