You know I really thought that Jun Maeda had learned his lesson when he made Clannad: After Story. But Seeing that Clannad was a huge success among fans I now see that what he learned isn’t that it was bad, but that people eat that shit up so much that he might as well just do it again. I hated this episode of Charlotte, like legitimately hated it. But I don’t think that it necessarily was a bad episode either. It’s the concept and where they’re taking the story is something I absolutely hate. So before you just write me off let me get into why this episode may have ruined Charlotte for me.
Shunsuke recollects how he went back in time over and over until he arrived at the spot he is now. He then lets Yu steal his power of time leap and goes back into the past and saves Ayumi.
For me everything that goes down hill in this episode starts in the very beginning. Where we recollect the many times that Shunsuke goes back in time and just re-lives things over and over again until we get the reality where the show is set in. Now theres nothing wrong with this idea in concept. In fact my favorite anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica has basically something like the first half of this episode. But the reason it works in Madoka and the reason it falls on its face here is because one major reason. No one cares about Shunsuke and his friends! Now when I say that I’m talking about us as viewers. And sure you might be interested in them but I don’t think anyone is emotionally invested to make these flashbacks even matter from a character perspective. It doesn’t matter what happens to these kids because they showed up for five seconds last episode and we don’t know anything about them. And the flashback doesn’t help flesh out their character because it’s constantly jumping around trying to get the plot points it needs from these flashbacks.
Madoka on the other hand handles the time travel flashback almost perfectly. First of all its a main character who was instigating time travel. So were following someone we’ve known about throughout the show and have seen there actions but now get to link them to motivation. This creates a through line for all the things that have led up to this point. And since the character has been around from the start it means something as a viewer because we have had time to connect with that character. This connection also applies with the characters seen in the flashback sequence in Madoka. It’s not just a random slew of kids we barely know and kids we don’t know, it’s all the characters that you have seen through the show and that have made an impact thus far. The only people that we can say that about in Charlotte is Yu and Ayumi which have a minute screen time in this ten minute flash back. Sure Shunsuke loves his siblings so much that he would go blind for them but I think that emotion doesn’t have the impact it should have because I don’t care about him. The only importance he has is that he’s important to Yu and Ayumi and that’s it. And maybe Nao a little too. In the end the flashback just felt like exposition. And with over ten minutes of exposition with characters we don’t care about is boring.
So with half of the show being boring for me I at least thought that the stuff with Yu going back in time to save his sister would be good. But yet again this is something that seems good in concept but actually fails in execution. And this is something you can actually trace back to the artist Jun Maeda. Like in his earlier work Clannad: After Story, Jun pulls off the same trick here of having your cake and eating it too. For the sake of not having this article go on forever I’ll leave out the events in Clannad. Just know that concept that I’m going to describe happens in Clannad as well.
The fact that Yu saves Ayumi runs everything! It ruins the character arc that Yu went through. It ruins the way he had accepted to live his life after Ayumi’s death. It ruined the connection he had made with Nao. All of these things are ruined by the simple fact that he’s able to save Ayumi’s life.
Okay so I guess I need to explain myself further for you to understand what I mean here. So I’ll start with Yu’s character arc first. The whole point of Yu going through what happened after Ayumi’s death was to teach him about dealing with pain and lost, and coming to terms with being unable to change the past while at the same time being able to move forward with what he’s learned. But since he saves Ayumi and successfully changes the past, the weight of his lesson is lost. He doesn’t have to deal with that pain and acceptance anymore because Ayumi is alive. But of course he still remembers his past and has learned to appreciate his sister more and keeps his lessons from the previous timeline. That’s bullshit! You can’t have it both ways Charlotte! You can’t have a character learn something from tragedy and then reverse the tragedy once he’s learned his lesson. That’s not how life works and it takes the whole relate-ability aspect out of the equation and stops me from relating to the character and just turns it into wish-fulfillment. It cheapens the message if what you’re saying is “learn from the past and be able to move on” but at the same time a character in your story is able to change the past and get his desired outcome.
And some of the problems I just stated can also be substituted into how his relationship with Nao is somewhat ruined and cheapened. However the story does bring this up, So I’ll give it props there at least. But still pointing out a flaw doesn’t make the flaw okay. Now all the development Nao and Yu had up until the time-leap is pointless because Nao doesn’t remember any of it. And with Nao being the way she is I think it will be hard for another sequence of event to move their relationship forward like Ayumi’s death did. Fortunately this is the part that I think isn’t un-fixable and can be taken in a different direction. But it still feels like there was parts that were wasted because of the time traveling. But that’s an inherit problem with time travel stories in the first place. But that is usually remedied by having characters who are easily able to connect even though things are reset. I just don’t think that Nao is that kind of character.
Time travel is a concept that needs to be treated very carefully in order to be worked into a story. And since they are using a time travel as a twist, that becomes even more so. It seems that they are using the time travel aspect to explain the plot continuity and make it interesting but are ignoring how this will affect the character aspects that they have been building thus far.
Now I know this seems like a huge hate article, and while it probably is, I think I should give fair credit where its due. And there was one plot point that was cleared up very nice and satisfying. Now makes sense why Nao didn’t invite those kids from the earlier episodes to join their school. Since she knew what Yu’s power was and had him use it on every kid they met, they effectively removed the power from them and they wouldn’t be pursued by the scientist. And now looking back on the baseball episode the scene at the end where Nao tells Yu to use his power on the pitcher makes so much sense. She couldn’t just leave him alone with his power so she had Yu take him over for what seemed like no reason at the time.
However I don’t think plot continuity trumps character in this case. Especially if everything up to this point has focused so heavily on the characters. This episode really will dictate how I look at this show as a whole and I think that’s really unfortunate. There are still three episodes left and I’m just hoping that the problems I stated will be addressed in some way. But until that happens, this episode was a complete miss for me.