First Impressions – Little Busters!

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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

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Little Busters - 01 - Large 02Greetings 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.

Little Busters - 01 - Large 05I 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.

Little Busters - 01 - Large 06Content-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).

Little Busters - 01 - Large 08While 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. 

Little Busters - 01 - Large 09One 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.

Little Busters - 01 - Large 10Joining 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.

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ED: “Alicemagic” by Rita

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  1. A

    About the cast, if I'm not wrong none of Kanon, Air and Clannad were voiced originally, so KyoAni got to pick the cast; JC just chose to keep the cast for the eroge (which is pretty sad as eroge seiyuu tend to be terrible, and LB is no exception). I did like Tokui as Sasami though, good thing they added her.

  2. K

    I have no idea where you get the notion that eroge seiyuu are terrible. While their name recognition is much lower than seiyuus doing "clean" anime for obvious reasons, they're no less professional than their A-list counterparts.

    Just have a look at their bloopers when doing H-scenes and tell me they aren't professional.

    This is an unspoken secret, but most seiyuus tend to be as lowly paid as animators, they take whatever job that comes their way, this would include eroge jobs. To avoid the stigma of being associated with such "shady" roles, they usually use an alternate alias, while most fans would instantly recognize their voices, the alias are mainly used as a sort of plausible deniability insurance just in case.

    I remember there's a link somewhere of a list of each famous anime seiyuu and their eroge aliases. Feel free to google it.

    Besides, there're quite a few that have made the transition from eroge to mainstream anime seiyuu stardom. Gotou Yuuko is one primary example.

    Midorikawa Hikaru (Kyousuke) is also well-known for taking eroge jobs (both BL and moe) under the alias Hikawa Nagaru.

  3. A

    Regardless, Little Busters isn't an eroge. Air and Kannon were, but Clannad and Little Busters are not. They did get eroge adaptions, but they weren't eroge to begin with.

  4. A

    I completely agree with you. People can be such idiots sometimes (And I'm sure some of these people will be commenting) who rush to judgement over the most trivial of things. That being said, I did find a little too much stills here for my liking, but I give series a five or so episode chance before I really form an opinion. I previewed a little bit of the VN (about an hour) to see how it did and it was pretty faithful (Almost disturbingly so). And if there isn't an announcement on how many episodes this series will have by episode 6 or so, this stands a good chance to have over two cours of episodes to adapt most of the VN. Though, the question is will they adapt the paths well?

  5. It's been confirmed two cour, though there could always be a sequel.

  6. C

    I can't say that I've played the VN myself, but it's been said that Little Busters! is a major departure from typical na-Key-ge (sorry, lol). When it comes to the VN's reception, I've heard tons of things from each of side of the spectrum: some say it's fantastic and others have furiously denounced it as crap.

    While the Key fan outrage in mid-Spring was a disastrous kerfuffle on the level of LeBron leaves Cleveland, I can't say that it was too unreasonable with a brand new director at the helm. It'll be very interesting to see how J.C. Staff will adapt the source material. I happened to like the first episode, so hopefully that'll be a good indicator of what's to come.

    Also, welcome to Japan, mate. I hope you filled up on In-N-Out before you left California.

  7. I never got the fuss with In N Out (besides the name). Besides – Freshness Burger is pretty good here.

  8. A

    Agree entirely with your review. The voice actors, I believe, are pretty much the same as in the VN (And it's a VN, not an eroge as somebody else said, there was no official ero content until more than a year after the original all ages version of the game was released), and personally I think that's a good choice – the voice actors seem good enough to hold their own in an anime, and it doesn't upset the fans of the visual novel either. I think there would be much QQing if they changed Kud's voice :/

    I'm pretty sure they mentioned in the first episode that Riki's parents had just died, which is why he was so depressed before he met the Little Busters, and I don't know that they go into much more detail than that… Still.

    What I'm hoping episode-wise is they do something similar to what was done with Clannad – a first season covering all the main routes, then the second, covering the "true" route and the "After Story". In the case of little busters, that'd be all the routes, about 24 episodes I'd estimate to cover all of that, and then another 12 to cover Refrain, since it's quite a bit shorter than After Story was.

    You're a pretty cool reviewer, and unlike the one I previously followed, you actually pay attention to the anime you're watching, and know what you're talking about. You have a new fan in me 😀

  9. A

    It wasn't an eroge originally, but a 18+ version was planned since before the all-ages one was released, so they picked eroge seiyuu from the beginning. So yes, it's an eroge and they only made the all-ages version first to get more money — it's not that unusual in the VN world.

  10. A

    Ahh makes sense. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

  11. J

    Well, I guess I'm dropping it here and I'll wait to see if it gets better in the future.

    Given this was Ano Natsu's JC Staff, I was expecting bright colors and some good moves, but I found none of these here. In fact, we got flashbacks in the form of stillshots, and as if we hadn't enough of those, they repeated those same screens in the very premiere. Not to mention I found the entire cast generic as #$"!…Hope this gets better.

  12. A

    I thought the balanced (for the most part) cast refreshing and welcome. Clannad generally was a waste of time, which I impart blame mostly on kyoani's lackluster ability at storytelling and a bad habit at spinning too many threads (Ushio arc hit the mark). The Toei movie adaptation was more successful at getting straight to the heart and themes and not copping out.
    The pretentious visuals of KA won't be missed here either.

    What don't you like about Maeda Jun?

  13. P

    It's funny how easily opinions can diverge on the same subject matter. It makes the human condition incredibly interestng. For example, I personally consider the Toei movie to be an incredible disservice to the source. I guess mileage has varied substantially in this case.

    Also, what makes a set of visuals genuine as opposed to being pretentious? I am genuinely curious.

  14. A

    Well there's style and elaborate pandering. KyoAni seems to fall into the latter.

  15. P

    That's interesting. I'm afraid I still don't quite understand what you mean, so perhaps I should ask for specifics. What do we mean by "visuals", exactly? Is it the art, design, palette, backgrounds, animation, camera, lighting, some combination of the above, or something I'm missing altogether?

  16. A

    I'm talking gestural animation and overworked backdrops mainly. For example, the simple act of pouring tea or eating cake is carefully emphasized. Or the delicate sakura petals prancing in the wind during an afternoon walk.

    As far as character design, Enzo's already alluded to their 'boxed in' aesthetic. Copy-pasted K-ON! if you will.

    They're essentially selling pretty and cute. Those of us who don't often wear rose-tinted glasses find that easier to pick out.

  17. P

    Ah, so you have problems with…detail? That is rather unfortunate, I suppose, but at least now I understand where you stand about this.

    Enzo has seemed reluctant to elaborate on this box that he talks about, and though I think it will make for interesting discussion it is in the end his prerogative. I have not watched K-on myself so I guess I can't relate entirely to your particular set of grievances. I shall, however, respect the fact that you have them.

    I will say this though: in addition to Toei's movie I also watched Kyoto Animation's Clannad. I personally thought it was very good. I considered my time well spent.

  18. B

    Well this first episode actually came across as pretty meh. But, I thought the first episodes of Clannad, Air, and Kanon were pretty meh as well. Key shows usually need a little time to build up their full head of steam so I'm willing to give them some time to make good on the promise that the legions of fans have insisted the show has.

  19. L

    I had no knowledge of this franchise, but from the title alone I assumed it was something targeted at kids (like Pokemon). Seems it isn't.

    Might as well give this a chance, since I'll be unemployed till November.

    Enjoy Tokyo, Enzo. Great nightlife if you're into that sort of thing. Great jazz clubs, especially if you're into the more modernist styles (post, math, acid, fusion…etc)

  20. S

    JC staff did a good job on episode 1
    As you mentioned, the character design are well done and I find LB as a very refreshing and enjoyable anime
    But as a fan of KyoAni I admit that there's something missing that imo KyoAni excels at. The atmosphere

  21. P

    Classic written all over it

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