Given the “RapeLay” controversy several years ago and currently failed efforts from the few English visual novel publishers on the market today, it is becoming quite unlikely that we will ever see a KEY visual novel such as Little Busters! released to the international market, despite offering several all-ages versions from the original edition to the PlayStation console “Converted Edition”. Because of this, many will only get to explore their enticing storylines through the anime format, meaning that anime adaptations of their works need to be stellar and nothing less.
While it is hard to tell if this anime adaptation will live up to the expectations of its source material which when reviewed on site site back in 2010 walked away with a score of 9/10, the first 13-episodes in this collection from Hanabee Entertainment indicate many good things to come.
This first set of episodes builds upon the original “Little Busters” arc which sees the protagonist Riki, Kyousuke and the rest of the LB’s expand their group to the nine key members needed to form a baseball team, while enjoying their school life and taking part in various activities. Every couple of episodes they diverge from these general activities by introducing a new female character arc which deals with events surrounding a particular character
KEY have been renown for their school-life drama’s with supernatural elements in them, and Little Busters! is no exception. That being said, in this collection they focus on some of the events surrounding Rin’s arc as she and Riki attempt to discover the “mystery to the world”, complete Komari’s arc which involves the mystery behind her older brother and cover most of Mio Nishizono’s arc which is more supernatural in style and ends in a rather promising cliffhanger. While I will let you enjoy each of these storylines without spoiling too much on them, they did transition well and provide a strong start to what should hopefully be a very strong anime adaptation.
The series also paid fitting homage to the certain events and “gameplay systems” present in the visual novel release including the battle system which sees two characters fight it out with (mostly) useless items and the subsequent title system which causes the loser of the fight to be given a title they are referred to by others with. These don’t hinder the storyline by any means, but makes for some more light-hearted and comical watching.
One of the initial causes for concern with Little Busters! was that rather than Kyoto Animation who were occupied with other titles, J.C. Staff was the animation studio behind this adaptation. While I also feel that Kyoto Animation could have done a better job in the design department given their previous portfolio of titles which have received constantly high scores in “Design” on this site, the visual quality is reasonably good and draws from the source material well with good animation and accurately replicated landmarks.
As with other KEY anime adaptations, they also draw from the existing pool of music available from the visual novel. While this could be seen as a cost cutting measure, the music is of a solid quality from the main instrumental music tracks played throughout the episodes to the new edition of the opening theme “Little Busters!” performed by Rita. A sample of the opening theme can be found in the anime’s trailer.
I personally prefer the Japanese dubbed vocal track for Little Busters! rather than the newly produced English one, although most of the voice cast do provide at least a satisfactory performance for their respective characters. The one character of concern was Kud, who they chose to give a strong Russian accent for and played up her characters difficulty / desire to speak English. This differed from her struggling to speak English but speaking relatively fluent Japanese. Most of the time this was fine, however some of her lines were spoken so softly and quickly that she could have used her own subtitle track. Some highlights of the English voice cast included Blake Shepard as Kyousuke, KEY-veteran Brittney Karbowski as Rin and Carli Mosier as Yuiko Kurugaya.
Unfortunately as this was originally a Sentai Filmworks release in North America, there is a distinct lack of extra goodies in this collection which consisted only of Clean Opening and Ending sequences in addition to a set of Trailers for other titles. Surely there is something more they could provide, considering they proved themselves more than competent in their 2012 release of Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth (Which no Australian publisher have decided to pick up the rights to).
While it may not be a full replacement for the original visual novel, the Little Busters! anime series has so far shaped up to be a really enjoyable adaptation, which has taken many of the best parts of the source material and sometimes even extended upon it to provide an entertaining and interesting viewing experience. Given they haven’t managed to make it through two full character arcs yet I am skeptical that they may end up rushing through them as the season comes to a close, but so far it is shaping up to be just as strong as the other KEY anime adaptations on the market.
As for the secret of the world…. I think it is worthwhile sticking around at least to find out what it is.
Little Busters! has proven to be a solid adaptation from the source visual novel, with the different character arcs in addition to the overarching storyline and particular visual landmarks being handled well.
The transition to the anime format has allowed them to expand upon particular events present in the anime series, including the "Haunted School" event and the "Cafeteria Task".
While at this point in time it is the female characters that have their own arc, the development of the male characters is still decent and will almost certainly be expanded upon in the second "Refrain" season.
Similar to Clannad and Kanon, while there are many serious moments throughout the episodes there is also a sufficient supply of comical moments.
The visual quality may not have meet the standards that KyoAni could have produced, but were nevertheless of a reasonably high standard.
It was good to see that they brought back many of the strong tracks present in the original visual novel soundtrack. Listening to "Heroic Battle" when a battle takes place ties the anime and source together well.
Following Hanabee Entertainment's habbit of throwing in small extra physical goodies with their releases, picking up a first print edition of this collection will net you a small set of character stickers featuring Rin, Mio, Kurugaya and Komari.
Riki seems to have a gift of predicting exactly what episodes he will be affected by his narcolepsy despite seemingly being random.
While most KEY male protagonists have had particular issues that define them and develop throughout the series, Riki didn't seem to be much more a blank slate to facilitate development of the other characters, with all his issues rectified during childhood after meeting the other Little Busters members.
I am uncertain if they took the right direction with Kud's localized voice - going from cutesy Japanese with the occasional Engrish moment to a strong Russian accent full with mostly Engrish. This ultimately makes her sound older than most of the characters in the series, which may be problematic if they ever decide to adapt Kud Wafter which recently received an all-ages visual novel adaptation in Japan.
Lack of extra goodies.