Little Busters! – 26 (Season Finale)

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The frozen time will start to move.  And that is when everything will begin…

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.

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ED5 Sequence:

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Preview: “Little Busters Refrain”

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  1. i

    If only they hadn't used the female seiyuu from the game because they grated my ears, it was like listening to Nicki Minaj.

    Probably would have kept up with it otherwise

  2. k

    Look at how they changed Kud's seiyuu and she was awesome! Sasami's too! And Mio's! (though her original was really, really good too)
    Haruka and Kanata's /is/ pretty good too, at least in terms of variety, but Haruka's voice is grating. Who I hated were Komari (duh, obviously) and Rin. In my head, Rin always sounded and still sounds like Pion from Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, not that squeaky cat voice.

  3. i

    Do you mean they changed seiyuu partway through the show or that I was wrong to assume all game cast stayed for anime?

    You're bang on though for exactly which voices annoyed me, Komari and Rin. I didn't like Kud much either but Haruka was funny. I think I dropped it before Mio was introduced and I don't recall who the others were.

    But in the end I dropped it at the end of Komari's arc because I couldn't take her stupid airheaded voice anymore (how people like these kinds of moe is beyond me). May be I'll pick it up again after before Refrain.

  4. M

    The only actors that changed for the show were the ones for Kud, Mio, Sasami and Riki, but from what I played so far, the new seiyuu are very similar to old ones with Mio probably being the biggest difference. But her voice isn't annoying.

  5. S

    I…. I just literally raged when I saw the Little Busters Refrain announcement.

    For one, the whole "secret of the world" thing was absolutely killing me, and it seems we/I will finally get to it….. in about 3~6 months from now. Can I just get into cryogenic freeze now?

    And the other, looking at Refrain, it seems like the Little Busters that I actually wanted, rather than the Little Busters that I got. Was it the Little Busters I deserve? I'm not sure.
    But seriously now, Refrain really seems to be all I was trying to look for in LB, all the evocative drama and story, and we/I will finally get it….. in 3~6 months. Why? Why do you torment me so, when I love you so much, J.C. Staff? I can only hope they make Kenichi Kasai as Refrain's director as penance.

  6. I liked the LB we actually got just fine, though we each react differently I suppose. And it's not as if KyoAni didn't make you wait for the After Story with Clannad.

  7. S

    I'm not saying its bad. I'm just saying that the kind of anime I was looking for was a grown-up anime like Refrain.
    Little Busters is still inspirational, but it is clearly for kids (as noted by its next showing on a tokyo kids network).

    Oh by the way, did you check out Otona Joshi no Anime Time?

  8. i

    Just out of interest are you a Boys Be fan?

    I really liked that anime but have never found anyone else who even heard of it, let alone liked (it was made more than a decade ago and wasn't massive like Bebop).

  9. I've heard of Boys Be, never seen it.

    As to Otona Joshi, I blogged "Life's Best Ten" here. I liked "Supper" fairly well, the one with the woman and the 4 year-old son about the same, and pretty much loathed "Dokoka Dewanai Koko".

  10. S

    I love Boys Be deeply, because it was the first romance anime I watched in my formative years, and introduced the idea of love to me. It still kinda holds up when I rewatch it, mainly cause I eat up that pseudo-deep statements at the start and end of episodes, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that they did not use a single chibi/deformed/anime facial expression in the entire series.

    Yeah…. Dokoka Dewanai Koko was downright depressing, in terms of how mean-spirited the surrounding characters were, to the point where it broke my suspension of disbelief. I mainly wanted to gush with you about how the ending in Kawamo wo Suberu Kaze (the 4 year old kid one) just knocked me off my feet in terms of surprise/twist.

  11. i

    I really liked Life's best ten but I didn't like the use of actual live action in the animation of supper and how it felt like a cook book.

    Dokoda Dewanai was too dramatic and more shoujoish (pointless drama rather than good characters) for my taste.

  12. M

    Little Busters indeed choose an excellent way to end the first season. Here's hoping for excellence with Refrain.

    Anyway… Is it just me or was Riki blushing only when Kurugaya offered her opinion of him. Let's just say I approve.

  13. f

    I'm always going to think fondly of Little Busters. It was the 400th I completed 🙂

    But more than that, even under the sloppy execution of the writing and the sometimes nonsensical drama, there was a big, big heart beating in Little Busters. It felt so genuine. Am really looking forward to seeing more of it! (The Refrain preview looks kind of ominous though… hope it doesn't break my heart!)

  14. B

    All in all it was good. Didn't really deliver on the high drama in quite the same way as you expect from Key, it has it's moments like that but the series quickly goes back to lighthearted every time that wraps up. My assumption is that the Key Drama Engine will come up to full power during Refrain, so I look forward to that.

    I think JC Staff did a fine job with the adaptation. I wish KyoAni had done the actual animation since I love their style but oh well, can't have everything in life.

  15. T

    This show was quite something, the only reason I checked it out to begin with was because one night when I was half sleep browsing an manga scanlation site I happened upon one of its 4Komas (which at the time was a bunch of jokes that completley flew over my head) though I was somewhat curious about what the story would be and then I hear it got an anime. I guess it's easy to say that I didn't really expect much.

    What I feel I got in the end wasn't by any strech of the imagination a sort of classic, but something that was pretty enjoyable. I couldn't help but smile watching the last episode because I think the sort of genuine feel of friendship that was shown here was quite nice, it'll be all the more interesting to see when refrain arrives because now everything will have all the more impact than if they tried to jump start that sort of thing at the begining. When you spend hours and hours setting up a house of cards, it makes that annoying friend of yours barging in and messing it up all the more frustrating!

    …wait a minute…that was horrible comparison…

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