Little Busters! Refrain – 07

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And so it begins…  Again.

A while ago – it may even have been in the first season – I mentioned that Riki’s narcolepsy struck me as being something like a circuit-breaker –  a switch that trips whenever he gets too close to the truth.  I think the reality is somewhat more complicated than that, but I feel as if I got a piece of it with that observation – and the events at the close of last week’s episode (I heartily recommend you watch the readily available footage of Riki and Rin’s time in her Grandfather’s house which leads up to them – no real spoilers) seem to bear that out.  I do think Riki’s “fail-safe” switch tripped there, but it wasn’t so much the truth as the fact that he’d taken this train as far as it could go – there was no more track, the end of that spur line, with no rails to ride.

Cue this episode – the 7th of the season, the 33rd of the series – and we find ourselves back on May 13, where it all started.  It’s clear enough that this is a new start, a reboot if you like – but just as clear that things are very different this time around.  I will say that more so than at any time during Little Busters’ run, I found myself genuinely confused about what was happening here, but I think that’s exactly how a new viewer is probably supposed to feel at this point of the story.  It’s at times like this that I remember that LB is a VN adaptation, and that we’re effectively in the same shoes as Riki – we see what he sees, and we know (and don’t know) only what he knows.  If Riki is confused, it’s only because he, like us, doesn’t have access to all the information – or at the least, has yet to put all of it together.

One approach one make take would be to encyclopedically list all the ways this episode differed from the first, but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me and my memory isn’t that good anyway.  So instead, I’ll say that what it felt like was a sort of photo-negative of that episode.  There were obvious similarities, but the emotions were completely flipped.  You began with “Kyousuke’s back!” – back after walking home from Tokyo (supposedly) where he was job-hunting (supposedly).  There are some interesting other similarities, too – Kyousuke spends much of his time reading manga in both cases, for example – but in the series premiere they’re gag manga and he’s constantly smiling, surrounded by other people.  Here, he reads somber dramas (“Have you ever been freed from everything?”) in silence in his darkened dorm room, refusing to come out.

Indeed, it seems that the two people most changed from then to now are the siblings, Kyousuke and Rin – while the two who seem to be the only principals who don’t know what’s really going on are Rin and Riki. I remember a scene from early in the first episode where Kyousuke was looking down from a forested hillside – or rather a clearing, perhaps the same one where he and Riki met last week – and the lights of the city below only flickered on when Kyousuke arrived to see them, as if this entire world only existed in (or because of) his perception of it.  Now we have Kyousuke dour, depressed and completely anti-social and Rin skittish as a kitten and terrified of everyone except Riki, cats and small children (i.e. cute and harmless things).  And then there’s Lennon, who likewise appears from nowhere in both timelines – only this time, he seems to be bringing a baseball with him.

It seems clear that a memory is retained whenever time seemingly resets itself – either a complete recall, which Kyousuke and probably Masato and Kengo too seem to have – or a kind of emotional memory, which Riki and Rin seem to have.  It’s easy to surmise that Rin is so timid because of her harrowing isolation at the other school (even if she doesn’t remember it), but is Kyousuke so somber and angry because he’s not happy with the way that last world worked out?  Does it somehow represent a failure for him, as if all his cruelty and coldness towards Riki and Rin at the end was for naught?  Or is this all part of his master plan to force Riki to be the strong one?

“I wish things could stay like this forever – that time would stop.”  It’s something that’s part of the cultural mythology of every country but it seems to have a special resonance for the Japanese, and it seems to be at the heart of everything LitBus is about.  In this new world the fight between Masato and Kengo seems to have an anger to it the ones in the last world lacked, Rin is more scared than ever and Kyousuke like an angry ghost.  But Riki seems himself – if anything, more determined and bolder than the Riki that started the series (if not the one that stole away with Rin and tried to protect her from the world).  And when Lennon rolls that ball into his feet, he definitely remembers, even if he doesn’t realize it.  He senses the elemental importance of the place he’s standing, and he has an awareness of how much things have changed even if he doesn’t remember exactly how they were before.

It seems to me that it’s in Riki that hope lies for something that isn’t a tragic ending – in his earlier promise to Kyousuke to grow stronger, which he seems to be acting on now.  Masato always manages to toss in at least one line of dialogue that seems loaded with significance – here, it’s when he tells Riki “It seems as if you’ve come far enough.  I’m the only one left.  I’ll take my leave, too – take care of the rest.”  That comes in response to Riki’s question – “If the answer isn’t to be found in this world…  Is it in another world?”  Indeed it truly seems as if we’ve entered another world as of this episode, one quite unlike any we’ve inhabited up until now.

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.

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  1. H

    The majority of my thinking this episode was "I hope you're happy, Kyousuke, you f'ed it all up." I honestly have no idea what he's been trying to do, but it certainly seems like everything that happened was at his urging. And thus, it's pretty much his fault that Rin's a basket case with others, that their group is broken apart.

    I do think this is a pretty terrible time-travel conceit here. It's like the only part of time travel they can do is change the clocks and wipe memories. So somehow, Riki is supposed to believe that something happened in the past, but that he doesn't remember it. Maybe he blames it on narcolepsy, and boy that's convenient, but doesn't explain Rin.

    It just seems that this show is collapsing under the weight of its too-cute-by-half attempts to manufacture drama, into an incoherent mess.

  2. D

    Why are you asuming that we are dealing with Time travel in the first place?

  3. M

    I think you are being a little to harsh on Kyousuke. As long as we don't know the exact circumstances of why Kyousuke is doing this, I think all our opinions are premature.

  4. H

    Well, I assume that we're dealing with time travel because we're now on the same date as before, but time has passed and things have happened. Rin is different. So either it's time travel, or everyone is just managed to be convinced it's the same date.

  5. A

    I've been keeping track of how many times the anime has played the "A World is Born" OST, the absolute best thing I took away from the game. It's the music playing at the very end, when Masato walks away and Riki finds his resolution.

    So, after two seasons and 33 episodes, this week's episode brings the total count to… two. Well, at least this time it was meaningful. The last time was just a small part of Kud's side story.

  6. D

    I don't know. I'm getting annoyed at the lack of context or explanation in the series. The problem is we know more than Riki, and he's not reacting at all to the loss of literally half the cast in this new world, nor perceiving any real differences between timelines. I can't get a sense of the rules of the world and it's making it increasingly feel like a random collection of images.

    I mean, I can make my own explanation, but there's still stuff in the past LB that makes zero sense in Refrain and never is even glossed over. I'm having a hard time integrating it all in a form that makes any sense, as compared to Kanon where you had hints of what was going on. I'll keep watching, because I like Key anime, but I'm hoping we get a big, concrete reveal soon.

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