This is without question a nexus point for Little Busters!, one of those places where anime and visual novels must tearfully part and board separate trains. And no doubt the same applies to anime-only viewers like me and VN veterans, who will likewise largely be on divergent paths. The nature of VNs is defined by routes, but an anime must tell a complete story from start to finish unless it chooses the omnibus format (which as far as I can tell would have been a disaster for LitBus).
That leaves us where we are now, with Riki at long last entering into a true relationship with a girl – and it’s Rin, the “one that’s been by his side” since their childhood days. That’s going to leave some hurt feelings among partisans of the other girls, no doubt – I myself am as big a Kudo partisan as you could ever wish to see – but this is a path that seems to make narrative sense for me. I don’t see “Riki and Rin” being ultimately the point of LitBus, as it’s always seemed to me that it’s The Secret that’s the main story driver here, and that this is a series about friendship more than romance. But as an anime-only viewer, like Kyousuke and the others this was a day I’ve been expecting for a very long time.
In point of fact, the anime gave us what felt very much like a VN moment when Rin matter-of-factly said “Let’s go out” to Riki. I mean, you could literally see the world change – waves rippling out from the two of them – and Riki himself comments later how “The world looks different!” now that he has a girlfriend. The hint could hardly be less subtle – this is a game-changer, quite literally. There are really two separate issues here, how the Riki-Rin story plays on screen and what it means for the larger conspiracy plot.
On the former, while I’ve always felt Riki had the best chemistry with Kud, I like the bond with Rin too – especially as I see the way she can only feel relaxed in the world when she’s by his side (Riki and cats, that’s all she needs). There was a whole bunch of Riki flashing why he’s the real moe character in LitBus, from his brief preening over being confessed to by Suginami to his grinding over why Rin’s face kept popping up in his head to his blushing efforts to be a gallant boyfriend after he and Rin decided to give it a go. My favorite scene of the ep, though, was when he and Rin breathlessly traded pointless texts from their respective bedrooms. It was pretty adorable, frankly, and about as natural a depiction of first boyfriend/girlfriend euphoria as I’ve seen in anime. Some teenagers are old for their age, but Riki and Rin really are still kids – that’s part of their charm, and it made that scene work beautifully.
In the big picture, though, I’m pretty confident that it’s the reaction of the others that’s more important than the relationship itself. It gave us the funniest moment of the episode – as so often, from Masato, who panics at the thought of being separated from Riki and exclaims, “Am I supposed to live on my own in a concrete pipe?!” More than that, though, there’s no hiding the significance of the moment – the others act more relieved than genuinely pleased, especially as if this were something that had to happen before events (“the frozen time”?) could move forward. Kuragaya’s (who was literally absent this week) last message was “Promise you’ll take care of Rin”, and Kyousuke admonishes Riki that he and Rin should take care of each other “after I’m gone” – and it’s clear he doesn’t mean on to college. And then there’s the other three “extra” characters Kud (noooooo!), Mio and Haruka quite unmistakably offering their silent farewells and walking off into the light. Subtle, definitely not.
It’s the nature of Little Busters! that a new viewer will look for signs everywhere, see ghosts in the shadows in every corner – and as such, Riki’s simple “We won’t stay kids forever” comment to Rin seems loaded with significance. There’s a new task (the sender hardly seems a mystery anymore) attached to Lennon’s tail – “In homeroom, volunteer” – after whose completion Riki assumes The Secret of This World will finally be revealed. I’m not sure it’s that simple – in fact I’m pretty sure it isn’t – but it’s clear we’re getting closer, and dark clouds are (literally) gathering). It seems now that only the original five Little Busters remain, plus Komari – which seems to take baseball off the table at the very least. How will Riki justify this in his mind? Will he remember? For all the hints and all the progress the fundamental mystery remains, and in that sense the story really hasn’t even started yet. It’s all the more reason to think Little Busters! isn’t a conventional Key romance scenario, because rather than being the culmination of the story it seems that “Riki and Rin” is really the beginning of it.
Author’s note: Please “refrain” from posting any VN spoilers (or hints, or confirmations or denials of guesses, or clever spoilers disguised as jokes) into the comments section. I don’t want this experience ruined for me, and I don’t want it ruined for any other new viewers. Read the comments at your own risk, because I make no promises about catching every spoiler soon after its posted. All I can do is delete the comments as soon as I spot them, but that might be after you do.