Three episodes in Little Busters! seems incapable of being less than likeable, but this week’s episode had something of the feel of a placeholder.
I suppose it’s unavoidable to compare LB to its predecessors in adaptation from Key, especially Kanon (which I loved) and Clannad (which I liked). I’ve mentioned it before but in a funny way, LB has the feeling of being the earlier work even though it was written afterwards – it’s much more innocent in tone, and frankly a little less sophisticated in narrative structure (though perhaps that’s more the result of how it’s being adapted). For me Kanon is clearly the most mature work from a dramatic standpoint despite being first, though that’s directly linked to who the main writer was – it almost feels here as if Maeda Jun made an intentional choice to step back from the heavy tone of Clannad and create something more simple and direct.
The result of all this for now is that the anime version of LB – whether it be the product of Maeda-san’s writing or that of the adaptation – thus far lacks something of the narrative flow you’d expect to see from an anime after three episodes. More than any other Key adaptation LB so far feels like the VN it is, and sometimes that’s charming – but there’s a reason anime are different from VNs, and this one feels a bit adrift to me at the moment. Routes are being introduced and checked off dutifully, plot points are being foreshadowed (though less so this week than last) and the comedic patterns laid out in the premiere are being followed predictably. It’s a pleasant world to inhabit, but it all seems a bit dutiful at the minute.
This episode saw the introduction of two more heroines, genki girl Saigusa Haruka (Suzuki Keiko) and seemingly the more important, Kurugaya Yuiko (Tanaka Ryouko). While Haruka’s interaction with Riki is strictly comedic this week, Kurugaya is a more interesting addition and seems likely to impact the story more directly. A bit of an ojou-sama in temperament, she seems much older though is apparently in Riki’s class – and speaks openly about the elephant in the room, that Riki is effectively a moe main character. One might almost be tempted to call Kurugaya a Mary Sue as she’s physically invincible and among the top 10 in the nation in test scores, but she redeems that by being a bit of delinquent – she rarely shows up for class, carries a katana (perhaps hoping one day to waitress in Hokaido) and has an odd and perhaps the most edgy sense of humor in the cast. I didn’t find the broken chair gag especially funny (I don’t know why anyone would laugh at that joke in this day and age) but her interactions with Riki are interesting. She’s somewhat mean towards him, but there’s a sense that there’s no malice behind it – that there’s an underlying core of affection that goes beyond her admitted predisposition towards cute things.
I continue to get most of the biggest laughs from Masato, though his humor is definitely of the lowbrow (and repetitive) variety. I mentioned last week that I wasn’t sure I enjoyed the ep as much as I did, and that applies to Masato in a way as well – I mean, he’s hardly an original creation and his role as the comedic schlemiel of the Little Busters is strictly vaudeville. But it works for me, because he has the feckless sincerity that makes him likeable and because the underrated Canna Nobutoshi is doing a nice job with the role. Mangled wordplay and pratfalls aren’t exactly the stuff of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, I admit, but what makes us laugh makes us laugh.
I’m still undecided about where the big picture for Little Busters! is headed. Is this really a kinder and gentler Maeda Jun, or simply a more elaborately staged calm before the storm? We all know that even the most dramatic Key works start slowly, and “marathon, not a sprint” definitely applies. But even so, I’m ready for things to go to the next level and for the anime to start acting more like an anime and less like a VN. It’s not as though I can simply press on in one sitting until things heat up here – I have to wait a week after every 22 minutes. One could speculate that because this is a J.C. Staff team of less renowned talent than the KyoAni staff who worked on the likes of Clannad and Kanon they’re being too reverent and faithful in adaptation to avoid giving offense, or even that Key and Maeda have too much influence creatively for the same reason – but it’s too early to reach that conclusion yet.