「最後の課題」 (Saigo no Kadai)
“The Final Task”
Sometimes the suspense is not in the “what”, but the “why”…
Raise your hand, anime-only viewers, if you hadn’t guessed by now that Kyousuke was the one sending the cat-tail messages to Riki and Rin. I imagine if we were all in a room it would look like I just asked for volunteers to watch Blood-C. Poor writing? Of course not – we were fully expected to have deduced that point, and quite some time ago at that. But just as we knew Kyousuke was behind those missions, the real tension comes from wanting to know the reason – just as we knew watching this season was going to be a much more intense and difficult affair, but the suspense came from wanting to know why that would be.
We’re getting to the point now where it’s harder and harder to write these posts without acknowledging the elephant in the room – the Secret is largely the story at this point, and speculating too specifically about it is inviting trouble. But certain things that can be inferred from what’s happening on-screen are obvious enough to be discussed safely, I think – among them the fact that symbolically, at least. I’m more and more convinced that Little Busters! is thematically focused on the question of childhood’s end, and what that means for all of us. Just how literally that plays out in terms of the plot is an open question (I’d say current indicators are that it might be pretty literal), but the meaning behind the story seems clear enough to me.
One thing I’m still not quite clear on is Riki’s grasp on “reality”, however we define that term – and for that matter, that of everyone else in the cast not named Kyousuke. One by one the non-essential Busters have disappeared, all but Komari (which is a bit of a shame for me, as I still wish I could hit a “delete” button every time I see her and make her vanish). Of course that’s a question in itself – why is Komari materially different than the other peripheral Busters? But the larger issue is how the absence of first Kurugaya and now Kud (booooo!), Mio and Haruka can be dismissed with “They must be taking a day off (again?”). When Riki, Masato, Kengo and Komari are gathered on the diamond the only question Riki asks is “Where’s Rin?” as if it were perfectly natural to hold a baseball practice with six people instead of nine.
The focus on Riki and Rin, setting aside The Secret, is one of the stronger elements of this episode. Of course you can’t totally set it aside, because their innocence is very much at the heart of their relationship. I can’t get over how naturally their segue into boyfriend-girlfriend had played out, as their lifelong relationship has become slightly tense despite the fact that they haven’t done anything overtly romantic yet. As I said last week these two are still very much kids, and that’s what makes their relationship so charming. But there’s a difference, and that’s in terms of self-awareness – Riki has some sense of just how much growing up both of them have to do – especially Rin.
The practical implications of that come into play with Lennon’s final challenge, which is what finally leads Riki to put some though far from all of the pieces together. As always there’s a preternatural awareness of events to come implicit in the challenge, as Riki and Rin’s decision to volunteer to lead a group of VIPs around the school leads to Rin being offered the chance to participate in an exchange program with another high school. The volunteering itself is another case of Rin being forced to confront her extreme shyness – there’s even an issue in the fact that she doesn’t know keigo (Japan’s maddeningly complex honorific speech) but in forcing herself to go through with it Rin charms one of the Oji-sans enough that he recommends her for the exchange with another school – one that’s lost a number of students in a bus crash and fallen into a depression as a result. I don’t know if that tragic element specifically is a clue, or simply a pretext for the exchange to happen (I suspect the latter) but it certainly puts Riki in an awkward position.
Again we see LitBus playing out on two tracks here. The event itself is not insignificant – Riki quite naturally wants Rin to stay, as they’ve only just begun their formal relationship. It’s the most natural thing in the world for him to tell her not to go, but Riki again shows the self-awareness to realize that he’s being selfish in doing so – and that in her acquiescence, Rin demonstrates that she’s still very much a child. And as such, she’s not ready to understand what a real relationship with Riki means, and won’t be until she has more of a chance to experience the world (as always Masato is the purveyor of seemingly random foreshadowing here – his “Even if I had an opinion I wouldn’t share it. That’s been my decision all along.” is certainly significant). That’s a good lesson to learn and it’s well-played here, but in the process Riki realizes something much more – that all of the challenges have been designed to force Rin to grow up and become independent, and there’s only one person who has both the motive and the means to have pulled this caper off.
When Lennon leads Riki to where Kyousuke is waiting for him in a clearing in the woods, it’s a surprise neither that it’s Kyousuke or that he tells Riki that he’s not seeing the whole picture. Part of that is obvious – it seems to me that these challenges have been just as much about forcing Riki to grow up as Rin, and in fact much of Rin’s social maturation, even her friendships with the other girls, comes from Riki forging the path for her. But there’s clearly far more here, and while Riki can’t grasp it yet he certainly sees that Kyousuke – or any normal human – could never have predicted future events the way he has. Why does Kyosuke find it so funny when Riki suggests that The Secret might be a “philosophical quest – or some historical or scientific thing?” The implication is that the truth is both far simpler and far more immediate. As for the implication of what follows – Riki grasping Kyousuke’s hand as they flee through the woods, only to trip, fall and be left behind as Kyousuke disappears into the darkness – answers are left for another day, but there’s a strong feeling that Riki is about to be forced to grow up even more, and that the trials facing him aren’t going to be easy ones.
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.