Review for Little Busters Refrain Season 2 Collection
Last month, MVM brought us Little Busters!, the Jun Maeda Key/Visual adaptation that serves as a follow up to shows like Kanon and Clannad. If you’ve read my review of that first series, you’ll know that while I enjoyed the show, it didn’t quite compare to its earlier siblings, part of it down to the change in animation studio, part of it down to its storytelling style, as it chose to focus more on the harem antics and only hint at the overarching story. Now that this follow up series, Little Busters! Refrain is here, hopefully it will fill in the gaps. But I’m put in mind of the last time a Key/Visual anime came to us in two parts. Clannad was all fluffy, light, and ephemeral fun with the odd dramatic moment. Then Clannad After Story came, an unrelenting dive into despair. With that kind of form, I might need prescription anti-depressants to help me watch Little Busters! Refrain.
When Riki Naoe was a child, he suffered the tragic loss of his parents. But his depression began to lift when he was befriended by siblings Kyousuke and Rin Natsume, and Masato Inohara, and Kengo Miyazawa, collectively known as the Little Busters. They invited him into their gang, and made his childhood an adventure, where they were heroes of justice. Now, as Riki is in his second year of high school, Kyousuke ready to graduate, those childhood dreams have started to fade as adulthood beckons. But Riki wanted to recapture those dreams once more, and that gave Kyousuke an idea. A baseball team, called The Little Busters. First they needed four more members. Meanwhile cat lover Rin is getting little messages tied to her cats, clues to the ‘secret of the world’.
13 episodes of Little Busters! Refrain are presented across 3 DVDs from MVM. It’s also available on Blu-ray.
1. It Struck Without Warning
2. It Was Raining Back Then, Too
3. I Wanted to Stay Here Forever
4. Riki and Rin
5. The Final Task
6. After the Escape
7. May 13
8. Proof of the Strongest
9. A Friend’s Tears
10. And Now, I Repeat it All
11. The End of the World
12. One Wish
13. The Little Busters
Little Busters gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer, progressively encoded on these dual layer discs. The image is clear and sharp, the animation comes across without issue, and colours are strong and consistent. And it’s all a disappointment. The previous Key/Visual anime that I have seen, Kanon and Clannad were animated by KyoAni, who brought their attention to detail, wonderful world and character design, and rich atmospheric visuals to bear, resulting in shows that were memorable and of stellar quality. Angel Beats too got a stellar production from PA Works, the company behind A Lull in the Sea and Hanasaku Iroha. For Little Busters, it’s Studio J.C Staff doing the honours, and they have given the show a rather lacklustre and unenthusiastic animation. The character designs are consistent, but the character animation never delivers the right level of emotion. The world design is rather pedestrian, and the animation too is one that looks to cut frame counts to save on money and effort, rather than deliver something evocative and memorable. Little Busters does just enough to get its story across, and little more.
You have the choice between Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. Little Busters dates from that period when Sentai’s dubs were at their nadir, and I certainly couldn’t live with more than a minute or so of this one. Fortunately the Japanese audio is present and correct, with the cast suited well to their roles, and the overall viewing experience is more than acceptable, with the action represented well, and the show’s musical themes feeling typically game-like as for all Key/Visual anime. The credit theme songs are very catchy, if noticeably missing out on the vocal talents of Lia. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typos.
The discs present their content with static menus and jacket pictures. Each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Disc 1 offers textless credits, one opening and two endings.
You also get trailers for Non Non Biyori (someone license this please!), Log Horizon, Muv Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse, ef ~ a tale of memories, Infinite Stratos 2, and The World God Only Knows ~ Goddesses.
Little Busters does indeed go all Clannad for its second series, moving on from the mostly light and fluffy fun of the first series for an unrelenting dive into tragedy and despair. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to pull a wholly contrived and frankly contemptuous rabbit out of its hat to provide a happy ending, the way Clannad did (its most significant flaw), the happy ending that Little Busters Refrain offers works with respect to its story, and doesn’t insult the intelligence. However, this is the only aspect of Little Busters that is better than Clannad, and it does indeed carry over many of the flaws from the first season, even if things do get a little more serious and dark as it heads to its conclusion.
We do begin in the same vein as Little Busters, as there was one character whose story had yet to be followed through, Yuiko’s. We had a touch of the supernatural and fantastic with the earlier stories, particularly Kud’s, but things go full on strange here, as Little Busters does its own version of Endless Eight, only June 20th takes a turn for the decidedly weird as Riki tries to find his way out of the loop by helping Yuiko. And solving Yuiko’s story has an unexpected result, as does finally getting to the bottom of the cat messages that Riki and Rin have been solving. From this point the story really does focus on Riki and Rin, as the ‘secrets of this world’ begin to be divulged. We’re in serious spoiler territory here, and I’m probably saying too much when I say that Little Busters Refrain goes all Jacob’s Ladder for its conclusion.
What this does have the effect of is that it makes the whole story stand up to scrutiny. It all makes sense, the odd supernatural occurrences, the messages tied to cats, the point of the baseball team, the missions that Kyousuke sets for Riki, the narcolepsy. It isn’t like Clannad, where you’re probably left asking what the point of the robot and the girl interludes were, even after it was explained. Little Busters Refrain is a worthy ending for the show, with everything neatly wrapped up with a bow.
The only problem is that a great ending is pointless if the rest of the series isn’t up to scratch, and just like Little Busters, Little Busters Refrain suffers from its lower production values. Its storytelling isn’t as tight, and the characters are far too single note, lacking nuance and depth. These Key/Visual anime adaptations are supposed to echo the games that they adapt, in that through narrative contrivance, they provoke an emotional response in the viewer time and again. Each story arc is supposed to elicit tears, make you press pause while you wipe your eyes, and try and calm down for the next hit of tragicomedy. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions all the way to the final catharsis. Only Little Busters isn’t like that. It might nudge the emotions, but it never forces a lump in the throat, moistens the eyes during its run time, not until its finale at the end of Refrain, and after 39 episodes, that’s not enough return for time invested.
Little Busters and Little Busters Refrain are watchable enough, but you can’t help but imagine how the show might have turned out had it been animated by KyoAni instead of JC Staff.