"The answer I've found is family...I don't expect others to accept it, but it's the answer I've found for myself."
Sakagami Tomoyo is a often-seen minor character who has some extra prominence in Episodes 17 and 18 of Clannad. She has a somewhat background story arc, involving her backstory and her running for student council president.
(Like with Kyou, I know Tomoyo has an Alternate World episode, but I will not be mentioning that in this post; it may be discussed in a separate post later).
Tomoyo is high school junior with a knack for physical strength and athletic prowess; she's somewhat of a strong, silent type. While she is not as reserved and untalkative as, say, Kotomi, she doesn't seem to be a fan of unnecessary conversation: her speech is usually direct and to the point. Her most well-known characteristic is her extraordinary strength and athletic ability: she doesn't even break a sweat when disposing of some aggressive bikers (or an annoying Sunohara) with a flurry of quick kicks, and almost every sports team or club wants her as a member. While she has an aggressive side, her violent acts are normally out of self-defense, against gang members, bikers, or crude high school boys. She's also a very determined young woman (hence her theme song's title: "Her Determination"), in terms of her student council aspirations and in terms of protecting her friends.
Overall, her speech-conservative, physically powerful, and protectively determined self can be seen in her first appearance:
As shown in the video above, Tomoyo first appears to defend the school from some aggressive bikers. After seeing this display of fighting prowess, Sunohara decides that Tomoyo is too strong to be a girl, and thus, she must be a guy. This nonsensical idea leads to many awkward scenes between the two of them (with Tomoya in the background), usually ending in Sunohara's destruction under a volley of kicks. Throughout all these scenes, Tomoyo is despaired by the fact that no one treats her like a girl; she doesn't want to be treated like a guy, but Sunohara keeps doing that, so she is noticeably annoyed (his manner of going about it isn't too suave either). All this culminates in the following hilarious scene of Sunohara's complete destruction at Tomoyo's feet:
Following this series of humorous incidents (which can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and above), Tomoyo takes more of a backstage until after Kotomi's arc. Then we learn that she is working to be elected as president of the student council. To get either respectability or practice for being president, she decides to start by correcting the school's delinquency problem. Her way to do that? Go visit the two worst delinquents (Tomoya and Sunohara) and wake them up every morning so that they won't be late to class.
Her focus turns more towards Tomoya rather than Sunohara (though she still wakes him up as well). At one point, she even say she is possibly "interested" in Tomoya. That feeling never becomes too strong, though; their most serious moment is when Tomoyo explains her reasons for wanting to become student council president: to save the cherry trees.
Her backstory (seen above) is summarized thus: when she was younger, she became involved in gang violence, to the point of being a gang leader; her fighting prowess let her easily dominate any competitors. She had a younger brother, though, who saw this violent persona, and it was not a good model for him. As she admits, she was not a good older sister to him. Due to a variety of circumstances (including her fighting, I'm guessing), Tomoyo's parents become cold and even disdainful towards each other, and they declare that they are going to get a divorce. Tomoyo's younger brother can't handle that, so he tells them he will jump off a bridge if they go through with it...and he makes good on his word. Thankfully, he survives the jump, and his radical action knocks a message into the heads of the Sakagami household: family is the most important thing. The parents realize this and reject their plans for a divorce, and Tomoyo rejects her gang ways. As her brother is recovering, the entire family would walk down a path lined with cherry trees, and her brother would comment on how he wished they'd always have family moments like this.
Cut to the present, where some people want to cut down these cherry trees. Tomoyo won't have that, so she strives to be student council president in order to save the trees (the school's trees, since they are located on a hill leading to the school), those trees that, for her, represent the sort of re-creation of her family. As she's explaining all this, Tomoyo offers Tomoya wise words about family (seen in the above video and described in the subsequent sections of this post).
Because of Tomoyo's athletic ability, all the sports teams and clubs have been wanting her to join, and she's been rejecting them. Tomoya thinks, though, that agreeing to play matches against these clubs (and thoroughly defeating them) could boost her reputation and help her election campaign (since her background as a gang leader has been hurting her reputation). During one of these matches, a tennis match, Nagisa is hit by a stray ball, and Tomoya becomes strongly protective of her, and he helps her to medical help.
Following this, Tomoyo fades more into the background. She wins the election and becomes student council president. She works to save the cherry trees, and she helps with the drama club. Misae, Sunohara'sYukine, Sunohara, and others from a rival gang. When Nagisa has to repeat her senior year yet again, she ends up being in the same class as Tomoyo for a year. At the New Year's Party get-together, Tomoyo is only present via postcard. Her final shot shows her standing on a beach, her hair blowing in the oceanic breeze.
Effect on Main Plot
Like Kyou and Ryou, Tomoyo is another girl whose feelings Tomoya rejects in favor of Nagisa, although Tomoyo's interest seems weaker than theirs. She provides some support for Nagisa's drama club, especially with her involvement in the student council. She's there as a friend when Nagisa has to repeat her senior year the second time. Overall, her most direct connection to Nagisa and Tomoya's relationship would be the tennis match mentioned above, where Tomoya, in actions rather than words, declares his commitment to Nagisa. Without the setting of the tennis match to build Tomoyo's reputation, that important moment might not have occurred.
One thing she does that could affect Tomoya and Nagisa's relationship is saving the cherry trees. Those trees play a key part in their relationship, I think: they first met on the hill lined with those trees, so I think their relationship is somehow connected to them. The first shot of them after their marriage shows them under those cherry trees (if I recall correctly). And when Tomoya is going through his emotional crisis during the last two episodes, he always brings himself back to that meeting under the trees. I feel like saving those trees is a bit like saving a symbol of their relationship: of course, that's just my personal opinion.
The only other thing with Tomoyo that relates to the main plot is her explanation of her backstory, especially her comments on the importance of family. I think these are helpful (maybe only implicitly) to Tomoya in his realization of the true worth of family. These comments will be discussed in the Themes section below.
Like I said, family is a big theme with Tomoyo, as in Clannad as a whole. Before I discuss that, though, I want to mention one other theme Tomoyo's story has helped me notice: breaking out of conventions. I don't mean rejecting social conventions and becoming "alternative" or reverting to the 1960s. I mean more of breaking out of stereotypes or other peoples' false views of you. Tomoyo's example is her desire for people to see her as a girl. Due to her exceptional physical ability and speech-sparse, somewhat emotionally detached demeanor, some people view her as extremely masculine. The extreme example of this is Sunohara, who is determined to prove that Tomoyo is truly a guy, as seen in the clip below:
While Tomoyo doesn't mention this too often, it's a part of her character. She wants people to recognize her femininity and not treat her as a man just because she is strong and detached. Sometimes she even apologizes for utilizing her strength because she feels it makes her less feminine, as she mentions once when she is batting. Though it's a bit of a minor theme for Tomoyo, it's present in other parts of Clannad as well: people can't fit into simple labels. For instance, Fuko is a childish, hyperactive girl, but she also cares deeply for her sister; Kotomi can often be a social recluse who seems to only care about studying, but she still wants friends, and she loves to play the violin (however badly); Tomoya is a delinquent, but he is truly courageous and compassionate, not selfish and harsh, as the stereotypical delinquent is. Thus Tomoyo has helped me recognize this theme in Clannad.
Now, back to her main theme: family. As you can see in her backstory above, her family is what led her away from her life as a gang leader. Her brother's desperate action showed her and her parents how important family is. Like I mentioned with Kotomi, people's personal growth can be stunted or stopped altogether without familial love. I think Tomoyo's brother realized that, and so he risked his life to keep his family together, because he knows how important it truly is.
In explaining her backstory to Tomoya, I think Tomoyo helped him learn how important family is. At the very least, her story is one of the many examples Tomoya runs into of how essential family is to a true, full life. Tomoyo discusses how rebellion is a constant temptation, and it can be ruinous if lived out; thankfully, many people are able to control that disastrous impulse. But why? “The answer I’ve found is family. If you have family, you’ll be able to restrain yourself….The thing is to have something like a family. I don’t expect others to accept it, but it’s the answer I’ve found for myself.” I think that's the answer not only for Tomoyo, but also for Tomoya, and for everyone. She admits that sometimes your family can actually be your friends, not your biological or legal family (which is how Tomoya manages to survive and grow, at least for the first season of Clannad)), but she won't give up the fact that you need some sort of support system, some type of family, to truly live. And family is not always perfect; a family is made of imperfect humans, and thus they can fail us; they can turn cold and sometimes cruel. But, as Tomoyo says, “No matter how cold they seem, what’s precious hasn’t changed. I believe family is something like that.” And that's a message that resonates through the show; it's especially important in the second half of After Story. In the end, then, Tomoyo helps to teach Tomoya and us some important lessons about the essentiality of family.
Tomoyo's not among my top favorite characters of Clannad, but she's still a good one. Her backstory is great, and her beatings of Sunohara add good comic relief during the first season. I just didn't connect with her character as much as some of my friends did (again, I have friends who's favorite character is Tomoyo, just like with all the other girls; they say part of it is due to her Alternate World episode). One interesting opinion I heard about her though is that she's sort of the runner-up to Nagisa: a.k.a., if Nagisa wasn't in the show, Tomoya would end up with Tomoyo. The proponents of this opinion point to Tomoyo's strong, caring nature, which is similar to Nagisa's. While I can't imagine Tomoyo ending up with anyone other than Nagisa, I guess the creators of Clannad could, because the original visual novel had a sequel called Tomoyo After, which is (as you can probably guess) basically After Story with Tomoyo (although the events are very different).
All in all, Tomoyo's a good character, but her personality isn't delved into too much, besides her backstory (and her Alternate World stuff). So, while she's a good character, she's not my favorite. I do appreciate her saving the cherry trees, though: cherry blossoms are beautiful.
Thanks for reading. God Bless, and peace.
Nota Bene: All clips are from the Clannad Central YouTube channel run by the Clannad (クラナド/Kuranado) fan page on Facebook. All character themes and other music from the show can also be found on said fan page, in the music player. My gratitude to them and all the work they do.