Little Busters! is based on a visual novel by Key, similar to Kanon and Clannad, and as such similar things can be expected from it. It follows a high school setting about a group of close friends as they who try to enjoy themselves as much as they can before life takes them onto separate paths. In the process, more friends are made (pretty much all girls, as expected of a VN). Then, what starts out as a comedy/slice-of-life series turns more serious as it dives into the stories of each of the characters in various arcs, showing many elements of friendship and strength of the heart.
Having played through all of Little Busters! EX, (in Japanese and through all of the possible routes), this season focuses on mainly on the common storyline and through 5 of the character arcs (Komari, Mio, Haruka, Kanata, and Kud). While this season contains 26 episodes, there is still much to be uncovered, so expectations of a 2nd season are high. I would like to note that the remainder of the story is probably going to be heart of the series that ultimately determines how good it will be.
To begin with, I will be writing this review focusing on the story as it has played out so far, giving little tidbits of the anime compared to the VN on the side. However, none of the comparisons will have any bearing on my score. I realize that a lot of people that played the VN had high expectations, but then felt very disappointed that stuff was missing or that it wasn’t what they imagined it to be (For example, not KyoAni). As a result, this review comes from two viewpoints, since I watched this anime with my wife, who knows nothing about the VN. There will be some SPOILERS of course, so skip down to the Overall section if you want to avoid them.
The story focuses on the main characters: Riki and Rin. Along with their childhood friends, Kyousuke, Masato, and Kengo, they form ‘Little Busters!’ who go out to defeat evil, but really just try to have fun doing whatever. Knowing that they will part in the near future, they set out to do something big together; in this case, play baseball (mostly due to Kyousuke’s love of cliché mangas). Realizing that they don’t have enough people to form a team, Riki sets out to recruit more members to join Little Busters (enter the rest of the cast). Along the way, more about the new characters is revealed as complicated pasts and sudden problems are shown. This requires Riki to step up and solve their problems, through the bond of friendship. .
The beginning of the series focuses on establishing the roles of the original Little Busters members, through silly games and fighting. Along the way, future members are introduced through some pretty basic events. Comedic events (mainly having to do with Masato’s horrible luck and lack of brains) are peppered throughout the beginning. Part of the humor though could be lost due to the numerous Japanese word puns that are used. To a normal English speaker, like my wife, these points are more confusing than funny.
The story takes a big turn when the arcs for the individual girls start, providing much more depth into the characters. The story becomes more serious as it explores the problems of some of the girls, and it starts putting in a little of that Key magic. The heart of this season is the individual arcs of each of the new girls. Bits of foreshadowing that Riki encounters are done really well, signaling that something big will happen later. Unfortunately, that leaves you with a big desire to know what will happen next, which you will have to wait until the next season. Comedic events still occur at these later points, but feel much better executed. Both of us found ourselves laughing through much of the later humor and then tearing up at the heart-wrenching parts.
Personally, I found Komari’s arc to be only ok, even in the VN. The following arcs after that appeared to be big improvements. Mio’s arc is beautifully done. Haruka’s and Kanata’s arcs are still rather good, despite it feeling a bit rushed. The background story was really good, but I felt that more of the switcheroo was needed. (In comparison to the VN, it almost feels that there was not enough time for the emotional conflict to sink in before the problem was solved. Personally, I was disappointed that Kanata’s final scenes in the VN were skipped.) Kud’s arc made me fall in love with the character all over again, and also seemed to have much more background than the VN. (I’m guessing that some of this may have been pulled from Kud Wafter, but I haven’t played it. Also note that Kud’s final scenes are exclusive to LB EX.) The season finishes up with the return of Kengo and his dramatic entrance to the team. The end of this season culminates to a final event, the baseball game between the captains of the other sports clubs. Frankly, I think this was a very good choice as to where the season cuts off. Clannad does this in a similar way with Nagisa’s play. Ultimately, this leads to a passing of the torch, where Riki finally steps up and assumes the lead role.
Aside from the main plotline, I was pleasantly surprised that the little fun points that made the VN enjoyable were not excluded. The ‘missions’ were done in an amusing way, though some of it goes unnoticed unless you went through the VN. (I find it funny that they decided to include the funnier, botched choices, such as ‘Oliver Sauce’.) The battles, which were a bit difficult to imagine in the VN, were done pretty well. Scenes with them playing baseball were scattered around, but not drawn out. The baseball scene at the end was pretty well done. Overall, I feel pretty satisfied with the plot so far. My main concern with this series was how the script would deal with the ‘cycles’, but the transition appears to have been done rather decently. (Likely, because Key played a big part in the script.) Overall, much of the anime is rather entertaining to watch and leaves a strong desire for more.
While many people had concerns about KyoAni not doing this series, I found that the animation quality is rather impressive. While the drawings are visually bolder in Clannad and Angel Beats, the artwork for the anime is pretty good compared overall. The slightly different style of artwork still seems to work beautifully no matter how many times I go back and look at it. (The look of many notable scenes in the VN feels almost identical.) The motions and expressions of the characters are pretty dynamic, and the backgrounds are drawn in detail. Presentation of the scenes is very well done and shows a wide range of style. Really, the only problems I notice are that the lighting feels a bit too bright at times and that the rain looks too fake. On another note, I did like the re-design of Masato and Kengo. (They looked too wide and block-like in the VN.) The baseball sprites during the episode preview are a nice touch as well. The level of detail overall is quite good, so I can’t see how people can be so unhappy with JC Staff tackling this project.
There isn’t much to say here, since all of the background music and songs are from the VN. There’s nothing wrong with that, since the original music was really nice. Much of the original cast remains, except the ones for Riki, Sasami, and Mio. Even then, there isn’t much difference. You may find some voices annoying like Komari’s, but the voice acting and lines are pretty spot on.
At first, all the characters seem to fit some kind of generic stereotype. However, the depth of the characters grows with each passing arc. By the end of the season, I find that pretty much all of the members of Little Busters create good chemistry, while still standing out on their own. From Masato’s muscles dance to Kud’s ‘Wafu’ cries to Kurugaya’s love of cute things, almost every character has some memorable aspect to dwell on.
The two main characters, Riki and Rin, are characters with flawed personalities. As such, they do not seem like the typical leads that you would expect. (For many Key series, the male lead actively solves other’s problems.) Instead, Riki is defined more by those that surround him rather than his own initiative, and as such makes him feel like a weak lead. His actions take on the feel of ‘What would Kyousuke do?’, but at the same time he serves his role well in narrating the world to the audience. Only at the very end does he start coming out of Kyousuke’s shadow and start acting for himself. Rin’s development, on the other hand, is apparent as she becomes more comfortable around new people.
One of the biggest improvements in the anime vs. the VN is that character interaction is done better. Not only Riki, but the entire cast moves to help out with the various situations. Even during less important scenes, the character interactions feel more natural and entertaining. Whether it’s the guys fighting over games or figuring out how to cheer someone up, these scenes really make the characters stand out. (I would argue that this is another major difficulty in transitioning from VN to anime, especially when you are used to character stills.)
One major difference in this Key series versus others is the lack of romance. My wife kept wondering who Riki would end up with. However, I would like to point out that the central theme for this anime is about growing up and becoming independent. (This is not a typical VN where the main character hooks up with any particular girl. Every character gets a chance to shine because the group as a whole is central to the plot.)
Little Busters! as an anime is pretty solid so far. Having completely played through the VN, I can’t help but find some things missing. As such, there will always be disappointment that certain things aren’t included. However, I’m not comparing this to the original source, but to other anime in general. The biggest flaw may be that the series doesn’t establish any kind of strong goals. Make friends, do silly stuff, and then serious stuff just kind of happens. In the end, strong bonds are formed between all the characters, making this 1st season feel like this was all one big introduction. This makes it very difficult to judge it until you’ve seen all of it. However, the solid flow of the storyline and wonderful interaction of the characters make it more and more interesting with each episode. As an anime adaptation, it is very good so far, and I cannot think of too many things that you would gain by playing through these parts in the VN. On the flip side, there are some scenes that are done even better than in the VN. Even if you have played the VN, I would still recommend giving the anime a try, because it reminded me how much I really loved the characters. Given such, I can’t wait for the rest of the series to be completed (A 2nd season has been announced already.), since I expect it to get better and better as it starts going into the heart of the VN. Especially for anyone that is a Key fan, this series will not disappoint. Heck, anyone that loves slap-stick comedy or an interesting storyline or lovable characters should at least give it a shot.
Okay, so for starters, I have played the original version of the visual novel, and have played through all of the available routes on that version. Now, the overall story of the visual novel is a heartwarming one, filled with many elements including friendship, hardship, and first love. In question to the anime and how it's adapting the story so far, I am a little concerned. For those of you who have played through the visual novel like I have, you will know that there will be some points within the story that will be quite challenging to adapt well into something that can be watched.
(SPOILERS: I specifically mean the transition from Rin 2 to Refrain, which happens to be one of my favorite points within the story, so I'm definitely concerned.)
Other than that, there is also the fact that the anime has been confirmed for a 26 episode run. It makes me wonder just how much will make the cut for adaptation (There are 8 routes in the original version, and 11 in the EX version of the VN). When Clannad got an anime adaptation, it recieved 55 episodes, plus various OVAs to include extra stories as well as the routes for Tomoyo and Kyou since they were unable to be adapted into the anime due to their need of romance with the main character to progress the story. Asuming that Little Busters! will follow that same format, I can only be concerned that too many things will get compressed or cut from the adaptation. But so far, as it has only been following the common route storyline for now, I am thouroughly happy enough for the job that JC Staff has been doing, for now.
The animation is decent enough for a JC Staff anime. I know that there were a lot of disappointed fans who were expecting for Kyoto Animation to take up the anime adaptation, but things simply worked out this way. I am actually a fan of several JC Staff anime, and although the visuals aren't quite up to par with the VN, it isn't terrible either.
Sound and music is a big thing for me when watching an anime or playing a VN. It's sort of a make or break thing for me when listening to the OP and ED themes, BGM, sound effects, and the voice acting. Fans of the VN will be pleased to know that the game's soundtrack will has returned for the anime as well as many of the game's seiyu cast. The opening theme "Little Busters!" and the ending theme "Alicemagic" performed by Rita also make a return with a remix for the anime, which definitely got me looking forward to purchasing the CD to be released on Halloween day. As a fan of the VN, I expect for the other ending themes, "Clear Weather After the Rain", "Song For Friends", "Little Busters! ~Little Jumper Ver.~" to appear in the anime, as well as the insert "Haruka Kanata".
Although people may whine and complain that the characters are just old staples that have been reused and reincarnated from the older games by Key, I tell you that I'm just fine with the characters as I found them so damn lovable! In fact, Rin is probably my favorite character of all time anywhere. Why change something that works just fine? Well, everyone has their roles to play in this story with the main focus being on the main protagonist, Riki Naoe, the main heroine, Rin Natsume, and the leader of the gang, Kyousuke Natsume. And of course, all of their friends will utilize their problems and personalities to help progress the characters in their development in someway, so just have trust in the characters and stop complaining.
I'd give Little Busters! a solid and well deserved 10/10 as a VN player. This is easily one of my favorite visual novels of all time, and it is well deserved. But this is not a review of the VN, but of its anime adaptation. Although I did utilize my knowledge and experience of the VN in this review, I have good faith in the adaptation so far. All that is left is to sit back and watch have things play out. So, for now, I give the anime adaptation a 8.5/10. This is subject to change as the rest of the anime airs, and especially when the climax and turning point of the story is revealed.
This is my rant review of Little Busters!
I will start with an introduction to the typical formula for a Key VN adaptation.
Little Busters!, like Air, Kanon, and Clannad (and Clannad After Story), is a visual novel adaptation. Unlike visual novels, anime cannot take a specific routes and then restart to try another. Successful adaptations must somehow combine scenes from all routes and have an overall conflict, in addition to the subconflicts in each arc.
Kanon does this by combining Ayu's search for a lost belonging with the problems of every other damsel in distress heroine. It does have quite a few romance scenes with heroines other than Ayu (maybe more), but overall I accept it because it shows what the visual novel is like. The humor is interspersed evenly throughout the series, and it maintains the reader's interest. (One thing going for the series is that Yuuichi is the only main character of all Key works that doesn't have a tragic past begging for pity.)
Clannad takes the format of Kanon, and makes it better. It starts off with the basic conflict of restarting the drama club. In addition, both Tomoya and Nagisa have flaws in their character, allowing room for character development. (Yuuichi barely changes throughout the entire series.) Then, as heroines are introduced, their problems are brought up and solved, like in Kanon. However, instead of completely disappearing (like in Kanon), the characeters still have some role in the plot. To justify romance scenes with girls other than Nagisa, the story is written so that all the girls (except Kotomi and Fuuko) have fallen for Tomoya, and they give up later in the series. (One bad thing about Clannad is that Sunohara is just an excuse for slapstick comedy. It's funny when he is beaten up, but that's usually all he is there for.)
I'm not going to comment on Air (as no matter what I say about it, my huge bias against it would affect my statements; also I never played/watched videos of the visual novel).
Now, let's take a look at Little Busters! I played the visual novel and loved it. I watched the anime and...well "hate" is a strong word and wouldn't be accurate but...I guess I was very disappointed. Even more disappointed than Umineko no Naku Koro ni.
From the onset, the only objective of the protagonist and his friends is to create a baseball team, which is (more or less) accomplished halfway through the season. Every person they recruit has some sort of problem in their lives. (Who didn't see that coming?) Some problems are realistic, some...not so real. As much as I love Kud's arc, I have to say the conclusion was the biggest (and fastest) Deus ex Machina I've ever scene (and also the VN version was 1000x better/dramatic). Even bigger than Kirito in Sword Art Online (and that was a big one). In typical Key fashion, a characters' problems are resolved, and then she fades away (to varying degrees depending on which Key work you're referring to). All heroines come back for the filler episodes, but then disappear again whenever the story beings another heroine's arc. Sure, in a VN, it makes sense for other girls to disappear, but for an anime, YOU CAN'T DO THAT! Look at Clannad. They did very well in having heroines take on supporting roles.
Also, there is no romance. Zero. Little Busters! is the same type of VN as Clannad. Clear all the routes to unlock an epilogue arc. "Clear" meaning "conquer" every girl (as Katsuragi Keima would put it). While I don't expect Riki to create his own harem, I felt something missing in LB. I do realize that focusing romance on a single heroine is impossible like they did with Nagisa in Clannad (can't explain that to people who didn't play the VN, because it would be a spoiler), but I did expect signs of infatuation, because the way the anime is right now, it feels like I'm watching a totally different story. I think the reason no romance lowers the quality of this anime, is because the way it is now, Riki just feels like someone who is just looking for problems to solve (and for some reason, he is the only one who can). Having some romance would make a little more sense. If the girl likes the guy, she will trust him and ask for help from him. It would seems natural for the guy to do everything in his power to save the girl. It would also seem normal that he is the only person doing anything about it.
Also, some of the jokes are poor, some are repeated too often, and some have bad timing. Some episodes are meant to be 100% comedy, while others are 100% drama. While it is good to maintain a serious mood in serious times, I don't think viewers should be able to say, "This episode started with Masato being socked in the face, so it's going to be a funny episode," or, "This episode started off with a depressing flashback, so it's a serious episode." In other words, episodes shouldn't be classified into serious or funny. In my opinion, many of the funny episodes are unecessary, like the test of courage and the slumber party. Sure, they were fun in the VN, but in an anime adaptation where episodes are limited, the story should spend more time on covering the heroine's arcs than silly side stories.
I will mention one thing JC Staff did right about the story. That's right, folks. JC Staff actually IMPROVED something!!! That is: Komari and Rin's friendship is emphasized more than in the VN, and what a beautiful friendship it is. Note: I'm not saying KyoAni could have done it better than JC Staff. In fact, it's completely useless to argue that KyoAni could've done better, because no amount of protesting will change the fact that JC Staff is making the show.
Animation quality is nothing special. Some scenes (very few) are done very well, especially for the last few episodes, while others are evidently drawn with saving money in mind (a lot of them). JC Staff was probably thinking: "This story was made by Key, so people won't care how well we animate it, and it will still be a success." Well they're wrong about us not caring. Based on BD/DVD sales, it is somewhat of a success, which is both good and bad. Good because it means Refrain will be animated into a second season, but bad because it's like rewarding them for doing something wrong.
The opening has a unique start, but turns into something generic. The dramatic build up in the song just isn't there. I liked the VN version of the song much better. Background music is pretty good, except for the fact that some tracks are overused. The ending is boring (never liked that song for some reason), and I've only listened to the whole thing a couple times.
There aren't many places for voice acting to stand out in this season, so I can't really say much about it. It's up to par with the VN (same voice actors so that makes sense), and tones are realistic, I guess. I'm not really expecting much regarding voices until the Refrain arc (the epilogue arc), when there are some really dramatic scenes.
Riki is a two dimensional character. I would go so far as to say he is boring. So is every other member of the cast. Some are likeable, but they are all flat. The development of Riki could have been done a little better if they hadn't tried to follow the VN so closely. Unlike the VN, Riki should have grown with every experience. (VN's have the player play one route at a time, but the anime is a linear story.)
In the VN, Riki's development is only visble in Refrain (which is very long). It is impossible to have significant character development in the VN, because each route is related to each other in a special way, and the order of routes taken is determined by the player. Thus, if route B has more character than route A, and the player chose route B before route A, that would cause problems with continuity. To those who haven't played the VN: Turn your brain off right now. I said that to make a point, but if you keep thinking about that "special way" the routes are related, you might spoil yourself.
Anyway, back to characters. Every heroine has her problem solved. Masato is a muscle maniac/idiot. Kengo is a loner. Kyousuke is a charismatic but random leader. None of them really develop.
Rin is probably the girl who shows the most change. She changes from shy to somewhat socialable, and even the viewer slowly gets to know her caring nature more throughout the series.
It's tough to remain objective on my rating of this show, considering I loved the visual novel. I really don't think Little Busters! was meant to be made into an anime. If I hadn't played the VN, I'd say the story is a meaningless slice of life anime with flat characters. The animation and voice acting are acceptable, but that's about it. Would I recommend this anime to others (who haven't played the VN)? No, unless you desperately want your fix of dramatic heroine arcs made by Key, and have already seen Air, Kanon, Clannad, and Angel Beats. To those who have played the VN, I would say it's interesting to see the story you read animated, but the outcome is depressing. I would recommend it, but don't go in with high expectations.
Note: My opinion on whether or not I recommend this anime may change based on how the second season goes. (I'm assuming there will be one, or this truly will be the worst adaptation in history.) However, my opinion on the quality (story, animation, sound, and characters) will not change.
Little Busters is a Key visual novel adaptation. So it's similar to Clannad, Kanon, Air, etc - if you've seen any of those you know more or less what to expect. But that's exactly the point: expect a lot less, otherwise you'll be disappointed.
It's about a group of 5 childhood friends who in high school decide to start up a baseball team. They call the team the Little Busters (how lame is that?????? - is what I thought the first time I heard it...) and start recruiting new members because they need a total of 9 players. Nothing much happens in the anime, I mean there's no plot worth mentioning because it's supposedly character-driven, but the truth is that none of the characters are so great that the anime can get by based just on their interaction.
Basically, each new girl recruited as a member is the protagonist of a story arc narrating some kind of personal or family problem that our main protagonist, Riki, helps to solve. This happens 4 times. Good intentions and nice feelings are oozing out of every episode of this anime. Course there's nothing wrong with that, just that after 26 episodes I really feel it's a bit too much. It would have been acceptable with a proper plot capable of giving a sense of finality and purpose to all of it, but unfortunately that is exactly what's missing and it's this anime's greatest flaw: it lacks purpose and direction. I haven't seen Little Busters Refrain yet, the second season, so maybe the second season will be able to give purpose also to the first season. As for the character-arcs, I was touched by Mio's arc. I think it's well narrated and has plenty of depth.
The characters are average. The protagonists of the individual arcs are all sweet troubled girls who Riki helps making them realise their own value as a person, the importance of their life and the significance of friendship - after that they slide into the background while the next girl takes over the spotlight for the next couple of episodes. Riki as a protagonist is somewhat lacking, he feels kind of flat and mono-dimensional; he has a backstory, but it doesn't really add much to him in terms of making him more endearing or relatable. For no discernible reason the more interesting characters did not get nearly any development: Kyosuke, Kengo, Kurogaya and Masato. Rin is an exception as she doesn't have her own arc but she does get some development throughout the whole anime.
Animation is average and the sound too. I usually watch anime in Japanese subtitled in English, but this time I have to admit that I watched the English dub. For no particular reason other than it just automatically started in English and after the first two episodes I just didn't bother switching anymore because I decided it wouldn't make any difference. So I can't say anything about the voice acting. As for the dubbed version, it wasn't too bad. I found Masato's voice especially annoying. And I often couldn't understand what Ku was saying, but that was probably done on purpose.
In conclusion, Little Busters isn't a bad anime but it isn't a good one either. A conclusive opinion hinges a lot on the second series, if it is able to overcome the flaws of the first season or not. But as a review only of the first season, I don't think that I can give it more than 5/10 - and that is generous.