「ずっとここにいたかった」 (Zutto Koko ni Itakatta)
“I Always Wanted to Stay Here”

Conspiracy-wise, I think this was the episode where the gloves finally came off.

We got some interesting news today when the home video schedule for Refrain was finally released. Apparently Refrain is going to be 13 episodes, with EX being 8 BD/DVD eps (the final volume will have two EX episodes – after that, pray for Kud Wafter). I’m mildly surprised as I expected Refrain to be two cour – Little Busters! is a money-maker for all concerned, after all – but the general sense among the VN veterans seems to be that 13 episodes is enough to do Refrain justice. I have no basis to judge that, so I’ll leave it to those who do.

From my perspective as an anime-only viewer what this does, if anything, is lend a sort of immediacy to the proceedings. There simply isn’t going to be as much for dallying around with the "secret of this world" as I thought there might be, given that we only have ten more episodes to go. And boy, the tone of this episode is fully aligned with that – there wasn’t much attempt to do anything but wallow in the strangeness of the situation, which Riki has become truly aware of. We’ve had many episodes where the conspiracy was part of the equation, obviously more and more as the show progressed, but I think this was the first time it was basically the entire episode. The character drama was a secondary player – even Anego’s – and the humor basically non-existent.

I’ve been seeing a lot of "Hard to believe this is J.C. Staff!" and "Is this really the same studio as the first season?" comments about Refrain, and while those opinions are certainly valid, they definitely don’t align with mine. J.C. Staff takes proportionally more abuse than any studio as a relation to the quality of their output, I think. I agree that Refrain has been excellent, but not with the surprise – not only do I think they did a very good job with the first season of LB (at least from an anime-only perspective) but also that they’re historically a very good studio. They’re huge, and produce so many shows that there’s obviously going to be a wide range of quality, but not many studios can sign their name on more really good series than J.C. Staff can. They’re most at home with material like Golden Time – which I’d argue they do better than anyone else – but I think their sensibility is well-suited to Little Busters! as well. And I think we’re seeing that proved out with Refrain.

I have a pad full of notes on this episode, but the fundamental truth is that every speculation I make is invitation for people who know the answer to confirm or deny it (please don’t!). And I think the larger point is that the ep works so beautifully on an emotional level. One of the things that’s striking about Refrain is that Little Busters! is doing exposition by emotion better than almost any show I can remember. It’s Riki’s feelings that are guiding the story – and we gain awareness (I think "understanding" is too strong a word for the moment) of the secret by being swept up in Riki’s emotions. We discover as he does, and I think this is a really good piece of storytelling that isn’t nearly so easy to pull off as Refrain is making it look so far. In a sense that should be the prime directive of every visual novel in this class, to fully absorb you in the experience of the main character, but not many can pull it off – and even fewer could see that experience translated to anime form as well as it seems to be happening here.

The sense I’ve had (I referenced the ST: TNG ep that evoked a similar response last week) for a while is that Riki is in a world that’s slowly shrinking. It seems to me as if Little Busters! started off as a very big world, boundless from Riki’s perspective, with the full range of possibilities that life provides. We had funny slice-of-life moments, adventures, meeting new friends. As the story has progressed the world feels as if it’s gotten progressively narrower, both through the focus on individual "arcs" and in a more general sense. This has gone to a different level with Kuragaya’s arc, where we’ve seen the story literally become a time loop, the same day repeating itself over and over. That this is "wrong" as Riki puts it is obvious, and in itself a partial answer to what’s happening in this world. But it raises the question of how Kuragaya’s scenario fits in with the larger conspiracy. It seems she wanted so badly for her good times with the Little Busters (and especially Riki) to continue that she effectively wished all of them into a single, repeating day. Beyond the obvious question of how the hell someone could do that, you have to ask: is Kuragaya responsible for the entire "secret of this world"? Or, as I expect, is she simply aware of it in a way Riki (and we) aren’t, and allowed her emotions to exploit it in a way she knew was wrong?

There’s one inescapable image in Refrain that keeps repeating itself over and over: Kyousuke by himself, separate from everyone else. It’s in the OP and ED, and it’s in the episodes themselves, and I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that he’s the one at the center of everything. Even in the more carefree moments in the first season there were strong hints that he was the "other" in this cast, the one that was pulling the strings. The how and the why is the mystery of the story more than that fact itself, but again I sense that emotions are the key to everything. Riki speaks this week of the ibasho – "the place where I belong" – and Kuragaya picks up on it. In this context it’s not so much a physical location as a spiritual one – at the side of the other Little Busters. The desire to be in that space is very strong, for Riki and for the others (Anego being the key example in this instance).

What seems to be the key to everything here is that this is a world where emotions, if powerful enough, can effect physical reality. To some extent this is the essence of magical realism as a genre but even more, I’d argue that it’s the core of the Key mythology and runs through all of their most well-known works – starting with Hisaya Naoki’s Kanon and running through Maeda Jun series like Clannad and now LB. We certainly see it as a recurring theme in this show – time after time we’ve seen characters want something so badly that it warps the reality around them, and seemingly has the ability to pull others into that altered space. The overriding emotional pull that seems to drive the story in LB specifically is something along the lines of "I want these happy times to last forever". This is what I wrote in my final post on the first season:

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… 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.

While there are certainly different practical elements at work here, in symbolic terms I believe this is the heart of the matter for Little Busters! In Kuragaya’s story we see a girl who was never able to be a child at all – she was preternaturally gifted both in academics and athletics, someone who "could do anything" – yet she never smiled or cried as a child should. What the Little Busters gave her was no less than the childhood she never had in the first place – and who would more strongly wish to delay the end of childhood than someone like that?

Angeo’s final benediction to Riki was that the "fated time" would begin once he was freed from her recurring dream, and that he must promise to "take care of Rin". Whether this was a final goodbye for Kuragaya as a character remains to be seen, but clearly we’re at long last going to see how Rin fits into the larger picture. She’s been always at Riki’s side, but her role in the story has been something of a mystery – the one element that obviously ties Riki and Rin together is of course Kyousuke. How those ties are connected to the secret of this world – and in what way the five core members of the Little Busters are different from the rest of the cast – seem to me the critical questions as the secret is slowly uncovered.


Author’s note: Please “refrain” from posting any unmarked VN spoilers (or hints, or confirmations or denials of guesses, or clever spoilers disguised as jokes) into the comments section. I don’t want this experience ruined for me, and I don’t want it ruined for any other new viewers. Read the comments at your own risk,. Zephyr has kindly offered to pop his head in here and look for spoiler comments, but that will not necessarily be before any potential spoilers have been posted for a while. Untagged spoiler comments will of course be deleted, and serial offenders will meet with further and more decisive response. Let’s be respectful and keep this a safe place for people who want to experience Refrain to the fullest without having to worry about that experience being spoiled because they want to participate in a discussion.


ED2 Sequence

ED2: (Song for friends) by (Rita)


  1. Riki speaks this week of the ii basho – literally “good place” but in this sense “the place where I belong”

    What Riki spoke of is not “ii basho”, but “ibasho.” “Ibasho” (a place where one belongs) is 居場所, while “ii basho” (a good place) is 良い場所. In Japanese, the “place one belongs” does not literally mean “a good place” — and it does not necessarily connote that the place one belongs is a good place, either.

  2. No Enzo.
    The director knows how to sell things.
    Like how 【Kill Me Baby got sold out】
    Show Spoiler ▼

    1. Kill Me Baby was a special case.

      During broadcast, the show was a pariah of sorts. 2ch made fun of the low budget. The unfunny and repetitive jokes. The slapstick that was presented with little audio/visual flair. The poor Blu-Ray/DVD sales.

      It was the red-headed stepchild. In a campaign similar to what would happen for Aku no Hana, otaku trolled the polls, voting up Kill Me Baby as one of the season’s best anime. They jokingly showered the show with sarcastic praise.

      Unexpectedly, this negative attention created a small but devout fanbase. For one, quality wasn’t necessarily poor. Budget was low, but the animation was polished and competently drawn. Besides that, the show was endearing, with its simplicity, bouncy synthesized tunes, ED dance sequence, and charming character chemistry. Like a puppet play, the presentation was the opposite of flashy, but it had a purity (Note: director Yoshiki Yamakawa did tons of work on it himself) you rarely find in elaborate anime.

      The producers responded by creating merchandising, which fans quickly snapped up. The production committee also expressed good will by producing 686 unique Twitter avatars – one corresponding to each Blu-Ray customer. 2ch began rooting for KMB, clearly surprised that such a low selling show would get these things.

      …..which is why the new CD can sell. Pony Canyon knows how many units to produce, and there’s a small but fervent following that’s devoted to these products.

  3. To note: a significant portion of the Kurugaya’s route was cut out, but perhaps for the better. JC Staff finds it in a rather hard position, I suppose, as it tries to understate the romance even as the overarching narrative of the route is romantic. In the visual novel the poking at the edges of their relationship and exploring the notion of love as a function of time was and important element (and I would argue the main narrative) of the story. JC Staff has chosen to give more emphasis on the functional purposes of the Kurugaya route; to peel away at the ‘secret of the world’ and further establish the magical realism atmosphere that all Key works eventually descend into at some level.

    This fits well into JC Staff’s strategy of emphasising Refrain above all else. At the same time, though, I question whether such a relative extreme approach is necessary. It is obvious that Rin 2 has somewhat invaded the Kurugaya’s route, and it is also true that Rin 2 deserves a lot of focus. However, while Nagisa’s route in Clannad was quite fundamental in setting up for After Story plot-wise, it is not quite the same for Rin 2. What Rin 2 does most is demonstrate the ‘necessity’ of the Refrain story. It’ll become apparent as we get deeper into it.

    One last note about JC Staff: I don’t know about JC Staff getting more flak or whatever than other studios, and it’s irrelevant at this point whether that past criticism is undeserved or not. However, whatever the studio, when it comes to Little Busters I remain wary of the kind of traps that a story of its nature leads writers into. Rather than ‘exposition by emotion’ (and I’m not entirely sure what that means, to be honest) I think it’s easier to fall prety to ’emotion by exposition’. Sure, visual novels are often oh so much monologue, but it really should be avoided in an anime. There are so many tools available (even in a VN, really) to let the audience ‘experience’ rather than be ‘told’ how our main character is supposed to feel. I talked a bit about the use of music, for example, in my post on the site I co-blog (/plug) about the first episode of Refrain; it might be worth discussing further. I wish I had more time to write more about it now; there really is a lot to talk about.

    1. I agree. A lot of people believe that the Kurugaya Route and the Rin 2/Refrain route can’t be mixed together. I don’t really believe so. Of all the routes in the VN the Kurugaya Route was the only one where Romance is a central part of the theme. That’s why they can’t really write it out of the adaptation unlike in the other routes so far.

      Even though Rin2 has those romantic elements, Romance isn’t the central figure in that route but rather the Friendship of the core members of LB. I think it’s quite acceptable to encorporate the Romance themes from the Kurugaya Route without really any detriment to the Rin2 Route.

  4. Note : For those who still didn’t understand several things, it’s intentional.

    Beautiful episode. With the help of Kurugaya’s arc and several hints (that Opening song is a gigantic hint box), I think most of the ‘What and Who’ about secret of the world could be guessed already, albeit still inaccurate. We still need more clues to answer ‘When, Where, Why and How’ though.

    I wonder if there’s some place when people can speculate without being afraid of being spoiled.

    From now on all of the remaining story were written by Jun Maeda. Rin and Refrain, be prepared.

    1. Yup, you got that right..For those who already cleared the VN version of Refrain,
      I think its safe to say that these 3 episodes of Kurugaya’s arc successfully hit the feels.
      At least it did for me, I guess.
      Anime-only people, you should rewatch Refrain once its done, & try to attempt the VN to enjoy the differences 🙂

      On another note, I liked that they used Song For Friends, the original ending song for Kurugaya’s route…That upped the feel factor.
      Was almost ecstatic at that after credits sequence,
      since Show Spoiler ▼

  5. I’ve been very interested to read your observations, as they’re particularly incisive. I especially liked your comment on how the world has been shrinking, from boundless possibilities and new friends, to character-centric routes, all the way down to this time loop. I think that’s quite deliberate.

  6. Does not crying in this episode make me emotionless like little Kurugaya?

    I can say my emotions didn’t burst out in this episode like how I think it should be judging from the sorrowful tone of the episode but instead I’m having more and more questions in my head.

    Final note: I can surely say Refrain will have the Highest Rank when it comes to the genre ‘Mystery’ in 2013 Anime.

    Red HeartGold ZX
  7. I’ve been wondering if this has been a sort of omnibus all along. I expect Kurugaya to show up next episode. Because if she doesn’t I’ll have to kill a kitten.

    The thing that struck me was when earlier Riki said that they had only known Kurugaya for a month. Last season, I thought months were going by, especially with Mio’s story. I’m guessing after an arc, we go back to a month before (in this arc’s timeline) and start again. The anime hasn’t made that clear since there’s never a clean ‘reset’ (because bonds remain intact), but maybe it’s not something that’s clear in the first place.

    I really don’t want to kill a kitten.

  8. There was one thing that stood out to me aside from Kurugaya’s last scene in this episode. It was the image of Riki juxtaposed upside-down in a water droplet in one scene. This pretty sums up this episode for me. His world literally got turned upside down after all of this.

  9. it’s funny ’cause you said more thing in the “macro” level than the other things happened this episode.
    let’s speak about kurugaya herself, after all it was the end of her arc/route which was unique and clearly different from the rest. not only because of the ending-tone how she said those interesting stuff about what’s need to be done, but about herself. how her wish was somehow resembles Riki’s desires. and we saw her sad past about having the difficulty to expirence true emotions. and let’s pay very good attention to one thing she said in that manner

    how it felt to love

    clearly LB is dating-sim, but that very sentence shows the true nature behind kurugaya arc.
    not only that, the entire flashback from herself as a child till flashback from s1, were so reveal her character. how actually sad she is but she isn’t aware. as in the VN, it took me a while to fully understand this “scenario”, but upon reaching that climax emotions it is so strong for me.

    as some people here mentioned some things were missing this arc. I am not talking only about love-love hunters, but IMO the core of this arc was preserved, moreover it was executed in a very very good way and convey the emotions I have from this arc. moreover, they combine some stuff about other events to come by. it’s something we show better on the anime medium than VN.

    EX’s news surprised a bit but it’s ok. I trust JC staff. they did great job with s1 and are doing now with refrain. clearly refrain suppose to be a the highlight!

  10. At first I thought that Refrain by itself was going to go a full 24/26 episodes. I do like the setup though with Refrain and the EX episodes coming up on the Blu-Ray/DVD release will still bring the count close to it. Basically, we’re getting the EX episodes/story right away after the end of Refrain. If I remember correctly, Clannad After Story was about 22 episodes for the main story and the other eps were for an alternate route and a prologue side story of sorts.

    I’m trying to so hard not to spoil my friends. Granted, I never finished the entire game, but I do know the ending like those of you who’ve played it. Anyways, I’m very happy with how the story is proceeding. Quite emotional now and it’s going to stay that way for the rest of the story.

    1. Never finished it? Crying shame 🙁 The execution of Refrain was very tight in the visual novel. To not experience it first hand is to really miss out. Hopefully JC Staff can replicate or even surpass it in the anime.

  11. Riki x Kurugaya is a love story that never started?

    Dem Anego feels. They really looked good together and what Kurugaya said that she wanted the feeling of being love/to be loved.

    1. And it’s something that:

      Minor Kud Wafter/Kurugaya Route Spoilers:

      Show Spoiler ▼

    1. Yes, absolutely, or you’ll miss a ton of character development and plot clues. If you’re still unsure, wait for Refrain ends (around 10 weeks to go). If it’s adapted properly, it will cause a buzz for sure.

  12. Man, director dude leveled up in between seasons. The Kurugaya route had just as many changes (if not more) as the other routes, but they actually made it good. Like I’ve said before (starting to think I’m sounding like a broken record, lol), Kurugaya’s route is probably the most romance oriented in the VN. However, they actually made it work while removing most of the romance, yet still obviously getting the feeling across that Kurugaya was in love with Riki.

    That semi-anime original conversation though… so foreboding. Those who know, know. It actually added more to that scene for me.

    Onwards to Rin’s route, then to Refrain.

  13. Man the beginning of this episode had my eyes glued to my screen. It just pushed all my buttons. I always liked Rikki but now I feel connected to the character. Theres still alot of secrets but I think I have a sense of where the truth is hidden. This was just a beautiful episode and even though I think Key and Kyoani have perfect chemistry JC Staf made this episode look very beautiful and just nailed that “KEY” atmosphere.

  14. I’m not surprised Refrain will only be 1 season long, now that Kurugaya’s route has been “cleared” (and Kurugaya’s Route is vital in understanding what’s to come next), 9 episodes is more than enough to cover Rin’s route, which in turn leads to “The Secret of the World” – the main issue of them all.

    Sasami, Kanata and “Bonus Mystery Girl” will be covered in the separate OVA series Little Busters EX, which makes sense, as it’s pretty hard to cover those three without already knowing “The Secret of the World”.

    Needs more summer uniform. <3

    1. They shouldn’t need more than 3-4 episodes to finish the rin route. Problem is that they will only have 6 for refrain. They’re going to have to pace it really good if they want to make it a successful anime.

  15. Yup, I’m all aboard the Riki/Kuragaya ship.

    That was a devastating episode. If I had the time or the computer set-up for it I really would try to play this VN. This anime is good, but it does feel like it is only a glimmer of the source material, just because it probably is really hard to adapt.

  16. Nope. Nope. Nope.
    That’s it, I’m going to make JC Staff pay.
    They left out the scene where Kurugaya blushes after being addressed by her real name.
    And then the following scenes like the confession attempts or ear cleaning.
    Well… after looking at the last smile, I guess I’m still fine with it.

    Giorno Giovanna
  17. Overall, I like what they did with Kurugaya’s route. Sure, it didn’t have everything from the VN arc, but it was a good adaptation and I like how they went about it. When Song for Friends started playing it was game over. Couldn’t stop from tearing up. I can’t wait to hear Faraway, I know I’m going to be crying something awful.

    Now prepare yourself for the emotional roller coaster that is Refrain, peeps, its gonna be a long ride.

    1. Me too. Also there was a very pretty scene between they two in the vn
      Show Spoiler ▼

      But even when I think they made a cute couple. I´m a forever RikixRin

  18. I’m one of those who cannot believe this is made by the same person in first season

    I for one like Sakurasou (anime adaptation) much better which airing in the same time with first season of LB, and now thinking maybe they who made Sakurasou also help LB now?

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