Little Busters! is the least sports oriented sports series I’ve seen in a long time.
What They Say:
When tragedy struck Riki Naoe as a child, he was rescued from grief over his parent’s deaths when four other kids “recruited” him for their group, the “Little Busters.” Now in high school, Riki and the other Busters are still fast friends, and though their vision of being heroes for justice may have faded, they’d still do anything for each other – which is why Riki is now on TWO special missions.
The not-so-secret one: recruiting new members so the Busters can form a baseball team. Preferably female recruits, as the current dude/babe ratio is an inconvenient 4 to 1. The other mission, though, that’s the strange one. Riki and Rin, the group’s singular girl, are receiving odd messages delivered by cats concerning the existence of a “secret world” and assigning them tasks they have to complete. Were their youthful dreams of being crusaders not so fanciful after all? Or is there something even more vital at stake?
Contains episodes 1-13
The audio presentation for this release gives us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language dub, both of which are encoded using the lossless DTS-HD MA codec. The series is one that’s all about the dialogue here as there’s a good cast of characters that grows into things and plenty of back and forth between them all. It’s not big on action, though it has its couple of moments where it goes big, but that’s not something regular. The dialogue is pretty well placed overall with some good noticeable moments where the conversations come across richer and more engaging because of it. But mostly it’s a standard high school comedy/drama show that hits the usual notes with ease and style that makes for an engaging mix no matter which track you select. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we didn’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2012 and 2013, the transfer for this TV series contains the first twelve episodes and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second, giving plenty of room to do what it needs to do. The series is definitely what you’d expect from a show of this nature as animated by JC Staff with lush, vibrant colors – particularly in the greens and blues – with a good bit of detail and a lot of fluid situations. The animation comes across really well here with the detail throughout, though the backgrounds make out better, but the character animation has a lot going for it and maintains a very solid feeling throughout without any breakup or other problems. Colors are rich and solid without being oversaturated and it’s largely problem free, making for a great looking visual experience.
THe packaging for this release goes with two main selling points here and they do both work for the target audience while also working well within the Blu-ray case itself. The front cover goes for a simple and small logo along the upper left in order to allow most of the space for all of the girls that populates the series as they lay on their backs on the green grass while looking upwards. It’s not a cover that tells you a thing about the show other than lots of cute girls in uniforms with a good bit of variety and appealing designs. That’ll at least get most people to turn the cover over to the back to see what it’s all about. That side is a very different work as it goes for a black background while drawing in the blues and greens lightly. We get some good artwork of a couple of the characters along the left and a nice selection of shots from the episodes themselves on the right. The center gives us the premise and hints at the larger nature of the series which is only lightly touched upon in these episodes. The discs features are all listed clearly and we also get the usual solid breakdown of the discs by production credits and technical grid that lists it all accurately and cleanly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release goes for a simple approach and goes in reverse from the cover artwork as each disc provides us the guys in different groupings rather than the girls. The first volume gives us a good looking static screen of some of them outside along the baseball field so we get the greens and blues of nature as well as the school and the characters in their uniforms. The second disc does an indoor scene with them sitting around which is a bit more serious and cooler in colors. The navigation along the right is simple but works off of the back cover design with blacks and blues that has the episodes listed by number and title which are quick and easy to navigate and select. Submenus load quickly with what few are there and language selection is a breeze.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the 2007 visual novel of the same name, Little Busters is a twenty-six episode series that gives us the first half in this collection. The game spawned a dozen manga series that kicked off at varying points between its release and that of the anime as there’s a lot of fertile ground to work with for the various characters and situations and that speaks well of the potential of the anime series itself since there’s so many paths and material to work with. What also helps is that by enlisting JC Staff, they’ve got a great looking show here that’s just a delight to watch across a big screen with its colors and vibrancy. With the string of wins that Key has had over the years with a couple of studios, it’s not a surprise that there’s anticipation every time they dip back into the anime realm and Little Busters is no exception, especially since it spawned a second shorter season as well.
Similar to other Key properties, it takes awhile for Little Busters to really develop and it’s only fleetingly in this first half of the series that we get a taste of the real story that’s going on. The back of the case states, “There’s a secret to the world and their future may depend on solving it.” That definitely sets up some expectations, but what we get for the majority of this is character building material. We’re introduced to an odd little group of friends that exists at this suburban style high school where four of them are enjoying their second year status while the eldest is a senior that will be graduating. Kyousuke, ever mindful that he won’t be here much longer, has decided that these five childhood friends must do something big to close out his year so that it’s meaningful, like they used to do when they were younger. And the first thing that comes to mind is to start a baseball team, which isn’t exactly official since the official club was suspended some time ago. It’s most of just an informal club for here, especially since they have to spend a good bit of time finding more members.
Though Kyousuke is the eldest and the one that gets all this in motion, he’s not really the lead character here. It is sort of an ensemble cast, but it’s largely lead by Riki, a young man who has a lot to cope with himself as he suffers from narcolepsy that takes him out at odd times for any length of time, including wiping out some of his memories when it happens. He rooms with Masato, an outgoing friend who is nicknamed Muscles for a lot of this who ends up in lots of silly challenges with another friend over the years named Kengo, who is kind of refined in a way through his kendo as he tries to stay above everything, but not in a superior or holier than thou way. He’s the solid part of the group that you feel can always been trusted. The core group is rounded out with Rin, Kyosuke’s younger sister, who has a difficult time dealing with new people. She’s a good part of the group but not a romantic foil, which is a nice change of pace. She’s just a part of the group like everyone else.
With the decision made in the first episode to start up the team, we get the usual fun of everyone getting on the same page and the start of finding more players since they need nine total. With Riki as the outreach part of the program, we see him getting to know other characters which involves him understanding their stories and mysteries and issues. The show works through essentially a couple of short arcs here where we get to know Komari, Kudryavka (who gets called Kudster) and Mio. Each of them has their own unique story that gets Riki to help them unearth it and help them in a fashion that’s a bit out of the ordinary. With Komari, it’s helping her through a death in the family that has caused her to wipe her own memories whenever things go really badly for her when she thinks people will leave her. Kudster copes with being a foreign transfer student who has a hard time making friends outside of the team and Mio is the sickly girl who keeps to herself and comes across as superior but harbors a real curiosity as we learn more about what she’s really hiding.
These arcs cover a couple of episodes each along with a few little side stories of sorts along the way that helps to explore each of the main characters. It’s all focused through Riki’s eyes as we learn about his narcolepsy issue and how it affects him, but there’s also another ongoing story in the background that comes into play. Riki discovers that Rin and the group of cats that have bonded with her give her little missions from time to time around the school that needs to be done, such as cleaning the storage room or other things. This gives us the hints of what’s going on as it feels like someone is orchestrating events to nudge Riki and the others in a preferred direction, but even more so when you see it tied into some of the other things going on as we get what the girls Riki helps are going through. Though the series starts off with a real world approach, more and more surreal things start creeping in, though they don’t dominate. It’s easy to see how it all juts sort of exists there and feels a little weird, but not to the detriment of the kids worldview.
Having worked through a few Key shows before, I know that it can take awhile to grow and become what it really wants to be. Little Busters is no exception as we get the cast introduced, the character stories that explores the relationships and the expansion of the cast as more girls are brought in for the team. And we get a few minutes of baseball here and there too. But largely it’s about the cast and the weirdness. What I kept finding with it though is that I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters here in a strong way compared to other series that I’ve seen of a similar nature. I like them well enough and you know their basic stories, but nobody has a personality that really draws me to them. And with Riki being the lead for it as we see most of it through his eyes, it feels a bit simple and without much to it. He does a good job of investigating what’s going on, making new friends and being a good friend, and he handles the weirdness that surfaces well, but the opening stories simply aren’t compelling. They’re enjoyable enough, but nothing here really makes me think it’ll be memorable in the way other properties have been.
When going into a new Key series based on a visual novel game, it’s always good to temper expectations. With Little Busters, a lot of the right elements are here. A heavy focus on girls, some amusing and interesting guys that step into view and a sense of oddness that creeps into events the further it progresses. Everything has a normal feeling at the start and then we see more of what’s really going on, or hints of it at least, as more new characters are drawn in. With its focus on Riki, we get a nice guy taking the lead but he’s one without enough of a personality or style about him to be compelling. He lucks out by it being a more ensemble cast feeling show here overall and some great looking designs and animation, but it’s the second half that will be a make or break moment for the show. We get a lot of foundation material here but not enough of a strong hook to really make it a must-see show. Yet.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p VC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.