“When I was a kid, I had so many things I wanted to become…a soccer player…a pilot…a teacher…and…a toilet seat cover!”
Sunohara Youhei is the most often seen background character in the first season of Clannad; his arc takes place during Episodes 2 through 4 of After Story. Like the other high school characters in Clannad, he is rarely seen after the first third or so of After Story.
Sunohara (as he is commonly referred to) is a somewhat immature, antagonistic, loud, obnoxious, at times girl-crazy high school senior who is also a fan of (and more often a victim of) jokes and pranks. Much of his time in Clannad is spent showcasing this humorous personality, especially its relentless gullibility. For instance, Tomoya (his best friend) has no problem convincing Sunohara that he slept for 100 years, or that he has to say "and a toilet seat cover" after every sentence to match his personality. He can also be creative at times in planning jokes on or in trying to manipulate others. A quick temper is one of his faults, which normally leads to violence (that he usually suffers from). Actually, many of his jokes can also lead to violence against him, such as, for instance, a practical joke he and Tomoya pulled on Kyou. He can be a bit carefree and, at times, even apathetic (he is a delinquent, after all), but in a pinch he can be called on to help out his friends and family (though sometimes it might take a little push...or a large one). Overall, his joking, comedic, trouble-making personality can be seen well in his first appearance:
Sunohara begins the story as Tomoya's best friend. Since they're both avid delinquents, it didn't take them long to find each other once they started high school, and they quickly became best friends. Their friendship is one where playing jokes on each other is okay, and even encouraged (at least Tomoya views it that way). One great example of this from early in the show is in Sunohara's final encounter with Tomoyo. After seeing Tomoyo demolish some bikers, Sunohara suspects that she was really a guy, not a girl, so he decides to go about proving it (which usually leads to his getting pummeled by her kicks). After five such incidents (see them here, here, here, here, and here), Sunohara finally accepts Tomoyo is a girl...and then he tries to seduce her (based on Tomoya's nonsensical advice). Of course, this ends badly, with him being beaten beyond recognition (by both Tomoyo and Tomoya together, oddly enough).
This series of altercations with Tomoyo represents Sunohara's first real part in the story, even though it doesn't really connect with the main plot (although this violent relationship between the two lasts for basically the rest of the series). Sunohara doesn't really do too much plot-wise, at least directly; he's more of a very prominent supporting character. For instance, he gives Tomoya lots of advice (most of which is useless) and is almost always at his side. He helps with passing out Fuko's starfish, and he brings to light her being forgotten...and he soon forgets her as well. Even before this, he helps Nagisa enlist Ryou's support for the drama club, in a somewhat misleading fashion. His comedic moments are many and varied, but his next major plot moment comes when the drama club is trying to secure an adviser. One of the members of the choir club threatens Nagisa for trying to get Koumura-sensei to advise the drama club instead of the choir club, and Sunohara helps confront this girl. He's also the one who (thanks to some inspiration by Yukine) comes up with the idea for the basketball game to get the choir club to back down on its fervent desire for Koumura-sensei as an adviser.
After winning, along with Kyou and Tomoya, the above-mentioned basketball game, Sunohara fades more into the background again. Due to Tomoya's suggestion, he is woken up by Tomoyo every morning so he will stop being late for class. Besides that, he doesn't really feature much into the end of the first season of Clannad: that's basically devoted to Tomoya and the Furukawas. At the beginning of After Story, he helps recruit Yoshino (whose music he is a big fan of) for the neighborhood baseball game, and he plays in said game as well. After this episode is when Sunohara truly has his fifteen minutes (more like 60 minutes, since his arc is three episodes) of fame.
In the extra episode of the first season of Clannad, Mei, Sunohara's younger sister, returns to the town and stays with the Furukawas. Earlier on, around the time of the basketball game (her first appearance can be seen in the above link where Sunohara explains the meaning of the basketball game), she had visited and stayed with them, leading to humorous moments of comedy with Sunohara. At the beginning of After Story, she is still in town from the extra episode, and this sets the stage for the arc of the Sunoharas (for it involves both of them).
Mei, who is extremely mature for her age, is worried about her brother, because he seems so lost, immature, and hopeless...and one sign of this is his lack of a girlfriend. Tomoya hears Sunohara mention this feeling of his sister's, so the former decides to help the latter get a fake girlfriend. After asking Ryou, Kyou, Tomoyo, and random girls on the street (those meetings don't end well), the pair is dejected at their failure. But then, an unexpected person offers to help out: Sanae, Nagisa's mother. Sunohara whole-heartedly agrees to this (did I mention that he thinks Sanae is Nagisa's older sister, not her mother?). Sanae uses a box of theater costumes to dress like a schoolgirl, and she goes by the name of Isogai Sanako (Isogai is the last name of the Furukawa's neighbor, which Fuko just happened to use when hiding her identity). Sunohara takes the whole plan a bit too seriously, almost seeming to convince himself that she is his real girlfriend. This is seen blatantly when they are practicing for the date, and when Sunohara dresses up very nicely and pretends to stand outside all night waiting for their real date. He does look rather spiffy in his suit.
Mei, Nagisa, and Tomoya follow Sunohara and Sanae around on their fake date, and it goes "well" (as well as any male-female interaction can go when Sunohara is around)...for a while. Near the end of this "date," the group spies a little girl being bullied on a playground. Sanae suggests helping her, but Sunohara blows it off. Suddenly, an older boy runs out of nowhere and chases the bullies off; it appears he is her brother. The two are lost, though, so Sanae, due to Sunohara's apathy, eventually goes over and offers to help them find their home. In the end, then, everything works out for the kids. But Mei looks worried...
Soon after, she explains to Nagisa and Tomoya why the kids affected her so much: they were exactly as she and her brother were when they were younger. She would get bullied, and her brother would fend off the bullies. As Sunohara got older and better at soccer, though, they started to drift apart. Mei wants the caring brother back she used to have, so she comes up with a daring plan to elicit a response from him: she lies. Mei tells Sunohara that the real reason she came to visit the city was to see a boy she liked. She says the boy is older than her and is teaching her lots of "mature things." Sunohara is slightly annoyed at first, but he quickly returns to apathy. Then Mei runs outside to meet her boy, and Sunohara does nothing. Nagisa runs out after Mei, and Tomoya rebukes Sunohara, but to no avail.
Sunohara continues to be apathetic, only sitting around, longing for phone calls from Sanae, ignoring Mei. As he says once, "When faced with this beautiful thing called love, who has time for a little sister?" While he is doing this, Tomoya takes Mei out to see the city, leading to an encounter with Sunohara, where he claims to be her boyfriend...and Sunohara doesn't care. Mei is becoming more and more troubled by her brother's apathy: it's even to the point of him skipping school. She tries one last ditch effort to help him: get him back on the soccer team. When he was a first year high school student, Sunohara got on the soccer team, and played well, but he couldn't stand when the older students would make fun of him and ridicule him for being younger. One day he snapped at them and was kicked off the soccer team. When Mei, Tomoya, and Nagisa go the soccer team to ask for Sunohara's readmittance, they are forced to go through the long, grueling task of collecting soccer balls, only to have their request denied. Mei won't give up, though. The three persist in their request, and in return the soccer team grabs Mei and causes her to cry, when suddenly Sunohara appears and begins to beat them down: his brotherly nature has returned.
After he and Tomoya beat down the soccer team, everyone collapses outside in the rain...but the fighting's not over yet. Tomoya rebukes Sunohara for his failing to be a good brother until now, in the wake of all of Mei's provocation, and they begin to fight.
In the midst of fighting, Sunohara offers some rationale: when he found out that Mei's older boyfriend was Tomoya, he was fine with it, because he trusts Tomoya. At the end of the vicious fist fight, the two friends fall on the ground laughing, and Tomoya explains their backstory: they were both delinquents taken to a teacher's office for fighting early on in high school. When they each saw how the other looked, covered in scratches and bruises, they couldn't help but laugh at each other and themselves, and thus they became best friends. After this montage of their friendship, Mei leaves once again.
Following his arc, Sunohara becomes a background character again, but he's still present for a while. Due to his altercation with Misae, his dorm mother, Nagisa and Tomoya begin a conversation with her, leading to her story arc. And during Yukine's story arc involving her gang, Sunohara pretends to be her older brother, the gang leader. Then he leaves like everyone else after high school; he dyes his hair black, and at the New Year's Party, he asks Tomoya what it's like to be a father. In his final shot, he's shown driving a car...or attempting to, at least.
Effect on the Main Plot
Most of Sunohara's effects on the plot are described in the "Story" section: it's easier to just read them there than to discuss them again here. Mainly, he is a good friend to Tomoya, and, while he is pretty immature a lot of the time, he still helps his friend out as best he can. The fact that he is almost always at Tomoya's side throughout high school means he becomes involved in basically everything Tomoya is involved in, whether it's the drama club, the starfish, the play, the baseball game, Yukine's gang, everything. His actions are a mix of small things and big things that altogether help advance the plot of many minor arcs and of the entire plot overall: he does support Tomoya and Nagisa (no matter how much he has a crush on Nagisa for a while due to her parents' bakery...). So while there's no one big thing that Sunohara does to affect the main plot, a lot of his actions do affect it in some way, and almost all of them in the context of his friendship with Tomoya. The montage at the end of this arc illustrates this friendship well.
Again, the very obvious theme, for Sunohara as well as almost every character in Clannad, is family. Like with Kyou and Ryou and with Fuko and Kouko, Sunohara displays sibling love between him and his sister. Unlike these other examples, though, Sunohara and Mei really show an example of imperfect sibling love. True, we saw a bit of this with Tomoyo and her brother, but only the Sunoharas' story truly delves into this imperfection and its effects. Sunohara, at the very least during his story arc, is very much an example of a bad brother. He lies to his sister (about the girlfriend), and he is apathetic concerning her, as he is apathetic towards most things. Even when she tells him she is dating an older man (a large age difference in a couple always has the possibility to be precarious, but it's downright disturbing when it's a middle school girl and a guy who's a senior in high school), he basically shrugs it off. This is very blatantly not an example of a good sibling relationship. But what's important is that this relationship changes: it improves. Change is an important theme in Clannad, so it's good to see some here. In the end, Sunohara shows what it means to be a good brother: he comes to his sister's defense; he protects her; he cares for her. That's a special thing about the sibling relationship with the Sunoharas: it starts off imperfect, but it improves, and we get deep insight into it the whole way.
Outside of that, there's not too many themes in Sunohara's story. There's nothing supernatural directly related to him; he shows a little perseverance (like when he tries to get people to recognize Fuko as they start to forget); self-sacrifice isn't too big a theme with him (unless you count him taking on the dangerous role of Yukine's brother, the gang leader). Really, the only other theme would be the influence of the past on the present (which I should have been mentioning more often with other characters). Sunohara mentions how he hates club activities; that's due to his being kicked out of the soccer team as a sophomore. His prior actions as a good brother also influence how Mei expects him to be (which I'll discuss more in her profile). It's not extremely prominent with Sunohara, but it's still there.
Sunohara is a comic relief character: there's no denying that. A lot of the funniest moments in the series come from his actions (such as the scene linked to above where Nagisa believes him to be in love with Okazaki, or the classic "something light blue" scene). But, like all characters in Clannad, he also has a dramatic side, which is really cool. I love the fact that in Clannad, even the obvious comic relief character has his moment to reveal truth and pull at your heartstrings. It's one of the great things about the show. Even though sometimes you wonder if Sunohara is even a hnau (if you don't know what that is, read C.S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet), he still shows his emotional, relational side. It's just so amazing!
Besides that, I don't really have much to say about him. Yes, he is frakking (if you don't know that word, watch Battlestar Galactica, the new version) hilarious most of the time. And yes, his arc was interesting to see. Yes, he did lots of small actions to influence the plot (or plots, if you count minor arcs as separate). But besides that, I don't really have much more to say. I'll just end with this: Sunohara, you are a hilarious character and (eventually) a good brother...and a toilet seat cover.
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.