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Little Busters! Refrain Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

Little Busters Refrain
Little Busters Refrain
The cruel twist revealed.

What They Say:
Riki Naoe and his teammates have finally formed a complete baseball team for the Little Busters. When they reunite, there’s a strange sense of deja vu as the personal mysteries and idiosyncrasies that have permeated the game coalesce into something unexpected. As the team members fall into their roles, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. Riki learns the secrets behind his narcolepsy and a stunning truth about this world will be revealed, one that will change everything.

The Review:
Audio:
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.

Video:
Originally airing in 2014, the transfer for this TV series contains the thirteen episode season 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.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both of the discs against the interior walls. The front cover plays big to the girls of the series with Kurugaya in the foreground while everyone else is in the background – and with the ostensible female lead of Rin almost not on the cover at all. IT’s bright and colorful with them all outside for the baseball game and that has some welcome greens and blues with it. With the back cover, we get some good artwork of a the main cast of the characters along the middle with a dark and moody approach all around it as we get a nice selection of shots from the episodes themselves on the left. 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.

Menu:
The menu design for the release is fairly straightforward as we get a standard layout with some decent static artwork to tie it all together with. The first volume gives us a good looking static screen of some of main cast together in school where they’re preparing for a party for the club while the second disc uses a portion of the back cover artwork that features most of the main cast together outside with big, positive expressions about them. 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.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences along with the various Japanese promotional spots for its broadcast, TV run and home video releases.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Little Busters was a show that over the two cour that it ran that I liked, but wasn’t excited about. We got a lot of the usual time with the characters as we got to understand their relationships, the dynamic between them and some of their struggles as well. In a lot of ways, it was a little off-putting at times because it felt like Kyousuke was the lead of it at times even though you knew it was Riki that was. Even worse was that you grasped that Rin was the key character on the girls side, but she felt so secondary compared to the rest that it just grated at times. With this season, it’s all about the resolution when you get down to it, but it wants to put you through the wringer first before attempting to utterly crush you.

Suffice to say, with the trick of it all being revealed here, there’ll be plenty of spoilers. Don’t read before watching it if you intend to watch this series.

After all that had happened in the first season and how it all came together, this season is about putting the characters through some real struggle now that the baseball club is over and there’s a feeling of dissent and division in the ranks of the named cast of characters. What’s really interesting at first is that while we’ve had hints of something surreal happening to these characters, it becomes very, very blunt here at the start. Largely, it becomes blunt because we get Riki caught up in time repeating for a bit over the first few episodes where it’s continually June 20th, about a month after they started the club and began the new Little Busters. Riki is the only one that realizes it and he’s trying to grasp it, but it’s difficult because it comes after his first knowing of living through the day that nearly puts him and Kurugaya in a relationship. But as the cycle goes on, Kurugaya disappears and is largely absent from the remainder of the season.

This sets the tone for the bulk of the season as well. With Riki kind of grasping that something is going on, he starts to see how his relationships with all his friends are being examined and dealt with as time goes back to before the formation of the baseball club. And it takes an even more interesting turn as Kyousuke, largely the motivating factor for so much of that goes on with this group of friends, is absent and we see that Riki has to step up and try to bring the club together and to bring the friends back together. Considering the quiet way that Riki usually is, it’s not exactly the easiest thing in the world for him, but he’s so intent on living the life he wants to live with his friends that we see him putting a strong face forward and doing what he can to achieve that once again. It’s made complicated at the start because a situation evolves that has Rin going to another school for a bit, which is a huge sign and portent of things to come.

The relationship between Riki and Rin was easily established in the first season but there was that usual will they or won’t they aspect to it. It gets more focus here as the two end up a lot closer as things push Riki to doing what he can to save her, which comes from a few different areas. Rin has changed a lot since the start of the series with her introverted nature, but there are still a lot of suggestions being made that he has to be the one to protect her. He takes to it naturally to be sure, which is good because the other focus of this season is to get Riki to be stronger and firmer in life so he can be a better person. You can understand part of it as Kyousuke is a year older and moving on before them, so he wants to make sure someone that he’s known for so many years will be able to handle life without him. It’s a good protective nature but it also shows just how isolated these guys are as they’re kept from so much.

That growth for Riki is useful though since we see him really working to try and save everyone as the situation changes over the course of the season, with Kurugaya gone and then a slow but steady stream with Masato, Kengo and then Kyousuke as the truth of it all is revealed. That truth is what you wait for ain series like this with it being a series from Key, as we learn that all of the characters here have essentially died in a way through an accident on a bus that they were taking for their field trip. We eventually see how it went off the road, bodies tossed everywhere, and Kyousuke relates how they all died but came together in consciousness to build this world for Rin and Riki as they would be the only ones to survive the accident. Their close bonds of friendship created this world so those two would be able to survive the accident in mental terms with the loss of so many friends. It’s really interesting as this unfolds and we get some emotional scenes for Riki as the guys fade from his view, but it’s weaker for Rin as she races through the other girls that are lost with just very brief sequences. It’s surprising in a way since so much of these kinds of shows focus on the girls rather than the guys.

The last couple of episodes deal with the accident itself, bringing us back into the real world, and seeing the strength of Riki and Rin as they cope with the carnage in front of them and then steel themselves to deal with it. It’s well done, well animated and definitely given the right emotional context, but after things pivot so that the pair end up saving everyone, it feels hollow and without the weight that it needed. Yes, we do get Rin and Riki stronger than they were before and more capable, but we also see that as various students start coming back to school a few months later after summer break and after the accident, Riki isn’t able to be as strong as he should and they all seem dependent on waiting for Kyousuke to come back before they can move forward again. With the way it unfolds, particularly with Kyousuke, it just feels surreal and unreal, as though the dream world has just shifted to one focused on Riki and then Rin to Kyousuke’s mental survival. It’s somewhat open to interpretation I guess, or at least it felt like it to me, and it just left me feeling somewhat empty after the emotional weight of the accident and what the pair had to do.

Honestly, as that played out, I found myself wishing for a very different series. I wanted to see one where this was revealed much earlier in it and we instead focused on Rin and Riki surviving it, the others not, and how those two learned to cope with it and became closer while finding some sort of happiness in each other. What we get here is the traditional everyone ends with a happy smile approach which is a lot more common in a more general sense, and after what it just put us through it felt like Happily Ever After was the last thing that was warranted. Almost too much of an easy out, even if the final time with Kyousuke is its own dream world. There’s definitely some rough material to watch with this and the trick of it all is solid enough, telegraphed a bit earlier in the season if you were really looking at it, but the show across the two series is simply too long to really sustain itself.

In Summary:
Little Busters Refrain does some really good stuff here at times with its characters, but it also ended up overloaded with characters to the point where half of them were largely ejected for most of the season only to be given some lip service at the end. I really liked the twist and trick of it all and what they wanted to do with it, but it felt like they undercut themselves at the end and played it safe, unless that in itself is just another trick. Ambiguity is a regular thing with a lot of anime series for a number of reasons and this one certainly has that element to it, which doesn’t exactly enamor me of it for the long haul. The release itself is solidly done overall and it brings the animation from JC Staff to life well while also ensuring that fans get to enjoy the story in both languages in a very clean and engaging way. For those that have a special place for Little Busters, it’s all put together very well. It’ll be interesting to revisit the property as a full show sometime in the future to see what I missed and what clues are there as well. And sometimes that’s half the fun with a show like this.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Japanese Promos

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 20th, 2015
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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