I’ll be honest – there was quite a bit in this episode that under normal circumstances would make me cringe (a lot of it involving a certain head-tilting moe moe kyun girl). Setting aside the foreshadowing elements (which were nicely handled) for the moment, the episode basically consisted of a lot of Kamikita and Rin vamping their personal strain of moe and a lot of fairly silly gags. But somehow, it worked, better than it did in the premiere, certainly – though I’ll be jiggered if I could tell you why. It just did – for me anyway. That’s usually the way with shows that rely on this sort of humor and atmospherics. I can’t say whether I’ll feel the same way next week or next month, but this time around I enjoyed Little Busters a lot.
Mind you, given a choice I would prefer it if the series didn’t focus too heavily on Kamikita, as she’s a bit of a load to take in. Key stories always have a girl like her (or even two) and I’ll give Maeda Jun credit, there are things he does that in lesser hands would be disastrous – and characters like Kamikita are one of them. There’s a certain unapologetic commitment to the cause that makes his moe characters tolerable, just as his unapologetic commitment to melodrama makes it effective as long as he doesn’t overindulge (which he usually does from time to time). And even I had to smile at the anteater panties gag, as that was at least a new twist on something that’s been done to death, and Kamikita’s “You…saw…nothing…!” response was pulled off with perfect timing. Timing is probably one key (sorry) reason why the gags worked better here than last week – the episode was like a boxer that lands quick jabs, then dances back out of range and waits for the opportunity to strike again.
We’re sure to get melodrama here, this being Maeda Jun and all, and we certainly see the first signs of it creeping in. Let me just state for the record that tying messages to a cat’s leg (or even worse, tail) is a cruel thing to do, though it’s a novel way to move the exposition forward. “There is a secret of this world” is a message that seems as squarely aimed at the VN player as Rin and Riki, but you couldn’t stage a Little Busters anime without inserting the phrase. There’s very much a VN quality to this episode – I’m assuming the adaptation is extremely faithful thus far – in the introduction of clues, the assignment of tasks and the application of titles (to Masato-kun, anyway). Normally this spells disaster for an anime, but in LB’s case it’s been pretty effective at drawing the audience into the story.
Another potential source of melodrama is surely Riki’s narcolepsy, introduced in concept early in the ep and in practice at the end. Narcolepsy is a misunderstood condition by most, and can actually be a very devastating affliction – and for the life of me, I can’t recall another anime character who’s had it. It should be very interesting to see a plot contingent on it, and it does add a sort of “moe” quality to Riki’s character too. Riki is a bit different than most VN leads in that he has some of the qualities often assigned to the heroines – he’s the sort of character other characters decide they want to protect (which takes us literally into moe territory anyway). We’ve already seen signs of this – Kyousuke is obviously protective of everyone, but Riki especially – and Masato and Rin too seem to see themselves as watching out for him. The narcolepsy is obviously part of this but not, I suspect, all – and we’re sure to see more development on this front. We’ve also seen that Rin is a bit more than a typical antisocial tsundere – she’s shy almost to the point of psychosis, especially around other girls.
It’s interesting to compare and contrast Little Busters to the other works in the Key portfolio. Of course all Key series follow a similar trajectory of starting out as slice-of-life stories, then slowly developing into melodramas of varying intensity. It’s possibly that LB is simply following that same path, but for me, so far, there is a difference in tone. This show feels more innocent than Clannad or Kanon, and more preoccupied with what might be called a traditional anime focus on wistful youth and the group dynamic than on the boilerplate Key tragedy-to-romance-to-tragedy express train. Time will tell if that notion has merit, but the most important thing for now is that it’s a good show – most of the gags work, as stupid as they are (Burt & Ernie puppets as baseball mitts being a good example), the kawaii is excessive but effective and the story is experiencing a nice slow build. For me it’s so far, so good.