At first glance, there is one startling difference in Key’s latest adaptation. It is not animated by Kyoto Animation, the studio responsible for handling the majority of Key adaptations. Instead, the esteemed and beloved (not really) J.C. Staff is at the helm. For many, this is a name that will undoubtedly be a cause for concern. In Little Busters, it is.
The story follows the misadventures of Riki and his four childhood friends. Set during the leader Kyousuke’s final year in high school, the group of friends decide to make something of their remaining youth not by overly rebelling, but by practicing and playing baseball together. They cannot form a team with only five members though, which is why Riki and Rin are set to recruit more people from their school. Preferably females, as Rin is the only young lady in the group.
Little Busters’ cast of characters is its strongest trait. No, not because they are especially well-written or unique, but because they are entertaining. It isn’t easy to make a group of anime characters feel like genuine friends with one another, but Little Busters manages to achieve this feat with its wonderful group dynamic. Even the later members contribute to the show in a significant and believable way. The characters truly do make the lighthearted segments a joy to watch.
Being part comedy, it’s a good thing that the jokes are often fresh and clever. Of particular note is Masato. If you remember Sunohara from Clannad, he is a bit like that. Masato and all his muscular glory (and utter lack of brain cells) are the cause for many jokes. Usually at his expense. And usually met with a kick to the face from Rin.
It’s a shame since any appeal the show has is frequently pushed aside in favour of cringe-worthy melodrama. The individual character routes were not very good in the visual novel and they are most certainly not any good here either. It would be one thing if these arcs were merely mediocre, but with J.C. Staff’s lack of directorial talent, they are made absolutely dreadful. The omnibus format also does little to help the rushed pacing, resulting in a format that feels highly formulaic and superfluous. One of the girls has troubles, Riki helps them to overcome it, one or two episodes of comedy follow— repeat, repeat. Thankfully the lighthearted segments are so entertaining, as otherwise, you would probably detest each character by the end of their route. It is that bad at times.
The two worst offenders are Mio’s and Haruka’s routes. In Mio’s route, the viewer is treated with illogical and contradictory character actions further complimented by a hilariously contrived deception on the writer’s part. Plotholes? Everywhere. And it does not even attempt to answer them with anything besides equivocation. The climax could maybe be explained if the characters were taking psychedelic drugs at the time, but looking at it from a realistic perspective it does not make any sense whatsoever. Watching Utena may be less confusing.
Haruka’s route will also make you want to scream in frustration. Her tragic backstory is implausible (why the hell were the people taking care of her not convicted of abuse?) and the motivations of the antagonist, Kanata, are silly at best. The rest of the route is composed of more cheap plot twists and embarrassingly cliche melodrama. Heck, there’s even a scene where the weather changes from sunshine to storm as soon as Haruka starts crying. How much more cheesy can you get? Little Busters seems to experiment with the limits.
Things do improve, though. After a decent start and two terrible arcs, the last third of the story provides a satisfying dénouement showing how each of the characters has grown over the course of the series. The last episode, in particular, is quite nice, with the long-awaited baseball game being played in high spirits. Some might argue that this improvement is too little too late. They might be right.
One area where Little Busters does not disappoint us with its soundtrack. There may not be anything on the same level of “Dango Kazoku” to mess with your emotions, but the soundtrack as a whole is solid and surprisingly memorable. Then again, it’s pretty hard to make mistakes when you are deriving almost all music from the source material.
Little Busters’ endearing characters are complemented by a highly talented cast of seiyuu. Yui Horie provides a convincing role for a male character (though does little to make Riki any less bland) while Masato’s seiyuu does a wonderful job at delivering the comedy. Rin and Kud, on the other hand, will probably kill your heart from how adorable they sound.
There isn’t much to praise about the art, but it certainly isn’t bad. Just average. Just middling. For a TV anime it is ‘good enough’, but when comparing it to previous Key adaptations you will definitely notice a significant drop in quality. Off-model faces are frequent and many scenes are reduced to panning and ‘talking heads’: devoid of any animation besides the character’s mouth flapping. For an adaptation of one of the most successful visual novels, you would normally expect the artwork to at least be above-average. Not here.
As an adaptation, it is worth mentioning how it compares to the source material. Is it a bad adaptation? It is. If you want to experience the story as it is intended, it would be in your best interests to give the visual novel a read instead. On its own merits and as a condensed version of the story, however, J.C. Staff’s adaptation is merely mediocre. It doesn’t completely butcher the story but with the rushed pacing, poor characterization (especially with regards to Riki), lackluster art and incomplete story— most of the charm that made the visual novel so beloved is nonexistent here. At least there are more cute Rin scenes, though! Maybe that is the one and only good thing.
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