Kyousuke is back, yet again. He lies over the table of the school canteen, tired—more so than he has ever been. The Refrain route, the last one, is about to begin. It is the last chance: Life, death, friendship, the past, the future, love and treason are all going to play out now. If only he wasn’t so tired. Nearby, Riki Naoe sleeps. “Kyousuke’s back! A distant voice roused me from my slumber,” he narrates, one more time. “The meaning of the words was obscured by my drowsiness. However, a voice quivering with joy woke me up fully.”
“Finally, the time has come.” And it has. It’s Sunday night, May 13th.
It´s Sunday night here in Spain, too, September 27th as I write this, and life in 2020 keeps getting more wild. Just yesterday, I tested positive for COVID-19, and therefore I’m isolated in my bedroom, as no doubt has been the case for many of you. I have had a fever (it’s now down) and some muscular pain, but I don’t have previous pathologies and luckily, I’m a lawyer, so I can keep working by computer, managing most of the things I have to do remotely and postponing the rest. I’m more worried about my parents, who are older and are also seem to have the virus, and are isolated in their own room. Some of my younger siblings have the virus, some don’t. Up to now, my healthy siblings have been taking care of the meals and the house. We’ll be grateful for your prayers, if you pray.
Also, I think I’m more or less in the same place as in my last article, but calmer, and for now, trusting Christ and continuing to walk has not been much of a fight. I´m grateful for that, as it could easily have gone the opposite way. I had to go back to streaming the celebration of the Eucharist online, I can talk to my priest by phone, I’m quite tired (not so much as the title character), and the troubles I mentioned are still around. And, as I will have more time to pray, watch and write, I think it is a good time to come back to Refrain and Natsume Kyousuke.
In my last article on Little Busters, Key´s astonishing multiple-route visual novel (VN), I mentioned its nuanced, deep, hopeful portrait of suffering and the transcendent meaning it may hold for us, both as a sign of despair which transcends time and affects everything, and as the place where we encounter a kind of love which also transcends time and touches everything with the most powerful hope there is. The love of Christ in the Cross, and also those loves which may channel or reflect it—a piece of it—in our lives. The cyclical nature of the visual novel and the changes help you me to reflect on the meaning of what is happening, and also provides a wise perspective about the meaning of the events of my life. “Slowing rotation suggesting permanence,” as T. S. Eliot said: constants, repetitions and also changes.
Last time, I wrote about how my experience of suffering and of meeting the Crucified Christ reminded me of the protagonist’s, Riki Naoe. I will go now with Kyousuke Natsume, who is arguably the most central character of the story. But before, I will give a reinforced major spoilers alert. This is a great story, and the powerful reveal is part of its strength. Even the anime gives away too much too soon. And what I’ll be talking about now has to do with what the characters of Little Busters call “the secret of this world.” You´ll be grateful, believe me, if you skip the anime and experience it the “hard way” instead, going through the seven routes and the 50+ hours of narrative, and thus receiving the full impact of the Refrain route.
So what do you do if you want to be saved, and save others, those dear people, close to your heart? Younger siblings, classmates, childhood friends, new friends, family members, random strangers? As, say, Subaru Fujinuma, Shirou Emiya, Ahiru, Tohru Honda, Yuzuru Otonashi, Minori Kushieda, Izuku Midoriya, Sayaka Miki or TPN´s Emma (wonder why I like anime so much?) and as Kyousuke Natsume, I’ve always wanted that, ever since I first discovered people may be corrupted, diminished or destroyed, and good things can be lost forever. But when you want that sort of thing, you will soon realize that your limits are in the way, that your intentions may not be pure, that you may become arrogant or blind, that is easy to become a self-appointed knight with a protagonist syndrome, that there are things out there that are truly hard and not easily solved, that choosing some people and leaving “the rest” outside because it is too difficult or you’re too insecure, undermining the whole thing. And yet, even so, I still want that.
We see that Kyousuke has grown and matured while keeping this desire intact from childhood to the doors of adulthood. This is quite remarkable and also difficult to achieve. I know I struggle to do so. To keep its integrity, this sort of dream needs to be founded in a love which hopes and desires that every particular person who enters your life is saved, in his or her particular and real circumstances, in his or her story, known or unknown. Kyousuke is certainly like that, his love encompassing the team—the new girls and also others.
Also, as you just cannot solve every problem (and shouldn’t try), or be satisfied with solving this or that, ultimately, you will realize that you cannot bring them the sort of integral salvation they need, only the hope for it. But salvation is real, and you can be a part of it. And so, hope is also real and precious, despite all the imperfections and lies. To do what you can in your particular position and try to put it in the presence of God can change lives, especially your own.
To grow without losing or twisting this desire requires the right sort of humility and hope: Humility so that your own limits, failure, disappointments, inconsistencies, the need to correct course, and the humiliating discovery of your own hidden motives from time to time do not tempt you to give up, and unlimited hope so that you know that no matter what happens, what despair comes, and what the human world says, love and the salvation of every particular person are at the core of Creation, dear to the heart of God, the true meaning of everything.
This is a reason to act, “Even so!”, decisively and humbly. The main flaw of the world of Little Busters, for many of the characters, is that it is a Kyousuke-shaped world, depending on him, and would lose its meaning without him. Not so for Kyousuke himself. As the Savior is Christ, we can love without making our love and ourselves the measure of the world. We can be both dramatic and comedic heroes as needed, and thus Little Busters is both tragedy and comedy, and Kyousuke is both a serious and a comedic, almost a parody of the high school hero.
One thing I admire about him, which I would like to imitate in my own life, is that he is willing to be the protagonist when needed, but also a hero from the sidelines, a “friend of the spouse.” From his particular position as a leader, big brother, and popular student, Kyousuke is always creatively cooperating (or sometimes fighting against) the people around him so they can come to be more of themselves, stronger, more free. He frees Kendo from the dojo of his rigid father, Masato from his violence, Riki from his sadness, and his sister (little by little) from her solitude. He uses his own personality, wit, joy, artistic flair, elegance and courage to foster each of the Little Busters, but he is also conscious that this cannot be about him. And when the time comes, he will head onto the painful consequences of preventing others from depending on him in a way that blocks their growth, and he will suffer the (salutary) pain he inflicts others this way.
But it is more than that. He is patient. Having read a lot of novels, I guess I imagined heroic, Christlike love more like a series of Batman interventions, the right word at the crucial time, the moment of epiphany. But it is not so. There is that, too, but then there is the long, patient struggle, for years. Mary was visited by the angel, but then came the years in which nothing extraordinary happened. The Apostles lived many years after the Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, fighting their battles. Kendo, Masato, Riki, and Rin are better, but the pain and the darkness are lurking beneath. Riki learns the same lesson concerning the other girls: The moment of confession and love triumphant is not the end of the way, but a light of hope towards it.
And so, Kyousuke patiently fights for years by being Kyousuke and being near. He plans and he puts his head and heart into it, but is also hopeful and does not rush. And so, Christ walks patiently with us until our last day, and He adapts to what we can take now. “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you the things to come.”
I find that tricky. The truths of the Faith are so compelling, so dramatic and sometimes urgent, that it becomes difficult to take other things into account. But our faith is incarnated, and it needs to be mature, understanding, and genuine, in a context which needs to be taken into account, and lived to the fullest, authentically. This is especially important concerning those most wounded by sin or despair. As I said in my last article, Riki and Rin, and others also, in different but related ways, have blind hearts which are too weak to survive in the real world without the rest of the Little Busters, and which can only react to change (even minor change, or a minor separation for a few weeks) by way of rebellion, flight, and codependency until the collapse. They will only learn what is at stake if they come to share the “secret of this world,” much like us humans with our blind hearts will only learn their true value and the true meaning of our lives, of our stories, if we come to know the love of Christ and the Gospel.
And there is the sacrifice. The reader doesn’t know the tremendous personal cost of Kyousuke’s love until the end is near (last chance to put this down and avoid the spoiler), because the “secret of this world” is that this high school is in perpetual reset, always returning to Sunday night, May 13th. This world is a near-death shared experience for all the involved in a school bus accident. Kyousuke, Masato and Kengo are dying. Rin and Riki will survive. Kyousuke, granted extraordinary powers, is in agony, sacrificing the last moments of his life with great effort and physical pain, more and more tired, the blood pouring out of his body, in an attempt to guide Rin and Riki to healing, sacrificing the Little Busters group, so dear to his heart, in the process, and to save also the rest of the surviving passengers.
All while Rin and Riki, feeling alone and betrayed, reject his efforts and take the situation to where the only path is to reset the world one more time. When you have experienced the entirety of the Little Busters VN from the point of view of Riki, when you have become part of the team, familiar with the world and the characters, this revelation impacts you like an earthquake. And it should.
In my first article, I posed a question and then left it unanswered: Why was Abraham told to sacrifice Isaac, three or four millenia ago? God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving, good. It doesn’t seem right. But Abraham was a complicated man who, like us, was deeply loved and like us, was threatened with existential destruction, a man who came from Ur, a land were human sacrifice was common. For him, as the Bible shows, it was more of a question of losing the person he loved the most, his heir, his hope, his pride as a father and a nomad chief, and of God seemingly contradicting His promises, in which Abraham had founded his life (all his sins and errors nevertheless). Abraham carried on, trusting God, vaguely thinking that He can even revive the dead. And this kind of trust was the only door by which he could be saved, and start living.
When the moment came, God Himself prevented him from killing his son, and instead, He provided Abraham a lamb for the sacrifice. And in this seemingly cruel way He was introducing him, then Israel, then us, in the secret of this world. God was the One who would suffer His Son’s death while loving to the extreme. And thus, the promise would be fulfilled, we would be saved and the dead would be revived. By a faith not of this world, such as this, it would enter our lives. As Abraham, we would hope against all hope. And it took thousands of years, not to speak of the events by which we came to know the Gospel, to bring this love to us, now in the Church. Christ told us that Abraham, alive before God right now, longed to see His day. And when he finally saw it, he rejoiced.
Abraham will be back. Let me stress the point. In 2020, in my room, infected by COVID, I believe that this ancient Middle East nomad is alive before God, and will walk and smile again, just because Christ said so one day in the Temple of Jerusalem. And I believe that the painful story of Isaac was necessary for it to happen, and for me to live. It is in that context that I try to live my own sufferings. Because sin, love, salvation and death are not the sort of problems which may be solved without going beyond what we can foresee or explain, and that requires us to be incorporated to the integral sacrifice, to the most extreme sort of love, to the Cross, to the Eucharist, to Christ. I have such admiration for Little Busters because, in its limited way, it reminds me of that.
During the Refrain route, the last chance, Riki Naoe chooses to embrace the painful sacrifice of his friend and its consequences. And thus, we come to see an unexpected side of the mysterious Kyousuke: His suffering and humanity, and how much he cares.
“Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis,” St. Bernard of Clairvaux said. That is, Our Lord, Who appeared to Moses as a perpetually burning bush that is never consumed, as Love, at once the most unmovable and most dynamic thing there is, does not lack anything, and does not experience this lack of love, life, health, and meaning we know as suffering. But He can suffer with us because He so chooses, out of love. Even more, He can suffer our sufferings, our pain, or wounds, more deeply than we do, because He loves us much more than we do.
The Gospel and the Bible become so much more alive when you realize that God suffers everything any of the characters—major and minor—suffer, and much more, out of compassion. For Him, they (we) are all His family.
And so He loves with all His love Adam and Eve, the people who drowned in the time of Noah, Esau, the people of Sodom, Gomorrah and Canaan, Saul, Antioch, Herod, Caiphas, those who were punished, who suffered, who were lost. And we see how Christ chooses to cry before Lazarus, the orphan, and the widow: This is Him freely choosing to suffer, to be angered and beaten, to sweat blood, to be afraid, to be in the position to say, “I am deeply grieved, even to death.”
One of the most touching parts of Little Busters is Kyousuke´s admission, after all his mysterious silence, that he would have wanted to play and goof around one last time, too, that the plan and its consequences are deeply painful to him. When I feel like the tired, suffering, misunderstood Kyousuke, suffering the crushing of big or small dreams or hopes while trying to be like Abraham, I try to rest in the infinite, compassionate love and suffering of the Crucified Christ, and of God the Father, and of the Spirit, and remember the signs of that love. Do you see how, in every picture, Kyousuke is surrounded by a light, be it the sun, a lamp, or lightning, which seems about to touch him?
This results in the ending beyond the ending, which surpassed my wildest expectations. When it could reach a heartbreaking, but satisfying and wise conclusion, the protagonist is asked: “Have you had enough?” And of course, the answer is “no,” This opens a final test: Riki is returned to a state of slumber in which he is calm and protected, but, half-remembering the names and the faces of the people he knows, he chooses to go outside, to expose himself, to truly live. He has been loved, and hopes and loves in turn. After all (as Pope Francis recently put it), “[b]y his actions, the Good Samaritan showed that the existence of each and every individual is deeply tied to that of others: life is not simply time that passes; life is a time for interactions.”
Following this choice, the unthinkable happens. Through all this suffering and sacrifice, miraculously, the accident is avoided. Christ’s love is the true life, “for whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for Me will find it.”
For one, I have certainly not had enough. I want to see the triumph of Christ. I want to go beyond anything I can imagine. I want to truly live, and I want the people I love, the people I know, to be there. I want you to be there. I want the distant voice, quivering with joy, to wake me up fully; I want to say, “Finally, the time has come.” And I want to hear, once again, amazed, in wonder, that Kyousuke is back.
P.S. At the time I´m writing this, October 7th, we are happily recovering from COVID-19, and right now we barely have symptoms. We will be tested again soon. Thank you all.