Thoughts of an aging Otaku

I’m 22 this year, going on 23, and I love Anime. Not to say I love all Anime; over the years I’ve been watching I’ve acquired a more developed appreciation for the medium. You won’t hear me singing praises of Sword Art Online, yet nothing gets me more excited than discussing Umineko or Little Busters.

I’m writing today because I’ve recently noticed that all of a sudden, most of my peers are dropping this hobby. It seems I’ve reached the age where this kind of thing isn’t as socially accepted as it once was. I know I’m still young, but it’s only going to become more of an issue as I continue to age. The average Anime convention attendee is about 5 years my junior; it’s not long before I start feeling out of place.

I made a lot of my current friends through connections based on a mutual love of Anime and related Japanese culture. What I’m seeing now is majority of those friends are abandoning that hobby, with varying comments from “I don’t have time for it any more” to “I’ve grown out of it”. I know rationally this shouldn’t affect me, but seeing it happen to all my friends leaves me with an irrational feeling of loss that I’m still learning how to cope with. For many of them, this mutual interest is what sustains our relationship, and losing that common thread can be devastating. But that’s not the only issue. Hearing comments like that causes me to seriously question my hobby, and how it influences my identity as an adult. Most of us are only able to continue hobbies like these because we have the acceptance of our peers and some of assurance that it’s okay to like the things we do. But seeing all my peers and friends drop that hobby, I begin to question the validity of my interests. Am I just a child that can’t face reality? Do I need to grow up? The prevalent NEET Otaku stereotype doesn’t help matters either. I’m sure many of my peers faced similar questions, and decided to leave it behind in favour of new, more adult ways to spend their time.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit stubborn. I think it’s very important to assess our behavior and how we fit into society, but I can’t accept that getting excited over something like Umineko is merely a phase to grow out of. I can only speak for myself, but the answer I’ve reached is this. I want to build my adult life around this passion. Is that a strange answer? Anime, and it’s related culture, is such a big part of my life, such a big passion that I’m convinced I won’t grow out of it. It’s here to stay. So, I figure the best way to continue is to integrate it into my identity as an adult. I want to build a career around it. My inspiration has come about from seeing so many adults working in the industry who love Anime, and built their career around that love. I can’t imagine a better life than building a career around what you love; that’s what I want to emulate. Maybe I’ll end up selling Anime merch, maybe I’ll get into licensing series’, or maybe even localisation work. I’m not sure exactly how yet, but I want to be able to give something back, to integrate Anime and Manga and Games into my adult life. It just… Makes sense to me. Is that so strange?

So, I’ll be closing with some open messages. To those of you who may be unfamiliar with the culture, don’t be so quick to judge it. While there are many bad examples of Anime fandom, and heaps i’d really poor Anine, there’s a lot of his stuff out there. A lot of heart that goes into producing Anime, and some of the stories I’ve discovered through the medium have such profound messages, the likes of which can change a man’s life. Some have brought me to cry where I barely shed a tear anywhere else. Maybe if you give it a chance, you’ll find a series even you can appreciate. It’s just too broad to judge based on one or two impressions.

To those who have moved on from Anime, I wish you all the best. I’m sure you reached that decision after some careful deliberation, and while I’m still learning to cope with seeing some of my friends turn away, I can only respect their decision. I only ask that you don’t cast judgment on those of us who will continue to love that culture late into our lives. It was special; I hope you don’t forget that feeling.

And to those out there my age and older facing similar questions, don’t lose heart. Loving Anime doesn’t make you immature. You need to look inside yourself and decide if this is the kind of adult you want to be, and if it is, then you have my support. It’s not always easy to go against the crowd, but what’s most important is that you live your life for yourself, rather than based on what you think you SHOULD be doing. And most importantly, no matter how it may seem, you’re not alone.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let’s continue moving forward.

Posted in Musings, On The Chessboard | 14 Comments

Little Busters!: Common Route Day-By-Day Reflections

Mission

Hey guys! Just dropping by to let you know that I’ve been doing a little Reflection series at Kazamatsuri.org. Since the 14th of May, I’ve been reading through the common route alongside the days of the month, writing a short reflection on each day. They’re getting longer and longer though, and if you’re a reader here then you probably like listening to my reflections~

If you’re a Little Busters fan, check it out! It may contain some spoilers though, so be wary.

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Angel Beats! Visual Novel: What We Know So Far

abeats3

Hi guys! I’m not dead, just been very busy over at my new website Kazamatsuri.org. Over on the forums, one of our community members, Bizkitdoh, has done work assembling a thread full of all the known details on the Angel Beats! Visual Novel. Remember my post about all the LB Anime details in the months and weeks leading up to it’s broadcast? It’s basically that kind of thing. If it interests you, go check it out!

On a side note, yes, I do intend to finish my Rewrite reflections, but they’ll have to wait a bit longer. Still lots of work to do on Kazamatsuri.org!

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Introducing Kazamatsuri.org: A new community for Key fans.

Facebook Cover

I’m proud to formally announce a project I’ve been working on for a while now. Most of my readers will probably have already heard of it, but to those who haven’t, I present to you Kazamatsuri.org. A new Key community.

I’ll let my post on the website do the talking.

I hope to see some of you there!

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Little Busters Anime Viewers: Here’s Some Cool Stuff You Missed!

So the Little Busters Anime has ended (Excluding EX coming soon) and I feel it’s time to make a post for the Anime viewers to show them some of the cool things they missed out on from the Visual Novel. This isn’t gonna be a whining post, nor is it gonna focus on changes made to the narrative – instead I’m gonna focus on some of the light-hearted content which didn’t or couldn’t make it to the Anime in their entirety. The Anime was only the tip of the iceberg of what Little Busters has to offer, so I’m going to share some of the cool things you’ll want to see!

The Batting Minigame

Goho

(Click above image for Youtube footage)

I’ve already talked at great length about the batting minigame in my other posts, so I’ll keep this short and sweet. There’s nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than hitting those balls around the field trying to rack up a combo. There’s no winning or losing; it’s just all about having fun with friends. Somehow, I feel these brief departures from the narrative really contribute to the feeling of camaraderie and friendship between the Little Busters.

 The Battle Rankings

I lost to Komari-chan

(Click the above image for Youtube footage)

These were briefly touched on in the OVA, but in the VN the Battle Rankings took place throughout the entire common route. You’d spend your time building up stats through batting practice and exchanging powerup items with other fighters, and in between your own battles you’d wander around school watching other fighters do their battles. They were always random and quirky, and it was endless entertaining to see the rankings change and the titles each character got. The variety of titles in the game was immense, no two playthroughs were the same. For me, the best part was that with enough luck, even the most unlikely person could win the battle rankings, as pictured above :P

Kyousuke’s One Question – One Answer

Eyes

(Click the above image for Youtube footage)

Album of some screenshots here.

This was a funny little thing they included in the game with no connection to anything. At a random point in the common route, Riki is given the choice to scan a QR code. Later on, he’ll look it up on his phone and you’re taken to ‘Kyousuke’s One Question – One Answer’ website, where he answers random questions posted to him by other students. The answers are all hilarious and show just how great Kyousuke’s sense of humour is. He practically invented the AMA. And there’s so many of them! Over a hundred. If you want you can spend an hour or two just reading his answers. It gave me many good laughs when I bothered to read them all.

Kick the Can

Masato Dumfounded

(Click the above image for Youtube footage)

Here’s one a lot of fans were a bit bitter over its exclusion from the Anime. The Kick the Can scene accompanies many of the great group shenanigans scenes like the Test of Courage and the Puppet Show. There’s not much to say about it really – it’s just a game of Kick the Can, but the Little Busters own it perfectly. It’s easily one of the funniest scenes in the game, and it perfectly illustrates just how much fun the gang can get up to together.

Muscle Sensation

(Click above image for Youtube footage)

Lastly, the Muscle Sensation is a bonus mini-route included in the game if you can find it. It requires you to play with Masato at every opportunity you’re given (the alternatives are usually either do something plot-related or fight someone in the battle rankings). Once you do all of them and reach a certain scene, you can access the Muscle Sensation. I won’t spoil what happens, but it’s definitely the most hilarious and bizarre ending to the Visual Novel.

I’ll wrap it up here for now. If anyone has any suggestions for things to include on this list, then let me know in the comments and I might throw it in! I hope our Anime viewers enjoyed their journey through the story of Little Busters, and perhaps might consider someday playing the original game it was based off of! Little Busters Saikou!

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Rewrite ~ Akane Route Reflection

Akane Witch

[Music: Anthurium]

And here we are covering the last remaining heroine route of Rewrite: Akane’s route. This route can only be accessed after finishing Chihaya’s route, and gives much more insight into Akane’s character and the workings of Gaia than we’ve seen thus far. This is the second route written by Romeo Tanaka, who also did Kotori’s route, and the overall feel of this route is very comparable to Kotori’s. It’s very dark, and very draining. Throughout most of the routes, Akane has been portrayed as a central figure in the orchestration of salvation, so this time we’ll be abandoning the ‘heroes’ of Guardian to join the side of the monsters: Gaia. How does the route handle this? Appropriately, I feel. Before I begin, I’d just like it to be known that I plan on mentioning other heroine routes in this post. So, for spoiler-free reading, ensure you’ve read all of the five heroine routes before continuing.

I loved Akane’s character in the common route. She had a lot of pride and egotism, and took a lot of joy out of destroying Kotarou whenever he challenged her to an intellectual battle, most often revolving around trying to prove the existence of supernatural phenomena. In the end though (at least according to this route…) Kotarou never managed to prove to Akane that supernatural phenomena exist, but the journey was still worthwhile for both of them. Akane’s route begins exactly the same as Kotori’s route, which is interesting because none of the other routes ever did that. Chihaya’s route started similarly but branches when Chihaya decides to return to school, probably because of her new friendships with everyone. Lucia’s route branched at the point of Kotarou receiving the lead on the Haruka Asahi story. For all we know Shizuru’s route could’ve started out the same, just with Kotarou not returning to school after the incident. I feel like the branching of the routes could’ve been handled a bit better, but looking at it now I guess it wasn’t that bad how they handled it; having multiple writers must complicate matters somewhat. Anyway, back to Akane, it starts off exactly the same as Kotori’s route, word for word. It only branches off at the point where Kotarou visits the occult club room and goes looking at the club members’ houses. He discovers the Enishi house, and finds out Akane was an orphan adopted by Sakura Kashima, leader of the Japanese Martel Group. Having read Chihaya’s route, we should now immediately recognize Martel as the environmental protection group which serves as a cover for the secret organization of Gaia. Kotarou once again states, as in previous routes, that he was once made to attend Martel meetings by his parents when he was a child. Martel presents themselves as a very scientific organization, but Kotarou says that they used to be much more like a religious organisation. While the public face of Martel insists that they are a scientific organisation, the nature of Gaia seems to suggest the opposite.

[Music: Sorrowless]

Kotarou, desperate for answers and something to hold onto after everything that had just happened, follows his leads to discover Akane among of a group of women outside of the Martel HQ. He is unable to act, but is relieved to know that he found at least one of his friends. He goes searching Kotori’s house one more time, but encounters a man in a black suit who tries to capture him. Only when he texts Akane asking for help does she bother to respond, and after receiving a message from a leaf bird, Kotarou is invited to the clubroom to finally meet with her. Akane explains the gist of the situation to him without revealing any important secrets, and asks him to return to his normal life, but Kotarou is unable to accept it. He breaks down after Akane states that the occult club is over, unable to accept that it was all for nothing. After realizing the danger Kotarou is in, Akane relents and allows Kotarou to stay with her.

Akane Child

Kotarou dreams of a young Akane, a memory from a long time ago that returned to nothing. “It’s identical to death. So I might not be me anymore.” This brings to mind Kotarou’s near-death experience, mentioned in Kotori’s route. Kotarou nearly died saving a girl who had climbed up a tree, and Kotori saved him by using the Key’s power and turning him into a familiar, causing some memory loss. In this dream, Kotarou describes Akane as a mute girl who never communicated with anyone and had no concept of misfortune, and thought that she was going to be happy. Later on he explains that, having met some time in the distant past, Akane had always been in his heart. Apart from Kotori, this can’t be said for any of the other heroines; it really seems to validate their relationship relative to the other heroines. Their past together is never explored further in this route beyond these two dream sequences. How did they know each other? Waking up to hear Akane on the phone, it’s suggested that Akane (and by extension parts of Gaia) know quite a bit about Kotarou’s past, such as his power. Akane then goes on to explain the details of the situation Kotarou is in, and the role he must play in Gaia if he wants to stay with her. Around this point, Kotarou begins to realise that he has fallen in love with Akane, and resolves to do whatever he can to stay with her.

We’re soon introduced to Gaia’s HQ, along with many of the people within the organisation. Takasago gets a brief comical introduction, and we’re soon after (re-)introduced to Tsukuno, and introduced to Shimako for the first time. What’s that? A sprited character introduced this late in the game? QUIT CHANGING UP THE RULES REWRITE! Ahem. Tsukuno doesn’t speak, just like the young Akane we were introduced to earlier. Kotarou comments that she feels similar to Akane, and an odd silence fills the room in response, foreshadowing revelations to come. After Tsukuno and Shimako leave the room, we are introduced to Suzaki. A change in the music and narration indicates that the mood has just gotten much more serious, and Suzaki is painted as the enemy from the very beginning. Kotarou is asked to duel Takasago to prove his capability, but in order to defeat him Kotarou is forced to secretly use his power. Takasago despairs, telling Kotarou that that even through hard work and determination, he is unable to best people with natural talent, and leaves the building in shame. The cruelty of natural selection, one of many allusions to Darwinism throughout this route. After the battle, Akane explains that Kotarou may have to resort to killing if he wants to help her, and that if Gaia’s ideals clash with his own, he may leave and betray Gaia at any time.

Summoning Training

Akane further explains the nature of Gaia and its summoners. Referring back to the questionnaire Kotarou got back in common (the one which determines which route you enter), we’re again presented with the question: if you are dissatisfied with the world, would you want to change the world or change yourself? The dark feelings of a person who can’t accept the world and wish to fight it gives birth to familiars; that’s why summoners often have very strong, dark emotions. Other people who choose to work hard and improve themselves to overcome a problem become superhumans, many of which are extroverted and confident. Kotarou spends time getting used to Gaia, and eventually encounters the Key in the middle of a crowd of people. After informing Akane, he is tasked with her capture. Shortly after receiving the assignment, Akane teaches Kotarou how to use familiars. Watching Akane move the doll without touching it brings to mind Yukito from Air, aha. Kotarou displays some talent for using familiars, something that hasn’t been displayed in any other route. It’s definitely strange to see a superhuman / pseudo-familiar using familiars himself – it seems Kotarou is living up to his ‘A-Type’ classification. The hunt for the Key continues, and Akane gets more and more busy taking care of Sakura Kashima. Kotarou begins noticing just how nihilistic Gaia’s members are, especially the disciples. My interpretation of it is that Gaia exists because it’s members have no will to live. To them their lives are worthless and full of suffering, and so saving the planet gives them worth and purpose, even if it means killing everyone in the world. I’m reminded of Lucia’s desperate pursuit of purpose in her route. Finding purpose in life seems to be a common theme in Rewrite, and very much so in this route. After a while, Akane reveals that she discovered some news about Kotori and Chihaya’s whereabouts. It’s a bit unusual that they haven’t even mentioned that Chihaya belongs to Gaia, but that could probably be put down to a lack of cohesion between the writers. It could also be an intentional move by Romeo Tanaka to keep the other heroines from impacting how we view this one. Kotarou stands by his decision in choosing Akane, but he is still really upset to think about how much he lost that night. After some time, Kotarou finally manages to track down the Key and follows her into the forest.

[Music: Retribution]

Akane’s scout bird arrives on scene to deliver a poison to Kotarou. Based on the description it seems to be the same poison used by Shizuru to deal with Sakuya back in Chihaya’s route. After a brief battle, Kotarou manages to secure the Key, but things take a turn for the worse as Suzaki’s men figure out what’s going on and close in. In order to have a chance of success, Kotarou is forced to Rewrite himself. The wording used here is very peculiar. Kotarou speaks about sinking into the unknown – a wealth of information about life and a tree of possibilities. He thinks about how all life fights against entropy, and that he must acquire hatred and bloodlust so that he can “fight back against this cold world”. The desire of his heart really does seem to represent some kind of amalgamation of the values of both summoners and superhumans. After he finishes rewriting, he acquires improved strength and superior reflexes, as well as much more control over his aurora. It’s interesting to me how Kotarou’s rewriting seems to be empowered and directed by his emotions; without the resolve to acquire bloodlust he may not have survived the coming battle. After defeating some hounds, the situation gets even worse as Guardian appears and begins hunting him down. He is defeated, and confronted by Imamiya. Kotarou notes how Imamiya felt familiar to him, why would this be? They look kinda similar, could they be related? Just as Kotarou is about to be killed by Imamiya, he prays for life, and something saves him, cutting off Imamiya’s arm and forcing Imamiya to retreat. Kotarou suspects it was the Key’s ribbons, but I think it could’ve been his aurora. Later, Kotarou encounters a wounded Takasago in the forest, and is forced to kill him. It’s the first time Kotarou had ever killed another person in cold blood, from any of the heroine routes. It’s quite a contrast to Chihaya’s route, where Kotarou did everything he could to avoid crossing that line. But here, he was determined to do anything he could to support her; even if it meant becoming a murderer. “My heart is cold. From now on, I won’t just be someone who needs protection. I won’t have the right to complain no matter what happens to me. That’s the consequence of crossing this line.” In Shizuru’s route, Imamiya warned Kotarou not to become a warrior, and it feels like we’re about to see the consequences of becoming one.

Aurora Beast

Kotarou’s momentum continues to dwindle, and he is once again confronted by the superhumans. Seemingly on the verge of defeat once more, his aurora aggressively changes shape as though it has a mind of it’s own. Kotarou identifies it as a familiar. The aurora claws into the superhuman’s flesh like a hungry beast free from Kotarou’s control. It’s a brutal scene, and it even frightens Kotarou himself. In order to stand by Akane on the side of the monsters, he was forced to become a monster himself. It really does feel like the fusion of a superhuman and summoner’s power. Soon Kotarou finds Shimako and Akane’s bird, and notices that tears are streaming down his face, absent of any accompanying compulsion to sob. Wiping away the tears, he notices the blood he’d smeared across his face and hand. This isn’t the time for a emotions, Kotarou knows that, but it seems like his body can’t help but lament over all he’s had to sacrifice to get this far; even if his heart is locked away. The skirmish continues with Kotarou and Shimako escaping on a hound, while Shimako controls a pack of hounds protecting them from the approaching superhumans. The hounds are picked off one after another until all are eliminated and Kotarou is left to carry the unconscious Shimako with him. Thinking of the strain the familiars must’ve placed on Shimako, Kotarou considers his own power. Kotarou’s Aurora is the only reason he was able to survive, and it wasn’t something he worked for or deserved. He understood that accepting the unfairness of his power was the only way to survive, and so Rewrites himself once more, empowering his Aurora. “…now they have brutality and ferocity. And those traits make them dependable.” Another allusion to natural selection, Kotarou is forced to further dispose of his humanity in order to survive. His aurora destroys the arrows being fired at him while he makes his escape, but he is soon surrounded. Just as the situation seems grim, the forest explodes and Akane emerges together with the T-rex you may remember from some of the other routes. “Dynamosaurus. The Earth Dragon.” Akane names it. “The greatest familiar in existence.” It seems like between Sakuya and the Earth Dragon, Rewrite has a hard time deciding which is truly the greatest familiar. This time, the Earth Dragon serves as our ally, and deals heaps of damage to Guardian’s forces. Kotarou goes to find the Key is beginning to wake up. Just then, they are attacked by a superhuman who was quickly dealt with by the Earth Dragon, but not before he was able to shoot an arrow into the Key’s chest. The Key wilts like a dying plant, and Kotarou and Akane lament their loss.

Earth Dragon

[Music: Potted One]

Later that night, Akane retires to her room with Kotarou. She questions how she’s supposed to save her disciples now that the promise of salvation has been destroyed. Without being able to save the planet, their lives have lost all meaning. Kotarou admits that he doesn’t know much about salvation, but that there’s something he wants and can only get by staying with Akane. He promises to help share her burden. Holding back her tears, she gives Kotarou his new job: to prevent her from having to cry again. As Kotarou’s pursuit of happiness with Akane is just beginning, they are informed of Sakura Kashima’s death. The next day Akane reveals her simultaneous hatred and love of Sakura Kashima to Kotarou. “…Sakura Kashima granted me intelligence. And then I immediately hated her. At the same time, I loved her.” “That’s part of being the holy woman… or her heir. All humans love themselves, but at the same time find themselves intolerable.” Kotarou is confused by what she means, but she continues confiding in Kotarou. After consoling her, Akane breaks down and sobs into Kotarou’s chest. This may be the first time she’d shown Kotarou (or perhaps anyone) her vulnerable side. Tsukuno shows up later that night and reveals that Sakura Kashima was murdered. She also whispers something Kotarou can’t hear that causes Akane’s expression to change. Akane quickly leaves without telling Kotarou anything, and he wonders what could’ve caused such a reaction from her. I think it’s clear that this is the point where Akane discovers that the Key is still alive, and so from this point deviates from the path Kotarou had hoped to walk with her. The following morning after the funeral, Kotarou notices that Akane was acting strange ever since the previous night. “The covenant between me and Sakura Kashima was fulfilled upon her death.” she tells Suzaki, intimidating him with some kind of confidence. With Suzaki unable to figure out what she was planning, Akane left the room triumphant. Beyond Kotarou’s awareness and control, everything he had been fighting for was silently falling apart.

Kotarou Akane Route

A year passes as Kotarou continues to serve as Akane’s bodyguard, watching her fulfil her responsibilities as the holy woman like a completely different person. Oblivious to everything, Kotarou was satisfied to live in service of Akane, despite a growing emotional disconnection between them. Akane went around to hospitals healing people with physical and mental ailments with the power of the holy woman, many of which subsequently joined Gaia as disciples. On one of his free days, Kotarou spends his time wandering Kazamatsuri, thinking about how much he had changed from his carefree days as a student. He encounters Yoshino, and thinks about how the two of them failed to form any kind of relationship when they had the chance. Kotarou turns his back to him as Yoshino begins speaking, trying to question him about Kotori’s absence. He suspected Kotori and the others were involved in the war somehow, but he took some kind of comfort in the fact that he never came to know who belonged on which side. Nishikujou asks Kotarou if he remembers her, and soon after their conversation begins she starts challenging his views about humanity and the earth. After hearing Kotarou speak of the values of Gaia, she relents, seemingly disappointed with his response. Before disappearing, she tells Kotarou that Akane is going to destroy the world.

[Music: Black Star Sickness]

Akane begins teaching the disciples to sing a hymn which she describes as “The planet’s song.”, which symbolises impending natural disaster. The evidence of Akane’s intentions keep growing in number, but Kotarou doesn’t want to acknowledge it. Soon much of Gaia’s activities become known to the public, of particular note the recruitment of disciples. Akane and Kotarou’s identities are made public, and they’re forced to shy away from the public eye along with the disciples. Gaia gradually splits in two as Suzaki’s faction leaves for a new HQ outside city limits, leaving the disciples and the few remaining Gaians to fend for themselves against the onslaught of public scrutiny. Akane spends her days conducting the rehearsals for the hymn and eating snacks, acting unnaturally carefree given the situation. She must be feeling relief from the knowledge that she is working for a greater purpose, and that the end is approaching. Akane once again casually suggests that Kotarou leave Gaia, but Kotarou can’t stand the thought. Kotarou tells Akane that he won’t let his disapproval of Gaia’s values get in the way of his love for her.

While wandering through Gaia HQ one night, Kotarou notices some kind of strange presence above, and a voice identical to Akane’s begins speaking within his mind. The voice tells him of the inevitable destruction of the world, and the pain of living. Kotarou is forced to confront the differences between his and Gaia’s views. Between the Planet and Humanity, Kotarou feels he must choose Humanity, even if he hates Guardian. Kotarou wishes he could’ve been born a few years earlier so that he might have been able to do something to change the world. The voice asks Kotarou to take her with him when the time comes. To choose “…me, not Akane…”, because she had decided that all she wants is to be with Kotarou. “…choose me… …and find happiness… …that’s the final…forbidden fruit…we can give to humanity… …it’s the last one…” Okay, so this one has me pretty stumped. I’ve been racking my brain over it for a while, asked a bunch of other people for their input, and I can’t reach a solid conclusion. This feels like one of those scenes meant to throw us into confusion, ugh. But, I’ll give it a shot anyway. If I had to determine who the person speaking is, it’d have to be some manifestation of Akane. There seems to be this growing duplicity between the old Akane and the Holy Woman. Maybe it’s even more complicated than that… But anyway. All the nihilistic talk about how life is suffering really seems to mirror Gaia’s teachings, like something Sakura or the ‘Holy Woman’ might say. But then she’s talking about how Akane is possessed by the holy woman, and how she just wants to be with Kotarou. Almost like some kind of amalgamation of the two personas, going back and forth. I think this is Akane’s deepest wishes speaking at the end there: to stop worrying about the fate of the Earth and just be with Kotarou. So, what can we take from all this? Akane is suffering with the burden of life, but wants Kotarou to save her from the hell she’s constructed. That’s my interpretation.

Akane Revelations

[Music: Scene Shifts There]

Following that strange phenomenon, Kotarou has a talk with Akane, carefully dancing around the topic of salvation and questioning Akane’s willingness to live. Akane denies that she’s given up and insists that she trusts and loves Kotarou, but this rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps she’s just trying to deceive herself as much as she is Kotarou… They move to the school rooftop to continue their conversation, where Akane finally reveals the true nature of the ‘Holy Woman’. The Holy Woman has the power to heal people, but is always oppressed because of it. When the Holy Woman dies, her power is transferred to another person close to her, and that person inherits some of the memories and emotions of the former Holy Women, a process they call transcription. The subject of transcription must first lack a sense of self to be able to gain the self of the Holy Woman. By transforming those dead brain cells into a familiar, the Holy Woman is able to be passed on. Akane asks Kotarou if she changed at all when Sakura Kashima died, but Kotarou lies to both himself and her and tells her no. Despite the overwhelming hopelessness he feels from receiving this information, he resolves more than ever to stand by Akane to keep her safe from herself. Suzaki once loved Sakura, but after she inherited the Holy Woman, he was unable to accept the person she had become. The fact that Suzaki was in the exact same situation he is in now bothers him, but at the same time he remains determined to not let himself succumb to the same fate.

The next day, as if to add insult to injury, Akane and all the disciples disappear. Wondering why she didn’t take him with her, Kotarou is left to lead the remaining Martel employees still at the HQ. When he returns to Akane’s room, he discovers a message she left for him in her notebook. The message explains away her desire to stay with him as weakness, and apologises. She says she is leaving Kotarou to keep herself from hurting him any more, and to enact out salvation. “I’m a broken woman, incapable of accepting other people. So please don’t forgive me. Goodbye.” Before Kotarou is even able to process all the emotions he’s experiencing after reading the letter, he is contacted by Suzaki who asks for Kotarou’s help. Suzaki tells Kotarou that ten years ago his men had captured the Key, but it managed to escape. This was never mentioned in any of the other routes – seems like an important detail. Suzaki tells Kotarou about how he planned to turn familiars into a global industry and help extend the life of the planet. For the first time Kotarou begins to empathise with Suzaki. Suzaki tells Kotarou that Akane has the Key’s corpse, and plans to enact salvation with it. Kotarou decides to assist Suzaki in preparing to evacuate the people into the city of stone to protect them from the impending destruction. A short time later, a news helicopter is destroyed by the disciples’ leaf dragon near Gaia HQ – my guess is to prevent people from locating them. This only ignites the public’s suspicion of Gaia and the police prepare to raid the HQ. An Earthquake shakes the city, and more and more people begin hearing the hymn. Natural disasters break out all across the Earth, signalling the beginning of the end. In response to this, the remaining Gaia employees mobilise to begin the evacuation. Before they can get anyone out, they discover that the ‘observer’ familiar managing the connection to the shelter has been damaged by the earthquakes. With Kotarou at a loss of what to do, Shimako appears as if on cue and repairs the observer. Just as things are looking up again, Guardian’s superhumans appear and Kotarou is forced to Rewrite his senses to deal with them. He describes it as if being able to perceive the chemical make-up of the air around him as a mass of slowly changing numbers. He suspects that if he went any further, he might end up completely outside the human world. After a brief battle, Kotarou encounters Takasago again, much to his surprise. Takasago tries to trick Kotarou into leaving him with the observer, but Kotarou sees right through him and Takasago reacts with a tremendously powerful punch unlike any he was capable of in the past. Oh hey, Kotarou’s sprite shows up again for some reason. Why this late in the game..? No really, why? I’m more than a little confused about that. Anyway… Takasago escapes unharmed and Kotarou is contacted by Suzaki who insists that he and his men will remain on the surface for salvation. Kotarou thinks about how strange it is that so many people want to die with the world. Kotarou even considers doing so himself, but before he can think about that he has to meet with Akane, which he suspects won’t be until the final moments. Kotarou hands Shimako over to the shelter despite her screams of protest and hurries back to the surface.

Salvation

[Music: Finale]

Kotarou surfaces to a scene of unparalleled destruction. Kazamatsuri is quickly being swallowed up by the forest which has always surrounded it. The salvation in this route seems very different to how it was portrayed in Shizuru’s route, which was comparatively very instantaneous. One might suppose that it’s only gradual destruction here because the Key isn’t completely alive, or you could again put it down to a lack of cohesion between writers. Seeing all the destruction causes Kotarou to begin seriously questioning why he’s been following Akane. He knows he thought hard when he made his choice, but he can’t help but feel like he made a mistake somewhere. “I love Akane. But I hate the sins she’s comitted.” The evacuation begins, but violence breaks out everywhere among the civilians and an unknown enemy begins destroying the escape routes, slaughtering many people in the process. Kotarou sees the brutality first-hand and feels disgusted and outraged that somebody could commit such evil. Just as he thinks that, he realises how his and Akane’s sins are indistinguishable from those of the perpetrator of this terror, and swallows his anger. As the escape routes continue to be destroyed and Kotarou is at a loss of what to do, an image of one of the exits synchronises with his vision for a brief moment, and he rushes to it without questioning where the vision came from. When he arrives, he discovers that the vision came from a golden leaf bird. Kotarou isn’t sure who it belongs to, but he says that looking at the bird makes his chest feel tight, and he apologises to the bird without realising why. We’re never offered any more explanation, but by that description and the fact that he’s connected to it, I think we can assume that the owner is Kotori. This is the only presence she has in this route; I can’t help but feel a little bit sad for her. Also, apart from this scene, none of the other heroines are seen again in this route. We’re left to wonder how many make it through salvation alive. In this regard, the route is very disconnected from the others, but I’m not exactly against that. I’m glad they kept the focus on Akane here, since Kotarou is so devoted to her. Just as the evacuation recommences at this exit, familiars appear and start attacking people. The mass of people run around in panic, getting more and more crazed and frantic as Kotarou keeps fighting. The sound effects are muted and the background becomes inverted as Kotarou continues fighting, his heart breaking apart from the futility of his efforts, continuing to move only for the possibility that he might see Akane again.

Kotarou continues running through the city helping anybody is able to, and abandoning those who he cannot. He uses his aurora to help someone for the first time, pulling two people out of a collapsed building, one of whom happens to be Yoshino. They share a strange reunion, where Yoshino calls him a hero and says he seems to be living much more honestly than he did in the past. Noticing more panicked civilians, Kotarou is forced to leave Yoshino and confront the monster. Turns out it’s Takasago, and he’s being being powered by some kind of poison. After his defeat at Kotarou’s hands in the forest, he turned himself into a familiar piece by piece as his body was dying, converting poisons into energy to power his transformation. Now he continues to inject ampoules of poisons into his body to survive and become stronger – he is even able to use the poison in his body as a weapon. Come to think of it, this route is incredibly gory; it doesn’t hold back on it’s graphic descriptions. Brutal is one word I’d use to describe many aspects of this route. Takasago is beyond any redemption, mindlessly killing and causing chaos in the city simply because it feels good. You could say that his mind became as poisoned as his body.

Takasago moves the battle to another part of the city, killing everybody in sight to provoke Kotarou. Soon they encounter Kotarou’s old teacher, someone I haven’t seen make an appearance since Kotori’s route. Displaying an act of selfless courage, she tries to reason with Takasago, who responds by slowly crushing her skull. After some more casualties, Kotarou is finally able to figure out how to defeat him, and takes the offensive by attacking with every blunt object he can find and tearing up his insides by inserting his blades into his poison glands. Before long the battle goes beyond strategy and Kotarou finds himself continuously pounding into Takasago’s head with all the strength he has. Yoshino appears and throws Kotarou some brass knuckles, which Kotarou uses to continue to pummel Takasago’s face into the ground. Takasago throws Kotarou off, and Kotarou is too wounded to stop him as Takasago approaches his teacher again. She refuses to leave Kotarou behind, but before Takasago is able to reach her, his body convulses and his flesh turns to dust. All the people around gather and praise Kotarou for his efforts, along with Yoshino and his teacher. Kotarou breaks into tears, unable to accept their kindness after all the time he spent supporting the orchestrator of this tragedy. This is what it means to support the side of the monsters; life becomes an unending journey of suffering where even to be in the presence of kindness is painful.

[Music: Radiance]

The public becomes aware of Kotarou’s deeds, but his identity remains unknown for the time being. The evacuation proceeds with the aid of the police force as over a billion people die worldwide. After a few days Kotarou notices three guardian helicopters converge on Martel HQ, only to be eliminated by airborne familiars before they can reach their destination. Looking up, he notices they were heading in the direction of an unusual-looking cloud looming directly over the HQ. He assumes that Akane must be up there, but he quickly realises he has no way of reaching it. Two days later the evacuation ends, and Kotarou retreats to the shelter with his fellow Martel employees. The shelter looks just like a copy of the real city now, only with a slightly weaker colour. The city is built to support five hundred thousand residents, leaving enough room for all the refugees and even some future growth. Kotarou notes how the ethics of medical treatment are changing in the new world, and that those who can’t survive aren’t being forced to live any longed than they should. The environment is being sustained through summoning instead of conventional technology, supposedly taking the lives of tens of thousands of summoners to develop it this far. Wandering the city Kotarou finds himself at Gaia HQ where he realises that the other half of the observer familiar is here, but it’s huge, reaching up into the sky. He quickly realises that this is how Akane escaped, and breaks into the HQ and ascends up through the tree as quickly as he can. He reaches the structure atop the HQ in the real world and finds Akane and the disciples singing the hymn.

Akane Confrontation

What follows is one of the most interesting exchanges in the game. Kotarou and Akane are both full of mixed emotions after finally meeting each other, Kotarou both angry at what she’s done and in love with her, wanting to bring her home. Akane tells him to leave, that he has no use for her and their mission is almost complete, to which Kotarou responds “…have you been waiting for me to stop you?”. Kotarou suggests that Akane never cared about the fate of the planet. Akane responds saying that she believes salvation can save the world, but Kotarou argues that that has no relevance to humans. Akane says that salvation is a wish shared by everyone who has the capacity to become a summoner, wanting to change the world. But Koratou comments that Akane was never a good summoner, so there’s no way she could’ve hated the world that much. Akane tries to justify her emotions, but Kotarou says that they both know that her feelings were forced upon her by the spirit of the holy woman. Akane is unable to respond, and Kotarou reflects on how she’s been holding back her emotions for so long. Akane confesses that she just wanted Kotarou to live in peace so that she could have disappeared happily. Kotarou insists that, rather than kill her, he must destroy the Key as payback for Akane abandoning him. In response to Kotarou’s threat, Akane and the disciples summon the Earth Dragon and a battle begins – not over the fate of the planet, but over their relationship.

Kotarou rewrites himself every second to continue surviving, improving his blades more and more. He likens the improvement of his blades to the technological advancement of mankind, but quickly realizes that humanity’s power cannot match a dragon that existed in ancient times. So, he decides to rely on the power of natural selection to defeat the Earth Dragon, by creating a thousand different blades and creating another new thousand based on the small number which successfully cause damage, over and over again until he can evolve his blades enough to defeat the monster. At the end of his journey through simulated evolution, his aurora resembles the Key’s ribbons. As he fights the Earth Dragon with his aurora cloth, he demands Akane to atone for her sins. He thinks to himself that human morals may not matter any more, but she needs to atone in order to live among other humans. Kotarou successfully destroyed the Key and just as he’s about to be devoured by the Earth Dragon, it drops dead as all of the disciples’ life had run dry. Unsatisfied with his victory, he sheds tears as Akane begs him to leave her alone. Kotarou decides that in order to atone, Akane must do that which she desires the least: to continue living among other humans. Kotarou is aware that she may continue atoning for the rest of her life, being called a sinner by everyone, but he vows to stay by her side if it means she might just be saved. Akane threatens to bite her tongue to escape, but Kotarou kisses her, daring her to do it, and she goes limp in his arms.

Akane Crying

[Music: Yuriha]

How grim…  This route doesn’t take the destruction of humanity lightly, but the focus never strays from the suffering of our two main characters. Akane and Kotarou are forced to live the remainder of their lives in the shelter, carrying their unforgivable sin with them. As the weeks pass, what remains of humanity inside the shelter begins gradually developing a new society and acclimatising to their new way of life. The game goes into tremendous depth about the changes which society undergo to accommodate living inside the shelter after salvation. It’s really well thought out and feels very real. Everybody slowly comes to accept the loss of their old world and works together to make the ensure the new world has a sustainable future. Heated debates on topic like the death penalty continue throughout the early weeks of the new world. Kotarou thinks that intelligence should be able to solve all these problems, but it often doesn’t help at all. He concludes that it’s simply “..because we’re human”. Akane spends her days sitting in her chair silently, sometimes letting tears flow down her face. Kotarou finds work in the fields and meets Yoshino there, developing their relationship more than they ever had the chance to in the other routes. Kotarou thinks back to how life as a student used to revolve around keeping the mood bright and enjoyable without getting too serious, but now everyone is back to being more honest with themselves and their feelings. It’s really great to see Yoshino and Kotarou finally dropping all pretence and connecting with each other – a fitting end to Yoshino’s story in the absence of any Yoshino route. Akane’s body continues getting weaker and weaker as she eats and sleeps less, mentally exhausted from the cross she’s been forced to carry, and terrified of the prospect of confessing to her sins. With Kotarou having lost his powers after spending so much of his life force defeating the Earth Dragon, they really do exude the aura of an old couple approaching death.

The police force soon contacts Kotarou revealing that they know what he and Akane did. They both realise that if this knowledge goes public, most people will wish the death penalty upon Akane. The detective confides in Kotarou that he believes humanity needs to find a way for her to atone without resorting to killing each other, and he suggests pinning the crime on a scapegoat. Later Ansai from the Monthly Terra magazine contacts Kotarou asking if he would like to publicly admit to his acts of heroism. The idea makes him feel terrible, but he quickly realises how he can use it to his advantage. He becomes an idol in the span of a few days, feeling terrible for having to betray everyone’s expectations, and then has the Terra magazine release information causing people to suspect himself as the mastermind behind salvation. When Akane confronts him about it, he tells Akane that the world needs a holy woman. She’ll atone by keeping humanity from growing too positive and reaching their potential, to keep them exploiting the environment and reaching for the stars in order to keep the world alive. Despite this new responsibility, the trial finds Kotarou and Akane guilty, and their punishment is exile.

For the first time since we entered the shelter, colour has returned to the background again, and Akane is beaming with hope. The two are saying their final goodbyes before heading out into the wildness to spend the rest of their lives alone together. It feels a little bit like the book of genesis. They’re seen off by all of their friends and acquaintances, including Shimako who turned up for the first time since she parted with Kotarou. She bursts into tears and, for the first time we’ve heard her speak, tries desperately to convince everyone that she was the culprit. Akane notes that the transcription is progressing, and she is slowly becoming the next holy woman. Akane warns her of all the pain she will eventually inherit from Akane, and tells her to continue living no matter how hard it is. There’s a glimmer of hope for the future of the holy woman as Akane embraces her and she accepts her responsibility. Kotarou believes that even though they must be feeling love from the transcription, their feelings are surely real. “Love is a delusion. Every kind of love. Maybe the way I feel about Akane is no different. Even if it is, I don’t think I care.” They say their final farewells and depart for the barren plains, singing a song of hope.

Akane and Kotarou Singing

[Music: To You Who Never Lie]

So that’s Akane’s route. It has a very nihilistic tone throughout the entirety of the route, before finally pulling through with some hope in the final moments. I will admit though, it wore me out reading it – it still does. This is a route which, even more than Kotori’s, drains all the hope and optimism out of the world. As the only route which chooses to fully place you on the side of the monsters, you really feel yourself becoming less and less human as you read on. But even so, Kotarou is strong, incredibly strong. Stronger than me, for sure. He sacrificed everything for Akane, and never stopped believing that she’d be saved. The ending was bitter-sweet. In any other context, being condemned to exile outside the walls of civilisation would be a terrible ending, but here it’s the opposite – it’s the first time we’re shown any hope in the entire route. And it’s a strong hope, you just know they’re gonna be okay. If they really did lose their humanity after all they did to destroy mankind, then it’s fitting that the sinners can only be happy far from paradise. I’m sure they both realise this, and take deep comfort in knowing that they can live their lives in peace from now on. And they weren’t executed either. Even though the world was destroyed, this ending gives a lot of hope for humanity surviving long into the future. Perhaps it’ll someday be up to Shimako to do the work of the holy woman and keep humanity in check. This is a route filled with great despair, but also great hope. It handled so many incredibly delicate topics elegantly and maturely, without getting overly dramatic. This route has so much to offer, even if it was overwhelming at times. Just keep struggling, because you’ll always find hope eventually if you keep searching for it.

I apologise to my readers who were waiting patiently for this post – I’ve been working on it on and off over the past year, and only recently found the motivation to sit down and make the final push to get it out there. I’m really happy with the result though, so I hope you enjoyed reading it too. Now that we’ve finished reflecting upon the five heroine routes, it’s time for me to tackle Moon and Terra. I haven’t had the chance to replay them yet, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what I get from them the second time around. There’s gonna be a lot to talk about, so you can look forward to those posts sometime in the future. I can’t promise they’ll be really soon, but I’ll definitely get to them. Thanks for reading guys. I’ll meet you in the next world, wherever that may be.

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What is “Little Busters?” ~ A Reflection

[Refrain Subs] Little Busters! ~Refrain~ - 06 (720p Hi10P) [659124C4].mkv_snapshot_05.39_[2013.12.20_18.05.46]

[Music: Day Game]

I’ve been feeling really sentimental about Little Busters lately, watching the final episodes of Refrain unfold, so it seems like a perfect time to share what Little Busters means to me. You can consider this the conclusion to my long-forgotten Penultimate Reflection. It’s way overdue, but I hope you can appreciate what I have to share nonetheless! I’ll be focusing on the Little Busters VN here, not so much the Anime. Also, I’m not done with the Rewrite reflections yet; hopefully I can have my thoughts on Akane’s route with you guys soon!

Spoiler Warning for the entirety of the vanilla Little Busters. I haven’t read EX yet, but if you haven’t finished the game or are still watching the Anime, don’t read this until you’re done.

First, some history. I first discovered Little Busters after I had finished watching Clannad and discovered my love of Key. By this point Little Busters was still a relatively new Visual Novel, and it would still be little while before I made the plunge and tried it out. Translation started after some time by team Fluffy, and patches were generally released route by route, so I was able to follow the series in portions, much like an Anime viewer would. I ended up buying the game from J-List for about $120, probably the most money I’ve ever paid for a game, but it was worth every cent. It may have been frustrating at times having to wait for each route to be translated, but it extended the life of the story for me, and built up a sort of community centred around hype for each upcoming release. I’d get on the Fluffy IRC and contribute to the #LittleBusters hashtag while I waited out the months, connecting with people who shared my excitement. I made a lot of connections over the net through this. I remember someone a few years back mentioned how “If you find someone loves Little Busters, you know they’re a nice person”. Not to steal his words, but I felt much the same way. Much like my love of the MOTHER series, back then if you met someone who loved Little Busters like you did, you already had an immediate connection with that person. It was really easy to make friends based on that common ground. There weren’t very many of us back then compared to how big it’s getting now with the Anime, so we became quite a tight-knit community. Even today, I still keep in touch with a few people I met through the game, and I continue to make more friends through Twitter each day. Little Busters helped us become a big family.

Group Huddle

Art by Shrie

But I haven’t begun to speak about Little Busters itself! I’ve already spoken about the common route in my Penultimate Reflection two years ago (has it been that long?), so I won’t dwell on the common route too much. But I will say that even though I finished Little Busters long ago, I still go back to the batting practice even today. Whenever I’m feeling down or stressed, I boot up Little Busters and skip to the batting practice to hit a few balls around. It never fails to put a smile on my face, and the worries of life fade away. The batting practice, much like the story itself, is therapeutic to me. Somehow, reading the story and watching the characters interact helps remind me of who I am and what’s important.

Early 5 Combo

So then, time to offer my thoughts on the heroine routes, starting with Komari. I get that Komari isn’t a very popular character among the English-speaking fans, but she was one of my favourite girls throughout the story. During the common route, I always appreciated listening to her beliefs; I particularly identify with her spiral of happiness theory. It’s simple and cute, but it holds an innate truth to it that I hold dear. Komari herself is the personification of kindness and joy, sweet to the core. So when her route came around, it came as a huge shock to me to see her so broken after witnessing a death. Komari’s route revolves around her aversion to death and fear of losing things. Her super happy and optimistic identity is a fragile shell which when destroyed, reveals an infant afraid of the world. Komari was unable to accept sad things, and when confronted with what she fears, she runs away until she forgets about it. Partly due to her brother wanting to keep her smile alive, she was unable to grow up. So Riki, challenging what her brother had put in her head, had to force her to accept the harsh reality and find happiness in it. There is a lot of sadness in the world, but we can still find many good things and be happy. I feel like, after the ordeal, Komari became so much of a deeper and stronger character, being able to find happiness and bring happiness to others while still accepting the darkness of the world. It’s really inspiring. The route draws many parallels to the core of the story shown in Refrain, and it goes to show that the darkness which surrounds our everyday lives never really goes away. We’ll keep fighting against it, in hopes that we can continue to become stronger and face whatever adversity is thrown at us. It’s never easy, but those who can pull through and keep a smile are the people we can really admire.

Komari Dance

[Music: Approaching Light]

Mio’s route is probably my favourite Key heroine route of all-time, so I may be a bit biased, but I really loved it. She’s definitely one of the most deep-minded Key heroines I’ve encountered. There are so many different ways you can interpret her route, but what I got out of it was that Mio was unsatisfied with her existence, and loathed herself for losing Midori. The whole idea of having an imaginary friend so real that even when erased through clinical intervention, she could still come to remember her, and end up loathing herself for existing instead of Midori. That’s a pretty original plot. The plot is heavily rooted in Key Magic, but it makes a lot of sense when you think of Mio as having dissociative identity disorder, with Midori is her alter; the representation of her ideal self, and her friend. When Midori was erased, she was only left with her undesired self, and wanted to disappear and have Midori take her place. This may not have been possible in the real world, but in the artificial world she was able to have her wish granted, and finally be at peace. That is, until Riki found her and invited her to join the Little Busters. Riki empathised with her, seeing his old self in her who thought nothing of her existence, and wanted to help her find some joy and appreciation of living. He was able to waver her determination, but in the end she leaves the world and lets Midori take her place as she originally planned. Unlike Mio, Midori is loved by everyone, and as the player you have to choose whether to continue holding onto your memory of Mio or accept her wish and allow Midori to exist. As the player, it was very confronting to see Riki’s memories fade. Having spent all that time with Midori, and then seeing that CG of Mio with the glasses, it really fucks with your head, like you’re really starting to forget her just as Riki was. That was my experience, at least. As a psychology student, I loved they angle they took with memories here, showing how fragile and susceptible to interference they are. But upon discovering Mio’s poem, Riki was finally able to remember who she was with clarity, and decided to go and get her back with Midori’s approval. What follows is one of the most emotional scenes of the VN for me. Riki proclaims to Mio that she can discover herself and her happiness through being with others, and through that revelation she is finally able to integrate with her other self, and accept the kindness of others while still maintaining her unique persona. The route is all about a search for identity and personal meaning, it’s one that I really empathise with. I’m often questioning my own identity and how other people fit into that, but I agree that you can only truly discover yourself through spending time with others, rather than becoming a bird drifting through an endless expanse of blue. Isolation means you’ll remain as you are forever, but you’ll never truly understand yourself if you remain alone. Only by being with people you love can you truly understand who you are, who you want to be, and what you love. That’s what I took from her route.

Riki and Mio

Art by shizuki sayaka

[Music: Slow Curve]

Haruka’s route is one I didn’t appreciate as much as the others at first, probably because I was rushing through it, but I’ve really come to love her route after having watched the Anime adaptation. Riki falls for the troublemaker, and discovers how insecure she is. It’s usually the case in real life that delinquent types are full of insecurities, so I’m pleased to see this approach used here. Through her upbringing and relationship with Kanata, she develops into a person who is doesn’t believe in kindness. When she first gets to know Riki and he helps her out, she keeps questioning him, unable to believe that he sincerely wants to help and, moreover, believes she is a good person. All her life she was raised as a problem child; a good-for-nothing who brought unhappiness to everyone, so it must’ve been difficult for her to think of herself as having worth. Despite her genki image, Haruka is filled with a lot of deep hatred for her family, and this comes out when her rage for Kanata explodes and she wishes Kanata were dead. Bringing to mind the common route scene with Mio where Riki has to decide whether to suspect or trust people, Riki has to convince Haruka that there is good and kindness in the world. In the end, even after all Kanata did to her, Haruka is forced to accept that perhaps Kanata isn’t as evil as she appears. Confronted by Haruka and Riki for the truth, Kanata confesses everything, and Haruka forgives her. In the beginning, Kanata is unable to accept her forgiveness, but eventually she opens up her heart and the two unite to rise up against their family’s ill wishes. In the end, Haruka is finally able to accept that there are good people in the world, and her entire world view is shifted thanks to Riki’s support. This one really hits home with how it reflects real life. In Little Busters, Haruka and Kanata’s parents weren’t offered any chance at redemption, and perhaps there was no chance for that to happen. Certainly, people do evil things every day. But I, like Riki, believe there is just as much good to be found in the world as bad. And more importantly, choosing to suspect rather than believe is something that can turn you into a bitter, hate-filled person, even if you’re often right. It’s tough to know what is the right thing to do, but there are surely times when you must believe in people, even without knowing whether your faith will be rewarded or not. It’s a very heavy message that I haven’t been able to truly appreciate until recently. For many people, trusting others is difficult, but there are times when we must place our faith in the good in people’s hearts. That’s what I believe.

Haruka Youth

Art by NorthAbyssor

Kud’s route was one of my favourites playing through the game. Her character design definitely panders to the lolicons, and the enormous fandom she has annoys me sometimes, but her route was a gem I wasn’t expecting at all. Things take a dark twist when news that Kud’s homeland of Tevua has erupted into civil war after the failed launch of a space craft killed many people reaches the Little Busters. It hit me hard to read such a grim and politically-tinged story from a Key game. This isn’t just a girl overcoming insecurities; it’s a catastrophe on a national level. In the Visual Novel, this was definitely one of the more romance-driven heroine routes. Riki and Kud develop their relationship further and further, and just when things are looking great, Kud is left to decide whether or not to visit her mother in Tevua. As the player, it’s up to Riki to decide whether to let Kud go knowing that it’s very dangerous and she may never return, or tell her to stay with the Little Busters and stay safe. To be honest, I told her to stay the first time, and it ended with her mother being publicly executed on television, and Kud remaining scarred after the ordeal. Ultimately, Kud must go to Tevua to see her parents, but she ends up getting captured by extremists who wish to sacrifice her to God as a desperate attempt to cause a miracle to save their dying nation. It’s heartbreaking to let her go and watching the consequences unfold. Then things get really metaphysical as Riki’s consciousness is able to contact her in a dream. At first Kud thinks she’s losing her mind right before death, and talks to herself about her regrets. Riki and the player don’t really understand what she’s talking about here, because she’s referring to the secret of the world which at this point has yet to be revealed. Simply knowing the secret of the world puts a whole new spin on this entire route, but I’ll get to that after. Even though I didn’t fully understand what was going on, one thing was clear: the bond they shared was powerful. From the body painting Riki and Kud performed, they were connected through distant space, and Riki was able to reach her and save her through their bond. He helped Kud remind herself of how loved she was, and how she could be a good gear without dying there. Riki teleports the machine parts to Kud’s hand, and she uses them to break free from her prison and return home. So, what’s really going on here? Let’s return to this route having finished Refrain. When Kud first learns of the launch failure in Tevua, she breaks into tears, apologising to Riki and telling him that she “remembered it”. As she explains later in the dungeon, she remembered what happened in the real world, including the execution of her parents she saw on TV when she decided not to go to Tevua and the bus accident that would later happen to her and all of the Little Busters. Even with this knowledge, she makes the decision to travel to Tevua and experience the despair for herself. When she goes, she replaces her parents as the sacrifice, and embraces her punishment as “what I deserve”. She’s trying to end her regrets by going and enduring the punishment waiting for her, to be useful to some purpose and atone for her sins. But Riki doesn’t accept that, and gives her the machine parts she desperately wanted Riki to throw away. These parts once reminded Kud of her mother’s death which she wanted to move on from, but looking at them now she is reminded of her mother’s wish to be a good gear to the world. Realising the error of her ways, she uses the gear to escape from her self-constructed prison and return to the Little Busters to complete her final mission, and be a good gear for her friends. At least, this is my explanation. I’ve heard numerous theories floating around, so if you disagree feel free to let me hear your interpretation of her route. It’s definitely not an easy one to figure out! This, like Kurugaya’s route, is definitely one that should be experienced twice. The first time you get the all the emotions, and the second time you can try and reason it out. As for the messages you could get out of it, there’s the simple love conquers all message from Riki’s love for Kud saving her from her prison. Or maybe you could say that one shouldn’t focus too hard on making up for the past, lest you lose your future. This is one you’re free to interpret as you see fit.

Kud Sky

Art by crow a

[Music: Boys Don't Cry - daydream Remix -]

And then we have Kurugaya’s route, which is even more romance-focused than Kud’s route. Here, Kurugaya’s regret was that she was unable to form human emotions. Wanting to feel something, she gets involved with the Little Busters and forms a relationship with Riki. The premise of this route is super simple, really. Riki forms a relationship with Kurugaya, Riki gets stronger, the end. Or at least, that’s how it should’ve panned out, but this route goes into overtime. Kurugaya isn’t content with letting go of her regrets; she wants to continue spending time with Riki. And when June 20 hits, the world is meant to end. But Kurugaya’s wish to be with Riki (and possibly Riki’s wish as well) prevents the world from ending, and we end up with a groundhog day effect. After the days keep repeating, people’s memories end up getting messed up, and the world starts physically breaking down; it even starts snowing when it was never meant to. To Riki and the player, there’s no way of knowing what the hell is going on so it can be a really confusing, if not thought-provoking ride. The point of this route is mainly to set up the secret of the world, but it’s also an interesting insight into Kurugaya’s thoughts and wishes. She selfishly wishes to be with Riki for as long as she can, even defying nature itself to do so. It’s pretty sad, but the only way Riki can move forward is by letting go of Kurugaya, and she knows this as well. I really loved how the Anime used this a prologue to Refrain, very crafty. This route, unlike the others, ends unfortunately for Kurugaya because she had to part with Riki even though she didn’t want to. When you consider that she’s about to die from the accident, it makes it even more depressing to think about. But, Kurugaya fans are happy to know that there’s a secret ending for people who’ve finished the game. If you go back to the end of her route, a bonus scene opens at the end which shows Kurugaya confessing her love to Riki in what appears to be the real world. So in the end, Kurugaya was able to grant her wish after all. I’m getting all emotional thinking of all the implications of this route. This is a route which may not spark much imagination while you’re reading it, but it really sticks with you after you eventually realise what it all means.

Kurugaya Piano

Art by rin2008

Having completed each of the five heroine routes, Riki and Rin have both grown stronger with each new reset, shown through changes in the script of the common route each time you start a new game and even their battle stats getting higher and higher. When a heroine’s route is completed, you won’t be able to access it again, except for Komari’s. This is because all of the girls have left the world except for her. On the final playthrough of the common route, a lot more scenes will be unlocked, Riki will be strong enough to win the battle rankings and defeat Mask the Saito (having finally surpassed Kyousuke’s strength), and together with Rin you’ll be able to win the baseball match much easier. It’s all of the little amazing ways in which Little Busters ingeniously utilises the interactive medium to tell the story in ways you just can’t get with Anime. It’s one of the big reasons I recommend the VN to people over the Anime; as good an adaptation it turned out to be, you just don’t get quite the same experience. After having helped all the girls through their problems, it’s finally time for Riki and Rin to learn the secret of the world and move forward. The final task Rin is given is to volunteer to show the people from their sister school around the campus. In Rin1, you black out shortly after this, but this time having completed all of the routes, you’re strong enough to face what comes next. Rin is sent to the sister school but is unable to handle it, frequently texting Riki about how she can’t handle it. Riki confronts Kyousuke, insisting that forcing Rin through this is wrong, but Kyousuke desperately tries to appeal to him to wait it out a little longer. The Little Busters are falling apart, and Riki is grieving, worried about Rin and growing more and more frustrated with Kyousuke. Even Kengo, who understands what Kyousuke is trying to accomplish, refuses to accept his methods and together with Riki, they challenge Kyousuke to a game of baseball. Kengo vows that no matter what happens, he’ll fight to keep the Little Busters alive forever, and Riki finds comfort in his words. The match against Kyousuke and Masato commences, pitting the former best friends against each other in a fight to determine the fate of the Little Busters. Things aren’t looking good for Riki and Kengo, and it all comes down to one swing. Riki is getting really worried that he’s about to lose everything for good, but Kengo calms him down, asking Riki to trust him. Riki trusts his dear friend and unrivalled athlete to save him from this situation, and Riki performs the perfect pitch, only for Kengo to swing and miss. It’s later revealed that Kyousuke warped reality to make Koshiki, the girl who Kengo lost to suicide in the real world appear in the corner of his vision, distracting him and causing him to miss. Kengo assaults Kyousuke in a fit of rage, but is unable to speak out against Kyousuke’s methods, lest Riki learn about the secret of the world too soon. “Called game.” Kyousuke proclaims as thunder booms; the Little Busters are no more. Kengo tries to dissuade Riki from running away with Rin, but unaware of the consequences, Riki escapes with Rin to the countryside, seeking refuge in Rin’s grandfather’s abandoned house. Riki spends the days trying desperately to support himself and Rin, but eventually they are discovered by the police and removed from the home. In darkness, Rin is scarred as the event resembles a trauma from her childhood, and is separated from Riki. When Riki returns to school without Rin, he regresses to how he felt when he lost his parents as a child. He remembered that “living meant losing”, and he regretted even being alive at all. The credits roll as ‘regret’ plays.

Riki and Rin Crying

Art by soranagi

The disembodied voice from the end of Rin1 returns again after the credits end, and asks you “What are you going to do now?” and you’re presented with two choices. Both return you to the main menu, but with one difference. “Become stronger” or “Run away”. Choosing the former returns you to the main menu, where New Game is replaced by “Refrain”. Clicking on it greets you with a haunting image of the bus crash, before the game starts off as normal with Kyousuke returning and Masato going to fight Kengo. The similarities end here though, and since Kyousuke isn’t around to umpire the fight Kengo and Masato go a bit too far, with Riki unable to stop them from seriously hurting each other. It turns out that from the result of the last loop, Rin remained scarred from the trauma she faced, and Kyousuke grieved alone over the consequences of his actions. Without Kyousuke around, the Little Busters was a shell of it’s former glory. With the feelings of his past lives guiding him, Riki asks his friends if they want to play baseball, but Kengo refuses, not wanting Riki to repeat Kyousuke’s mistakes. Masato sees how far Riki has come and decides not to interfere any more, leaving it to Riki to reach the truth himself. Riki ponders what he has to do to solve the secret of the world, and believes that he needs to retrace Kyousuke’s steps in the past and reform the Little Busters as their new leader. Riki starts with Masato, who through Kyousuke’s manipulation has his perception altered and loses his mind, seeing everybody around him as clones of himself. Regressing to his younger self, he becomes determined to prove his identity as the real Masato by showing the fakes that he is the strongest, and goes beating them up indiscriminately. Riki and Rin spring into action and set up a series of traps to wear him down, but in the end it comes down to a plain old fistfight, where Riki and Rin combine their strength to deal a finishing blow to Masato. This reawakens him to reality, and he decides to follow Riki to the end. What I loved about this part of the VN was how it kept shifting perspectives between characters, getting their thoughts and feelings on different events. You even got to see Riki with a sprite and voice through the eyes of his friends; it was different to anything else in the VN up to that point. I really did empathise with Masato a lot, with how the story went into the psychology of what society calls an ‘idiot’, seeing people making fun of him for the way he thinks and acts. As a child all he could do was fight to prove his identity, but in the end Kyousuke convinced him that being an idiot is fine as long as you have friends which love you for who you are. I’m so happy that they gave an otherwise comic relief character such an insightful episode.

Next was Kengo, who it turns out was lying about his broken arm all along. In his childhood, he was raised to achieve victory in all of his endeavours, and was bound to a that lifestyle. When Kyousuke played some tricks to defeat his father at kendo, Kengo was finally free of his burden and could live a life of fun and enjoyment with the Little Busters. It’s suggested that in the real world Kengo gradually returned to his victory-driven lifestyle, but that in the artificial world he was able to relive the fun days of being with the Little Busters once he faked his injury, explaining the sudden 180 of his personality. So now in Refrain, Riki and Rin challenge him to a baseball match to get him to join the Little Busters. But Kengo is determined to win, because he isn’t ready to move forward and lose everything. Just like he opposed Kyousuke in Rin’s route, he opposes Riki because he doesn’t believe Riki and Rin are strong enough to face the tragedy. He vows that if he wins the baseball game, Riki won’t have to worry any more, and they can go back to having fun forever. But despite his strength and determination, Riki and Rin prove they are strong enough to defeat him, and he falls to the ground weeping tears of regret. They really are stronger now, he realises, and grieves over all the fun times he’s about to lose. But nonetheless, he acknowledges their strength, and promises to follow Riki from then on.

And last was Kyousuke. Kyousuke’s episode took us on a journey through his memories, revealing how he designed all of the trials to make Riki and Rin stronger, even it it made him appear as a villain at times. It took us through his despair after failing to make Rin stronger, and his mission to plug the gas leak with his body in the real world to grant Riki and Rin the time they needed to escape. This is definitely a part of the game that hits hardest the first time you read it, realizing how everything from the very beginning ties into Refrain, and that Kyousuke isn’t a villain after all. This part of the story gives the reader a chance to piece together all the fragments of the puzzle before the big reveal in Episode: Little Busters. It’s the calm before the storm, and it was really satisfying to see my reasoning bear fruit here.

Parting of the boys

Art by zakang

[Music: Faraway]

And then, Episode: Little Busters breaks down all the walls by finally revealing everything, laying everyone’s emotions bare. The end of the world is about to happen, and the Little Busters spend their final moments playing baseball; a fitting end for the group. Masato is the first to leave, and he manages to keep his smile the whole way, telling Riki how happy he was to have him as his room-mate. Riki returns his love, and Masato disappears with a smile while throwing the ball to him. Riki drops the baseball bat in shock and disbelief, questioning Kyousuke, who affirms him that this is where his strength and determination lead him. Riki doesn’t want to accept it, but he keeps smiling for Rin and continues playing baseball. Kengo is the next to go, who questions Kyousuke whether he was happy or not with his life. Kengo breaks down, screaming out how happy the Little Busters made him, and that he could never regret the time they spent together. Wiping away his tears, he grasps Riki’s hand one last time, as a symbol of friendship. “Little Busters are eternal.” he says right before passing away. Riki hits a home run, and Kyousuke is in awe of his and Rin’s strength, and walks away before Riki begs him to stay a little longer, telling him how much he loves Kyousuke. Unable to hold it back any longer, tears stream down Kyousuke’s face as the music reaches a crescendo and he tells Riki how sad he is at the cruelty of the world, and how he loves Riki and Rin so much more. This is where it hits you just how emotional Little Busters is. These tears were well earned after all this time spent together and then having to part forever. Riki wishes he could do something to change it, but Kyousuke urges him forward, screaming that they can’t hesitate any longer. Midorikawa’s voice acting here breaks my heart every time I hear it. Riki takes Rin’s hard and runs away from the collapsing world as Kyousuke remains to watch the world fade away, and him with it. Holding back his tears, Riki says to himself, “Goodbye Kyousuke. Goodbye Little Busters.”

But, that wasn’t it for me, my emotions weren’t spent yet. I held back my tears a little longer. Riki and Rin awaken to the scene of destruction from their nightmares, and the player is given two choices. Either he try to save his friends and die from a narcolepsy attack, or he flee to safety with Rin. Rin asks what you’re doing, and Riki replies that they’re going to live. Determined not to let everyone’s efforts go to waste, Riki stumbles as far as he can before losing consciousness. As you do, the perspective shifts to Rin who has returned to the artificial world for one last encounter. She dashes around the school frantically searching for any sign of the friends she had forgotten, until she finally finds Komari on the rooftop. Rin doesn’t want to accept the harsh reality, but Komari tries her best to continue smiling despite everything, just as Riki once taught her to. Keeping the promise she made to Rin in the past, she gives Rin one of her stars, and wishes for Rin to keep smiling forever. They part, and Riki awakens in a hospital bed next to Rin, where he vows to stay by Rin’s side and find happiness with her. Then the credits roll as song for friends plays.

Song for Friends

Art by yuzuki

This was the moment which broke me. Playing the game late at night in my room, I couldn’t help but cry uncontrollably. The only emotion that I can compare it to is the realisation sinking in that I’d just lost someone I loved; it was that powerful. Each of these characters I’d invested all of these hours of my life into getting to know and love, these characters which I gained so much from knowing, all suddenly dying… I was crying like a child throughout the whole credit roll, unable to prevent moans from escaping my throat as it just got worse and worse as it sunk in. Even Clannad never hit me this hard. This marked the first time I ever truly cried at a work of fiction, and it’s a memory that’s engraved in my heart, something which continues to remind me that Little Busters isn’t just any story, and that it’s special. And it makes me feel happy to know there are so many people out there who feel the same way.

[Music: A World Is Born]

But, then the credit roll ends, and you’re presented with a question from the disembodied voice. “Is it enough?” This caught me so off guard because I was convinced this was the end, and I was almost able to accept it. But this question, it empowers you to choose your own ending; it was such a huge responsibility thrust on me. If you answer yes, then the story ends and Riki and Rin live on together. But if you’re like me, you’ll have probably answered no. Given that I’d invested so much of my heart in these characters, if there was any chance of a happy ending for them, I’d take it. Answering no, Kyousuke questions why, insisting that you’ll probably be happy, but Riki responds that “nobody else is there with us.” Kyousuke then says that even if you try to save everyone, Rin would be put in danger, to which Rin responds “I’ll get stronger too”. Perhaps, all this time we’d spent getting stronger, preparing for this, would enable us to do something nobody could have expected. With that remark by Rin, Kyousuke submits, and leaves it to you. Riki and Rin go, and create a new world where they can be strong enough to change things. Rin returns to the artificial world and, vowing to grant Komari’s wish, stops crying and moves forward. Riki takes a journey backwards through time, trying to pinpoint the moment in his past which caused him to become weak. He identified it as his parents death, which caused his body to develop narcolepsy as a mechanism run away from scary and sad things, just like Komari used to. Riki goes even further back to before he was born, and realises how warm and comfortable it is in a world where you don’t exist, reminding me of the endless blue Mio wished for. But then suddenly, the feelings he had for his friends in the distant future return to him, and he realises how happy he was to have known them. It’s then that he has a revelation that, despite all of the sadness that would await him in the future, he still wanted to be born. To him, the reality that living meant losing was once too much to bear, but now he can accept that even though we lose, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t live. Riki realises that the experience of spending time with people is much more important than the loss, and he’s suddenly not afraid any more. With this new feeling, he returns to be born into a new world, the “Real World” where he’s no longer afraid. He awakens back to the scene of the bus crash, being overwhelmed with fear as he stares at the scene and the screen beats red with his heartbeat for effect, and it’s finally time for action. Cured of his narcolepsy, you decide to calm down and analyse the situation before doing anything reckless. From the vision you saw in Episode: Kyousuke, you’re able to work together with Rin and make the right choices with the time you have. Carrying people one by one out on a stretcher while Rin and some of the classmates treat the injured, you eventually discover Kyousuke’s body on the rear of the bus blocking a hole which gasoline was flowing out of. Resisting your urge to save him to make his sacrifice worthwhile, you rescue everyone else before finally returning to him. Carrying him with Rin while your body is about to give in, you run away from the growing inferno behind you before leaping to the ground as it explodes, protecting Rin and Kyousuke with your body as your hair is singed by the flames of the explosion. The scene fades out as the disembodied voice of Kyousuke thanks you for creating a miracle that nobody thought possible. With that, you’ve successfully averted a tragedy and saved the Little Busters.

The final moments of the VN take place 6 months after the accident, where the memory of the artificial world is an almost forgotten dream to everyone now. But even though he can’t remember what happened, he knows he became much stronger as a result, strong enough to save everyone. Kengo returns to school from the hospital, and everyone is patiently waiting for their leader Kyousuke to return. In the meantime, Riki took up the position of leader well, spending each day doing all of the fun things they got to do in the artificial world like fighting with newspaper swords, playing kick the can, doing puppet shows and trials of courage. The Little Busters were truly saved, and everything was back to the way things should be, except for one thing. Then, as if on cue, Kyousuke vaults into the classroom from the floor above. Riki thinks that he mustn’t have fully recovered yet, but he says he’s fine as he climbs the rope with one arm, defying common sense. As his first act upon returning to school, he invites all of the Little Busters out on the field trip they never got; this time to the ocean. They leap over the fence and get in the van Kyousuke rented, and depart for a future of fun adventures with their friends.

Mission Complete

[Music: Little Busters! -Little Jumper ver.-]

So that’s Little Busters. I haven’t read EX yet, so I may come back to reflect on that once I do, but for now this is the end. The ending may have been a bit of a cheesy twist for some people’s tastes, but I couldn’t have been happier with how it ended. I believe this is the kind of scene the Little Busters deserve after overcoming all of their trials; anything else wouldn’t have felt right. Everyone is a bit stronger and wiser after the hardship, but everyone can continue living happy together. It’s okay, you can let it out now, those tears of relief you weren’t sure were okay to let out or not. We got our happy end, and that’s okay! Nobody can trample on these feelings. For all the moments we were praying for the safety of our dear friends, we were rewarded with this final epilogue.

So, just what is the Little Busters? What do you think it is? To me, it’s a story about friendship. It’s a story about discovering yourself through others, and learning to find happiness even when surrounded by overwhelming darkness. It’s a story of having faith in others and in yourself, even if you have doubts sometimes. It’s a story of moving on from the past to look to the future, and about growing stronger in the face of fear and adversity. And it’s also a story about fighting for what you love, no matter how hopeless things may seem. And of course, it’s a simple story of having fun with friends. You can take anything you want from this story, but I truly believe it’s touched the hearts of many people and changed their lives for the better. For me, I would call it Jun Maeda’s greatest work, and the most emotional story I’ve ever read. Thinking of the story and it’s characters continues to empower me, guide my decisions in life, and remind me of who I am. It cheers me up on rainy days, and whenever I watch it or discuss it with friends, nothing makes me happier. I hope to continue helping more people experience the story for themselves, and look forward to meeting more people who share my love. The Little Busters are eternal!

Riki's Tears

Art by hanagosui

In a way, the Little Busters are my home, and I carry them with me wherever I go.

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