「親友の涙」 (Tomo no Namida)
“A Friend’s Tears”

They grow up so fast, don’t they?

There may in fact be another significance to the name of this series and the titular gang at the heart of it, and while I certainly was suspicious of the significance of a a certain vehicle that’s cropped up as a motif a few times this season, it wasn’t until I saw this scene that I actually considered the naming question. That could all be coincidence of course, and I could be dead wrong with that entire line of thinking – but what I’ve learned over the years with conspiracy-based plots is that coincidences are rarely coincidences.

I’ve spoken in the past about how Little Busters! has a sort of two-track narrative, with the “Secret of this world” line running simultaneously with the surface plot and character dynamic. One thing that’s happened with Refrain, of course, is that these two tracks have increasingly run closer together – but there’s actually a third spur to this story that this episode really brought to mind. I’m very interested in the nuts and bolts of the Secret itself, of course, but just as much so about what it symbolically represents. In a cultural zeitgeist like Japan’sthat’s obsessed with mono no aware symbolism is never far from the mind, and LitBus seems an especially appropriate sort of series.

Thematically I’ve always felt, right from the very beginning, that Little Busters was primarily concerned with childhood innocence, and the sense of sadness that comes from the fact that it must eventually be surrendered by all of us. There’s a line in the great 80’s film Stand by Me, spoken by the protagonist Jordy – as an adult reminiscing about his past – “I never had any friends later on like I did when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” Stand by Me and LB are soul-mates, I think, and while this series has increasingly become complicated in terms of the plot and the conspiracy behind it, I don’t think it’s ever wavered from the unwavering focus on the power of friendship and the joys of childhood. And, of course, on the pain that comes when those things must be left behind. That process may be more literal and tragic in this story, but symbolically I feel it’s very much the same.

Connections run through LitBus at all levels, packing great significance. All of the cast is connected by friendship, but the five kids at the heart of the story share a special bond that makes their place in the Secret fundamentally different than the others. And then there’s Riki and Rin, who share a connection deeper even than that. They’re the ones who don’t know the Secret, and the ones all the others are working so hard to protect. But protect from what? Symbolically from growing up, but what in practical terms? Kengo frames it in terms of protection more than any of the others – he says over and over in this episode that he just wants Riki to have fun and not worry about anything else. I was put in mind of a parent who wants to see their child stay a child forever – a perfectly natural impulse, but one that’s unhealthy and unrealistic.

And so it goes. Kengo remembers, Riki and Rin don’t – or rather, they remember only in bits and pieces, flashes as if from past lives. Kengo describes Kyousuke’s actions in the last cycle (I don’t know of a better way to refer to it at this point) as a scheme that “failed miserably“, which is his explanation for why Kyousuke is in his current sorry state. I don’t see it as quite that simple but it’s clear that Kengo wants to keep whatever illusory safety net that’s encircling Rin and Riki intact for as long as possible. There’s a strong implication here that whatever the construction that was used to create this repeating “closed-off” world is, it can’t be extended forever. If the alternative is bad enough, perhaps seeing Riki and Rin exist forever in the same bubble of time isn’t such a bad option. But for them the experience is new every time – if one were aware of the cycle repeating itself, wouldn’t living in that bubble become torture after awhile? Is this a great sacrifice they’re making for Riki and Rin’s continued existence, and are there limits as to how long they’ll be able to endure it?

How does one take Kengo’s breakdown at the end of this episode – “They’re tears of regret. I wanted… I wanted to play more.” Kengo is very much the strong, silent type. He’s a serious and dutiful soul – indeed, the debt it seems he owes Kysousuke is for releasing him from a little of that sense of duty – and he takes his duty to protect Riki and Rin very seriously. Kengo’s breakdown was out of character, which made it all the more painful to watch, and it felt like these were the tears of someone who knows something he loves is ending. This is the essence of mono no aware (which is itself the essence of Japanese literature) – awareness of the transience of things, and a sense of what will be lost with the passage of time.

To tie this all back to the core themes of the series, perhaps for Kengo, Kyousuke and Masato all of this is about trying to make Riki and Rin strong enough to carry on without them (and in this loop, it seems to be working) – and really, isn’t that the ultimate duty of any parent? It’s a balancing act – to be too protective is to keep your children from growing strong and independent, but to expose them to danger they’re unprepared to face is irresponsible. It’s in dealing with pain and challenge that children learn and grow, but every loving parent wants to shield their children from being hurt. This is what Kyousuke has been wrestling with, it seems to me – erring at times, but always with the intent to do what’s right for Riki and Rin. The practicalities of the story are growing increasingly clear, but the emotions at the heart of Little Busters! haven’t really changed since the series began.


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.


ED5 Sequence


  1. JC Staff cut out another one of the S1-esque comedic segments, when Kengo was supposed to show his arm wasn’t injured. Given that they went through Kengo’s story in one episode, it was a reasonable omission.

    BTW, anyone remember if Kengo had a breakdown at this point? It’s been a while since I went through Refrain, but I thought it happened later on.

    Better go stock up on tissues, manly tears will be shed soon.

  2. I’m sure that Kengo’s tears in this episode will have another “meaning” once we know the secret of the world, just like a lot of other things, including a lot of “seemingly innocent” scenes. Even imagining that already made me shivers.

    Also, I guess I should restock my tissue for next week.

  3. Kengo T.T

    oh God, with every ep it’s becoming more and more exciting.
    we are getting closer to the secret of the world. now, more than ever.
    but of course, that’s not the only issue as pointed out here.

    all those feels that LB knows so well to touch you. I am excited more than ever.

  4. I went through the VN version of this episode just an hour before watching the anime version.
    Other than the obviously unadapted Lawrence part,
    I think the anime version went better than the VN version, especially at the baseball part.
    Though I think there is a lot more hints of the secret of the world in this episode alone compared to the entire series.
    I wonder what are the anime-only people’s theories now?
    Those on MAL have plenty of ideas going around (http://bit.ly/1eLGZId)
    That link might have lots of spoilers though, so read at the risk of your enjoyment. :p

    Next ep preview titles Ep10 as “And Now, I Repeat It All”
    With the current trend, sounds like a Kyousuke-heavy episode..
    Though if its 13 episodes overall, I’m not sure about the pacing anymore?
    Since we have the EX:routes being released as Refrain’s OVA,
    and Mask The Saitou released as part of S1’s OVA,
    I wonder if they’ll be adapting the Muscle Sensation part somehow…

      1. Rather than just telling you, and you having a hard time imagining it,
        I’d recommend you play through the original Visual Novel. :p
        There’s a translated version that can be found on the web.

        Since the ending part of this anime episode is pretty much parallel to the VN version of Episode: Kengo, you wouldn’t really spoil yourself for Ep10, Ep11, Ep12, Ep13 if you marathon only till that part.

        If you do end up comparing versions, you might say this anime episode alone gives much spoilers about the secret of the world…but wait, an anime can’t spoiler itself right?
        Let’s just say lots of early hints before the big “everything is unveiled” moment in about 1-2 episodes.

  5. Every week I get more and more drawn into the story. And every week I dread the next episode and what I believe is going to be a hard ending. Only one thing comes to mind about where this is going and I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.

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