After reading this post, I was inspired/compelled to address the impact that the background music had in Episode 16 of Clannad ~After Story~, specifically in the last five minutes where things come crashing down emotionally. So before we actually go too deep into the discussion, those of you who haven’t watched the episode should be warned that there are spoilers ahead. For the rest of you, we will start by examining the scene and taking a look at how well the music succeeds in bringing the viewer’s emotions to bear because of the associations that have been put in place.
Background: Nagisa’s pregnancy is already in full force, and though the arrival of a child is supposed to bring happiness, there are enough doubts lingering over Nagisa’s health to dampen the occasion. Each passing day brings forth a mixture of hope, despair, and uncertainty. Tomoya tries to temper his feeling of hopelessness and sense of self-loathing by dismissing it outright or keeping up a mask to hide his worries. This approach does work for a time but fate ultimately deals the two a rather cruel hand and when the day finally came, tragedy struck. Tomoya had already been worrying, his mind in a haze and he was practically wandering through a world of mist and fog and only the sound of Ushio crying was able to jerk him out of his dazed state and bring him back to reality. But it had already been too late. Nagisa lay there, minutes away from dying and though the two were able to exchange tender words, there was no doubt as to what was going to happen. Tomoya’s voice cracked. His tone indicated a sense of desperation as he began babbling while his eyes pleaded for Nagisa to hang in there but alas, the ordeal was enough to sap the last remnants of her strength and she passed from this world. In their final moments together, the viewer is treated to montage that allows us a peek into Tomoya’s memories that he shared with Nagisa, but in reverse chronological order. And while all of this was occurring, a familiar melody begins to play:
The Music’s Impact: The scene is very beautiful and moving in its tragedy and “Nagisa” nails that sentiment by starting out soft and subtle. Up until now, this piece had captured Nagisa’s character as well as her experiences with Tomoya perfectly in the way it’s structured. The subtle piano opening conveys her shy, unassuming personality but it grows ever so slowly, starting with the left hand on the piano, and then with the addition of a violin part at the 0:38 mark accompanying piano motive. A transition section takes over around 0:57 and the piano is replaced by an instrument that sounds like a harpsichord which plays a melody that brings forth the imagery of someone taking baby steps cautiously at first, but with increasing confidence as time passes. This confidence culminates at 1:17 when the full strength of the melody blooms, its arrival announced by a bass drum that brings in a melody that is buoyant, colorful, and alive as the harpsichord and piano play side by side, bolstered by percussion instruments that moves at a deliberate pace. The way this section expresses itself feels like a depiction of Tomoya and Nagisa’s happiness as they resolve to go through life together with all its joys, pains, and sorrows, while overcome any obstacle that gets in their way.
But in spite of the optimism imbued in the last section, this piece comes across as being very melancholy within the context of Nagisa’s death scene and it’s only logical to ponder why. My thinking is because this melody isn’t one that we, the audience, are unfamiliar with. Rather, we’ve heard this piece play quite a few times and the fact that it fits her character so well is strongly ingrained within our subconscious that we’ve come to associate that melody with her. That element is why that piece is so powerful in the scene described above. The way it plays is absolutely subtle but its presentation blends in perfectly that it augments the raw emotions gushing forth. As “Nagisa” begins to play, it dawns upon us that this really is the last time we’ll see her and the feeling of loss that we experience upon realizing that fact hits us pretty hard. Furthermore, the scenes in which we backtrack from Nagisa and Tomoya’s married life, to the Theater Club, to helping out fellow classmates, and finally to the moment where the two first met serves as a strong reminder of all they’ve been through and the memories that they’ve created together. When you put “Nagisa” on top of all that, the memories we recall become really clear and we get a sense for the scope of the tragedy borne from the hole that now exists in Tomoya’s life; a hole that, I might add, is unlikely to be repaired anytime soon.
The piece succeeds at bringing out the brunt of the pain as we too sympathize with Tomoya’s loss. Throughout the piece, we’re reminded of all the good times that Tomoya and Nagisa shared as they practically grew up with each other’s support. Even if some of us saw this outcome, the sense of loss isn’t diminished. So with that, I’d like to leave you all with Lia’s rendition of Nagisa’s theme, titled “Chiisana Tenohira,” which is probably the most beautiful version that I’ve heard because Lia’s voice brings out the sheer beauty of the piece so well:
It’s tragic. It’s beautiful. And it’s a poignant scene that we’re unlikely to ever forget.