「学食を救え」 (Gakushoku o Sukue!)
“Save the School Cafeteria!”
It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that my view on Little Busters and the general zeitgeist are two ships passing in the night, likely never to meet again. But in the immortal words of George Costanza, “Jimmy crack corn, and I don’t care.”
I’ve been spending weeks trying to figure out why I like Little Busters!, and coming up with reasons to defend that view – but I think a better question for me to ask would be, why do so many people not like it? I suppose that’s for them to share if they want to, but after some noodling on the subject, I think cynicism has a lot to do with it. As in, whatever cynicism the viewer brings to the table, and the complete and utter lack of cynicism evidenced by Little Busters. I’m normally a pretty cynical person myself, which is why I was so surprised for a while that I liked a show that on paper I shouldn’t, but for me the answer lies in another one-word answer: sincerity.
For me at least, there’s absolutely nothing insincere about LB. Not in the moe, not in the humor, not in the themes it chooses to focus on. It can rightfully be called many things, and it can’t be called slick or subtle – but for me the show plays as if it couldn’t possibly be any way other than exactly how it is, any more than a cat (never pull on a cat’s whiskers, by the way – they’re very sensitive) could decide to be a dog. All the kawaii and sincerity and goofy humor are intrinsically a part of what the show is, and if they didn’t work for you out of the gate, I think it’s pretty unlikely they ever will. But if you buy into the premise, as I did, I think the charms of the show are pretty hard to resist. Perhaps it’s because my schedule is so top-loaded with depressing and dark series like Shin Sekai Yori, but this one makes a welcome relief from all the irony and pathos that pervades most of the series I follow.
A commenter named Slashe posted on my other blog after last week’s episode, and since he captured the essence of LB more eloquently than I ever have, I’m going to quote from him here:
What dawned on me recently about Little Busters was that despite the premise of Riki building a baseball team via harem creation, the real focus on the show is not romance, but actually friendship, despite the Key label.
And that answers many questions I had behind LB and its production.
…It is this focus on friendship by the LB source material that it is well-loved by fans, and why JC Staff picked it up, and why, like you, I find it so charming and comforting.
The focus on this episode is on Kud’s isolation and loneliness, as Riki searches for a roommate for her. It surprises me how LB uses loneliness and separation as a recurring motif, as Riki reaches out voluntarily to these withdrawn girls. It starts out with Riki first being taken in by the Busters, and now, gaining the hope and strength from these friends, him going forth and aiding these new people…
Slashe also pointed out something I think it quite true – JC Staff gets friendship. It’s a prevalent theme in many of their best works, and looking back even many JC Staff classics that are theoretically romances are actually more about friendship than the romance – Ano Natsu and Toradora come to mind, for starters. What makes LB pretty rare, among Key works and anime in general, is that it unapologetically thinks that friendship is important enough to stand as the main theme of a series – that it can be the point, and not just a subplot. This really is a story about people supporting each other and having fun together, which is what friendships – especially those of our youth – really should be about. There are obviously other themes and plotlines and they’ll gain prominence as we go, but it’s the Little Busters themselves who are the heart of the series, and I don’t think that will ever change.
Another thing that struck me about why LB works for me – the comedy, specifically – is that the show is actually using a textbook manzai style. Riki is the perfect tsukkomi, and the rest of the cast – sometimes individually, sometimes collectively – plays the role of the boke. Manzai is by nature a pretty hammy style – it’s practically vaudeville – and clearly not to everyone’s tastes. But in context I enjoy it, and some of the jokes here which I know can go either way have totally connected with me. This week’s examples would be the “Viva croquette soba!” routine with Sasasasa Sasami, Rin’s arch-enemy – it’s not like we haven’t heard the ojou-sama laugh a million times in anime, but there was just something about the scene (maybe the half-turn foot-kick by her chorus) that made me laugh – and Rin running out of the room to text “What should I do?” to Riki. Very different types of jokes, but both very effective. Your mileage may vary.
As for the episode itself, I won’t pretend it isn’t a pretty bare-bones premise – the gang gets together to save the cafeteria after all the ladies mysteriously fall ill – but it ties back into the idea that a series can devote an entire ep to what’s basically a comedic team-building exercise and that’s enough. There was some nice focus on Rin’s struggles to come to terms with her social disorder, and an appearance by the canon story, both in terms of Riki’s narcolepsy making an unwanted return and another strange note tied to Lennon’s leg. Indeed, it’s obviously no coincidence that whoever wrote that note knew the cafeteria was going to need saving, but it’s clear the series is going to take its time meandering its way towards solving that mystery. And that’s perfectly fine with me.
I’m under no illusions that LB is going to win over legions of new fans (or win back disgruntled old ones) with an episode like this one – I suspect it was strictly preaching to the choir. But I do hope that those who’ve decided the series isn’t for them realize that those of who like what JC Staff is doing here have no reason whatsoever to apologize for that, and no responsibility to justify it to anyone who disagrees. There’s plenty of anime out there for every taste and someone liking a show you don’t isn’t a personal attack on you, even if you’re a fan of the VN who’s displeased with the way it’s being adapted. I’m quite satisfied to go on siding with the minority on Little Busters, no matter how loud the shouting from the opposition gets – it makes me laugh and it strikes an emotional chord, both in a very straightforward and honest way, and that’s more than enough for me.