A lot of the time with Little Busters, my enjoyment comes down to the fact that it’s doing things I’ve seen done before, but in slightly different ways. There’s much about this series that seems very familiar – for good reason – but closer investigation reveals that it’s less so than it first appears. That’s a distinction that’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I consider my resistance to the sort of cute-for-its-own-sake anime LB is tweaking to be higher than most, so I’m no pushover.
Stepping back and taking a look at what we got in episode 15, it doesn’t seem like it would add up to much. It’s another “slice of life” episode, one that isn’t part of anybody’s route but exists simply to entertain for its own sake and provide a little general character development. We got some BL gags, some yuri gags, lots of shots of the girls in nightwear doing cute things (and not just the girls), even some dessert porn. On paper I should be changing the channel right about now, but somehow – as is often the case with Little Busters! – the whole ended up being more than the sum of the parts.
In the first place, the episode was funny – and that has to be the first place when it comes to anime comedy, otherwise all is lost. But what charms me more than anything into liking an episode that I normally wouldn’t is the fact that it’s consistent with the general LB approach. As in, there’s not a mean bone in this show’s body – there’s a sense of good-natured joviality to what happens that undercuts the usually degrading nature of these sorts of scenes in anime. Starting with Riki’s scenes with the guys in his dorm, yeah, these are yaoi jokes – but they’re not mean-spirited. They work because the genuine friendship that exists between the four males (Kengo less than the others) has been well-established. When Masato says he’s glad Riki isn’t in love with Kyousuke because it would cut down on their alone time, I laughed – maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did – because that’s perfectly innocent and in-character for Masato. And I like the fact that when Kyousuke half-playfully fled the dorm after Riki “rejected” him, Riki shouted out “I love all the Little Busters!” unashamedly. It’s a bit dorky, sure, but how often do we ever hear an anime character say they love someone using the actual words – much less to a friend?
The slumber party scenes in Rin’s dorm room seem like a minefield – this is not a good place for most anime to go – but again, they work because even the sort of teasing Riki endures here is undercut with affection. He’s annoyed, but not really humiliated – especially when he figures out that Kuragaya has set the whole thing up for Rin’s benefit, as she wouldn’t have been able to tolerate the others’ presence for a sleepover had he not been present. And the fact is, Riki is just as comfortable with the girls as he is with the guys (more on that shortly). He’s just that sort of person – utterly without malice himself, not unaware of the opposite sex but neither obsessed with ecchi or stammeringly nervous when presented with their charms. I found the humor itself a mixed bag in these scenes – I’m not that crazy about seeing Kud and Komari become a kind of moe Greek chorus (I like Kud better on her own). But the swordfighting scenes – with their endless “I am in your debt. How vexing!” interplay were the sort of dumb joke that LB can make work by its sheer shamelessness and lack of pretense. Plus, seeing Mio in lighter moments – especially turned-on by trap Riki – is pretty darn enjoyable.
There’s another subtly clever part of this episode that fits into the LB pattern, too, and that’s the way it tweaks the conventions of the VN structure. It isn’t too often we get the lead asked straight out “Who do you love?” as Kyousuke asked Riki here, even though that question is basically at the heart of every romance VN. The show is also having fun with Riki’s obviously somewhat delicate physicality without being too mean about it – yeah, he really does look cute in a girl’s uniform and he’s just as much at home hanging out with either group of friends. I like the fact that the stuff that’s always the unspoken elephant in the room is just brought out into the open in LB like it’s no big deal. It’s tough to pull off stuff like putting Riki in drag without it seeming cheap or cruel, but I think LB pulls it off by making it just part of the fun. It’s all between friends here – that’s the theme that underlies everything in Little Busters, and provides insulation against the pitfalls that derail so many other anime that look superficially similar.