Key is a Japanese company located in Osaka, Japan. They are famous for their visual novels, little video games where you, the player, make choices that ultimately affect the ending. If you’ve ever seen “choose your own adventure” books, visual novels are video game versions.
However, Key is a special company. They are famous for writing tear-jerking stories. Some of their works include Air, Kanon, Angel Beats, and Clannad, all of which have been adapted for anime. I’ve seen all of these anime, though I’ve only reviewed Angel Beats, and I’ve really enjoyed their stories. Today, we look at the fifth visual novel, adapted for anime by J.C Staff: Little Busters!
The Story: When he was a child, Riki Naoe lost both his parents in a horrific car accident. Despondent and alone, he was found and taken in by a group of friends who called themselves The Little Busters. Under their leader, Kyousuke, The Little Busters became Riki’s new family, a place that he finally belonged.
But now, in high school, the Little Busters are grown up; Kyousuke will leave for college at the end of this school year. As one last hurrah before he leaves, he decides to organize a baseball team, and enlists Riki’s help in finding new members.
Little Busters plays out like any other slice-of-life visual novel adaptations. We have the main character, Riki, who is introduced into a world filled with different girls. In the visual novel, these girls would serve as main characters in individual routes; based on your actions, you would end up with one of the various girls. In the anime, these routes put together make up the whole story. One of the problems with these kinds of adaptations is that once one girl’s arc ends and another begins, the previous girl gets suddenly shunted aside, as if the writers were in a hurry to get them out of the way. Little Busters does not suffer from that problem as much, as most of the girls were able to stay relevant long after their routes ended. The whole “baseball team” motif is simply a plot device to introduce the various girls.
However, the show itself is not incredible. Key has a habit of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality, so this show can get confusing. Each arc is well-done, but they’re all very similar to each other. The story can get repetitive and thus predictable. Again, it’s a good show, but not something that would wow you, not like Fate Zero or Clannad. But, there’s one last part of Little Busters that I have not mentioned. And it alone makes this show glorious.
Refrain: If I’m talking about Little Busters, I have no choice but to talk about Refrain as well. If any of you have seen Clannad: After Story, you’ll understand the concept behind Refrain.
Refrain takes place immediately after Little Busters, and spends more time developing the two main characters. The world they inhabit is expanded, and the amount of feels is doubled. Refrain is shorter than Little Busters, but it’s the more emotionally charged of the two. This is where you start to get attached to all the characters.
Ecstasy: The last bit of Little Busters is Little Busters: Ecstasy. This originally was an adult visual novel (or eroge) that expanded on the first Little Busters. In the visual novel, three new routes are opened; in the anime, three characters, two already established, get their own story. There’s not much to say about Ecstasy. It’s a series of eight episodes featuring supporting characters in Little Busters. If you’re looking for closure with this franchise, watch it, but Ecstasy is not necessary to enjoy the Little Busters universe.
The Characters: The cast of Little Busters is enormous; it’s almost as large, if not more, than the cast of Angel Beats. I cannot talk about all the characters, but I will look at the most important three.
Riki Naoe: In and of himself, Riki has no defining traits. He was the protagonist in the visual novel, and he mainly served as the player’s link to his world. In the anime, his role is similar: he allows us to connect with the other characters, and those relationships make him interesting. In Refrain, we start to see more attention on Riki, turning him from a good character to a great one. Refrain gives him the development he needed to make him his own character rather than a slate for the viewer to imprint his or herself onto.
Rin Natsume: Rin is the female lead in this show, but she’s the weakest main character. The show emphasizes her as this important character, yet she only becomes interesting in the last two episodes of Refrain. The amount of emphasis she gets and her development as a main character are unbalanced. During the first season (non-Refrain), she is tasked with completing certain tasks to “discover the secret to this world.” You would think that would force to develop as a character, and while she does, it’s not obvious. Her development is hard to see and thus makes her difficult to bond with; you simply don’t know how deep of a character she really is.
Kyousuke Natsume: Kyousuke is, in many ways, Riki’s foil. He’s assertive when Riki is deferential and represents all that Riki strives to be. He’s not the most featured main character, but he is the most interesting. While Riki is nice to a fault and Rin is confusing, Kyousuke is mysterious, comical, and insightful. His relationship with Riki is one of the driving forces behind Little Busters, and it works beautifully.
Final Verdict: Little Busters is a Key work, which means it has to compete against the likes of Clannad, Air, and Kanon (2006). That said, it’s a strong piece of work. Little Busters is able to make its viewers feel connected and emotionally invested in the world it creates; it has the mark of a well done anime.
Final Grade: A