Final Impressions: Little Busters! Refrain


Ouch, my brain

I commented several times that I didn't think that Little Busters! Refrain would wrap up completely within thirteen episodes. In fact, the midpoint of the series was moving at such a sluggish pace that it seemed all would be revealed in a movie sequel, or a few OVAs. Having not played the visual novel, I could only judge based on where I thought the show was going, and considering the twists and turns towards the end, there's no wonder I was proven wrong!

Indeed, Little Busters! Refrain wrapped up in the final episode, bringing the latest anime adaptation of a Key work to a close. I'm sure there are a lot of us already accustomed to Key's style of merging school kids, bad news and world-changing fantasy, and this was certainly not an exception to the formula. It all got quite crazy towards the end as the loose ends were tied up, so here's my attempt at making sense of it all. A word of warning to those of you that are yet to see this show: there will be spoilers aplenty! 

If you're not used to Key and their style of story, you might assume from the first few episodes of the original series that this is just a run-of-the-mill school anime. We're introduced to Riki, the cheerful yet somewhat withdrawn protagonist of the show, as well as the other four members of the Little Busters, a group of kids whom he spent his childhood with. Riki also has narcolepsy, a condition caused by a great trauma in his childhood, which causes his to fall asleep suddenly and without warning. His friends are very protective of him because of this, but besides that, everything seems set for your usual school-based comedy. 

Of course, it doesn't stay that way. While many new faces join the new Little Busters, an impromptu baseball club set up by the groups leader, it becomes apparent that each and every one of them has their own obstacle to overcome. This isn't quite as simple as Riki running around to find missing items and help out hopeless romantics, but rather deaths in the family, grievous bodily harm and even a civil war. It seems rather outlandish on paper, but Little Busters! does well to weave it into the narrative so that it doesn't ever feel too crazy. 

Little Busters! Refrain completes the original story, tying up the loose ends and revealing what 'the secret of this world' is. This 'secret' was brought up several times during the original season, becoming the primary driver for Riki to confront and help solve different situations while he searches for the answer. It seems that the closer Riki gets to the nature of this secret, the darker this show becomes.

The secret must be quite substantial to justify 39 total episodes of Little Busters!, mustn't it? Luckily, Refrain doesn't disappoint in this regard, as it's revealed that the world Riki and Rin are living in is a fake. There was mention of a coach accident in a neighboring school in which all but two students died, but it turns out that this was an accident that all Little Busters members were involved in. Kyousuke, knowing that Riki and Rin didn't have it in them to cope with the deaths of all their friends, created a fake world for them to live in whilst he attempted to make them 'grow up' enough to be able to survive in the real world. This is exactly why Kyousuke became such a nasty character towards the end, as he was struggling to help his younger sister grow in confidence to ultimately continue with her life in the real world, and not as a wreck of a human being. 

The interesting part is that everyone else is in on the secret. Everyone who joins the Little Busters in the fake world was involved in the accident, knowing full well that they are on the brink of death in the real world. Still, having given up on their own lives, they strive to help Rin and Riki mature to the point where they can be returned to the real world, where they would experience the aftermath of the crash and the deaths of their friends. Credit where credit is due, Key has crafted one hell of a secret to reveal at this shows' climax. Looking back at past episodes, there are parts which hint quite heavily at what is going to happen, so there's some incentive to go back and check out all the foreshadowing. 

But even with a killer plot twist, Little Busters! Refrain certainly isn't perfect. While it keeps the mystery surrounding the secret up until the very end, it means we have more than a few episodes stuck dragging their heels while you wish they would be move the story along instead. This is partly because, at this point, you're left wondering if all of the dallying around is pushing the conclusion into an OVA or a movie, but also because you're desperate for the pay-off. 

It's also pretty strange how all of the new members of the Little Busters, with the exception of Komari, vanish before the secret is revealed. I can only assume this was done on Kyousuke's suggestion, to help push Rin over the final hurdle by removing most of her female friends and allowing her to become more independent. This isn't clarified, and it was frustrating to see them all missing at the end of the fake world until I thought about what the possible reason for doing this was. But therein lies the other problem; this show somewhat loses its way by becoming too complex in an attempt to hide the plot twist. It's a great pay-off, that much is certain, but I'm curious to know how many people the show lost along the way because of the cover-up. 

I wouldn't say that Little Busters! overstays its welcome, but rather that the biggest let-down is in its pacing. While there are many weird and wonderful stories and adventures along the way, and some truly great characters that make many a filler scene more bearable, some may consider it a slog to get to the crux of the show. After all, 39 episodes isn't exactly something most people can get through that quickly. Still, if you're a fan of Key's works or just love a good story, then definitely give this a go, as there are some great character moments and many heartbreaking scenes that you won't want to pass up. 

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Chris Walden
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