This is review number two hundred and sixty two. This anime is part of the Fall 2013 lineup. This is also the most voted show on my “Review Poll”. It’s an anime called Little Busters Refrain. The second season of a Fall 2012 show. I remember that anime because I was rushing to end the 2012 lineup back then and I plow through five or six 24 episode anime that left me a bit scarred. I do not recommend that you do it. Anyways, this is a thirteen episode anime about a group of friends that decided to play baseball. It’s a decent show. Let’s read on.
Taking the Pants Off
The first season of Little Busters was decent at best. It had its fair share of good moments and a few bad ones. The various arcs about the different characters all had an interesting setup and a story you can tell has that undeniable Jun Maeda style to it. The problem was execution and I think JC Staff just had too big of a hurdle capturing the awesomeness of the visual novel. It hurriedly presented the arcs without properly developing the characters and the fast paced style of the story made various important moments a bit hollow. It’s safe to say that I was personally not impressed. I knew the problems and I do understand that visual novel adaptations are just really damn hard to do right. I wasn’t really excited with the second season. A lot of people said that it was a tear jerker compared to the first season and that everything was set right at the end of it all. I was doubtful. Twenty six episodes weren’t enough to give the first season justice so I doubt twelve more can do any difference. I did want to watch the show for just one thing though and it’s been nagging me since this annoyingly voiced girl showed us a story about a bunch of elves. The show left out one important bit in the first season which was an arc involving the main character, Riki Naoe. He is the dude that just happened to recruit a bunch of girls to join their baseball team and then experienced a lot of dramatic stuff as he got closer to them. The first season didn’t give us his arc. Now I never played the actual game but the ultimate end of the first season pretty much hinted at this one. The second season is now about our main character, Riki. Is it a story that is worth waiting another season for? I’m not really sure about that. Do I want to watch it though because I’m a stupid perfectionist? Yeah. That’s about sum me up. The truth behind Riki and the Little Busters is revealed in the second season.
So let’s do a quick rundown of the first season. This dude named Kyousuke came back from his long journey and his close childhood friends welcomed him with a big celebration. Kyousuke then decided that he wanted to create a baseball team called the Little Busters. There were only four of them though so they needed to recruit more. This duty was appointed to Riki, the mild mannered person of the group. It was basically pushed onto him but he accepts nonetheless. Throughout the course of the first season, Riki met with a bunch of girls with the intent of inviting them to join his baseball team. These girls all have their personal problem though that prevented them to join the team or pretty much enjoy their life. Riki wants to intervene. He helped a girl overcome her grief over her brother’s death, helped another reconcile with her twin sister, helped another gather up courage to visit her country during its civil war chaos and also helped another make peace with her imaginary friend. He has certainly been busy. In the end, he got six girls to join and the final episode of the anime was about the eventual baseball game Little Busters had. They lost but still enjoyed the experience. They then took a photo commemorating the event. In the final episode as well, it was constantly brought up that Riki must take over Kyousuke’s position as the leader of Little Busters. Riki promised that he’ll try to be strong enough to do so.
In the game, Refrain is a mode unlocked after you successfully finish the six different routes available in the game. This is what we did in the anime minus the actual gameplay experience. The Refrain route is served to give the show a proper ending. It was the route that will give closure to the game as it ties everything together. The various routes and the little things left unmentioned are finally revealed as part of this one final route. The Refrain route is about our main character Riki. Rather, this one is about the original members of Little Busters.
The anime started out as a jumbled mess. It did mention the baseball team formed but slowly wandered away from that. It dropped the main goal of the first season and pursued something else. The whole show is basically about figuring out what that goal is about. It’s certainly a bit hard to watch since you’re really out of the loop as you watch this show. Anything you’ve learned from the first season did not matter in the second season. Most of the characters you’ve grown attached to did not appear much in this show. It was certainly an interesting experience. The whole show basically had one thing in mind and that’s to give us one shocking revelation that needed a lot of episodes to setup. I must admit that it was a pretty decent payoff but only if you can manage to go that far. Anyways, I’d equate the experience I had with this anime with opening a present. There are three steps. You gaze at the pretty ribbon on top and then unlace it. Then you take off the wrapper and reveal the box. Then you opened the box and smile ear to ear at the item inside it. This show had one story but was divided into three parts. No, not plot points. They’re acts or chapters that all had different contents but ultimately lead to one conclusion. It’s all building up to the moment the secret about the Little Busters are revealed.
The first act is well after the events of the first season. Little Busters is formed and they’re all celebrating this moment. They held a hotcake party where they do their usual fair of idiocy. Riki then noticed that he is stuck on June 20. For some odd reason, Riki is the only one that notices it. The same events keep on happening with minor differences. Time seem to progress. It rained then it snowed but the date never changes. Riki is freaked out and he asked comfort for only one person. He immediately came running to this girl named Yuiko Kuragaya. It seems that Riki has been doing that all this time. June 20 keeps on happening and he finds himself being close to Yuiko. With his narcolepsy and the unexplained event of time rewinding, it seems that Yuiko is the only one that can help him. The first act is basically about Riki getting close to Yuiko. In the first season, she wasn’t featured much so I guess the show was tacking on her arc in the second season. Yuiko and Riki seem to have a close relationship. It’s something important to both of them but Riki can’t quite remember it well. He has flashbacks of waking up next to Yuiko in the broadcasting room but all of this looks vague. Does Yuiko have something to do with time rewinding or is it all in Riki’s head?
While the first act is basically about Riki and Yuiko, you are also a getting a glimpse of the big red ribbon that adorns this little present. I’m not going to spoil it but this particular act lays the groundwork for the story later on. This act is also pretty damn lackluster. The pacing is a bit fast and it lacks certain crucial elements to truly make sense of every situation. I’m guessing that’s how it’s supposed to be but the show already have poor characters so it’s only to its detriment to also have a poor story. The first season knew how to present the arcs despite not effectively connecting them together. This particular act of the second season felt a bit out of place though and this forced relationship between the main character and a side character, that had little importance in the first season, didn’t really cut it for me. The whole thing felt a bit forced and it was not the kind of start you’d want to have in an unlockable route of the game design to make sense of it all.
The second act is about “the secret of this world”. This is about Riki and his childhood friend, Rin doing a bunch of missions given to them by a cat with messages attached to his tail. These are pretty mysterious messages but they seem to predict scenarios that will happen in the future. Riki and Rin decided to do the missions just to figure out the secret of this world. In the second season, the cat finally gave them the final mission. It was supposedly the last one and the sender of these messages will then reveal the secret of this world. The final mission involves Riki and Rin doing a particular job that requires two people. It’s an easy job but it seems to hold a lot of importance for the two of them. The second act also focused on one important thing: the relationship of Riki and Rin. Apparently, these two childhood friends have a lot of feelings for each other. Towards the course of the anime, the idea of romance was suddenly brought up and Riki suddenly can’t stop thinking about Rin. It was then suggested that Riki will soon confess to Rin but does he really have the balls to do that? Facing the final mission together, I guess it won’t be a bad idea to do it as an item. Then again, the sender seems to have the ability to predict the future so does this blossoming romance also has significance towards his mysterious plan?
The second act is mostly a heavy hearted story of Riki and Rin but the wrapping to the present was revealed as well though. The “secret of the world” is the big veil that makes up the story of the second season. Even though it feels more like conjecture that really doesn’t mean anything, it surprisingly holds the entire story together. Yeah, that’s right. The secret of the world relates big to the story of Riki and the Little Busters. If you can get this far in the show, and trust me the show is a bit boring, then you’ll notice as well that there is something not quite right with this whole setup. It’s that one nagging feeling that made me watch the second season and it’s being fueled once again by this whole “secret of the world” thing. There are certain things that feel a bit off about the story and the characters but you aren’t really sure what it is. It will all the revealed though in the final act of the show.
The third act is really the main focus of the anime. It’s about Riki and Little Busters. You might wonder why it took two unrelated chapters to reach this far. The answer is pretty simple. You can’t open a gift without taking out the ribbon and the wrapper first. Gawd, I sound like an elitist douche with that statement but let’s not lose focus. The first two acts revealed some important things about Little Busters and now the third act connects all the dots. The main focus of this act is about the five childhood friends. It is about their relationship now and back when they were children. They didn’t really know each other back then. It was the efforts of Kyousuke that brought them together. He was persistent and he looks every adversity right in the eye. He would take a punch and then smile afterwards reassuring the other person that they have a special place next to him. Kyousuke is out of mission for now though. He has grown depressed and he would rather spend his time in a gloomy dorm room than with the people he cherishes the most. Riki thought this was odd. It wasn’t the Kyousuke he grew to love and admire. To make matters worse, Little Busters has broken up. Without Kyousuke leading the pack, the members have strayed from one another. Riki is then forced to bring the team back together. It’s easier than it seems. The rest of the members don’t want to have anything to do with Riki. He is basically gum in their shoe and they only look up to Kyousuke. Riki must find a way to bring Little Busters back together the way Kyousuke did it. He’ll approach them one by one then convince them that their special place has always been with Little Busters. Is Riki up to task though? Can he really force himself to take the role of Kyousuke? Riki isn’t really as wild as the guy and he’s mild mannered at best. He’s a guy that was used to being protected. Can he really now be the one that protects others?
The final act takes up most of the second half of the show and this is really where the anime started to shape up. This is also the one part of the show that actually makes a whole lot of sense. Everything up to this point didn’t really feel clear. There were a lot of things that felt out of place and that nagging feeling that something isn’t right. The final act was about Riki and Little Busters but it was also revealing every little thing that the show previously left out. The significance of June 20, the ”secret of the world” and every single occurrence that happened in the first season finally makes a whole lot of sense as the final act slowly opens the box to reveal the gift inside. I was honestly a bit surprised at how smart the whole story was. Don’t get me wrong. The final act was rushed and tremendously forced that it was almost vapid but the concepts presented is pretty damn impressive. There was a lot of foreshadowing in both seasons that really gives you the nagging sense and the final moments was satisfying because of how it managed to hook you for that one big shocking reveal. It was smart. I bet the visual novel packed a stronger punch. The anime was a bit disappointing for me. A lot of people claimed that the second season saved the anime because of how dramatic the whole thing was. It wasn’t. It was vapid. It pushed the story abruptly that it wasn’t able to create a really sad mood for the viewers to tear up on. It tried. There were episodes that I felt like I want to cry and, trust me, I wanted to cry but I can’t. The show wasn’t giving me a big reason to. I think the anime had everything setup right but ultimately missed on one important detail that makes the whole thing dramatic. Four words. Properly fleshed out characters.
The characters in the anime are one dimensional. This was the biggest downside of the show. It was apparent for both seasons, actually. It just didn’t have engaging characters. You’re always relying on one single aspect of the characters to carry you throughout the show and that proved bad for this particular anime. I’m not surprised though. Visual novels are rich with amazing characters and adapting that takes a lot of time. In this case, more than twelve episodes. The characters of Little Busters are fleshed out through various flashbacks and monologues. This proved effective because of how attached you are to the characters. Every moment they spend with Riki helped in making you comfortable with the characters. In the game, you have all the time in the world to do that. In the anime, you only have twenty two minutes to work with. However, the monologues and the flashbacks serve as a reward system for the game. You have achieved in befriending the character and making them open up to you. You will now have a chance to see why this character is the way he/she is. Yes, an energetic character is rowdy for a reason. A reserved character is timid for a reason. A dumb muscle head is obsessed with muscles for a reason and the game rewards you with the backstory to understand them better. You cannot do this in the anime. All you have is the plot to work with. So if the characters are needed to do a monologue in this scene then they will do so. Most of these monologues are bad. They are hollow and forced. It’s a bit annoying because this is where you are cued to cry and feel sorry for the characters yet you can’t. It’s simply because the show never gave you a chance to do so.
The drama aspect of the show was a bit bland. It sucks, really. I really wanted to cry as I watch this show. There are characters that I like and I was waiting for that one big heartbreaking moment to make it all worthwhile yet it just didn’t happen. I think the story just proved too complex. There was a distinct balance in the show that I think was just ultimately messed up. The story itself has a bit of mystery, comedy and then drama to it. This is a bit hard to present so the show needed to focus on it to capture the appeal of the game. The story relied on the characters to make every single component work though. You’ll laugh because of the characters. A sad story is sob worthy because the characters make it heart wrenching. The mystery aspects are effective because of how the characters act out the story. The story needed the greatly fleshed out characters to make the complexity not overwhelming but the characters are fleshed out because of the complex story. I do not envy whoever adapted the script of this show. It was a hurdle and they sadly did not overcome it. So, the result? The show was lacking. The sad moments weren’t as effective. The characters are all bland and there were no decent pay off in the end.
It does beg the question though. Would Little Buster fare better if JC Staff did not handle it? I’m not one of those whiny asshats that think that KyoAni should’ve adapted the show but it does make me wonder. Would it make a difference? I think it does. Let me be clear though. If KyoAni, the one that released K-On and became a moe empire, did this show then it would suck a whole lot more. If it was KyoAni, pre-K-On, then I honestly think that the experience would’ve been different. Jun Maeda stories are a b*tch to adapt. He ultimately creates a story that fits the boundaries of a visual novel. Its complex but you have all the time in the world to work it out to your understanding. The way he puts importance on monologues to bring out the themes of his story is already a bad sign that his works are too hard to adapt. Add in the fact that he uses “magic” in his story to make it even more complex just makes it all the more harder to translate into an anime. Seriously, how do you make sense of a girl that gets sick whenever she gets a friend without it being ridiculous? Jun Maeda ultimately convinces people through the characters. No, it’s not ridiculous that this girl is sick because she made a friend. It’s sad. It’s sad because we’ve grown attached to her and anything done to her would just be too cruel. Now imagine a girl that is being haunted by her imaginary friend or a girl that can’t smile around people unless their children. JC Staff tried and you can really see how much of a hurdle they faced. But then you think back at how KyoAni made Clannad a titan anime. How did they do it? How were they able to capture the Jun Maeda charm? The visual novels they adapted were subpar adaptation as well. Let’s be honest with that. KyoAni didn’t focus on the story though. Yeah, Clannad has a lot of intricate details that needs to be addressed but it was second on their priorities. KyoAni ultimately focused on the drama. This is what makes JC Staff and pre-K-On KyoAni different. JC Staff focused on the complex story to give us the full feel of the game. KyoAni, on the other hand, made us cry. They simply focused on making us cry and I think that’s how they can overcome the VN hurdle. This is all just an assumption on my part though. I want to understand Little Busters more so I will play the game to get a better idea of things. On the idea that KyoAni could’ve made a better adaptation though, I think this one is something worth pondering over.
Sight and Sound
It feels weird doing this section because Itaru Hinoue has a Wikipedia section that generally talks about her unique art style. She is the person that basically handles all the character designs of Key Visual Novels. She is known for generally making cute characters. The emphasis is usually on the head of a character. Her style usually starts here. She used to have this weird style of putting the nose and the mouth together but this was not evident in the Little Busters. Itaru still over emphasizes on the head though. Girls usually have big wavy hair and a lot of accessories attached to them. This grabs your attention. You’ll notice how distinct each hairstyle of a character is and the things they put on it. From cute ribbons to star shaped hair clips to even a hat, the hair introduces a character to the viewers. This is even more effective when all the female characters have different hair colors. It not only matches their personality but also helps in identifying with the characters. The hair grabs you attention then you’ll notice how cute a character looks. The face is particularly detailed. From the way a character smiles, you can see how every mouth and nose adds detail to a character. It’s hard to describe it but it basically rounds up the cuteness of a character without distracting from their personality. The outfit is pretty great as well. The uniform is looks great on a character. The black and red colors look great. The skirt on the girls is nicely done as it accentuates their figure. The characters have different things attached to their outfit though. From a sweater to a cape, you can tell how much detail is given to a character to add variety to the design. I bet these characters look even better in the visual novel.
The male characters are nicely designed as well. They’re you’re typical bishie characters but the way they look also compliments their personality. I love how Kengo looks stern with his hakama on and the way his face rarely display emotions. I also love how Masato looks. The headband and the unbuttoned shirt tell me he is a delinquent. Add in the messy hair and his fierce facial expressions and I think the design captures him well. Kyousuke and Riki just have their uniform on but I think it’s enough. Kyousuke has a great facial design because it captures his mischievousness but the eyes tell you that he is a very serious character. Riki doesn’t have much going though. It’s not surprise since you play him in the game and the idea is to make him as normal as possible.
Animation is pretty decent. The way a character moves was nicely translated by the anime. The craziness of the interaction was given justice by the show. The various important scenes of the visual novel were nicely captured by the anime. I think this is where they were truly able to adapt the visual novel to a tee. The movements are nicely animated and the facial expressions are pretty decent. Every sad and vulnerable moment was set just right. Every comedic moment was truly funny and every normal conversation was given a great look. The action scenes are also nicely animated. A lot of characters hurt each other in this show and I think JC Staff did a great job on it.
Let me just say that I hate the voices of some of the characters. No, I do not like hearing “wafu”. I get the appeal but I think I personally have grown out of the fascination over it. I do admit to liking “gau” once but f*ck it. Not anymore. The one thing that gets the dramatic moments truly powerful was the soundtrack and I love that aspect of the show. Even though the whole show was mishandled, the right kind of sad music can really make a difference. I love this one song the anime play at every sad scene. I think its “Song of Friends” and it had a bittersweet appeal to it. The lyrics are really happy but the rhythm can really make you cry. It’s deceivingly complex that I often want to cry because of it. The show is really rich with some awesome soundtrack. From nostalgic piano pieces to solemn ones, it really makes a big difference on the show. It elevates a rather bland experience into something better.
The anime’s OP is “Boys be Smile” by Suzuyu. This was a decent song. I love Suzuyu’s voice but I think it didn’t compare to the wonderful OP of the first season. This one felt a bit gloomy despite having such wonderful lyrics. It was just a bit too tame, in my opinion. It didn’t feel like a good OP song. I think it relates to the game but I just didn’t think it fit well. Surprisingly though, the song spoiled the events of the second season. I’m laughing hard as I write this but every single detail was in the song. The lyrics are about people joining together then disappearing as lonely awaits them. I think the line “After the festival, only loneliness awaits” pretty much told us one crucial point of the show. See if you can spot it. The OP features all the characters and a more heavy focus on the five main members of Little Busters as it goes into a montage. It ends with Riki and Rin together. It’s a decent OP as well.
The anime has a lot of ED. The common one is “Kimi to no Nakushi Mono” by Ayaka Kitazawa. This was a more vibrant song that the OP. I think they should’ve switched. Anyways, this was a really cute song. It felt personal with the wonderful lyrics but the upbeat rhythm really gives the song a nice charm. It’s about a weak person trying to look up to the person that they cherish. It has a hopeful vibe that does feel closely related to the show. The ED sequence is simply all the members of Little Busters gazing up at a sunrise. It’s a really cool ED despite the animation being just a scrolling picture.
5/10 “The payoff was unsatisfying and the poor characters ultimately brought the show down.”
Is this something worth two seasons to watch? I’m not really sure. Personally, it’s not. It could’ve been better and I think that is fairly obvious. It was a decent attempt by JC Staff so there’s no harm done. If you saw the first season then you should check the show out. If you like some good mystery in your show then I think you should try this one out. As someone who saw both seasons though, this one is fairly unsatisfying.