I don’t think there can be any question that Little Busters! is one of the most anticipated, debated, pre-judged and agonized over anime adaptations in recent years. Now comes the only question that really matters: It it any good?
OP: “Little Busters!” by Rita
Greetings from sunny (for the first time since I’ve been here) Tokyo. It feels very strange to be here without a return ticket in hand – I have to tell myself not to rush through my days, because I don’t have a thousand things to fit into my schedule before my time runs out. To be blogging anime from the center of the universe is a weird and wonderful phenomenon, and Little Busters! is certainly near the center of that center. In case you aren’t aware, my qualifiers are these: I have not played the game (nor indeed, any Key game). In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to cover the series. I have seen every Key anime, with Kanon being among my favorite anime of 2006. And thus, my viewing perspective will be that of someone watching an anime, not someone comparing an anime to a VN. And considering how much rancor there was in the discussions of this series before the first episode even aired, I’m not sorry I don’t have that baggage to carry with me.
I don’t think a discussion of the LB premiere can truly begin until the elephant in the room is addressed. No, this doesn’t look like a KyoAni series. I happen to like many JC Staff productions and feel they get a bum rap, but I’m under no illusions that they produce shows with the lavish flamboyance of Kyoto Animation. If you’ve seen a good JC Staff project – Ano Natsu for example – you know what to expect here. Pretty fluid animation, and pretty good depth of field in the backgrounds – a trade-off, to some extent, for the typical JC Staff muted color schemes and soft focus. If it lacks the vibrancy, minute detail and ridiculous smoothness of a top KyoAni project, LB also has very good character designs that go beyond the over-the-top kawaii of KyoAni’s Key adaptations. In short, it looks like a JC Staff series, not a KyoAni one – and if I had the choice, of course I’d prefer something that looked like Hyouka even if there is some baggage. But if you were worried that the visuals would be a deal-breaker, that’s far from the case – at least for me.
Content-wise, if I’m to be honest I found the first episode to be pretty good but not great – largely because the humor that drives it is somewhat hit-or-miss. It’s easy to forget that Key’s works often start out being quite comedic in nature, with only minute hints of the drama to come – and this being a Maeda Jun work, I have no doubt the waterworks and magical realism are sure to follow. But I also suspect (and have reason to) that LB is somewhat different in tone from the likes of Air, Clannad and Kanon. Of course we have our male lead, Naoe Riki (Horie Yui, one of my all-time faves, in a rare boy role) but he’s quite different from the typical Key sensitive alpha male. Not only that, but in the core group he’s surrounded by a bunch of guys – musclebound goofball Inohara Masato (Canna Notobushi), kendo stud Miyazawa Kengo (Oda Yuusei) and beloved sempai Natsume Kyousuke (Midorikawa Hikaru).
While the boys are joined by Kyousuke’s little sister Rin (Tamiyasu Tomoe) and there are more girls who will be critical as the show progresses, there’s a discernible difference in tone between a show driven by male characters and one built around a more traditional harem setup. There’s a rollicking sense of adventure and a random note to LB that seems both refreshing and quite old-school. Old-school too is how I’d describe the comedy, though in that case it’s not such a positive for me. Some of it – especially Rin’s abusive interactions with Masato (who basic psychology suggests she has a crush on) has the feel of mediocre anime comedy from the 90’s and early 2000’s. It’s interesting that while LB is Key’s sixth game (released in 2007) in many ways it feels more innocent than some of their earlier works.
One might almost suggest that Okada Mari drew inspiration for AnoHana from LB’s notion of a gang of high-schoolers whose bond began as part of a grade-school club – heck, even some of the imagery is strikingly similar – but so far, the emotions here are low-key (sorry) in comparison. Why hero Riki was so unhappy before the four Little Busters took him under their wing will surely be explored, but for now we just know that the group bond means a great deal to him. Riki is bookish, quiet and slightly androgynous, while the others in the group are all more or less archetypal for the moment. Despite that, each of them has a strong presence and is pretty likeable, and the role the group – and especially third-year Kyousuke – plays in their school lives is hugely important to them. Kyousuke seems very much like the heart of the story based on the premiere – he’s a bit of an oddball (walking to Tokyo to try and find a job, for example) and his latest project of forming a Little Busters baseball team makes very little sense in any traditional way. But what’s clear is that the fate of the group after he’s gone weighs very heavily on the minds of the others – and on Kyousuke himself – and may form the emotional spine of the series.
Joining the fray are Sasami Sasaegawa (Tokui Sora), the arch-typical ojou-sama who has it in for Rin, and Kamikita Komari (Yanase Natsumi) who drops in on the roof in the final scene (and seems to have the most “magical” feel to her). More heroines to follow – we need “routes” after all – but one impact from having this done by JC Staff is that we have a healthy dollop of lesser-known seiyuu mixed in with Key regulars rather than the usual KyoAni repertory company. We also have relatively pedestrian names as director and writer (Yamakawa Yoshiki and Shimada Michiru) and whether all that will end up being to the good remains to be seen. But I did like the voice work in the premiere generally, though Hochan as a boy (even a slightly effeminate one) is a bit of an adjustment. On the whole I’d call this a solid start – I’m not blown away, but with Key I’ve come to expect a marathon, not a sprint. And if this does turn out to be a somewhat brighter, more rambunctious effort than Maeda’s usual fare, that will make for a refreshing change.
ED: “Alicemagic” by Rita