What would you sacrifice for her?
Spoilers for Rewrite, CLANNAD, and Little Busters!.
Often in these finale posts you’d expect us to do a summary of the series and pass judgment on the overall quality of the show, but for Rewrite I’m not going to do that. You already know what I think of it, right? I blogged the first season, and my predictions for this second one were pretty much as expected. It falls far short in being a definitive adaptation of the VN. Is it good enough? Maybe a begrudging, ‘yes,’ but I’m never going to be happy about it.
Instead, I would like to talk about the big picture ideas within Rewrite, because it has a few and I think those are the most worthwhile takeaways from the anime. To do that, I’m going to contrast Rewrite with previous Key works like CLANNAD and Little Busters!. As you may know, CLANNAD and LB were the definitive works of Maeda Jun, and after pumping out his tour de force, he stepped down. Rewrite, instead has Tanaka Romeo of Cross†Channel fame as head writer, and one can definitely see the difference in vision when comparing the Key oeuvre.
Quite obviously, Rewrite has an environmentalist bent. But even that can be presented from different perspectives. Tanaka Romeo’s perspective is, evidently, one with a very dim view of humanity. From the beginning, the main conceit is that humanity was going to destroy itself. No question. International green movements? Nope. Colonising a new planet? Nope. We are just terrible, and nothing short of divine intervention can save the planet from us. That’s why, in the VN, every character route ends with the eventual end of the world and the miserable demise of the human race, much like S1 of the anime. Every single one, without exception. They are not just alternative endings, like in most VNs. They are alternatives where you ultimately fail. Every END is BAD END.
Both CLANNAD and Little Busters! treat their routes somewhat differently, and since their structure is mostly the same we can lump the two together. In Maeda Jun’s works, each route is important to the central, AFTER STORY or Refrain route. In them, the protagonist helps out his friends, maybe learns something about himself, and grows as a character. Only going through them all does he have the emotional strength to confront the central route. They are not ‘True’ endings, but they are important all the same because they build up to it. In CLANNAD this is the most obvious. After Tomoya helps out one of his friends, he gets a light. Metaphor!
In Rewrite, though, every alternative route must be discarded. They cannot be. The world will end if we indulged them. I have mentioned before that, in the original Rewrite VN, there is no Kagari route. We never get to slowly grow the like her, unlike with other characters. And that may be the point, because the Kagari ending is arbitrary. It has to happen. Remember Moon? The only path they found that lead to salvation for humanity was if Kotarou inexplicable fell in love with Kagari when he first finds the Key. It’s completely fatalistic; it has to happen. There is no other way. And as such, the character routes aren’t so much what build up our main character so he may succeed. They are what he must sacrifice.
And Terra is really about all the things that must be sacrificed for the sake of Kagari. He sacrifices his peaceful high school life. He betrays all his friends. He kills his own mentor. Everything must go. Whereas CLANNAD and Little Busters! definitely make their protagonist earn that happy ending, Rewrite goes one further. Nothing can be achieved without personal sacrifice, and in the relatively hopeful ending the alternative fuel source that saves the planet is human life itself. And there is no choice about it. Everything has to be sacrificed. Throughout this Terra adaptation, you may have noticed every time Kotarou gets presented with a number of choices, there is only one right one. That’s how it is in the VN as well; as if to mock the illusion of choice, there are choices in Terra, but only one to pick. One that struck me more than others is when Kotori’s family is about to leave for a trip. You know, the trip where Kotori’s parents are killed. You are given the choice to stop them from going on that trip, but doing that is wrong. Kotori’s parents must die, so that she will make the bargain that gives her druid powers. There is no alternative. You have to sacrifice them, too.
And all this may be why Rewrite, at its core, sits with me the wrong way. It’s fatalistic and pessimistic, while CLANNAD and Little Busters!, while full of sadness in their own right, are ultimately optimistic. Maeda Jun believes in earning those miracles, in effort being rewarded. Tanaka Romeo believes that there is only poignancy in sacrifice. Maeda Jun believes that every well-intentioned struggle is meaningful. Tanaka Romeo says, ‘No.’.
Curiously, it is Maeda Jun who writes the ending song to Rewrite, which I suspect was influential on the ending of Rewrite in its own way. It’s a ballad, and an allegory for the entire story, and is called CANOE. I’ll leave an English translation of the lyrics here, hopefully to inspire you to think about it a bit more. I know it did for me.
They used the trees from the forest to build a tower so high they could see the horizon in all directions.
They achieved it while aiming for an unattainable dream.
His feet were shaking. Was he brave enough? Now he stands at the peak.
He could see far, far across the sea. He spotted a new world beyond it, like an illusion.
How could they ever reach that place? The boy decided to build a boat, and cross the sea with it.
They needed lots of wood for it, so they cut down the forest one tree at a time.
Before long every tree on the island was reduced to a stump.
But something was missing. They needed a mast to hold up the sail.
Only one life remained. It was called the mother tree.
They cut it down, and began their journey.
He turned around to see the island shrinking behind him. It looked as if something had ravaged it.
We were that something. We who were born into this world. We who did our best to live.
They traveled far, far across that sea. The wind filled their huge sail, leading them to the new world.
Even if the end comes again someday, I want this to reach you.
I want to connect this long, long journey to a hope for the future.