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.