I bought this anime series expecting a bit of fun about a group of friends putting together a baseball team. I wasn’t disappointed, but I also got an emotional roller-coaster into the bargain. After a few episodes I checked online and found this has its origins in a game made by Key, who were also responsible for Clannad, so I was no longer surprised to be watching something that stirs the emotions almost every episode. This is no Clannad, but it shares an ability to make the viewers care strongly about the plight of each and every character, despite a large ensemble cast.
Our main character is Riki, whose parents died when he was young, so a small group of friends have become like family to him. They are Rin, a shy girl who struggles to communicate with anyone outside the group, her older brother Kyousuke, Riki’s room-mate Masato, and Kendo expert Kengo. Riki suffers from narcolepsy, which is rarely significant to the plot developments throughout the series, but adds to a general sense of his vulnerability. He’s a great hero, because he’s physically weak but mentally strong. His male friends are a physical contrast to him, so this is a series that explores very strongly the importance of what a person carries within them rather than their physical attributes.
The five friends decide to form a baseball team in school, and Riki recruits the extra members. If you think four boys and one girl is an odd balance for a group of friends, this changes quickly, because Riki follows a typical harem anime path of helping out girls with their problems, who then become his friends (and join the team). If you’re not a sports fan that won’t matter, as there is very little focus on the club activities, and only one actual game played right at the end of the series. Baseball isn’t the point here – it’s about watching the friendships being built and the issues of each character being explored and resolved.
As new players are added to the line-up, each and every one of them is an interesting addition to the series. The weakest is probably Yuiko, who is an anime cliché of a feisty girl who is a bit pervy about the other girls, but this is not a fanservice series so that doesn’t matter too much. It’s just a running joke that doesn’t really work. The other four new recruits are all fascinating. Komari is having vivid dreams about a brother she cannot remember, so Riki has to help her face up to her past and move beyond her mental defence mechanism. Haruka has a horrible relationship with her sister, who wields power over her in her position as head of the disciplinary commission. One of them has a dark secret in her past, but the question is who? The way their relationship has been destroyed by the actions of others is a tragedy, and explores the horrors of parents who treat two children very differently, and the consequences of that kind of discrimination.
Like Clannad, Little Busters! has a hint of the supernatural about it, most notably in the story of Mio, a quiet bookworm who uses a parasol to hide her lack of a shadow. Her imaginary friend Midori uses the shadow to manifest herself, and there is a very dramatic storyline with Midori taking over Mio’s body, while everyone quickly forgets that Mio ever existed.
There is also a spiritual element to Riki’s connection with Kud, whose mother is an astronaut from a fictional former Soviet country. When a launch goes wrong, Kud decides to travel back to her home country, a very dangerous place for her to be. It’s a gripping storyline, hinging on a connection between Kud and Riki that defies the distance between them. Adding to the general feeling of something otherworldly going on, Komari sometimes finds mysterious notes tied to her cat, which set tasks for Riki, and seem to suggest a power that understands the path he must follow to help friends in trouble. However, the fantasy elements are very subtle, and never detract from the core focus on the power of friendship, and how people can only heal when they share their troubles.
I will take a look at the second season of Little Busters! in a future article. RP