I’ve puzzled a bit over how to approach this post – a series review that isn’t really a series review, for a show that doesn’t neatly fit into the box anyone (new viewer or veteran Buster) tried to put it in. I certainly don’t want to re-ignite the arguments over the merits of the adaptation, but it hardly seems possible to discuss Little Busters without at least acknowledging that elephant in the room. Ultimately, everyone – whether they be an anime-original viewer or player of the VN – will have their own opinion about what the lasting merits of this adaptation are.
So I’ll start out with a few truths that to my satisfaction are self-evident – your mileage may vary. In the first place, I think JC Staff knew exactly what they were doing, and most of the choices they’ve made in this adaptation make sense with the benefit of hindsight. My personal belief is that for many fans of the VN, there was nothing this show could have done to erase the sting of it’s not being a Kyoto Animation product. And it certainly didn’t look like one, nor was it flawless as a series. But given the type of story Little Busters is, I’m not so sure JC Staff wasn’t a better fit at least in storytelling terms if not purely artistic ones.
LB is a very funny sort of show, quite unlike any other Key adaptation in my view, for LB is both the most independent of magical realism and the most dependent on it. It’s almost as if this is a series that’s running on two simultaneous tracks, one portraying everything that’s happening on the surface, the other the constant current of hidden meaning. For a new viewer is was quite possible to watch the first cour of the series and put the notion of “The Secret of This World” completely out of mind – and it wasn’t the job of the anime to dispel that illusion. Yet that also meant it risked being taken as lightweight, for the surface-level track was mostly a pure slice-of-life one where entire episodes could be devoted to topics like substituting in the cafeteria and tea parties in the girls’ dorm. There was more happening all the time, of course – that other track was always running – but it was easy enough to lose sight of it if you didn’t know where to look.
No, Little Busters is a very different sort of story from Key, and Riki is a very different sort of main character. I’m glad someone besides me (Mio, as it happens) finally acknowledged Riki as moe, because in many ways I think he fulfils the role of a traditional female lead more so than the traditional Key male lead. In many ways I think both Riki and the series he headlines can be boiled down to a few simple questions. In his case: just how far is it possible to get in the world relying strictly on kindness and decency? And for the show itself: is it possible for an anime to succeed in this day and age operating almost completely free of irony?
I’ve said it before, but one of the things that appeals to me about Little Busters is its simplicity. Yes, there’s a very complicated secret hiding just beneath the surface that new viewers don’t know the details of yet. But that doesn’t invalidate the pure simplicity of the series’ message. It’s a story about beautiful youth – of the joy of friendship and the importance of having fun. While I don’t know enough about The Secret to say for sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s metaphorically tied in to the inevitable loss that the end of childhood brings for all of us – Kyousuke certainly hinted at that this week – but it almost doesn’t matter, at least as far as this season is concerned.
Riki is, in many ways, the perfect personification of that ideal. He’s not physically imposing or verbally charismatic like his three friends. All Riki has is his heart, and the innate sense of decency that compels him to always, always try and pay it forward. The most important thing to Riki about the debt he feels he owes Kyousuke and the Little Busters is that he must always try and be to others what they were to him – that he always try and take away someone’s else’s pain and loneliness if it’s within his power to do so. He doesn’t do this to attract attention or to allay guilt – he simply cannot function any other way. That’s why I was so glad to see all of that acknowledged in this season finale – by the series itself, through the words of Kyousuke, Komari, Kud and Haruka.
It was the scene between Riki and Kud that really personified this for me – the one where she asked him to paint the Tevuan designs on her back for the ritual that was so important to her. It was the best scene of the season – innocently sensual and ethereally beautiful, and it was refreshingly free of any of the cliche reactions that could have clouded it. Riki was being asked to do possibly the strangest thing he’d ever done, an act filled with implications, yet he didn’t voice his doubts or stay in his comfort zone by refusing – he accepted that for Kud, feeling alone and far from home, this was important – and was humbled by the fact that it was he and he alone she trusted enough to ask.
I think this season finale was as much as anything an opportunity for the series to do just what I’ve described – rather than enter anything new into the equation, to tie everything together and put it in context as we move on to the next phase of the story. There was certainly fan-service – we got to see a new side of Kengo, and a new jacket with a very familiar logo. We got to see the long-awaited baseball game, too – won by the All-Stars 18-10, though who won and lost was hardly the point. That baseball game was symbolic if anything ever was – a kind of celebration of all that’s pure and innocent, all the more poignant because we know how much is going to change (even if some of us don’t know exactly how and why).
By way of Riki’s agonizing over his new role as leader we got a whole lot of foreshadowing, too, as the two tracks continue to run closer and closer together and what was hidden gets closer and closer to the surface. We’re told by Kyousuke that he’s “not the person” Riki thinks he is, and that it’s impossible to run forever. It’s clear enough that Kyousuke is trying to prepare Riki for something – indeed, that he has been for the entire series – and Riki is becoming more and more conscious of the impending changes in his life. Childhood is impermanent – it’s been at the heart of stories and fables since man first began to tell them – and adulthood brings with it pains and sorrows which children cannot possibly understand. All one can do is enjoy the days of youth as much as possible, and create as many memories as you can to sustain you through the long days of your life.
I think this is a rather beautiful story, this Little Busters. It’s simple and complex, full of contradiction, yet at it’s heart more innocent than the others that I’ve seen from Key. And, of course, it’s not nearly over. The announcement that came at the end of the episode was such an ill-kept secret that I don’t think it can be called a secret at all. Little Busters Refrain will be animated – we don’t know when yet or for how long it will air, though to the former my guess is Fall of this year. And even not knowing the details of what’s to come I know it’s going to be very different from the show we’ve seen so far, and that what has so far been the stuff of subtext and foreshadowing will become the engine that drives the story.
Yet, somehow, I’m not convinced that will change the fundamental nature of the series. It feels to me as if the core beliefs of Little Busters have a rock-solid foundation, and that the series itself is an honest reflection of the people who created it. It hasn’t always been easy for me to explain – even to myself – why I like LB as much as I do, but I feel as if I understand the reasons now. I’m very glad this show has survived the negativity that greeted its arrival and gone on to be both a commercial and an artistic success, and that it will have the chance to finish telling its story in the fashion it deserves.
Preview: “Little Busters Refrain”