「逃亡の果てに」 (Tōbō no Hate ni)
“At the End of the Escape”
Well, any way you slice it that was a "Shaka, when the walls fell" kind of episode.
I’m trying very hard to trust Kyosuuke here, because in my gut I can’t help believe he has what’s best for Riki and Rin – and all the Little Busters – at heart. I have my theories about exactly how that’s going to play out and nothing that’s happened has contradicted them yet, but damn – an episode like this is hard to watch. The thing is I can really feel for Riki here so much (thanks in no small part to some very fine work by Hochan), because what he wants more than anything is exactly that – to be able to trust Kyousuke. And more than that, he wants to rely on Kyousuke to make everything all right, just as he always has. But right now, that’s a very hard thing for Riki to do.
This episode was the $50 buffet brunch at the Hilton when it comes to all-you-can-eat sadness. Take your pick, but I guess we can start with the texts between Riki and Rin. That’s made worse, of course, by the fact that just two weeks ago we saw them giddily exchanging shy and pointless midnight texts, flush in the glory of their new relationship – an intentional contrast, no doubt, but one that makes the heart-wrenching texts from this week (though interspersed as they were with the only comedy of the episode, the "Ooh!" texts from Masato) all the more, well – heart-wrenching. What a terrible thing, to know that someone you love is suffering and be able to do nothing about it. All he can do is tell her to try – a terrible word, as Riki says, because it absolves him from all responsibility.
It’s easy to see how Riki gets from there to hating Kyousuke – or at least resenting him very much. Not only is Kyousuke causing Rin such terrible loneliness, he’s breaking up that which Riki holds even more dear (let’s be honest) than Rin herself, the Little Busters. No end goal could be worth that – a perfectly natural conclusion, from someone in Riki’s position. Making things worse is the seeming betrayal by Masato, whose repeated hinting that he knew what was going on has finally connected the dots in Riki’s mind about him. Masato even more than Kyousuke has seemed dedicated to Riki specifically, taken a personal responsibility for him over all the others, and it hurts to see him cast in this light.
That leaves Riki, effectively, alone – alone that is, apart from Kengo, to whom he turns for help in resolving his existential crisis. Riki’s anger and desperation wins a small concession from Kyousuke, that Rin will come home for weekends (Riki quite rightly wonders how that’s up to Kyousuke in the first place) but it’s not much consolation as Rin is so beaten-down she can’t even get out of (Riki’s) bed. And she won’t show herself to Komari, with whom she’s mysteriously become incapable of communicating with by phone. Only Kengo seems to be on Riki’s side, and he pledges his support to him – though my sense is that he does so not because he too has been left out of the secret, but because he’s made a choice to support Riki in spite of knowing what he knows.
The baseball scene is possibly the darkest and most bleak in the entire series so far. As storm clouds (which have been a common occurrence of late) gather, we see the four childhood friends cast as enemies with Rin’s future on the line – and on the baseball diamond of all places, the symbolic Shrine to the unity of the same Little Busters that Kyousuke seems intent on tearing apart. What’s most striking is the change in Kyousuke and Masato – all trace of jovial friendliness gone, they wear the faces of soldiers assigned to fulfil a mission they find distasteful. Worst of all is the moment when Kengo sees the image (I was going to say "ghost" but that’s too loaded a word here) of Miyuki just as he’s about to swing the bat, and immediately turns on Kyousuke in a rage. "These are cheap tricks!" he screams, and goes on to pummel Kyousuke until Masato and Riki wrestle him off.
I’m going to avoid specifics for the most part here, but only one broad scenario makes sense to me – that Kyousuke is doing all these terrible things (and Masato is helping him) because the alternative is even more terrible. "Show me you can endure this." he tells Riki. "Can you do that?" It’s a strange request, in the fashion of something a parent would say to their child. I can’t help but feel that this is even harder and more painful for Kyousuke than it is for Riki and Rin – which is quite a statement in and of itself. As for Riki’s desperation plan to flee with Rin to the old house "where we used to play together as kids", well, for me that’s mostly just sad as well. It’s a further reminder than both Riki and Rin are still children, running away from home – it’s a futile gesture and we know it, so the ending of the episode is no surprise.
There’s never been any question in my mind that the main theme of LitBus – along with friendship – is the painful realization of all that must be lost when we leave childhood behind and become adults. If the series has largely been a celebration of the simple and innocent joys of childhood, this episode and its ending are a kind of splash of cold water to the face – a reminder that being a child also means being powerless against a world that we sometimes see as cruel and indifferent. Riki’s last line of dialogue echoes ominously long after the ED has stopped rolling: "For such a long time I’d forgotten… That to live means to lose." It feels as if we’re going to be reminded of that frequently and painfully over the next several weeks.
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.
ED3: 「花火」 (Hanabi) by (Lia)