Note: Since the two seasons are so different in content, I decided to make two separate reviews. This is a review of the original 26 episode long Little Busters! series.
I love Studio Key.
For those who know me this statement probably doesn’t come off as a surprise. I’ve been raving about Key for about as long as I’ve been an anime fan, and I don’t exactly plan to stop. There’s something about their works that’s just so appealing to my likings. The comedy, the drama, the atmosphere, it all manages to suck me into their stories. And Little Busters! is my favorite Key work. I’ve seen the anime once prior and read the VN as well, and now I’ve experienced the story for the third time in 2 years.
Aren’t I tired of it? No, in fact I love the series more than ever.
Little Busters! starts off in about the most Key manner it possibly could. It throws the viewer into a large school environment focusing on a group of characters with varied personalities who create a baseball team called Little Busters!. It starts off very light-hearted, introducing the characters one by one and giving each time to get their appeal across. This is mostly done through comedic interactions and slice-of-life moments, and if there’s one thing Studio Key is absolutely great at, it’s exactly comedy. However, this only works as a development for the dramatic parts of the series that come in later. LB! is very much a tale of two genres. Comedy and drama. The tone shifts between the two are very heavy. Once something dramatic happens, it usually doesn’t ease up for a while. Although I don’t think there’s really a problem in this kind of story-telling, it is a fact that it can catch a watcher not ready for the sudden shift. And since the drama of LB! doesn’t really belong to the best stuff out there, the tone shifts have more of a negative effect.
But before we dig into that, let’s talk about the better part of the series, comedy. It is quite simply masterful. There wasn’t a comedy centered episode during which I didn’t laugh my ass off. The characters are so strong together that they can turn any generic situation like a harem sleepover or a test of courage into some of the most hilarious stuff ever. But LB! doesn’t just have generic ideas, it also presents very original gags, like the fighting game, or the baseball team practices. Even these moments wouldn’t be half as good without such great characters.
They can be divided into two groups: The Original 5 and The Heroines. Original 5 consists of 5 friends who have known each other for a long time and who are the original core of the group. These include the protagonist Riki, shy girl Rin, and the baka-trio Kengo, Masato and Kyousuke. Although we don’t know much about them, it becomes clear quickly that their synergy is at a very high level. It doesn’t matter if they’re just eating lunch or doing something stupid, they always manage to be entertaining. The pinnacle of this is Rin, who delivers some of the best punch lines I know of. Masato works as the obvious comedy relief character, and although there are times when his lines get a bit too obnoxiously stupid, like not being able to count the members of the team right, he’s generally still very good at his role. Kengo feels like a more mature version of Masato. He gets less screen-time because he refuses to join the baseball team due to his own circumstances, but his interactions with others are still very funny. Kyousuke is the obvious leader of the pack. He’s the one who originally started the team and always comes up with fun things to do.
Then there’s Riki, the kind and shy protagonist of the story, whose existence is interesting from the get-go. Up until this point, all of Key’s protagonists were so-called “delinquents” whereas Riki comes off as a very polite boy. It’s maybe because of this that he doesn’t really shine at his role however. There’s not much to him outside of being a nice guy. He has a lot of inner monologues which help with providing his insight on the various things that happen but he never really acts in a manner that you wouldn’t expect. Although there’s nothing wrong with creating a standard high school boy character, he just comes off as, you know, standard. One of the more interesting elements is his relationship with Kyousuke. Riki sees him as a model leader, and someone he one day wants to be like. Kyousuke himself supports Riki and wants him to become more independent. This plays out well throughout the story, as Riki manages to subtly grow with his help. Another part that plays into Riki’s character is his narcolepsy disease. It gets introduced as something random, but it becomes clear later on that it’s Riki’s way of running away from problems and tough decisions. These things help to make Riki more than your usual MC, but on the other hand, he isn’t anything special either.
In which we get to the other group of characters, The Heroines. In addition to the Original 5, LB! presents 5 more heroines that join the team. They do have very good synergy with each other as well as the original group. Kurugaya’s the absolute winner in my eyes, as her onee-san attitude and obsession with cute girls like Kud or Komari is quite simply hilarious *as well as very relatable cough*. Kud herself is the best one-girl-show character in the series. Her silliness and ability to speak English make her the most fun character to watch in comedic situations. On the other hand, this silliness comes back to haunt her when the drama kicks in, as it’s simply hard to really take her seriously at times. But more about that later. Komari is the moe-blob of the series and the first friend Rin ever made outside of the Original 5. This really helps Rin as she starts to get over her shyness slowly but surely. Haruka is the Sarcastic Maracas because why not and Mio is timid and quiet to even out the rest of the hyperactive cast. All of these characters are decent as individuals, but they absolutely shine when they’re together. The gags, one-liners, punch lines are all perfectly placed and executed. I really can’t praise the comedy of this show enough.
The character development of LB! comes in different ways. Rin goes through quite a lot of subtle growth in terms of overcoming her shyness and becoming more proactive. Same goes for Riki, although it isn’t as noticeable. Most of the other characters don’t really go through anything outside of the obvious stuff, that being their drama.
Because as we all know Key, their shows wouldn’t be half as good (bad?) without drama.
The drama of LB! follows a very classic VN pattern. There are heroines and they all have their problems. Well, only 4 of them for now. Whenever Riki gets closer to one of them their arc starts to play out. Sadly enough, the dramatic parts suffer from a lot of pacing issues. Almost no arc has the needed time to truly develop any of its themes and emotions into something worthwhile. It also doesn’t really help that some plot points are quite stupid and common sense often gets thrown out of the window. Key has always been exaggerating their drama, but it was always defendable because it made sense theme-wise. Which it still does, to be fair. There are no random stories in LB!, every arc represents a message and it never betrays that message. However, LB! is simply a case of too much is too much. Some things are taken way too far on the scale of believability merely for the purpose of making the situation seem heavier. Probably the best example of this is the entirety of Haruka’s route. The themes of family and parental abuse could all be very strong theoretically if executed well. But they aren’t. The villain of that route comes off as an asshole who suddenly gets forgotten simply for the plot’s sake, not because of their past relationships with the heroine as it should’ve been originally.
A small amount of episodes leading to a lack of development and genuinity is what haunts the dramatic parts of LB!. All of these arcs work on a large scale of ideas. Although the main point of the arc is often clear, there’s a lot of small stuff that needs to be developed for it to truly work. And there’s simply no time here to develop that small stuff. Backstories are quickly brushed off, characters related to heroines in question are often barely mentioned. The only decent arc of this anime in my eyes is Mio’s. One has to, if nothing else, appreciate the writing that arc presents, Its use of metaphors as well as literature lines and quotes. Mio may not be the most fun of characters, but she’s a depressed character done right. She isn’t totally empty like a lot of other emotionless characters, she’s just a high school girl insecure about herself. The pacing issues in her arc also aren’t as noticeable, mainly because the setup of her story has been done throughout some of the other more comedy oriented episodes which saved some time for the execution.
What I like the most about Little Busters! is the main theme of friendship. Although Riki is the one who always helps the heroines the most, everyone else shows their support as well. The others don’t just disappear when a certain arc starts, they’re still there, acting like the friends they are. I also like how Riki handles most of the situations he gets put into. He doesn’t simply solve all of the heroine’s issues, he just helps them find the right way to battle. LB! teaches you that at the end of the day, it’s everyone’s own fight. People can lend you a helping hand, but you have to be the one to get over your problems.
This is much much better than how most anime, particularly shounen, handle their ideas about friendship. In shows like Naruto, Bleach, *insert 90% of shounen*, friendship is a totally artificial thing, a simple plot device to move the plot forward or to make someone get a sudden power up while fighting. In LB!, I genuinely feel like these people, shy of all their personal issues and the supernatural setting, are just a group of friends trying to live a happy school life. I don’t remember the last time an anime gave me this kind of feeling.
Oh right, the supernatural setting. Yeah, there’s a secret to this world if you didn’t know. But I feel like there’s not really much of a point to talk about it without knowing Refrain. The secret is probably that Rin is the best girl, which everyone knows anyway.
Although the anime doesn’t manage to fully capitalize on the OST of the source material, the music is still very good generally speaking. It misuses tracks here and there, but from a pure track quality standpoint, the OST stays very good throughout. Same can be said about the voice actors who really fit their characters. The only one that goes a bit over the top is Komari. But I mean, who even cares about Komari in this anime. The creators certainly not, wrapping up her story in a mere episode :(
Luckily, LB! manages to look fairly well for most of its run. Very interesting visually are a couple of eps that look much different than the rest. The Komari episode comes to mind, where it almost felt like I was watching a Shaft-styled anime. I don’t consider this a bad thing as I think this kind of directing was a breath of fresh air in the episodes it was used. I just think that there needs to be some kind of consistency in this as well. There was no formula to what episode was going to look different and what not, so when it happened it just felt like it was random.
Anyway, I think it’s about time to acknowledge the elephant in the room, Little Busters! has tons of flaws. Its drama sucks for the most part. Visually it isn’t particularly impressive and when it tries to be it comes off as forced. The main characters lack depth. Although the themes presented are meaningful their execution is often lacking.
However, it also has tons of remarkable qualities. Although comedy is a very subjective matter, I have no doubt that for me LB! is the best comedy anime ever. The character synergy is on an excellent level. Characters themselves all manage to be very likable. Mio’s route was respectable. The ideas of friendship and moments built around that can be quite touching. The themes are there and the anime never betrays itself.
I know that a lot of these “positives” come off as maybe a bit superficial or biased, however I really don’t remember the last time an anime made me smile simply by existing.
I love these characters, I love the stuff they do together, I love the jokes they make, I love the setting they’re in.
And despite all of its flaws, I love this anime as a whole.
(Get ready for Refrain)