Do you like generic visual novel adaptations of harem situations with almost all of the romance removed? If so, you’re good, go watch Little Busters, you’ll love it. For everyone else, Little Busters is an adaptation of Key’s visual novel of the same name, produced by veteran Studio J.C Staff. With the source material having Jun Maeda (Charlotte, Clannad) involved, I started this anime with a lot of expectations story-wise. Sadly, my expectations weren’t met.
Starring generic protagonist number 6958, also known as Riki Naoe. As a child, Riki befriended a group of other kids who called themselves the titular ‘little busters’, a team that help people in need, in ways such as torching helpless hornets. Now in High School, the busters’ leader, Kyousuke Natsume, has just returned and has decided that the five of them will form a baseball team. Why a baseball team you may ask? Because this is based on a visual novel, and something needs to move the plot forward. Also, Riki has narcolepsy, but this is barely touched upon in the anime.
From this, each story arc, usually lasting a maximum of two episodes, can be placed into two categories. The first are episodes where Riki and Rin (probably the main heroine) get a letter from an unknown person, and if they complete the tasks written on them they will learn the ‘secret to the world’. These tasks seem to be an easy way to allow the characters to get involved with situations they have no reason to interact with, and allowing space for Rin to experience character development, from a shy almost friendless girl to happy harem member. By using this plot hook system, it allows the pacing to stay relatively fast, skipping over a lot of annoying ‘how do these characters get involved in this interesting situation?’ and instead, focusing the screen time on the task at hand.
The other plots consist of the main character casually bumping into females around the school, creating a connection, solving their problems, and then they join the little busters. One wondrous thing that this tale does, a trap that most VN adaptations fall for and I am quite pleased this avoids, is that the main strife of a lot of the girls isn’t solved in the episode they’re met. Instead, you have their introduction arc, and after a short period of other episodes where their problems are left in the background of other girls’ stories, they have a second arc that addresses the main cause of their strife. These storylines can conclude with very hard-hitting subjects.
Even though the Little Busters can get involved in some heart-wrenching matters, involving death or similar, the gang also have a lot of scenes that are truly humorous, if not overused after a few times, but with good reason. For example; every time two of the characters get close to having a schoolyard rumble, the crowd throw random objects in and the contestants use these to fight, creating an interesting dynamic that usually devolves to one person having a real weapon, and the other a gag. This is used to great effect at introducing interesting dynamics between some characters, but at other times left me feeling as if they were just trying to fill unused time.
While writing this review, I’ve had a hard time deciding if either the dub or sub is the better way of watching the show; with the Japanese track having female voices with that annoying high pitched squeal that is almost absent in more recent titles, looking at you voice of Komari; Natsumi Yanase (Fruit of Grisaia), but including some really nuanced and deep VA from Hikaru Midorikawa (ACCA: 13, Persona 3, Sakamoto desu ga?) playing Kyousuke. On the flip side, the English VA includes possibly the cutest and best dub of a Russian girl I’ve ever heard, with Tiffany Grant (Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hanayamata) playing Kudryavka Noumi, with the rest of the cast, direction, and lip-syncing being sub-par. So without kud-chan and the almost to-the-word accuracy of the translation of the script, there’s very little to be found here, but if you are already a fan of Sentai Filmworks dubs, this one seems par for the course.
Extras-wise; the collection includes only your standard clean OP and ED, trailers for other Sentai-licensed anime, and the promotional videos used to sell the anime in Japan. This is quite lacking as there is an OVA for this season which is not included and really should be, to complete the package.
Little Busters in and of itself doesn’t really have any massive problems that would make this review a scathing hate piece, but at the same time it doesn’t do anything, from animation, voice acting, plot, or tonal procedure, that I could praise it for, or even go into great depths as to why it isn’t great. It is one of those works that is not going to be anyone’s favourite anime or crack a list of worst uses of the medium.
This show, on its own merits, can be enjoyable at times, with some characters giving better performances than others and a hint of mystery in the background that makes you kind of want more. Luckily, the direct continuation ‘Little Busters: Refrain’ is only coming out in the next couple of months, and may make this season worth wading through, even if nothing more than as just a character introduction, but for now I recommend for people to refrain from buying this until season 2 is out, as alone Little Busters is not worth most people’s time.