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.