I have no idea if this is how it was intended in the VNs – given the structure I don’t see how it possibly could be – but it seems as if the anime used this arc to set things up as much as to resolve them. It asks as many questions as it answers, and the feeling I have is that it offers clues to Riki and Kyousuke’s story as much as it exists as an arc on its own. And it feels as if we’re looking at a very different series now than we were before Mio’s arc began. In that sense, in anime terms anime, it exists as very much a transition point.
That said, I think Mio’s story is a very solid one on its own – these last two have been arguably the best two-episode stretch of the series, and for me Mio’s arc was far more interesting than Komori’s. There’s still a great deal that’s left unexplained here, but that seems somehow fitting because Mio has been a character shrouded in mystery from the moment she was introduced. Just who is Midori, exactly – is she a sister to Mio in any literal or even symbolic sense, or simply a product of the cosmological imagination? How exactly did the forgetting of Midori cause Mio to lose her shadow, and Riki’s refusal to forget her allow her to get it back? I don’t know the answers and I don’t think I’m supposed to, but this feels very much like the tip of the metaphysical iceberg with Little Busters.
Ultimately I think one could view Mio’s story symbolically as being about teen suicide and I don’t think that would be completely off-base, though I don’t think it was intended to literally represent that idea. There’s no question that the desire Mio expresses to be alone, and at the same time to be at one with the universe – to find her true self and at the same to lose herself – have a profound sense of suicide to them. It seems certain that – at least partly due to the trauma of having seen Midori in the first place and the treatment that made her forget – Mio’s wasn’t an especially happy childhood. She was alone much of the time, and apparently unhealthy. In her unique situation of having an understudy ready to assume her life – one who was more genki and robust – “trading” with Midori must have been quite the siren’s song. To be able to end it all without having to worry about the sadness it would cause those left behind? Perhaps for some suicidal kids, that might seem an especially attractive alternative.
It’s certainly no secret that in broad terms, Little Busters is a story about friendship, and I don’t think that was ever more clear than inside Mio’s story. Riki remembers back to a time when he might just have disappeared himself, before Kyousuke took his hand. Maybe that was meant allegorically, but I’m not so sure – there are a lot of common threads between Riki and Mio, it seems to me, with the biggest difference being circumstances – Kyousuke’s hand found Riki when he was a child, but Mio didn’t find Riki’s hand until she was almost an adult. I don’t know what the “secret of this world” is – and I don’t want to be told by anyone but JC Staff – but there’s definitely a part of it that concerns Riki directly, and I suspect Kyousuke as well. Both of them have an “otherness” to them – though expressed in very different ways – and I sense an underlying sadness lurking beneath Kyousuke’s “Uber-Bro” exterior. There a method to everything he does, I think, though I won’t pretend I’ve figured it all out yet.
I don’t want to start down the road of justifying why I like LB when so many seem to dislike it all over again, but I will say this – I think that the above is a pretty damn strong base around which to build a story. The fact is, I connect with these characters because I understand them, and I understand them because their desires are very basic and elemental. To not be alone. To not be afraid. To have fun with people they love. It’s very simple, but it’s also profound because these are things everyone feels at some point (but perhaps never more powerfully than in adolescence). I don’t find all the girls equally involving by any means – I adore Kud for her sweetness and hilarious kookiness and Mio is by far the most emotionally compelling heroine thus far. But in Riki and Kyousuke there’s something rather deep, I think – because both of them are immensely decent and driven by the desire to do good things for other people. Even Masato, for all his time at the receiving end of the Manzai-style physical humor, has a certain poignancy to him because his protectiveness and concern for Riki is so genuine and straightforward. In a way Little Busters benefits from being simpler and more elemental than other Key works – lacking the supercharged romantic sentimentality of Clannad or the intricate plotting of Kanon, it’s free to simply be what it is – a series about friendship and supporting other people. That’s clearly not to everybody’s tastes, but so far I mostly like what I see.