Riki and his friends have been managing to form a complete team for the Little Busters baseball team and after overcoming some of its new members' internal conflicts, Riki and Rin slowly approach the "secret of this world."
Will they be ready for the truth? In this world devoid of logic, something has started to move and soon will come the time when the lives of the Little Busters will change forever.
It is rare to find a sequel as emotionally powerful as Little Busters: Refrain. Where the first season blundered with its melodrama, Refrain instead provides a much more thoughtful and meaningful story. If you have developed any sort of attachment to the characters in Little Busters, you will undoubtedly shed at least a few tears by the end of Refrain. It is the second best Key anime to date.
As somebody who regards the Little Busters visual novel as one of the most emotional stories they have ever experienced, I was sceptical hearing about an anime adaptation of Refrain. Did it turn out to be
some dreadful abomination in the end? I don't believe so, but the visual novel is still undeniably the superior experience. Large sections of story (including half of Rin's route) are skimmed over or ignored entirely in the anime. Other important scenes, such as Masato's backstory, are misrepresented as something silly when they should be serious. There are so many things that could have, should have been better, and yet it still manages to be one of 2013's best anime. Perhaps that is a testament to how strong the characters are.
For anime-only viewers, Little Busters: Refrain is certainly no featherweight. The story directly follows the events of the first season by developing characters who were largely overlooked in the past. Perhaps you found Rin adorable or Kyousuke amusing, but Refrain succeeds in elevating the main five much higher than that. It is one of very few anime where the relationships between the characters feel genuine rather than forced or manufactured. As a series rooted in the theme of friendship, Refrain does a magnificent job of making the viewer feel like they are a part of the story rather than merely spectators. That is no easy feat in a visual medium.
Little Busters does not rely on fanservice and other cheap tricks to hold your interest. Surely, there is an ever-present feeling of 'moe' among the girls (isn't Rin just the cutest thing?) but it is never used as a crutch for characterisation. Even Komari, arguably the weakest character in the first season, is given a considerable amount of depth through her relationship with Rin. Refrain goes further than giving more-- it makes us care. It does not find complacency in characterisation without meaning.
What about Kengo and Masato, then? There was never much depth to them in the first season, amusing as they were. Masato in particular seemed to exist solely as comedy relief, like a more idiotic version of Clannad's Sunohara. That is no longer the case with Refrain. An entire episode focusses on Masato's backstory: why he is obsessed with the idea of strength, why he acts like an incessant moron in front of others, and how he became friends with Kyousuke and Kengo. The only issue is that the anime portrays these scenes as something silly (zombie eyes and battle music blasting in the background) when it is meant to be emotional. I'm not so sure the anime-only viewers will appreciate his characterisation as much as they could, which is a shame, as all the characters enrich the story in a pretty significant way.
Kyousuke's characterisation is where the writing truly shines. While his presence as a leader is often taken for granted in the first season, Refrain shows there is a far deeper reason for why everyone respects him so much. It is more than mere charisma. He cares about his friends more than anyone else and will go to any lengths to protect them from harm. Even if it requires him to play the role of a villain. And often he does. It is easy to be frustrated or even infuriated by Kyousuke's actions, but once all the pieces start clicking together at the end, you can't help but respect the poor guy. He's a deeply flawed person, and that's the way it should be. He is not perfect and makes mistakes like anybody else. Rarely do we find a character as genuine as Kyousuke.
While the handling of Rin's route is disappointing, Rin manages to stand right beside Kyousuke by the end of the story. The second-to-last episode focussing on Rin is so touching, so masterfully directed that it genuinely surpasses the visual novel. I do not say that lightly. Unlike many other Key stories (and even anime in general), there is no melodrama. The entire series has been building towards a very specific point. Once Rin starts crying into Komari's arms, it is nearly impossible to resist choking up a bit. It's similar to the ending of K-ON's second season in many respects... although I would argue that Refrain does it better.
And that is to speak nothing of how powerful Kyousuke's episode is. Or the lyrical significance behind the insert song "Haruka Kanata". Or all the subtle details hidden in the first season, or even how it gives meaning to all the alleged dei ex machina within Kud's and Mio's routes. Little Busters is Jun Maeda's masterpiece, and while not everybody may appreciate his style of storytelling, there is almost nothing to criticise about his work on Little Busters. Even if the anime only captured a tiny fraction of the visual novel's charm, I still believe it would be a satisfying experience. J.C. Staff's adaptation isn't fully there-- but it comes close.
"Comes close". I wish it could have been on par with the visual novel, but that is regrettably not the case. The amount of scenes (and important ones, no less) that are skipped over is truly disappointing. All J.C. Staff needed to do was simply tone down on the foreshadowing (which can really undermine the surprise) and find the budget needed to double Refrain's episode count. If the anime did reach the same heights as the visual novel, I have no doubts that it would be regarded even more highly than Clannad: After Story.
The artwork has been noticeably improved over the previous season, though. A surprising amount of effort was put into the first episode, and J.C. Staff has worked to eliminate most of the bizarre, off-model faces that were so prevalent before. There are still occasional scenes where the animation quality dips but it is nowhere near as egregious as it used to be. My only complaint is that many important CGs from the visual novel ("called game") are lacking any sort of visual impact in the anime. The visuals should have been used to enhance the story rather than merely assist it.
Refrain makes near-perfect use of its soundtrack. "Boys Don't Cry" (Kyousuke's theme) is a subtle track that does not seem to carry much significance at first, but eventually evolves into what I believe to be the most emotional track in the story. It is a perfect tribute to Kyousuke. Most people will also find themselves pulled by the sheer emotional weight of "Haruka Kanata", the farewell song of the series. Considering the lyrical significance and all that was building up towards this point, it achieves more than simply being sappy; it is a massive tsunami of emotion. Special props should also be given to "Song for Friends" which achieves much of the same impact as the previous two. While Little Busters may have one of the best soundtracks in anime, it also has one of the best uses of music.
The seiyuu work is also commendable. The actors do not simply state their lines. During the more emotional moments in the story, you can clearly hear the actors choke up as their character begins to cry. We do not often see this level of effort in anime. Kyousuke's and Rin's seiyuu evidently care about getting into the role of their character, and the result is some of the best voice acting in years.
Little Busters: Refrain is a superb anime. It is an experience that is more than the sum of its parts. Few anime have managed to create such a thoroughly endearing cast of characters, and even fewer have managed to strike such an emotional chord with its audience. It may not be as good as it should have been, and while the visual novel is still several steps above, the anime adaptation is a solid alternative for those unable to dedicate the fifty-some hours into reading the visual novel. Those expecting a deep, convoluted story brimming with 'mature' characters may not find what they are looking for. Little Busters is especially well-written and well-produced, but it does still rely on your ability to empathise with the characters. I don't think that is a bad thing at all.
And I wonder, why do we live in an era where stories are judged solely by their complexity? Why must a critic feel forced to act is if they are too high-brow to value emotion? Human emotion is a powerful, powerful thing that gives our transient existence a meaning and a purpose. If a story is capable of bringing you to tears, it is a damn good one, I would say.
Let's get one thing out in the open, I played the VN. Little Busters has always been close to my heart with the story itself one of my favorites around. But enough of that, let's get the review under way! Oh, and this review will contain comparisons between this and the first series and occasionally, reference to the VN.
First things first, this series is a massive improvement in every aspect compared to the first series, be it art style, script, or timing of music. If I were to choose one stand out improvement however, it would have to be the animation. I found the
previous series almost unbearable at some points but this series, well was top class compared to what we have already witnessed within the Little Busters universe. This series blitzes the first series. One thing I must add is that to those who didn't watch the first series and have noticed the popularity of this series and wondered 'can I watch this series without watching the first?', you must watch the first series to fully embrace this series.
This series kicks off right where the previous series left off, focusing more on the 'Secret of the World' and the original Little Busters themselves. When the 'Secret of the World' starts to become more apparent, one realizes that this series itself is far darker and serious compared to the first. A personal love of this series is how subtle hints are dropped throughout concerning 'the secret of the world'. Some moments are incredibly clever and well, blow your mind!
One thing that is very apparent in this series is that it is very emotional. In the first series, there were incidences that weren't emotional at all and yet in the VN, they had me reaching for the tissues. This was due to things being lost in translation, literally. For me this was most obvious during Haruka's route but let's save this rant for another time. However, I was simply blown away at how well they transferred the emotional scenes over from the VN. I even felt that at certain points, the anime was actually more emotional than the VN!
Unlike the first series, Refrain actually contains character development! Hooray! This in turn makes you feel more connected to the characters and thus enjoy the series more. Whats more is that this 'character development' didn't just apply to the 'original little busters' but the newcomers aswell such as Kurugaya. Happy days!
Now, before I tie up this review, I wanted to dedicate a section the music. The music in LB is simply astounding. Be it instrumentals like 'Lamplight', which sends a shiver down my spine due to how harrowing it is or songs like 'Faraway' or 'Song for Friends'. I must add 'Faraway' is simply one of the most emotional songs I have ever heard.
This story is full of so many twists and turns that you couldn't possibly predict what could happen. Its a compelling, sad and funny story all in one! But the main reason I gave this series such a high rating is simply because of how well the JC staff adapted this story into an anime. I knew what was going to happen and yet I was glued to the screen from the get go.
Little Busters Refrain is (loosely) based of the key visual novels who have notably produced some great shows such as Clannad, Kanon and Air. Little Busters Refrain is no different. For a LB refrain is the sequel to Little Busters and in my opinion (and widely regarded to be) much much better than the first season, not that LB was bad in any way. This 2nd season is 13 episodes long.
I should mention at this point that this again would fall under the category of high-school life (almost all of the action occurs here), fantasy and slice of life perhaps. As we have come to
expect from key, LB Refrain is just as emotionally hard hitting in its own way but I will leave you to decide that for yourselves.
Now for the actual show itself. It picks off basically where LB left off and continues to develop characters stories from there. However the way it goes about this is in much more depth and each and every episode will invoke strong emotion. They only give themselves 13 with it all to do and they pull it off pretty well. You may be wondering if it is possible to further develop the characters stories in such a short time however the pacing and the mixture is just right.
Where LB was a rather nice, slow setting into the story, you really have to feel that it was all building up to LB Refrain. Be warned, LB Refrain takes a much darker angle right from the outset, some sensitive themes are explored and are very thought provoking. It goes to show that not everything can always go smoothly and it is here that you can really start to connect with the characters.
STORY + CHARACTERS: The story itself continues in the high school, we still don't know the answer to the universe (to those who have watched LB) and the episodes go through with each character. They all have very different stories and they are all fascinating in their own right. The characters you may have thought to be on the fringe suddenly make much more sense and everything is never as it seems at first ;). The best bit of this show in fact how well all the episodes were integrated with each other right from the first episode of LB to the last of Refrain. When you reach the climax, which personally I found very satisfying you can come to appreciate everything that has occurred in the previous episodes, it all suddenly fits together with amazing effect.
One thing I found with LB Refrain which was distinctly different to LB was the way they just dropped bombshell after bombshell without really ever giving you any chance to recover, the plot gets thick and very fast. In order to wrap up the show in 13 eps, each of the eps feel meaty and full of content and in fact the intricacies all make it more pleasurable to watch a second time once you know what is actually going on.
The soundtrack was very good I thought, the music complemented the action just as you would expect from a key adaptation and once again it was used to add an extra dimension to the atmosphere, made you feel something a little extra. The OP in my opinion was especially pleasant as well.
As a final word on LB Refrain, if there were one thing that I would stress the most, it would be that you have to keep yourself aware and keep your mind open. The story really does take you on ups and downs in the 13 episodes and it executes it so well in such a short period of time that there are various emotions that are evoked. The characters of this anime are probably some of the best worked characters or rather collectively they are the most interactive bunch with everyone having an affect on the other.
Expect the unexpected on this emotional rollercoaster that is Little Busters Refrain.
Kyousuke, Rikki, Rin and co. make for one heck of a show with perhaps my most favourite story line full of twists and turns.
If there is anything, it’s no secret that Little Busters Refrain is a sequel of the first season based off the visual novel of the same name. Also no secret is the fact that the visual novel has gained tremendous success as one of Key’s works. Key is known to produce a variety of their works with supernatural elements including Kanon, Clannad, and Rewrite. The Little Busters franchise tells the story of a boy named Riki Naoe who is a member of the team known as Little Busters. Along with three other boys and a girl named Rin, they
are led by Kyousuke to play baseball at their school. But little do they know there’s much more than meets the eye...
If the first season of Little Busters was the prototype, Refrain would be the final product. This means that it’s a direct continuation from the way season 1 was set up. Of course, not everything usually goes right especially in cases of visual novel game adaptations. Usually, fans expect more than what they can bargain for in terms of consistency with its characters, story, setting, music, artwork, and the list goes on and on. There have been some series that pulled it off quite successfully with its adaptations while others not so much in recent years. Little Busters Refrain falls under the category of a mixed bag at some occasions. It’s not a masterpiece but neither is it a shipwreck beyond salvage. It’s more of a work that fans should appreciate as it wraps up the story of Little Busters as a whole to deliver satisfaction and something to remember by.
Little Busters Refrain takes place in the same setting as the first season with most of the characters returning. However, it’s noticeable that the story changes dramatically in tone with its previous predecessor. A key (no pun intended here) concept involving the supernatural element of the “secret of the world” becomes prominent throughout the season. However, it doesn’t always go that way as we still some humorous moments. Not only has that but Refrain also added in some hints of potential romance between Riki and Kurugaya. The beginning stages of Refrain drops many hints of this with Kurugaya’s desire and wish to live her best days. Her presence in the show will leave a short yet memorable impression to viewers because of her wish. However at the same time, her departure lacks morality on her own behalf as what she wishes isn’t exactly what viewers may hope for.
But that’s only the beginning stages as viewers will find out that Refrain has many secrets to be unraveled as each episodes goes. This is accompanied by a balance of light and darker themes. Unlike season 1, the show ventures into a darker element involving tragedies along with themes of adolescence in growing up, dealing with losses, and experiencing the unexpected. At the same time, the show still brings in the slice of life fun at occasions similar to season one. The feeling of being part of a team and enjoying life with friends is an experience that I’m sure most people would cherish. In Refrain, we get to see five childhood friends enjoy their life. Unfortunately, not everything goes as they expected.
As Key is involved in the show, adolescence and growing up becomes a major role for our characters. In particular, Kyousuke (the leader of Little Busters) plays a guardian role and bringing in the foundation of the show of growing up. At the apex of the story, his feelings are poured out that truly allow viewers to see how he expresses them. More than that though, characters such as Kengo and Masato also play prominent supporting roles. All the characters are joined together by friendship that defines the importance of closeness and appreciation. As the series goes on, fans will learn the truth and more about the ‘secret of the world’.
The story of Refrain might also seem confusing at first with the various twists such as montages, narration, and climatic like scenes. There is a presence that something is not right in the world that Riki and his friends are part of. This is where foreshadowing comes into play as various hints are dropped with the dialogues, character interactions, and scenes are shown to give viewers firsthand what they might experience. As for the experience itself, it can be different for everyone. Key is a company known to bring forth themes of tragedy as well so emotions are to be expected. As one grows up, they will embark on a journey to learn from the various events in their lives. For our characters in Refrain, they too experience that journey.
The journey itself is explored in various arcs and episodes that connects the story as a whole. As a way of presenting the show, Refrain gives most of the prominent characters their spotlight including Kurugaya, Masato, Kengo, Riki, and Rin. Kyousuke becomes a driving figure in this show as mentioned before and the experiences he goes through reflects on Key’s reflection – the way it illuminates his feelings. The story itself also conveys comedy despite the grimmer atmosphere. Comedy exists not as fan service but rather as the character interactions and dialogues that holds various meanings. Although Refrain also lacks a bit of the more battle theme setting, it retains its sports style of baseball. Obviously, the show isn’t about sports but the moments are memorable especially for our main characters that enjoys their everyday lives just being together. Viewers will appreciate the concept of friendship that connects them as a whole while discovering the secret of the world. The surprise might not be pleasant but their experiences are unforgettable.
Refrain still lacks a few aspect that might not be appreciable for viewers. As an anime only viewer, I did get quite the satisfaction from this show. However at times, I feel like something is missing such as resolutions to sudden conflicts. Some of the comedy also seems to be oddly coordinated or expressed such as Masato’s reactions. There’s even one particular episode focuses on him that gives him the highlight but doesn’t seem fitting with the Refrain atmosphere. Among other things, visual novel adaptations also sometimes suffers from consistency. In the case of dialogues, it nails it on the spot but not always the expressions or reflection of its ideas. There is an emotional impact to be felt but some parts aren’t tear jerking by Key standards. Perhaps a show being one cour is a problem here but at some cases, the arc/story feels rushed such as montages and resolutions. Also from what I understand, sudden elements of the VN are omitted that would of given the impact of tragic scenes. Despite this though, Refrain still balances itself between light and dark with its style and presentation.
Animation wise, the show remains decent but sometimes lacks impact or rather the maturity of its darker tone for Refrain. Characters are designed to look innocent such as Komari, Kud, Rin, etc. Kurugaya and the boys have a more mature while Riki has more of a childish appearance. On the other hand, the backgrounds are portrayed well and consistent with its fantasy-like atmosphere. The dream like sequences are prominent features that brings supernatural elements while dropping foreshadowing sequences for viewers. As an anime only viewer though, some of the expressions of the characters bothers me such as Masato and Rin. In fact, Rin isn’t very noticeable compared to the other main characters. Even when she takes the stage, it’s hard to take her seriously with her body language and expressions. On another note, JC Staff is known to adapt various anime series with a school life setting such as Sakurasou no Pet Kanojo, Hentai Ouji to Warawanai Neko., and Shakugan no Shana. While not all of them contains elements of supernatural, they do convey the innocence reflections of the characters. However, I question sometimes if this style fits given the more serious style of Refrain.
The soundtrack balances well on most parts whether it’s during scenes of emotional, comedic, or suspense. Various OST are incorporated from the visual novel while certain new ones are inserted in. It’s also noticeable that Jun Maeda, the creator of the VN is directly involved in coordinating the soundtrack so some of the experiences will feel similar according to his style of presenting the series. The OP song ‘Boys be Smile’ stands as a prominent song to convey the friendship that brings together the team of Little Busters. Even though not all the characters get their own spotlights, it portrays the show in a way that is remarkable with its messages. On the other hand, the main ED song “Kimi to no Nakushi Mono” lacks impact with its orchestra. Voice acting wise, most characters fits well although I sometimes find Riki’s voice to be irritating along with Rin. Kyousuke on the other hand has that authoritative mannerism thanks to Hikaru Midorikawa’s talents. The way he speaks gives him a sense of command and shows why he is the leader of Little Busters. Other characters such as Kurugaya and Kengo demonstrates maturity with their own tone of voice.
Little Busters Refrain isn’t just about discovering secrets but also finding paths to connect the characters together in a complex story. The romance might not be promising but the connections are through friendship and loyalty. There are certain elements that might be confusing especially for anime only viewers so be sure to pay attention as each episode unravels itself. Dialogues in the end should not be just memorable but also matching to Key’s style of presentation. Thankfully, it did that even with some of the oddly coordinated scenes involving expressionism of the characters. And because the show lacks fan service, there is no stupidity with the common misunderstandings or cliches that are overused in the anime industries on many occasions. What it does have is an impact that give viewers an experience they won’t forget. Refrain is not just a continuation but an appreciation as a gift for fans to open up.
We all get in the mood for some fun, excitement and a good love story. And we all love to watch anime with our significant others...so that we can witness what our favorite characters are doing with their significant others. It's time to check out some top-notch action romance anime!
The world of anime in 2013 was a whirlwind of quality. Some of the most popular shows in recent history came out this season, giving anime a massive popularity boost overseas. We've collected the top 20 anime of 2013, based on their MAL scores. Are your favorites on the list?