My general opinion on Key Visual Arts is that, while I can appreciate their works and even enjoy them, I do not like them. I had a great time watching Clannad, but the parts of it that most people consider to be the reason to its popularity and status as “the best thing ever” often did not do anything to me. More often than not, I felt threatened and even manipulated by its tearjerking material. You have probably heard this analogy before, but it is honestly a befitting one: Key’s shows are like large neon signs commanding you to bawl your eyes out. “Cry, god damnit!” You have no choice. Join the horde. Feel miserable. Worship us, masters of your emotions. When I started watching Little Busters!, I expected no less than the usual nice guy going around helping quirky helpless girls with tragic backstories and everyone dying in the snow, but I was surprised to see that that was not the case.
No, what I got was way, way worse.
Watching J.C. Staff’s paint-by-numbers adaptation made me realize just how great of a company Kyoto Animation really is is. Sure, they may lack all sorts of ambition, and their choice of source material is not always the greatest, but they really know how to make an anime. Kyoto’s finest are top of the class in anything ranging from directing to adapting a script for television without stumbling over the most basic of writing mishaps. J.C. Staff, however, is the exact opposite of this, and as such, even manages to make their source material look as appealing as a large serving of kiviak.
No, I did not like this first episode of Little Busters!, but let’s get the good out of the way first. For starters, I did like the increased focus on bromance. Usually, Key shows deal with one seemingly perfect, nice guy helping out an entire army of socially challenged girls, often accompanied by one idiotic best friend who mostly serves as the butt of all jokes. That archetype is still very much around in Little Busters!, but this time around, he is joined by a bunch of other bros who spend most of the episode hanging around doing bro things. Some of these moments are rather enjoyable, and it is a nice change of pace to have some male characters who actually do something for once.
Sadly enough, that’s about all the positive I have to mention. The negative… Yeah, do you have a few minutes?
We know Key’s schtick by now, and they do not exactly manage to keep it up this time around. The characters in Little Busters! come over as complete jokes. Not only are they psychopathic assholes who think beating each other up is a prime means of both entertainment and resolving conflict, they are also huge black holes void of any memorable traits. A first episode is meant to introduce viewers to the characters, but despite focusing entirely on these jerks for 22 minutes, I have no idea what their personalities are about. I don’t even know their names. For starters, there is the main character, a meek joke of a guy who is actually not even worth mentioning. In fact, I actually thought him to be a side character until he had his flashback. More about that flashback later. Secondly, there is the muscle guy, a hulking eighties runaway of a bromantic foil who gets all of Sunohara’s jokes and none of the charm. There is kendo guy, who… practices kendo, there is leader guy, an idiotic-looking generic ‘big bro’ type of dude who fails horribly at being an overenthusiastic large ham and whose thought processes are impossible to follow, and finally, there is… girl.
Don’t even get me started on the side characters. The ojou-sama is a character archetype that desperately needs to die and Little Buster’s resident alpha bitch apparently aspires to be the most annoying incarnation of this archetype in recent history. The candy girl is just the second coming of Ayu, Fuuko, or any of the other food-obsessed clumsy little girls Key loves so dearly. I did not really expect anything less from the company that brought us “uguu”. The female character designs are ridiculously cheesy, featuring girls with hairstyles that even Tetsuya Nomura would consider “a tad bit over the top”, and in juxtaposition with the hideously generic-looking male cast and extras, stand out even more. Clannad‘s characters were simple, yet memorable, whereas Little Busters!‘s heroines look like K-Pop idols who lost a bet. If there are memorable characters somewhere to be found in Little Busters!, J.C. Staff sure isn’t trying to make them shine.
“Hi, I am Riki Naoe, and these are the Little Busters. Back when my mother died, they helped me out by making me forget about all the loneliness and sadness in my heart. Just so you know, I felt really bad when she died. I am just telling you this while you look at these still frames of flashbacks of my friends setting each other on fire just to make sure we don’t have to waste time on actually showing you this story, so that you can actually feel bad for me because my mother is dead and feel happy that these people of which I inform you that they are awesome helped me out. You know, our friendship is very important! Now that you know that, let’s return to our regularly scheduled random baseball!”
Aside from such blatant violations of the “show, don’t tell” rule, the first episode of Little Busters! also lacked anything an engaging story requires, ranging from a sense of direction, tension or even a remote hint of why the hell these people are supposed to be friends. There was not a single detail in the plot of this episode that motivated me to come back to Little Busters! or even remotely care about these characters and whatever they are trying to pull off. Another nail in this show’s already sizeable coffin.
I never thought anyone would ever be able to make someone being punched through a wooden sign look boring, but the director of Little Busters! sure pulled it off. Little Busters!’s underwhelming presentation is by far one of its most annoying flaws. Cheap animation, dull camera angles, bland, undetailed backgrounds, characters looking silly half of the time and a general severe lack of the excess that made KyoAni’s Key adaptations so memorable. No soft filters, natural beauty, or crazy awesome 300-hit kick combos here, just the bare minimum required for this to pass as animation. With the dull direction and wooden animation, they might just have been better off broadcasting a Let’s Play of the original visual novel.
I never smiled once during this entire first episode, and to be honest. I have no idea what the heck happened to Jun Maeda here. Complete madness is the one thing in his writing that I unconditionally like, and while Clannad and Angel Beats! already had a questionable sense of humour, they were often hilarious. Tomoya’s trolling antics in Clannad were a joy to watch, and even the slapstick was so over-the-top it became endearing. With Little Busters!‘s increased focus on bromance and friendship antics, I expected a fair share of laughs, but boy, was this dissappointing. The more physical jokes were awkward and boring because of J.C. Staff’s unambitious presentation, but the verbal ones were even worse. Kyousuke’s joke about the famous quotes was never funny to begin with and dragged on for way too long, the reasoning behind his impulsive randomness is void of any sort of fishy logic that could actually make it amusing, and most other “jokes” are completely idiotic gags that serve more as ways to ensure fanbase in-jokes or memes than as means to actually amuse viewers. Even the allegedly over-the-top hot-blooded rivalry of muscle guy and kendo guy is reduced to mild enthusiasm. Little Busters!‘s humour is too lame to be slow, sharp and stingy, and way too lazy to be bombastic or fun.
Annoying voice acting
From the moment ponytail girl opened her mouth, the frown on my face did not go away. I am surprised that despite this being the same voice cast as the game, the voices fit the characters so badly. Riki being voiced by a girl despite being a high school second-year (i.e. seventeen (!) years old) is a senseless mistake and kitten girl’s voice actress desperately tries to channel her inner Rie Kugimiya, despite that voice making her character sound like a joke. Ojou-sama‘s voice actress belts out the most grating “OHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO~” this side of Yumerio Patisserie and most of the males sound like they are mindlessly reading their lines off a sheet with faked enthusiasm. Especially Kyousuke suffers badly from this. He is supposed to be some overdramatic, idiot shoujo protagonist large ham, but his delivery sounds like the equivalent of a cheap broth cooked off Jun Fukuyama’s bones. With so many voice actors around who have built their entire careers on being ridiculous, surely they must have found someone who could play this guy better than the amateur they gave his role to now.
That is, if J.C. Staff ever cared about turning their Little Busters! anime into something worthwhile.
I am sure that there must be some sort of interesting story hidden underneath the pile of laziness and cheap tricks that is the Little Busters! anime. There must be a reason why this adaptation was so highly anticipated. The sheer lack of ambition or passion in this screen adaptation is however saddening. Not only is it a lazy, boring, sometimes even frustrating waste of your time, it also makes the original story look increasingly unappealing. Other failed adaptations have at least made me show some interest in the source material because of an inherently interesting premise, but there is nothing, nothing in Little Busters! that even remotely makes me consider checking out the visual novel. In the end, this adaptation will do the franchise more bad than good.