Little Busters Season 1 Collection (Cert 12)
6 Discs DVD / 4 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 662 minutes approx.
Anime that are based on a visual novel vary in success. The very nature of the multiple route format of the source material results in confused writing when trying to derive a definitive plot for an episodic TV series. JC Staff’s adaptation of Little Busters luckily possesses a steady storyline but that doesn’t stop the material from derailing under the weight of outlandish ideas more suited to the Monogatari universe.
Providing the fulcrum for this story is Riki Naoe, an orphan suffering from depression and narcolepsy following his parents’ death, giving a lifeline through the friendship of Kyosuke Natsume and his gang the Little Busters. Along with Kyosuke’s younger sister Rin, muscle head Masato Inohara and Kendo champ Kengo Miyazawa, the quintet grew up together and are currently in high school.
One day, Kyosuke announces the Little Busters are going be a baseball team because why not? But as there is only five of them, they need to recruit five more members – preferably girls to stop Rin feeling alone – a task assigned to Riki. Throughout the course of this series, Riki gets to know five girls and solves their personal problems with the help of the Little Busters, gaining a new team member along the way.
The visual novel’s original story is the creation of Key, the group behind other adapted titles such as Clannad, noted for their elegiac content and embracing of darker, mature issues. This adaptation of Little Busters is however a largely comedic affair, but does explore some issues to tug on the heartstrings and galvanise our emotions, whilst excising the more risqué elements of the game to retain its innocence.
In the beginning, it seems that Kyosuke is the central protagonist as the leader of the group and the eldest one – the opening scene has Riki celebrating the fact that Kyosuke had returned to school dorms. But by the end of the first episode, Kyosuke has been relegated to a mere catalyst and group figurehead whilst Riki and the others set about putting the world to right as per the gang doctrine.
Because of his tragic past, we learn that Riki is pushed to the forefront by way of proving he can be dependable and productive and assume the position Kyosuke currently holds – that of the one everyone relies on for help, support and leadership. In forcing him to make an impact in the five girls’ lives he seeks to recruit for the team, Riki goes on a personal journey as much as the girls do, unaware that he is revealing himself to be an empathetic person.
As you might expect the girls all have some kind of quirk or emotional baggage that needs exorcising or reconciled in some way, which is where the individual arcs are divided between personal tragedies and credibility stretching fantasy. First up is whiny, helium voiced loli Komari Kamikita, who loves sweets and hides herself away on the school roof indulging in fairy stories, her isolation and subsequent delusions triggered by a significant family death when she was young.
Blurring the line between fantasy and reality is the arc featuring Mio Nishizono, later becoming the team manager. A shy bookworm, she carries a parasol to hide the fact she has no shadow (see what I mean about the Monogatari comparison?). One day Mio disappears and a girl called Midori appears, an exact double of Mio, save for the contrasting exuberant personality. Good luck working this one out – it’s truly out there!
The first of the two darker tales involves Haruka Saigusa, a high-spirited girl and regular victim of the school’s disciplinary committee, run by her twin sister Kanata. The backstory to this feud is based on an odd Japanese tradition regarding marriage I’ve not encountered before but isn’t one that needs to be resurrected in a hurry, as this story reveals the damage it does to families.
Another boundary-pushing tale comes via part Japanese, part Russian student Kudryavka Noumi, or Kud for short. He wants to be a cosmonaut like her mother but when her mother’s latest space mission launch ends in disaster, Kud returns to her homeland to see her mother but ends up a political prisoner. This may be the one story that exemplifies the show’s message of the power of a strong friendship bond but it does so in the most far-fetched of manners.
Finally, hardheaded genius Yuiko Kurugaya, makes up the numbers although she isn’t given an elaborate storyline to endear us to her, she simply joins the group because she wants to. But with two follow-up series to come maybe Yuiko will have her moment in the spotlight, which also applies to the two other male members of the group Kengo and Masato, who are largely comic relief, and very entertaining ones at that.
Masato often gets in fights where spectators throw in weapons of their choice for the combatants to use, a recurring gag that rarely fails to deliver. Since the formula is that each arc is followed by an episode or two of frippery and comic abandon, the audience isn’t put in the position of being sullen for the entire duration, bolstered by the group dynamic being exposed to great effect during these interludes.
JC Staff’s animation is competent at best and the character designs are hardly original, reminiscent of the KyoAni style, although they reportedly are true to the designs of the visual novel. It is fortunate that the characters themselves are strongly developed and personable, and along with the efforts of the voice cast, are engaging enough to warrant our investment, even when the scenarios defy plausibility.
It has to be said that watching 26 episodes in one go is quite a slog so be sure to take your time with this one, if this appeals to you. Little Busters offers nothing particularly new or groundbreaking but is a harmless, if often bewildering, slice-of-life comedy drama.
Japanese 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Japanese TV Promo
Japanese BD Promo
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ***
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