To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting after last week’s emotional typhoon of an episode. I suppose I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead, because I was so emotionally drained after that ep, especially the last 10 minutes. I know I thought Refrain would never top that episode as an emotional climax – and I certainly don’t think it did here – but about the specifics of what was going to happen afterwards I gave surprisingly little thought. It’s not that I didn’t think it mattered so much as that I wasn’t ready to really think about it.
Well, enter Episode 12 – and on the whole, while I now am thinking a lot about what’s going to happen next I’m not sure what to think about what’s going to happen next. I find myself torn about what I’d like to see happen as well as unsure of what actually is happening. Certainly, I’d like to see a happy ending – certainly happier than what we saw in the first half of this episode. These characters deserve it. But at the same time, that would sort of cheapen the terrible, beautiful sadness we got last week. This is a mood I find myself in often with highly emotional anime as they wrap up, but rarely so much so as with this incredibly emotional one.
In a sense, you could almost say the last two episodes of Refrain are a different series than the first 37 of Little Busters!. Everything we’ve seen up to this point has been illusion, with Kyousuke the one pulling the strings. Now that the curtain has been lifted and the Wizard revealed to be a mortal man, everything changes – what we’re seeing now is the harsh reality that Kyousuke worked so hard to prepare Riki and Rin for. The frozen time has begun to move, and the scales have been lifted from Riki and Rin’s eyes at last.
Except… not really. Or so it seems, anyway, based on Rin’s experiences this week. She certainly seemed to be having very real encounters with the five satellite Buster girls, and she doesn’t seem to have sustained a head injury that could explain delusions. Up that that point everything was shockingly, brutally real – the bus accident was depicted in scarier and more grisly terms than I’d frankly expected. We saw why Kyousuke was on the bus (hiding in the luggage compartment), we saw (sort of) the way Kengo and Masato saved Rin and Riki respectively. And we saw the terrible, heartbreaking aftermath in more detail than in Kyousuke’s half-lucid visions of it last episode.
What we see happen next makes a lot of sense – in fact I sort of saw it coming. Kyousuke tries so hard to make Riki strong, and he succeeds – but then he asks that boy he made strong to walk away from the accident, leaving his friends to die and accepting this new reality. I think this is Kyousuke being too successful for his own good – the old Riki might have done just that, but not this one. And I fully expected Riki to go back to the wreck to try and save whoever he could – though whether that was even possible I have no idea. It’s with Rin that things start to get weird. Komari, at least, implies that she somehow extended her own little slice of the artificial world a little longer because she wanted to see Rin one last time, and tell her the wish she’d promised to make for her all those episodes ago.
There’s no question that the five auxiliary girls have had a lesser role this season, and it was nice to see them get some closure with Rin. Truth be told I found it less emotional than what we saw with the core Busters last week, apart from Kud’s farewell (she’s just so good that it breaks my heart to think of her on that bus). I fully acknowledge the importance of Komari to Rin’s struggle to overcome the traumas of her past – I just don’t feel the character very much. That said, it was nice to see Rin take a more active role in events after her passive performance last episode – but I’m not sure what to make of her “Terminator” moment there at the end. Is she going to bring everyone back to life with sheer Rin power?
VN endings and anime… It’s a checkered past. I’ve really only seen anime adapted from VNs ace the ending twice – Kanon and Mashiroiro Symphony (and they went about it in completely different ways). Most of the time the transition just doesn’t seem to work, but I’ve generally been very impressed with the work JC Staff has done with LitBus so I have a lot of hope. I still feel that in a sense, the series really peaked with the 11th episode – and if so, I’m completely fine that, because I don’t think it could have been any other way. That said I’m highly curious to see where things land, and I feel as if there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to be surprised.
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. Read the comments at your own risk, because I make no promises about catching every spoiler soon after its posted. We’ve made it this far more or less in-tact – let’s keep it going one more week for the benefit of those of us who want to be genuinely surprised.