Little Busters! Refrain – 11

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I really don’t think this is the time for a clever opening line.

I don’t think I need to say much about that episode of Little Busters!, really.  If any anime episode ever spoke for itself, it was this one.  And who wants to cloud such emotional purity with a bunch of analysis and value judgment?  I certainly wasn’t surprised by anything that happened, but that didn’t lessen the impact one bit.  It was a terrible, beautiful sadness – the kind of mono no aware-based poignancy that it seems the Japanese are better at communicating than anyone else in the world.

In hindsight, I probably made a mistake seeing Takahata Isao’s masterpiece Kaguya-hime no Monogatari the evening before watching this episode of LB.  That pretty much wiped me out emotionally in its last 15 minutes, so going into this episode I was like someone with their immune system fried walking into a quarantine ward.  I had no resistance, no chance – but in the end I think I was invested enough in this story and these characters for it not to have mattered.  This was emotion that was so well-earned – which in my view is not always the case with Key – that it was impossible not to be devastated.

I’ll just share a few of the thoughts that are running through me as I think back on the journey to this point.  First off, for all the emotional peaks of the episode, perhaps the most gutting moment was when Masato asked – practically begged – Riki to tell him how much he’d meant to him.  Masato was always a favorite of mine.  He “played his part well”, as Kyousuke said – the loveable idiot who always knew much more than he was letting on.  Masato went out exactly as he should – running through the scoreboard to catch a pop-fly, and fading away with a grin on his face.

That’s not to say Kengo and Kyousuke were shortchanged, either.  Kengo held on a bit longer, and what was hardest with him was seeing his strong facade slowly break down over the last couple of episodes till we saw him as he was here – the most sentimental and innocent of the lot.  For that matter, the other “peripheral” members of the Little Busters were present as well – in spirit, if not in fact – and I think that was wholly appropriate given how important they were to the developments that led the characters to this point.

But it was always Kyousuke who was going to have the final say – for all the talk of souls joined together, it was never less than completely clear that this was his world, and it was his overpowering will that had created it and was holding it together.  I think it could be said that seeing Kyousuke finally take off his mask and let his grief show through unabashedly was the emotional highlight, with 37 episode of buildup contributing to its power.  Kyousuke had earlier told Riki that no crying would be allowed from this point onward, but it was a hollow command and I think they both knew it.  It would have been so wrong for both of them not to let their tears flow in those final moments together.

I don’t know how the mechanics of this story work – and with Key, I know we might not get a real explanation even in the final two episodes.  But my personal feeling in the big picture is that the whole business about Riki getting stronger – while important – was largely a cover story.  The truth of the matter is, I think Kyousuke and the others simply loved each other too much to let their time together end so prematurely.  Sure, Kyousuke was worried about Riki and Rin moving forward (the symbolism of Riki’s walk-off home run is a perfect choice to demonstrate that he will)  – but I think the real truth is that all of them simply wanted to be together for a little while longer.  Anyone who’s lost a loved one knows the feeling – “What would I give just to have one more day?” – but imagine that for a group of kids not even finished with high school, who should have decades to explore their lives and share them with each other.  Even if that’s never expressed in the series, that’s the explanation that feels most right to me.

I have had issues with Maeda Jun’s work before – I think there’s too-much push-button melodrama in some of it – but this emotional climax of Little Busters completely works for me.  It’s simple, honest and pure – a musing on the glorious but ephemeral joys of childhood, the agony of wanting your children to grow up but stay innocent and pure, and the pain of letting go and having to trust them to survive life’s journey without you.  I love the fact that “love” is so central to all this – Koyusuke and Riki freely speak of how much they love the other Busters, and each other.  It works because it’s so obvious that they do – very much, with all their, heart, and for good reasons.  This is the story of their friendship – not of the tragedy that ended it, but of the love they shared with each other.  Whatever the final two episodes have to add to that story, this episode spoke to the truth and power of it with supreme eloquence and honesty.

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ED Sequence:

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  1. V

    As promised, here is my gallery :)

    I'd be super ecstatic if you mentioned in your article, but if not, I'm fine with sharing it here in the comments.

  2. Thanks, Vlad. Part of me feels like I shouldn't scroll through all of these for at least another week, though.

  3. b

    my heart literally broke
    i was crying so hard when kyousuke was crying

  4. M

    It's probably not just Jun Maeda you have a problem with but more so KyoAni's hammy recitals of his work. Unless you felt the same way throughout Osamu Dezaki's versions?
    I think Desaki's direction of Clannad was more genuine in its closure and bravely omitted most of the useless side trophies. No doubt that wouldn't fly for LB, considering how tight the cast of characters are. To be fair, Komari and Mio are kinda dead weights.

  5. V

    Mio probably, but Komari still has a sort of role in the story.
    Though, I blame Maeda got not being able to seamlessly integrate all the Little Busters into there main story entirely. Komari also got a pretty weak heroine arc, but her purpose of breaking Rin out of her shell, and being the subject of Riki's first trial to conquer his own inhibitions made her pretty useful. The main 5 LBs were the real heart of the story, and the time spent with everyone else helps to intensify everything that the bros helped build up to: this final moment.

  6. M

    I can't shake the feeling that some of the girls (those two characters especially) could have been fused into one of the other girls. Mio=Rin, Komari=Kud or something. But it didn't bother me since the majority of the cast works well.

  7. V

    I feel what you mean. Their personalities are awfully similar. In the VN, they worked out a bit differently and were more dynamic than in the anime, but those girls still kinda held back the variety. When the team really works well are in segments like the pancake party in LB Refrain episode 1, where you can see how they synergize. The VN had a lot more of this than the anime, sadly.

  8. R

    MY HEART. MY GODDAMN HEART. Is a pretty accurate description of my reaction this episode. Because it hurts. In that wonderfully beautiful sort of way but it still broke my heart dammit.

    I think the fact that the series could evoke such straightforwards emotion is the strongest sign that it just worked. For all the ups and downs the end result is I'm sitting here wanting to sob my eyes out so Little Buster definitely succeeded as far as I'm concerned.

    Now if you don't mind, I have to go spam my best friends with messages telling them how much I love them and then sit in a corner and cry.

  9. E

    The author knows how to make tear jerker story all right.
    He let you love the characters by showing them for a long time, before sending them off.
    I cried. It's been years since I cried watching anime. I love these idiots. It's so sad that they have to part like this.

  10. C


    Would point out that my opinion changed a little bit about the character Kyousuke. He was the heart and soul of the eleventh episode. I thought otherwise before the last few episodes, and it seems to me that he actually had a decent performance here.

    Overall, the work knew this thrilling season. True, still lacking a little longer until its end, but the aniem has already left its mark sentimental with property.

    See you soon!
    (from Curitiba, Brazil)

  11. T

    I think that in many ways, Little Busters was the development of concepts in Clannad, focusing on a different subject matter. And Maeda's even more recent work, Angel Beats (Little Busters the VN was written before Angel Beats) has is an attempt to further develop and extend the premise of Little Busters, but makes the workings of the "dream world" more naked from the get-go, and trying to explore what happens when all the participants are into the secret that they are in the dream.

    The disappearance scene in many ways reminded me of Angel Beats Graduation scene. Only difference is, as you've said, Little Busters built up it's characters well enough to really make it work, while Angel Beats never had that time.

    35+ vs 13 episodes makes alot of difference.

    Now, on to the final two episodes of Refrain, and Little Busters Ex, and hopefully, Kud Wafter would be announced at the end. I actually wonder – was it a deliberate choice by the animators to have Kyousuke hover over Kud and her character development for a very unusual amount of time, perhaps a hint that they are animating Refrain with one eye to adapting Kud Wafter, and therefore decided to give Kud a little extra focus when Kyousuke recounts of the girls in the previous episode.

  12. M

    Tears started to fall after Masato left .

  13. Masato asking Riki to say how much he cared for him was the saddest thing in the ep for me.

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