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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Initial Thoughts: Little Busters!

Riki was a child when his parents died, leaving him hopeless and depressed. What saved him was a group of four kids calling themselves the Little Busters. They took Riki out and played with him during his time of need. He really enjoyed being together with them, and his grief gradually faded away. Now in his second year of high school they still hang out, fight and live together, and enjoy their school life. (Source: MAL)
Spoiler warning: Post contains spoilers for the first episode of the Little Busters! anime. It does not contain spoilers for the visual novel the anime is based on.
Confession time! I have never played a visual novel by Key - not Clannad, nor Kanon, or Air and especially not Little Busters. Hell, I've never even seen an anime version of any of these games (sorry, Clannad fans!). But the hype from its fan base over an anime adaptation has gotten me excited in turn, so this program is the one of the new fall season I've really been looking forward to. So is it any good? In a word: yes. In two words: hell yes.

From the very first scene, LB! explodes on the screen with seemingly unlimited energy. It is colorful, it is spirited, and it is hilarious. Of all the ways to pull the viewer in, Kyousuke's return and the brawl that ensues because of it turned out to be the best way. We are quickly introduced to the group of friends known as the 'Little Busters': the oddball leader Kyousuke, his socially awkward sister Rin, headband-wearing strongman Masato, bokken-wielding Kengo, and the newest member of the group, Riki.
Through a quick succession of scenes and clever usage of cats, the show establishes these various characters' distinct personalities just in time for the big plot twist of the series: the formation of the Little Busters baseball team. Wait, is this a sports anime now? Not exactly, no. They may be working towards forming a team of their own, but it doesn't have the focused feel of a sports series. It just happens to be a series in which the main characters are going to play baseball.
To put it in simplest terms, Little Busters is a story about friendship. And not in that cloyingly sweet (read: annoying) way that some series get when they talk about the bonds of friendship and whatever (sup, Yu-Gi-Oh). We can see it in the way they all so comfortably act around each other, and how Kyousuke's oncoming departure affects them. They are losing the heart of their group, so when Riki suggests they do something - anything - to bring back what they were before, Kyousuke comes up with the first thing that pops into his head: a sports team. And everyone eventually (with the exception of Kengo) goes for it because it may be the last great thing they all get to do together before Kyousuke leaves.
I'm sure there are many viewers of Little Busters! who understand what Riki is going through. This group of friends he's stuck with since he was a little kid has gotten him through so many hardships, especially the death of his parents. Those aren't the kind of friends you let go away easily. He wants to keep hold of these precious people as long as possible, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm looking forward to more scenes of these young folks staying together against the inevitable break-up. If J.C. Staff does it right, it can lead to some incredibly touching and emotionally stirring scenes.
This is not to say the show is all drama and no laughs, because that would be a hell of a lie. Little Busters! is also pretty darn funny, to the point where I had tears in my eyes and pain in my sides from laughing so hard. My favorite scene of the whole episode took place in Riki's dorm room, in which Kyousuke is collecting memorable quotes for his essay. "Even cats fall from poles" still has me cracking up pretty hard. Plus, Rin's infiltration of the girl's dorm and her failed attempts to start a normal conversation rank high up as one of the most memorable moments so far.
I may not know much about Little Busters' visual novel origins or understand the expectations of its long-term fans, but the LB! anime for me is a huge success. It is both humorous and genuinely poignant, and captures well the feel of friendship in a moment when it feels like everyone is changing and falling away from each other. As long as this series stays on the right course, it's hard to see this not be a fan favorite.
Having said that, watch certain pockets of fandom (like some Little Busters! purists) ream this series hardcore for all of its mistakes that I, in my lack of knowledge, know nothing about. Oh well. I guess that's when the snails will fall from my eyes - right?