「最高の仲間たち」 (Saikou no Nakamatachi)
“The Best Friends Ever”

The frozen time will start to move. And that is when everything will begin…

I’ve puzzled a bit over how to approach this post – a series review that isn’t really a series review, for a show that doesn’t neatly fit into the box anyone (new viewer or veteran Buster) tried to put it in. I certainly don’t want to re-ignite the arguments over the merits of the adaptation, but it hardly seems possible to discuss Little Busters without at least acknowledging that elephant in the room. Ultimately, everyone – whether they be an anime-original viewer or player of the VN – will have their own opinion about what the lasting merits of this adaptation are.

So I’ll start out with a few truths that to my satisfaction are self-evident – your mileage may vary. In the first place, I think JC Staff knew exactly what they were doing, and most of the choices they’ve made in this adaptation make sense with the benefit of hindsight. My personal belief is that for many fans of the VN, there was nothing this show could have done to erase the sting of it’s not being a Kyoto Animation product. And it certainly didn’t look like one, nor was it flawless as a series. But given the type of story Little Busters is, I’m not so sure JC Staff wasn’t a better fit at least in storytelling terms if not purely artistic ones.

LB is a very funny sort of show, quite unlike any other Key adaptation in my view, for LB is both the most independent of magical realism and the most dependent on it. It’s almost as if this is a series that’s running on two simultaneous tracks, one portraying everything that’s happening on the surface, the other the constant current of hidden meaning. For a new viewer is was quite possible to watch the first cour of the series and put the notion of "The Secret of This World" completely out of mind – and it wasn’t the job of the anime to dispel that illusion. Yet that also meant it risked being taken as lightweight, for the surface-level track was mostly a pure slice-of-life one where entire episodes could be devoted to topics like substituting in the cafeteria and tea parties in the girls’ dorm. There was more happening all the time, of course – that other track was always running – but it was easy enough to lose sight of it if you didn’t know where to look.

No, Little Busters is a very different sort of story from Key, and Riki is a very different sort of main character. I’m glad someone besides me (Mio, as it happens) finally acknowledged Riki as moe, because in many ways I think he fulfils the role of a traditional female lead more so than the traditional Key male lead. In many ways I think both Riki and the series he headlines can be boiled down to a few simple questions. In his case: just how far is it possible to get in the world relying strictly on kindness and decency? And for the show itself: is it possible for an anime to succeed in this day and age operating almost completely free of irony?

I’ve said it before, but one of the things that appeals to me about Little Busters is its simplicity. Yes, there’s a very complicated secret hiding just beneath the surface that new viewers don’t know the details of yet. But that doesn’t invalidate the pure simplicity of the series’ message. It’s a story about beautiful youth – of the joy of friendship and the importance of having fun. While I don’t know enough about The Secret to say for sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s metaphorically tied in to the inevitable loss that the end of childhood brings for all of us – Kyousuke certainly hinted at that this week – but it almost doesn’t matter, at least as far as this season is concerned.

Riki is, in many ways, the perfect personification of that ideal. He’s not physically imposing or verbally charismatic like his three friends. All Riki has is his heart, and the innate sense of decency that compels him to always, always try and pay it forward. The most important thing to Riki about the debt he feels he owes Kyousuke and the Little Busters is that he must always try and be to others what they were to him – that he always try and take away someone’s else’s pain and loneliness if it’s within his power to do so. He doesn’t do this to attract attention or to allay guilt – he simply cannot function any other way. That’s why I was so glad to see all of that acknowledged in this season finale – by the series itself, through the words of Kyousuke, Komari, Kud and Haruka.

It was the scene between Riki and Kud that really personified this for me – the one where she asked him to paint the Tevuan designs on her back for the ritual that was so important to her. It was the best scene of the season – innocently sensual and ethereally beautiful, and it was refreshingly free of any of the cliche reactions that could have clouded it. Riki was being asked to do possibly the strangest thing he’d ever done, an act filled with implications, yet he didn’t voice his doubts or stay in his comfort zone by refusing – he accepted that for Kud, feeling alone and far from home, this was important – and was humbled by the fact that it was he and he alone she trusted enough to ask.

I think this season finale was as much as anything an opportunity for the series to do just what I’ve described – rather than enter anything new into the equation, to tie everything together and put it in context as we move on to the next phase of the story. There was certainly fan-service – we got to see a new side of Kengo, and a new jacket with a very familiar logo. We got to see the long-awaited baseball game, too – won by the All-Stars 18-10, though who won and lost was hardly the point. That baseball game was symbolic if anything ever was – a kind of celebration of all that’s pure and innocent, all the more poignant because we know how much is going to change (even if some of us don’t know exactly how and why).

By way of Riki’s agonizing over his new role as leader we got a whole lot of foreshadowing, too, as the two tracks continue to run closer and closer together and what was hidden gets closer and closer to the surface. We’re told by Kyousuke that he’s "not the person" Riki thinks he is, and that it’s impossible to run forever. It’s clear enough that Kyousuke is trying to prepare Riki for something – indeed, that he has been for the entire series – and Riki is becoming more and more conscious of the impending changes in his life. Childhood is impermanent – it’s been at the heart of stories and fables since man first began to tell them – and adulthood brings with it pains and sorrows which children cannot possibly understand. All one can do is enjoy the days of youth as much as possible, and create as many memories as you can to sustain you through the long days of your life.

I think this is a rather beautiful story, this Little Busters. It’s simple and complex, full of contradiction, yet at it’s heart more innocent than the others that I’ve seen from Key. And, of course, it’s not nearly over. The announcement that came at the end of the episode was such an ill-kept secret that I don’t think it can be called a secret at all. Little Busters Refrain will be animated – we don’t know when yet or for how long it will air, though to the former my guess is Fall of this year. And even not knowing the details of what’s to come I know it’s going to be very different from the show we’ve seen so far, and that what has so far been the stuff of subtext and foreshadowing will become the engine that drives the story.

Yet, somehow, I’m not convinced that will change the fundamental nature of the series. It feels to me as if the core beliefs of Little Busters have a rock-solid foundation, and that the series itself is an honest reflection of the people who created it. It hasn’t always been easy for me to explain – even to myself – why I like LB as much as I do, but I feel as if I understand the reasons now. I’m very glad this show has survived the negativity that greeted its arrival and gone on to be both a commercial and an artistic success, and that it will have the chance to finish telling its story in the fashion it deserves.


ED5 Sequence


Preview: “Little Busters Refrain”


  1. I would like to speak as someone who was disappointed with Kyo Ani’s non-involvement.

    It’s not just a matter of wanting their trademark pretty visuals. It’s that Kyo Ani is very skilled at telling a story; they fumbled somewhat with Tamako Market and, to a lesser extent, Chuunibyou, but it’s hard to deny that they have a deft hand when it comes to execution.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I think JC Staff did a fine job. But that’s it– it’s okay. It’s merely serviceable. There’s always some kink or violation of “show, don’t tell” that stopped each episode from being, well, good.

    (And now, to play devil’s advocate to myself, if what was shown in this anime is at least 80% faithful to the VNs, then… let’s just say I understand why Kyo Ani didn’t pick this up)
    Overall, though, LB is a more-or-less enjoyable, vanilla romp. I look forward to whatever this Refrain has in store.

    1. As someone who both has played the VNs and been sceptical about the choice of JC Staff as animation studio, I really do think that the Refrain adaptation will determine how people look back on the LB anime. Even originally, the character routes and other little things – the baseball match, puppet show and so on – weren’t the most memorable parts. No, that goes to Refrain (and, to a lesser extent, Rin’s routes).

      The second season has a lot more potential, and may well bring a lot of people to LB that have stayed away from it so far (I wasn’t keeping up with currently-airing shows when Clannad and After Story first aired, but I hear it was much the same with that). It’s going to be far harder to change into anime format, however, and so will provide its own hurdles there.

      I guess what I’m saying is that, even after the end of these 26 episodes, it’s still a little early to judge this adaptation one way or another. There’s so much set-up and foreshadowing here, and the only way to tell whether it’s going to be used well is to wait. I’m looking forward to Refrain!

      1. Allow me to disagree with you oh so slightly. Even though Refrain is definitely the most memorable part of the VN, it is built very much on the the frolicking of the common route. You cannot simply tell the reader about bonds of friendship, the nostalgic yesteryears, and the joy of innocence. More effective is it to have the reader experience, to laugh and cry alongside the Little Busters. Things like baseball, the puppet play, kick the can (come on, JC Staff, kick the can! LB has heaps of action! Make it show!) build empathy not just between the Little Buster members, but also between the reader and the gang. The common route is like the roots of a tree or the men behind the curtain; they may not get much publicity, but their importance is foundational.

  2. Thanks for your posts up to this point(it was a lot of fun reading them)
    Especially because your willingness to watch it blindly.

    As a reader of the VN, I feel the anime has expressed the underlying themes of LB to a satisfying extent.
    Many liberties had needed to be taken with the plot and pacing considering the lengthy VN format.
    The foreshadowing through nuances in dialogue and character expression I enjoyed particularly.
    But reviewing it at this point, like you said, would be silly. There is still the home stretch(pun intended) to consider.
    If they handle it like they handled the latter episodes(Kud’s route onward), I will be more than happy(production values aside).

  3. One thing about the timing of these posts is that my enthusiasm for the episode is now worn out by the time I need to post my reactions to it on RC. In short, this show wasn’t the best KEY adaptation by far, and in fact, there are many problems with it, but the intention is there and I wholly understand it. I love the friendship these characters have, they all have their quirks even though the male characters never really got developed until the end of the season, there were a few moments where I cried, and it makes me feel bright and happy by the finale! I think it IS kind of a cop-out that they’ve been building up this baseball game for so long only to compress the game into a funny montage over the end credits, but the story really isn’t about the game itself.

  4. I love the first part of the season but can’t help but to feel a bit ripped off that we needed to wait for refrain for a couple more months. In my opinion KyoAni should have mede this show a three cour series or maybe even four so we the fans can have the epicness the is refrain handed down to us while were still at the high of a good season finale.

    1. Only a blow to the head inside tree branches can make your entire life outlook improve 500% and give you the power to design a logo and sew it onto a jacket with only one arm!

  5. Kudos, Enzo. I think you are the only blogger in this world (well, there are not many of them so I am exaggerating things here :p) that could explain why there are many people that love LB! anime to the core, many who kinda liked it but can’t exactly point out “why” and many who simply didn’t get it at all.

    I totally agreed with you. I also haven’t read Refrain, but I surely felt that this series is built around one main value, and the entire show is built around that value in many questions and answers from different perspectives. That’s why there’s a strange feeling of purity. A feeling that was freshly baked from the writer’s pen, a feeling that was crafted to told a simple message in life… in a form of a beautiful tale of friendship and adolescence.

    Yes, it’s badly executed at times (as expected from beginner director and low budget), but I kinda liked how they clumsily tried to deliver things faithfully while still changed things to make them work better in TV animation. For some reason I felt that the creator are struggling along with the characters to deliver a gradually better story to the viewers from time to time.

    To wrap things, I’ll post the first three sentence from the visual novel opening:

    What “Adolescence” do you have?

    Do you remember “Childhood”?

    The irreplaceable one existed there.

    See you all in the Refrain! I hope you will cover it when it arrives 😀

    1. I actually took a close look at the original OP a while back, and there’s a FOURTH line. It actually goes:

      “What ‘Adolescence’ do you have?
      Do you remember ‘Childhood’?
      This will remind you that you have to recollect ‘Adolescence’.
      The irreplaceable one existed there.”

  6. It did take me up to the first half to really warm up to this series, but I’m glad I hung on anyway. I like how this episode neatly tied the rest of the season together with the scenes with the heroines Riki has helped so far. Kengo’s change was a bit surprising and he certainly fit in right away. The exchanges with Kyousuke came off almost a little foreboding to me, which along with seeing the Refrain preview has me pretty pumped for whatever comes next. It was also nice to see characters outside the LBs spectating the game.

  7. It is unfortunate that the initial hostility towards JC Staff now prevents us from doing any meaningful discussion about their adaptation choices viz a viz the Kyoani precedents without implying bias or inviting vitriol. There is much that can be raised and responded to objectively that will result in useful critique. It is entirely likely that I am alone in wanting to do this kind of analysis at any length–I feel that this is often the case–but I wish to do Little Busters the kind of justice it deserves, so here I go regardless.

    I have said this before on another episode of Little Busters, but I do not think it is possible for Little Busters the anime to ever be truly bad. The original story of the VN is simply that strong. It will take a very half-hearted effort to ruin it. That said, a story hinges greatly on the telling. Done badly, even the excellent source will not save you. Done well, you can improve even on the original (and it does have room for improvement still).

    Conclusions first: I feel that on the whole JC Staff should be commended for its efforts these 26 episodes. Visual novels are seldom easy to adapt, especially burgeoning text-monsters like Key-works (good luck with Rewrite, whoevever does that! It’s going to give some screenwriter an aneurysm). Therefore even a passing grade is a worthy feat. Could we have strived for more than a pass? Certainly. Mediocrity is safe and mediocrity is comfortable; worse is to end up with something unwatchable. But in giving feedback one should at least peg against the higher standard, if that is indeed what we want even while accepting what we get.

    In both production value and narrative JC Staff has aimed for something that is, to put it least perjoratively, “good enough”. This seemed to be a wilful strategy on their part. Production value wise, JC Staff slated LB for 2 seasonsm to run concurrently with the studio’s other works. So the budget, while relatively meagre, was well apportioned. The narrative suffered a bit more in comparison. JC Staff evidently understood that the strongest of LB is in the Common route –> Rin’s route –> Refrain progression. And they pushed it, perhaps at the expense of other things. The “side” routes, for example, came out scarred. Komari’s route melded fairly well into the Common, but it suffered from the same problems as it did in the VN–arbitrary and forced conflict, unimaginative resolution–and never really rose above them. Mio’s route, one of the more ambitious and interesting offerings of the VN, was largely gutted. Haruka managed to come out without much change to its soap opera structure and Kud got a lot of episodes for herself for *suddenly stuff happens*, but much of it was devoted to dropping hints for Refrain and developing the core themes in preparation for Refrain. I still have my fingers crossed for Kurugaya’s route come season 2.

    I think this last episode is demonstrative of JC Staff’s strategy at its height. For the baseball episodes, it had very little baseball. Instead it was mostly talking, and introspection, and talking. It is evident from the last few episodes that JC Staff is focused on setting up for Refrain. Hints are not so much dropped as carpet bombed and core ideas are reinforced with barrages. The baseball game–a climax point, if there ever was one–is largely set aside for the sake of more development.

    What JC Staff has done will make the transition into Refrain easier. But what they have gained in simple narrative continuity comes at the expense of the subtlety that made the original VN especially and personally meaningful. JC Staff has chosen the heavy hand that gets the plot out quickly and easily while sacrificing the emotional experience. This is not an absolute all-in trade, but the effects do show. But since they have chosen to put their eggs in this basket, I hope that Refrain turns out to be very well done.

    Now, lastly the question that everyone wants to answer or refute: would Kyoto Animation have done it better? I loathe to give my own opinion, since no matter how much I write it’ll just end up as flamebait. I would say that after seeing JC Staff’s approach I would like to also see an alternative. And I do not think Kyoani would have done things quite the same.

    tl;dr: You only need 65% to get a Credit.

  8. I don’t know the VN but I found this anime pretty boring. I actually wanted to drop it after three eps, but then read a lot of comments how it gets better later. I like Key stuff in general so I kept watching, but the series didn’t improve for me. A few episodes were ok, but it was mostly drowsy – at least the characters were cute.

    You might ask why I kept watching – I dunno myself, I guess when I gave up on it, the series was already half-way through so I just finished it. At least I won’t touch the second season.

    Just to give you another point of view from a non-VNer.

    1. Pega if you have seen the first season and you havent dropped it.
      You must watch Refrain, moreover when every LB readers are saying that Refrain is by far the best of LB. Give it a chance!

    2. As someone who has played the Visual Novel and think JC Staff did a fine job adapting it so far, I would most certainly watch Refrain. I had heard that Jun Maeda thinks both Rin’s route and Refrain are the best stories he has ever written and I am inclined to agree.

      1. No argument there, though I wonder if that’s a part of the reason why Maeda Jun decided to leave Key after Little Busters! Not that I doubt his ability to write many more splendid works if he put his mind to it, but mayhaps he felt he’d reached his limit in a way that he was satisfied with.

        Still a shame though. -Nod nod-

        Ryan Ashlight
      2. Same here.
        I was a little afraid before ending little busters! because I thinked it would repeat the sames concept we have seen on clannad or AIR but after completing refrain I was absolutely amazed of how different the things were but at the same time the same amount of FEELS I have ;__; Jun Maeda MUST work on another vn, he is just an awesome writer.

    3. Come now, there is no need to downvote this comment just because it states a personal opinion. We shouldn’t be some internet thought police that can tolerate no dissent.

      In actual reply, it is unfortunate but perhaps understandable that the first season disappointed you. However, it appears to me, with the benefit of a VN-familiar perspective, that JC Staff is pushing the second season very hard even if perhaps at the expense of the first. The best of Little Busters is still to come, as others have noted. That said, if the first season didn’t do it for you then the second will obviously have less umph. But if you are the kind who likes to finish things (so it would seem from you persistence with the first season) LB will not be complete without Refrain.

      1. But if you are the kind who likes to finish things (so it would seem from you persistence with the first season) LB will not be complete without Refrain.

        You are right on that – I like to finish what I started. I have watched a few animes that started out pretty meh but got a lot better after some more episodes. So I always had a glimpse of hope for Little Busters too.

        Thanks for all your comments – I’ll rethink my decision when the second seasons starts. After all, season one left some questions open (who gave them these “tasks”?) which I would like to get the answers for.

        The intention for my comment was just to give you an VN-independent view on the anime. Things look different if you know all of the source material already and it seems to me a lot of you are hyped for what is still to come.
        So far for me Little Busters was a chain of more or less predictable short stories missing a greater purpose tying them together. If the second season will do just that, I’ll reconsider my opinion on it.

    4. It just the kind of story that this series want to tell. Dramas with more than 1 cour are characterized by being a bit slow but I think it is ok. I don´t really like shows with tons of actions and that´s why I love this type of shows!

  9. Little Busters indeed choose an excellent way to end the first season. Here’s hoping for excellence with Refrain.

    Anyway… Is it just me or was Riki blushing only when Kurugaya offered her opinion of him. Let’s just say I approve. I find her very hot.

  10. My heart aches at the thought that I have to wait even a day longer for Refrain…

    Though I sincerely doubt anything that JC Staff or even KyoAni could do would ever match up to the emotional roller coaster that was my first time having gone through it (Truly and honestly, I cried like a baby from near start to finish.), I hope they can come at least somewhere close.

    Little Busters forever! -Salute-

    Ryan Ashlight
      1. Yeah, the baseball match is longer in the VN. You’ll be the one to choose whether to take practice seriously or not and also the team’s position and strategy.

        But still…the anime version is pretty funny with its extra scenes and showed what the all-star team looked like. In the VN, the all-star team members were just black silhouettes.

      2. I see.. so the baseball game scenes were mostly anime original. It was good but a bit short

        I guess that to play the baseball game,you have to complete the common route first.

  11. Loved the anime!
    Even if the original game will be always better the anime had all I would like to see animated, and more!
    Now, wait until refrain ;__; It will be endless…
    Thanks Enzo for covering the series! I had a great time reading your opinions!

  12. A spectacular analysis Enzo. You’ve pretty much captured word-for-word what made the the story of LB so special to me when I first played the VN. I had my various qualms with this adaptation, but I’m honestly glad to see the story ended up having the same effect on you. Which means JC staff, in spite of all the criticism, ultimately managed to achieve the illusive goal of the common and individual girl routes; to properly establish that irreplaceable bond between the Little Busters. I scarcely have need to tell you how hard that usually is for an anime.

    Expect to see a far greater emphasis on the themes you mentioned in refrain. I’m looking forward to reading your impressions once again for the next season.

  13. If Refrain is going to be as good as the last two episodes then we’ll have nothing to worry about.

    Side note: IMHO, the baseball game in the anime is better than the VN.

    Not going to comment on the other parts until Refrain is finished.


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