Little Busters: Refrain and The Power of Experience
Little Busters: one of the most controversial anime recently in terms of quality, potential, and execution. Key, infamous for their ability to make stories that drown their readers/viewers in tears, produced Little Busters in 2007, showcasing Jun Maeda’s mastery of tearjerkers. Hailed as one of the greatest VNs of all time, Little Busters is indeed one of the most well written stories out there and probably has one of the strongest emotional impacts ever. Clannad: After Story has nothing on this. And yet, as excited as people are and were for the anime, the fact of the matter is, an anime was a terrible idea and was bound to fail.
Most complaints, or at least the vocal ones, blame JC Staff, a studio that is quite hated for a plethora of reasons that may or may not include a certain anime that doesn’t actually exist. Nevertheless, I was one of the people who, from the day the anime was announced (that is, before we knew what studio was in charge), were very doubtful about the quality of the anime. Of course I agree that beloved KyoAni would do a better job, but besides the fact that they have moved on to the cash cow of moeblobs with a hint of plot, the problem here is that the storyboarding of a Little Busters anime is a very interesting and even paradoxical problem that any studio would not be able to solve.
As a VN reader, I am fully aware of just how powerful Little Busters’ Refrain is. To this day, Haruka Kanata still evokes more sadness in me than any other song. But no matter how I try to convince people how good Refrain is, my words will never be able to convey it. Most people are unwilling to invest ~50 hours into a VN just so they can supposedly experience the greatest tearjerker around. They would rather just not spend 50 hours and live without knowing about it or…watch the anime, spend a lot less time and still see for themselves. Unfortunately, the anime will never live up to the hype of the VN. I had no clue what people meant by this until I read the VN; then I thought an anime would never happen due to it being too difficult and then it somehow got an anime and now I just watch and laugh at how bad it is.
The first problem that works against both the anime and the VN in terms of people trying it out is just how incredibly poorly written the initial story is. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Little Busters is that the first 70-80% is actually trash. Getting through all the routes is a real chore and the quality of Kud’s route is one of the worst things I’ve ever read; anime viewers should be glad the EX version got animated as opposed to the vanilla version. The fact that the majority of the routes range from mediocre to atrocious writing yet readers were able to forgive everything they had to sit through and still consider it one of the best VNs of all time is a further testament to just how powerful Refrain is. For anyone unsure about whether to invest time into this story, this is a huge turnoff and would realistically not continue, and I personally know people who have dropped the anime due to this. But those who have not already dropped it are willing to continue with the anime because “it’s Key” or “what’s one episode a week,” and “so many people are saying it’s the best, okay, I’ll stick with it.”
The second and main problem is simply a storyboarding issue. I’m sure everyone is aware of all the foreshadowing that has been used. The anime chose to forego real attempts at storyboarding and just insert some foreshadowing. All of the routes connect in a very specific way that serves as the basis of Refrain: the secret of the world. As such, there is a fundamental need to animate all the routes but do so without any real foreshadowing. Nevertheless, the anime still has added a ridiculous amount of foreshadowing, some of which makes zero sense.
The problem with foreshadowing is it ruins the whole impact of Refrain. The setup in the VN is what made Refrain what it is and that setup cannot be reproduced in anime form nor can it be so drastically changed without consequence. Of course, half the reason foreshadowing was inserted was because of the first problem and trying to keep viewers interested, so there’s this combined problem of keeping people interested for when they only have poorly written source material to work with but not include anything that’ll reveal Refrain. Or they can just spoil half the stuff via a trailer. I could complain about all the other things they changed for the worse, and the blatant attempts to cater to VN fans have only served to hurt the execution more, but that’s besides the point of this post. In the end, it’s just a matter of the limitations of the anime medium. Maybe it could be improved here and there, but overall, that’s not going to make it good. The anime medium simply cannot reproduce the level of emotional impact of Refrain that the VN does.
I can’t objectively determine how emotional the anime is and will be, so I can only imagine the reactions to Refrain. Honestly, a fraction of the most powerful tearjerker is still going to be pretty sad. Regardless, it doesn’t matter how much emotion the anime evokes out of viewers; anime viewers will never experience the same level, and perhaps more importantly, range of emotions that VN readers did. And this problem of Refrain is kind of like Christianity. Christians know and understand how great it is to have a relationship with God. So much so, that we just want to tell everyone how amazing it is – resulting in, shall I say, less than desirable results.
It doesn’t matter how much Christians proclaim their love for God or talk about sinful nature or the Bible or forgiveness or whatever method they choose to minister with. No one will ever truly understand what we mean unless they experience God for themselves. It is the limitation of the medium – the limitation of our words. There are those who might listen to us, but they won’t truly understand until they experience God’s love personally; no matter what a person says, Refrain is something that must be experienced. There are those who ignore us and call us crazy without attempting anything. I admit, Christianity doesn’t actually make any logical sense whatsoever, but neither does “this 50 hour VN where 80% is trash is worth your time!” There are those who have tried Christianity out and did not think it was worth it. Well, just reading even half of the VN or even watching the first season of the anime is not going to let you understand why Little Busters is hailed with such praise. You haven’t gotten to the real stuff yet. What changes lives is God’s love – without that, nothing will happen. People growing up in a Christian community are perhaps most susceptible to this as they can often be believers who have never experienced radical healing in their personal life.
Such people are inclusive in the group of Christians who might believe but still don’t quite “get it.” They might do everything a Christian is “expected” to do, but they have yet to truly experience God’s love – and this is kind of like watching the anime. It doesn’t matter if you watch the anime and know the entire story and still cry liters of tears at the climax and praise it as the best thing in the world; you actually still won’t have a clue how good Refrain really is. You can say you believe in God all you want, go to church, read your Bible, volunteer for the community, and donate to the poor. None of that means you have experienced God. I don’t know how to put it into words, but when you experience God, you just know your life has been changed forever, and when that happens, you just want to share that experience with everyone.
Limitations of the medium – limitations of our words. We can preach the Gospel as much as we like – our words alone can only do so much, not to say it’s a futile effort. All we can really do is plant seeds and let God take care of the rest. Sometimes he acts immediately; sometimes he acts in twenty years. Being frustrated with atheists who “just don’t get it” is ridiculous and even counterproductive because of course they don’t get it when they haven’t experienced anything yet. We as Christians have experienced something that no one else has, so it’s understandable we want to share with as many people as possible. However, it is important to remember that no one will quite understand what you’re talking about until they experience it for themselves. Putting aside the complaints of the Little Busters anime for a moment, the root feeling of fans is the same as Christians: Refrain in the VN is just so unrivaled and powerful and is something that fans want others to experience, settling for nothing less than the VN. If nothing else, I think the feeling of wanting to share one of the best experiences of your life can be appreciated, as well as the feeling of disappointment when people settle for less.
The biggest difference, among others, in my parallel, however, is that those who have had the story spoiled will never experience the same as VN readers even if they go back and read it. Half of Refrain is the setup which you can’t replicate in anime; the other half is phenomenal execution built upon said setup. Luckily for Christianity, you can try as many times as you want to experience God and you can experience Him many, many times. God wants a relationship with every single person and as long as you are willing to try, God will respond. God’s gift of grace and mercy is available to everyone at all times; it is only waiting to be accepted by us and once you do, you will truly understand the power of a personal experience with God.