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Little Busters! Refrain Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

8 min read

Little Busters Refrain
Little Busters Refrain
The conclusion to Little Busters tries to get me to feel ways about things, but it doesn’t quite reach those heights, despite being really good otherwise.

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.

Contains episodes 1-13.

The Review:
Audio:
For this viewing, I took in the English dub. Both the English and Japanese tracks are offered in 2.0. As is typically the case, I would have liked to have had a 5.1 mix, but the lack of one here isn’t detrimental. The various tracks come through cleanly with no dropouts, and there’s some nice directionality across the two channels. The English cast is well varied too. I really enjoyed their performances, as I felt that each voice was well suited to their roles. Like the Key titles before it, the soundtrack is gorgeous too, adding a lot to each scene.

Video:
This release comes in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen. As with pretty much all Key titles, the art is gorgeous and the characters all have an individual look. The transfer for this release is clean, and the colors show up brilliantly. All-in-all, it is a gorgeous release.

Packaging:
The three discs for this release come in a single Amaray case with a center insert to hold two discs. The front cover has a shot of all of the girls getting ready for baseball. The back has a picture of the whole gang at the beach with the series summary and some screen shots surrounding it. I really like the way the back of the case is put together; it has a nice visual appeal. Overall, the rest case is well done too.

Menu:
The menus for this release are fairly basic. There is a picture to the left from one of the episodes on the disc with the selections offered to the right. A cat’s paw print acts as the cursor and stands out well against the rest of the menu. It’s a good contrasting color (for example, the paw print on the third disc is red while the general motif of the menu is blue) and is easy to see. The background music plays on a 40-second loop, so it doesn’t repeat too much.

Extras:
The only extras offered on this release are clean versions of the OP/ED and a few promos for the Japanese releases.

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Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having watched the first season of Little Busters a while back, I was happy to finally have a chance to watch Refrain and finish the story out (there is technically a short, third season—Little Busters EX, but my understanding is that it covers an expansion of the original visual novel and is therefore part of a different storyline from the first two series). While I did not enjoy the first season of Little Busters as much as I did Kanon or Clannad/Clannad After Story, there was a lot about it that was enjoyable. Having now finished it out, I would say the same is still true.

With the Little Busters baseball team finally formed, things are looking great for Riki as he moves forward through high school with all of his friends. But an encounter with Kurugaya in the PA room gives him a serious sense of déjà vu, and he slowly begins to realize that he has been reliving portions of the last few months over and over again. When he discusses this with her, she reveals that her time with him and the group is almost at an end and that there is more he needs to learn. When she does disappear, she disappears from Riki’s memory as well, leaving him with a sense of loss, though he doesn’t understand why. As others also slowly disappear—Kud, Nishizono, Haruka, and eventually Komari—he continues to be met with the same sense of loss, though his growing relationship with Rin covers much of that up. But when Kyousuke starts acting cold towards Riki, telling him that he still needs to discover the truth of the world, Riki realizes that much of what he understands is false, and that if anybody can tell him the truth, it is Kyousuke. But Kyousuke isn’t talking, so Riki sets out to do the only thing he can think of to draw Kyousuke out: reform the Little Busters.

This season of Little Busters brings to a close everything that the first season sets up. Like the other Key titles before it, the first season of Little Busters sees Riki helping out a series of people through whatever problems they might be facing. By the time this season starts, we’re onto figuring out the reason everything is happening the way it is. While Riki needs to help Rin with her fear of other people, as well as Kyousuke with his “whatever-the-hell-is-wrong-with-him,” the main focus here is for him to discover the truth about the world. Only by doing that can he help sort out Rin and Kyousuke. And in doing all of that, he will also be helping himself, as he has to grow up in order to be able to handle all of that.

All-in-all, I would say that Refrain is a solid conclusion to Little Busters, but it still doesn’t reach the heights that Kanon and Clannad did before it. In earlier seasons, I thought Riki was the problem, as I felt he wasn’t as strong a protagonist as either Yuichi or Tomoya. As it turns out, that’s a fairly significant point to everything that is happening, and Riki has to find that strength to succeed in the end. By the time this season starts up, he’s starting to show some signs of the backbone I was missing in him. He’s still a little too pliable for my liking, particularly when compared to Yuichi and Tomoya, but I found myself liking him much more as we closed things out than I did early on. And because of that, I enjoyed the series a lot more too.

But as much as I did enjoy Little Busters, I have to say that I don’t feel like it really came together as well as I might have liked. Kanon and Clannad tie up really well when they are done, and I found myself not really having many questions left when they finished. That isn’t the case here with Little Busters. Much of what happens throughout this series feels somewhat random, and I’m not entirely sure how it all fits together. I mean, I get it to an extent, but much of it also feels like it’s trying to pull us in fifteen different directions without really explaining why. For example, when Kurugaya disappears, and Riki immediately forgets about her, the story basically does too. And her involvement becomes a mere afterthought. The same is true as the others come and go in Riki’s life. I suppose that can be explained away as a reality of their reality, but it doesn’t help the narrative.

And because of this, I never really felt connected to this as I did Kanon and Clannad. As this series progresses, we get deeper into the heart-rending portion of the story, but as I felt a bit disconnected from everything, this part didn’t touch me the way the earlier series did. I understood why I was supposed to get emotional, but I never felt the tug to actually become emotional. I liked a lot of the parts individually, and really enjoy the cast of characters, but it’s mostly a case where the sum of the parts are much greater than the whole.

I suppose it might be unfair to continually compare Little Busters to Kanon and Clannad, because without that connection, it was actually a really good show. But as it is also a Key title, there is a high bar there to reach, and Little Busters doesn’t quite get to it. Again, it’s really good, and if Little Busters EX does in fact carry this on and help explain away some of the lingering questions I have, then I’ll feel kinda stupid for this review. But my understanding is that it is almost a side-story (and Refrain did have a note of finality to it), so I’m considering the main story arc done for now. And as it stands, it’s really good, but is somewhat disappointing at the same time.

As a final note, something Little Busters did do right: the confession of love between Rin and Riki by the side of the river where they become an official couple was awesome and might just be the best one I’ve ever seen in an anime. So direct and offhand—it was brilliant.

In Summary:
I enjoyed Little Busters, and Refrain was a good conclusion to what we got through the first season. Because it is a Key title, I found myself constantly comparing it to Kanon and Clannad, and continually finding myself disappointed that it wasn’t as good, but on its own, it is actually a really good title. My hope is that Little Busters EX clears up some of the lingering issues I have with what we’ve had so far, but as Refrain came to a pretty obvious note of finality and that my understanding is that EX covers an expansion of the game that is more a side-story than part of the main arc, I’m not holding my breath. But even without that, it was a fun watch. Just try to not hold it to the same standards I tried to, and you’ll probably enjoy it more. Recommended.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: January 20th, 2015
MSRP: $59.98
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 anamorphic widescreen

Review Equipment:
Magnavox 37MF337B 37” LCD HDTV, Sony PS3 w/HDMI Connection, Durabrand HT3916 5.1 Surround Sound System

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