「50ノーティカルマイルの空」 (50 Nōtikaru Mairu no Sora)
“50 Nautical Miles in the Sky”
I had to go back and check, just to be sure she really said it, but she did – “Wafu, wafu! Thank you nano desu!”
One of the things I’ve praised Little Busters for is its straightforward and direct nature – ironic, I suppose, given that the entire series is apparently built around a secret being kept from the audience. But in thematic terms this series is a straight shooter – friendship, decency, empathy – it’s all pretty back-to-basics, Golden Rule stuff. I have to give the show credit for this, though: it really has an innate ability to change moods, and dramatically so, without causing a sense of disconnect. It can go from abjectly lightweight to deadly serious to reflective from week to week, and make them all seem like its native state.
I’m still undecided about the decision to slot the Sasasase episode in between Kud’s one-shot and the start of her arc, though it now seems like the anime was correct in splitting them up for the reasons listed above – there doesn’t seem to be a tonal link between them that would have felt right. If anything though I would have liked to have seen Kud’s exam ep a few weeks earlier so there was more of a gap between it and this episode – as it stands it’s a little bit odd. That said, what I do pick up here is something that’s been simmering beneath the surface but making itself felt a bit more of late, and that’s a sense of mysticism (something obviously not uncommon in Key works). It’s been a slow build, and not a steady one – episodes like last week’s were played pretty straight – but the general trend is upward, and it really became noticeable for me around the time of the Mio arc.
With that in mind, Kudryavka Anatolyevna Strugatskaya would seem like an odd choice to build an arc around at this point in the narrative. But she isn’t, at least for me, because Kud-o is a very strange little girl. She’s easily the most distinctive member of the cast, and as I’ve mentioned before, there’s nothing whatsoever that’s normal about Kud – and that’s an element of her character I really like. Every time it seems as though she’s about to be defined by a trope, she defies it. Her ancestry, her manner of speech, her intellect, even her name – taken from two of the dogs that went into space in the 1950’s at the dawn of the Soviet space program and the name of two legendary Russian science-fiction writing brothers – none of it is conventional in the least. Sure, Kud-o is cute – ridiculously cute – but she’s not like any other cute anime girls in matters of substance. That alone makes her unusual – we’re now seeing some of the details about the other ways she’s unusual.
It’s interesting that Maeda Jun chose to name the country where Kud spent the most time growing up Tevua, because it is in fact the name of a very real tiny island nation – but in every other sense, Kud’s homeland seems fictionalized. Just as there aren’t many characters that could pull off the dialogue Kud uses (such as the phrase at the top of the page) I don’t think there are many anime that could have pulled off the scene where she performs the ritual of her homeland under the stars on the school quad, with Riki’s help. It could easily have been ridiculous or gotten bogged down in clichéd ecchi awkwardness, but LB is so earnest – and so are Kud and Riki – that it instead came off as oddly beautiful and surprisingly sensual, in an innocent and elemental way. I don’t want to overstate the case but I think that scene was really wonderful – this odd girl who never seemed odder than she did at that moment, and Riki – supremely tolerant and a gamer as always – not just putting up with the weirdness but seemingly getting caught up in it himself.
One important element of that scene, of course, is that it represents a link between Kud and her mother – the one who gave her the geometric pattern she asks Riki to paint on her back, and someone she "hasn’t seen for a very long time" (of her father there’s still no mention at all). Kud’s mother is a cosmonaut, and seems to have seen little of Kud altogether – but certainly passed along a sense of wonder and a love of the stars. There are indications that the space program of Tevua is still effectively a tool of the Russian military, and that there are sinister aspects to the mission she’s about to fly for that tiny country – and even, perhaps, that Kud has an inkling of it. But that’s still pretty sketchy – what’s clear s that something goes very wrong with the launch of the rocket, and the sight of it is too much for Kud to bear.
It’ll be interesting to see where Kud’s arc goes from here. It might end up being a straightforward saga of the Little Busters helping her deal with her grief at losing her mother – as we’ve seen in the serious arcs in LB, permanent loss is not somewhere the story is afraid to go. Yet I sense that’s the less likely outcome – I think there’s something more complicated going on with the mother side of the story, and I think the arc as a whole is going to explore corners of the room that haven’t yet been explored, and its importance will extend beyond just Kud’s story itself. I can’t help but dwell on one thing Kud said her mother told her the markings in her crest symbolize – that she should "be a good gear for our world". It’s an interesting and odd sort of thing to say to begin with (quite fitting for Kud’s mother) but it also has the feeling of significance to the world of Little Busters.