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Little Busters! Refrain – 08

「最強の証明」 (Saikyō no Shōmei)
“Proof of the Strongest”

As much as any episode in Little Busters!, this one felt as if it was a long time coming.

Inohara Masato has always been something of a singular figure at the heart of Little Busters. He’s the guy that was always there – Riki’s “best friend”, in his own words – but always outside the main plot and usually the B plot as well. He’s the comic relief (and indeed, the funniest character in the cast along with Kud-o – “Am I supposed to live by myself in a concrete pipe?!”), the butt of the jokes, usually the loser in his battles with Kengo and Rin, the eternal sidekick – but also the one who seemed at random moments to drop the most hints about what was really going on here.

It’s been something of a painful process to watch Masato’s personality change over the last couple of episodes, as the shit got real when it came to the conspiracy underlying everything in LB. But this episode frames that in a way that’s almost poetic, because we see the exact same thing happening to the child Masato before Kyousuke showed up in his life. That’s the point, of course – this episode and indeed the early part of this arc seems to be a process of Riki trying to step into Kyousuke’s shoes and recreate what he did with the Little Busters – but it was executed with a grace and subtlety that might not fully present itself until the episode is watched a second time. It might have been a bit brief for me – after this long of a wait, I could have done with a longer arc for Masato – but it delivered the emotional goods.

Canna Nobutoshi is one of the more experienced seiyuu in a cast with a lot of less well-known names, and for me he’s always managed to humanize Masato even in his absurd moments (which was most of the time), which for my part ensured a lot of buy-in when this episode finally arrived. Seeing the little Masato doing his silly dance while the local kids laughed at him was actually one of the sadder moments of the series for me because it reflected what Masato basically is – an innocent child, a happy guy who isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and doesn’t fit in easily with the rest of the world. It was that which caused him to become obsessed with being the strongest, which ultimately provided him protection from bullying but not what he really wanted, which was a connection to other people. It was Kyousuke who provided that, and quite literally changed the world as far as Masato was concerned.

In a sense, Masato and Riki are polar opposites. Masato’s isolation was caused by his strength, and Riki’s by his weakness – but Kyousuke sort of “leveled off” both of them and brought them into his inner circle. I’m dead-certain it was Kyousuke who pushed the two of them together as a sort of opposites-attract, boke-tsukkomi BFF pairing. And it worked – right up until the moment that Kyousuke seemed to deliberately tear apart this world he’d spent so long building up. Just why he did that is probably the biggest question overhanging LitBus at this point in the story, and one we’re likely going to have to wait until closer to the finale to have answered.

The least interesting part of this episode was the act of “taming” Masato, which was pretty standard stuff. But the point wasn’t the silly scheme to trap him like a bear – it was in seeing Masato’s descent into what seems very much like madness, and Riki’s re-enactment of Kyousuke’s plan with only the details changed. We don’t know why Masato has changed of course, any more than we know why Kyousuke has done the things he’s done. Why does Masato see “those guys” – clearly, visions of everyone else looking exactly like he does? It’s thinly-disguised symbolism for his self-loathing, here, seeing Masato lash out at himself. As Kyousuke did, Riki endures some of Masato’s rage in the form of physical abuse while adopting the same basic strategy – tire Masato out and make him realize that he doesn’t have to be the strongest after all to get other people to like him.

But of course, this isn’t the same scenario as before – not really. These are teenagers, not grade-schoolers. And while Riki is quite deliberately trying to step into Kyousuke’s shoes, the real Kyousuke is actually present – living a sort of self-imposed hikikomori lifestyle and refusing to be drawn into this world he seems to have brought to pass. When Masato finally gives in to his weariness, it’s a different Masato than the little boy who Kyousuke tamed – there’s a tinge of fatalism to his ominous pledge to Riki that he’ll “follow him all the way to the end.” This Masato knows more than that one did, and it’s changed him – no matter how carefree and genki he acted for most of the series.

Next up is Kengo, as we’re seemingly seeing the creating of the Little Busters re-enacted block-by-block with Riki stepping into Kyousuke’s shoes. What we don’t know is why he has to do so, and as always the man at the center of the mystery is Kyousuke. But this certainly represents a huge moment of character growth for Riki, and it occurs to me that rather than simply being an organic part of the story, that may in fact be the very point – that the crucial final step for whatever it is Kyousuke wants to happen is for Riki to fully emerge as a confident adult and a leader. And if that can only happen if the world is brought to the brink of despair and Kyousuke himself is so alienated from the others that he’s no help at all to Riki, than Kyousuke will make that happen. I don’t think Kyousuke’s bleak depression is an act – I think this way of living is brutally painful for him – but I do think he’s doing it with the big picture in mind. “Taking one for the team”, in about as literal a sense as you could imagine – which is exactly the sort of thing the Kyousuke we’ve come to know over three cours would do.

 

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.

ED4 Sequence

November 23, 2013 at 8:00 pm
34 comments »
  • November 23, 2013 at 8:18 pmHwe

    This episode was executed much better than I had expected; as a VN player I’m quite surprised and pleased.

    • November 23, 2013 at 11:13 pmCroos

      I 2nd that.
      d(^_^d)
      9/10

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:36 amTechim

      For any anime that has a source material, and if I’m already familiar with the source,
      I ask myself this: How would I have done the episode if given the role of director?
      As a VN player, I’d say this episode was decent indeed.

      Though apparently plenty of people on MAL don’t think so?
      http://bit.ly/1bMk0Je

      • November 24, 2013 at 8:02 amZephyr

        Actually it’s just the same two people going back and forth raging through at least the first 20 comments, so eh.

  • November 23, 2013 at 8:38 pmNoSicko

    Masato… wow. I knew he would have backstory, but… wow.

    Great episode!

  • November 23, 2013 at 8:47 pmstarss

    Fans of Masato will either love this episode for finally covering how back story and what made him a much more troubled character underneath the comedy, or hate it for starting off in the middle of the plot with Masato going Hulk-smash for no initial reason. Me, I was actually frightened by it. You can tell that whatever reason Masato went on a rampage wasn’t simply due to his usual competitive nature, and without all the other friends that have mysteriously disappeared in this world, he is simply a mess. However, this is only the first of many obstacles Riki will face when discovering the Secret, and they will all be MUCH STRONGER than him!

    • November 23, 2013 at 8:49 pmTarage

      To be fair, in the game it doesn’t show Masato’s side until after Riki and Rin resolve it.

      • November 23, 2013 at 8:56 pmstarss

        Wow. That’d make it even HARDER to understand.

  • November 23, 2013 at 8:48 pmTarage

    Masato is not as dumb as he appears. He may very well be one of the smartest of the LB. However, he also knows how to go with the flow.

    • November 23, 2013 at 9:06 pmSK

      Yup, while he isn’t the brightest in the classroom, he definitely isn’t a dumbass. It takes a wise man to know himself, and Masato continues to be himself while reading the situation and taking his role accordingly.

  • November 23, 2013 at 8:49 pmRed HeartGold ZX

    I love how Refrain does a ‘reboot’ with the series’ story, starting from the time LB formed, with Riki taking Kyousuke’s place.

    I think this show goes to say: “J.C. Staff never disappoints its viewers”

    • November 23, 2013 at 8:50 pmTarage

      Actually that’s all the source material. J.C. Staff should only get credit for not screwing it up like they usually do.

  • November 23, 2013 at 8:52 pmSK

    Masato has joined the party! Truly a great friendship with Riki, gonna stick with him til the end.

    Re: Kyousuke as hikkikomori
    Show Spoiler ▼

    Next up for Riki and co., Kengo the unbeaten (except for that baseball incident vs. Kyousuke)

  • November 23, 2013 at 10:10 pmthedarktower

    Masato is one of LB characters that always make me laugh, no matter what he did :P
    sure, he is for the comic relief (like Sunohara in clannad), and most of his screentime was about that.
    but we know even since S1, Masato has good personality aside for the jokes. no matter what happened he would help his friends and he always took care of Riki. they are a good match together and it’s not for nothing that they are room-mate. you nailed it with the magnet analogy (:
    now we know the story of Masato. a bit more of his past and why he trains so hard on his muscles everyday.
    but even when he went berserk, he keeps his idiotic side :P

    so it was time for episode Masato. little by little we are advancing, really it was almost like yesterday when I started this season. it’s hard to believe we’ve been watching refrain for about 2 months.

    p.s
    LB OVA (aka mask the saito) was officially released last week.
    unfortunately, no subs. yet. but stay tuned, I guess someone will pick it up.
    I must make that point clear, the OVA is more like S1 in atmosphere and performance, after all it was with s1 blu-ray. so if u wanna watch it, I’d recommend you to “switch” the mode for s1 :P

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:30 amTechim

      Theoretically it is set sometime during S1 since the OP and ED sequences are clearly that of S1. Though you should check out the ED sequence….there’s a minor funny difference from the original ED, especially concerning Saigusa Haruka :p

      Btw, unless there’s plenty of female students spotting the same hairstyle and ribbons,
      I think I spotted over 12 cameo shots of Saya in the episode alone..

  • November 23, 2013 at 10:24 pmPasserby

    It’s at this point in the VN (and really in several others) that Little Busters starts to deconstruct itself a bit. A character like Masato must necessarily be played for laughs, because the alternative is something rather heavy and perhaps a bit too close for comfort. In true Shakespearean style all the world is a stage and Masato is an experienced actor (in more ways than one). It’s a shame that even in the VN we only really ever scratch the surface of the issues surrounding Masato and his learning disability. There must be a biography on Andre the Giant or something that I can pull up.

  • November 24, 2013 at 12:15 amKyousuke

    Masato,thank you for protecting our daily life even if you know everything.I’m sure that me and Kengo could not do it.

  • November 24, 2013 at 2:25 amechykr

    http://randomc.net/image/Little%20Busters/Little%20Busters%20Refrain%20-%2008%20-%20Large%2019.jpg

    Masato, how could you beat up a girl? You’re not Kamijou Touma, you know? …… Huh? What do you mean Riki isn’t a girl? :3

    Anyway, in his defense, he was clearly “Geass’ed” by a mysterious force into believing everyone is a Masato clone that needs beating up.

    So glad the episode actually had enough time to include the segment with Masato’s POV, as that part is key to understanding everything.

    • November 24, 2013 at 6:05 amechykr

      To the downvoters: Have some sense of humour.

      • November 24, 2013 at 9:00 pmAndmeuths

        I think it’s because they don’t want to imagine Little Busters as a Shitty Otome game with female Riki as a Otome Reverse Harem protagonist.

      • November 25, 2013 at 8:02 amechykr

        Riki’s feminine characteristics has always a deliberate running joke all along by Maeda Jun himself, are you guys seriously telling me you’re ignorant of that?

        If what you say if true, then the snobbery of these downvoters deserve my utter contempt.

  • November 24, 2013 at 5:25 amwherethecowsfly

    Very touching episode. Masato is simply the best friend someone could ask for ;___;
    Also Rin was very cute in this episode. Glad we can see her smile with that energy again (If I recall well she was pretty sad since the start of the season).
    Next is Kengo. Can´t wait!

  • November 24, 2013 at 7:17 amMegaGamingAce

    Wow, Refrain is getting better and better… i honestly would never have expected it to be that good after the bad first season.

  • November 24, 2013 at 8:40 amGermanguy

    Dunno, it is a successful combination of mixing the Future and the Past of Little Busters.

    Future because we already saw Season 1 and Riki want to restart the Team, and past what happen before Season 1, with the core Members of Little Busters.
    Dunno, the Person in charge has done it right. i like it, and i am not a big fan of “What happen before..” Lines. They embedded it great in the “Future”

    • November 24, 2013 at 8:42 amGermanguy

      but, i really hope that these “fresh restart” Episodes are done now. i began to triple on my Way of watching the Anime flows

      • November 24, 2013 at 8:43 amGermanguy

        triple = trip

  • November 24, 2013 at 9:01 amkyurenjo

    Really? This is my favorite arc in VN yet I think this is pretty messy episode. Horribly rushed and hard to understand. Aren’t you, anime watcher, find this episode pretty confusing? Myself even feel this and previous episode are so disconnected. o_O

  • November 24, 2013 at 9:08 amtriplebaka

    Playing Song of Friends for feels is cheating! ;_; To all the VN players, I don’t think there was enough material in Masato’s arc to warrant a full 2 episodes, maybe 1.5 episodes. Anyway color me impressed. Sasuga JC Staff.

    • November 24, 2013 at 10:12 amTechim

      The original OST for that scene, Little Melody would have worked as well..
      Maybe they’re saving that for the final scene??

      Anyway just replayed Kengo’s arc.
      To be given a single episode that airs next week?
      Sounds hard, but I think its possible since I thought the same for Masato’s arc before.
      Anyway, a lot of Kengo’s arc is about Show Spoiler ▼

      so if done the same way as Masato’s episode, it should turn out good as well.

  • November 24, 2013 at 9:53 pmSnooSnoo

    あの世界で僕は誓ったんだ、これからは強く生きると
    Be strong Riki ;_;

  • November 25, 2013 at 2:10 amMagicflier

    I bet you guys that Kyousuke must’ve done something to Masato, like he did to Kengo, with all these hallucinations. >>

    • November 25, 2013 at 11:26 amGermanguy

      No, they playing this. they put Riki on a test

  • November 25, 2013 at 10:34 amTechim

    That descent to madness phrase, and on a second rerun of the episode made me notice something minor. Masato’s irises turned red when he fled the cafeteria which was full of his doppelgangers. And returned to normal when Riki delivered the final punch.

    Wait, Canna Nobutoshi is the seiyuu for Kabuto in Naruto?
    Tsk tsk. After watching the animated version of Kabuto’s past in Izanami Activates,
    that tragic figure aura for a character is going to rub off on me for LB too I guess.

  • November 28, 2013 at 6:06 amlegwkio

    There’s no way that JC Staff can mess up the rest of Refrain if they can adapt the final parts of Refrain as faithfully as they did here.

    Refrain is just that good.