Little Busters!: Refrain 01 – The Rain Begins

Title card

I’ve never walked alone… (source: pixivid 1155913)

Welcome to the first post of the new anime season, and my main series I’ll be covering this quarter. To establish some expectations beforehand: I’ve read the original Little Busters visual novel, and so am poisoned with foreknowledge and expectations. As such, I will be focused less on the substance of the story and more on the presentation and how JC Staff chose to adapt it. In the arena of anime the topic of adaptation is deep and varied, so we’ll have plenty to talk about.

Episode 1 Effect

Like the animation budget. It has increased! Hurrah for one cour!

For those who have not watched the first season of JC Staff’s Little Busters I strongly recommend you do so. Even if have read the visual novel, the pacing and order of the story coming into Refrain from the first season of the anime is somewhat different from that of the original, so watching the first season will (perhaps) set the stage for what is to come, as opposed to starting Refrain with confusion and bemusement. If you have neither read the visual novel nor watched the first season…I’m afraid you can’t start fractions before addition. It’s not going to work. Still, there’s no spoilers in this post. No barriers to entry! Free market!

On that note, let’s talk about that first season. It’s a shame that any meaningful discussion about it always ended up being hijacked by a inflammatory JC Staff vs Kyoto Animation debates; it’s the Godwin’s Law of Little Busters. Let us put that issue aside for now (and mostly for good) and consider exactly what sort of animal this adaptation is. I have said this before elsewhere, but the anime certainly had its problems (though not necessarily crippling ones, as we shall see). Komari’s route melded fairly well into the Common, but it suffered from the same problems as it did in the VN–arbitrary and forced conflict, unimaginative resolution–and never really rose above them. Mio’s route, one of the more ambitious and interesting offerings of the VN, was largely gutted. Haruka managed to come out without much change to its soap opera structure and Kud got a lot of episodes for herself for *suddenly stuff happens*, but much of it was devoted to dropping hints for Refrain and developing the core themes in preparation for Refrain.

No heart and no shadow

Let’s settle it: Mio’s was the best side-route, but Kurugaya was the best girl. (source: pixivid 415088)


Now, the original visual novel was a bit of a beast, with a completely unreasonable play-length. Converting the entirety of its contents to an animated format is, alas, an unreasonable expectation. Many adaptations of written works are less ‘translations’ of the work into a visual format and more ‘distillations’. To fit all of Little Busters into anime would require hundreds of episodes, something which is unfeasible as a business model. Sacrifices must be made in the name of practicality.

If we work with the assumption that JC Staff knows what it is doing, then we can say that they understand that the strongest of LB is in the Common route –> Rin’s route –> Refrain progression. And they pushed it in the first season, at the expense of other things. It’s easy to see that in the first season JC Staff played things very safe. Much more directly than the original VN, the common route was a setup for Refrain, what with the shameless clue dropping and recurring references to major themes. Perhaps there just isn’t time to be subtle. Whatever the case may be, relatively speaking any adaptation of Little Busters is going to be a blitz through of material. Now we have to see whether JC Staff’s compromise pays off in Refrain.

Unlimited Muscle Works

Actually, I lied. Muscle was the best route. (source: pixivid 474309)


So, how about the first episode? Like Kyoto Animation’s Clannad: After Story, JC Staff does not start the second season immediately with Refrain material. Necessarily so, since we still have Kurugaya’s route and Rin 2. Something to note about Kurugaya’s route: in the original visual novel, it’s very slow. Even compared to, say, Mio’s route, Kurugaya’s route is one that less ‘develops’ and more ‘seeps in’. It isn’t long, per se, and there’s not much OMG A TWIST (it’s surprising that the writer showed any restraint, considering he also wrote Komari’s route) but it’s atmospheric. Nothing displays that more than the choice of music: gentle, recurring piano pieces that grow in prominence as the story builds to climax.


Untitled 'a Capriccio Played By An Awakening Love'

The piano doesn’t so much play as haunts.


Given the problems we already have with the length of Little Busters vs anime episode capacity, this same approach is going to have practical obstacles. The first episode of Refrain is already giving signs that they are not going to dwell too long on Kurugaya. Kurugaya’s route was one of the more revealing routes in relation to the main route, but it didn’t really get into that until near the end. In the anime, we’re already full steam into spoilerville. Kurugaya’s route is also one of those route with a fairly ingrained romantic bent, so it’s likely that a lot of content will get stripped. Which is a shame. I mean, is it already over?! That’d be tragic. However, it does follow the general model JC Staff has set in place of heavily emphasising Refrain. So we really have to wait and see how Refrain turns out before passing judgment.

Or, I can be wrong and they do a really awesome Kurugaya. It’ll be a perfect lead into Rin 2. I’ll be perfectly fine with that.


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