「最後のひとり」 (Saigo no Hitori)
“The Last One”
It seems to me that we’ve had an unusual number of girls with eyepatches in anime lately…
I think in terms strictly of narrative execution, this may very well be the best episode of Little Busters! to date. As a self-contained story with internal drama and humor, it worked pretty much flawlessly. The pacing was spot-on, the dialogue was sharp, and it probably integrated the disparate elements of LB – the mythology and the slice-of-life – more smoothly than we’ve seen so far (though to be fair, what we’ve seen so far has mostly been an intentionally stark contrast rather than smooth integration). While the serious haters will never be won ever, it’s pleasing to see LB gradually winning over many viewers as it nears the end of the first season and the reasons behind some of its choices start to become clear.
While we technically only had the introduction of one major new character this week, it almost feels as if it was two – and that’s because we’ve seen so little of Kengo up to this point. The newbie was Koshiki Miyuki (Honda Youko), an archery club member with an eyepatch. We don’t get a lot of details about what’s happened to her, but it’s clear that she has a deep and abiding love for archery – so much so that the prospect of being unable to continue pushes her to some desperate behavior. Where does Kengo fit into this? That’s also hard to say. Masato gleefully describes his conversations with Koshiki as flirting, but Koshiki claims she only wanted Kengo’s opinion as a fellow practitioner of martial arts.
Where does the truth lie? Given how much of a Sphinx Kengo has been and how little we know of Koshiki, the only logical thing is to take her at face value – but my suspicions are otherwise. In any event it’s very clear that he was mercilessly honest in whatever he told her about her prospects (with archery) and that seems to fit with what we know of Kengo. He’s obviously a bit of a facetious character to begin with, walking around school in his Kendogi and Hakama. But the impression he gives is of someone unfailingly honest and direct – I might even say rigid in his dedication to what he believes is important. I found the interaction between he and Masato especially interesting, and it’s always been clear that there’s something deeper in their mutual verbal sparring than meets the eye. There was just a hint of malice in Masato’s ribbing of Kengo in Koshiki’s presence, and some very real rage in Kengo’s reaction.
As with everything in Little Busters now, what happens has to be seen not just as an event in itself, but as a reflection on the mythology. Kyousuke has arranged a game – with an "All-Star Team" of athletic club captains – and as Masato points out (was his mistake in counting Riki and Rin twice a gag, or a hint? Hmmm…), the Little Busters need a ninth to make an actual baseball team. It’s always seemed likely that Kengo would be that ninth player, but the interesting element here is that Kyousuke has rejected Riki’s offer to recruit someone because "It’s only a matter of time until the final member joins us." With the benefit of perspective we of course have seen for a while that Kyousuke was obviously eyes-deep in the "Secret of This World" but this seems to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and opens Riki’s eyes. The obvious next conclusion Riki could draw from that is of course that the writer of the cat-tail messages also seemed to know things about the future that they should not have known…
Riki is creeping ever closer to the truth, and if indeed Kyousuke is the note-writer it seems that he’s been trying to help him get there. I found Riki’s wording of how narcolepsy "severs his connection to the world" far too provocative to be a coincidence. His inner thoughts tell us that Komari’s "Eight Dwarves" story is also a major clue (as I suspected), and the scene on the rooftop where we see Koshiki seemingly contemplating suicide is also seemingly more than simply a dramatic moment (though it is quite a beautifully-executed one). Koshiki obviously didn’t want to kill herself, she was simply feeling utterly confused and helpless – but it’s the involvement of the teachers that I find most troubling. It’s not just Koshiki’s terrifying vision of them – which could, at least in theory, be attributed to her situation – but the overall violent and angry tone they strike which seems ill-suited to the moment at-hand. One of them in fact quite literally punches Riki (which is like kicking a puppy) when he tries to help. Again, this could simply be clueless adults doing to worst possible thing when a teenager is in trouble, and it wouldn’t be the first time. But LB has a way of making you question everything you see.
In any case, things are building admirably towards a season-concluding ep (and an unusually late one at that) next week. We’re clearly at a transition-point in the story – as Riki inches towards the truth, Kyousuke suddenly announces that he’s stepping down as leader of the Little Busters and passing the job on to Riki (an acknowledgment, it seems, that Riki is indeed getting close to The Secret). Kengo has joined the team under circumstances I would never have predicted before this week – unable to participate in the kendo inter-highs because of the arm he breaks saving Koshiki’s life (and it’s suspicious that he didn’t break more than that) he decided he can be a one-armed swinger for the Busters (one might ask what defensive position he’s going to play, though clearly that’s not the most important question in the big picture). It seems all the pieces are finally in place for something big to happen – the game-changer that will make the second season fundamentally different from this one.