Just as we learned in Muv-Luv Alternative, it doesn’t take very long for everything that’s been going so well to just crash and burn. Six years after the promise at the end of Akane Maniax, we finally have ourselves a Muv-Luv anime. So it’s a sidestory, that’s okay, I can’t say no to more Muv-Luv. Oh, but it features a song by Koda Kumi. Also, it looks kind of bad. Also, the BETA look really bad. Also, it’s veering into really dumb territory. And the characters are unlikeable and stupid. Oh no, what does this mean for the future of Muv-Luv in animation? No. Please, no. Make it stop. Cue the piano.
So my predictions have been a bit off, but there’s still plenty of time for Little Busters to get a KyoAni anime on that timeline! What I think is more surprising (other than Haruhi getting more anime before LB) is that the translation for the visual novel is finished and I’ve played through it, long before a Little Busters anime has even been announced.
Little Busters is an interesting experience for me, because it’s the first “real” Key visual novel I’ve played without knowing much going into it. Sure, there’s Planetarian, but that’s relatively short, so I don’t count it. Sure, there’s Angel Beats, but that’s not a visual novel. And sure, I’ve played Clannad, but it’s Clannad and I know everything about Clannad.
I mentioned before that Angel Beats made me wonder whether I really like Key or if I just really liked Clannad. Even better than an anime, I think the Little Busters visual novel is a perfect opportunity to see where my tastes lie.
Like any good Key work, Little Busters has to have a theme. That theme happens to be adolescence or childhood. Alright, then. From this, there are a bunch of things that are pretty similar to Angel Beats. We’ve got the setting down and there’s a good chunk of the game that’s spent on trying to put together a baseball team. At a glance it seems like it’s all about living out your youth and all that. The common route mostly just made me wonder why they bothered to create Angel Beats when they had this lying around.
You’ve got your usual suspects in the cast: socially awkward childhood friend who likes cats, disgustingly cheerful nice girl, shit-stirring genki girl, suspiciously combat-hardened and cool onee-sama, quiet book girl, and dojikko with verbal tic. But, the main character isn’t the usual Key template blank but mildly snarky dude. Instead, you’re a Hayate (from Hayate the Combat Butler) except you’re kind of weak instead of absurdly competent. You’ve also got a bunch of childhood friend bros, the Little Busters, who watch your back and are actually pretty important to the main story. Obviously, every important character ends up on the Little Busters baseball team.
Structurally, the whole thing is pretty similar to Clannad. You’ve got all of your routes that you have to do before you get a swing at the route that ties everything together. What’s different is the common route, where you’re building up stats and rounding up people and comedy happens. I actually like the common route, if I ignore being put through it about six times.
Where I’m pretty dissatisfied is with the side routes. I went in expecting the usual Key stuff with fatal sickness and astral projections. I think the main problem with this stuff in Little Busters is that the writers realized that they couldn’t fall back on the same old stuff again, so they tried to spin up some new awful tragedy for each character.
Before, the tragedies were pretty grounded. Someone lost a family member or someone is terminally ill. That stuff is easy to empathize with. The most outlandish stuff is the astral projection or animal spirit stuff, but even then, that stuff is sort of left to mystery.
In Little Busters, they take something simple and try to add another layer to it to try to make it new. So someone loses a family member, but they also regress into a catatonic state whenever they remember. Or someone is feeling out of place because they’re half-Japanese and struggling with their cultural identity, which is a real thing and you can empathize with that. But then they add this crazy backstory about their homeland under civil unrest and it’s like what.
And it’s not like they succeeded in making these developments new. I’ve watched and played almost all of the Key anime and visual novels and that basically let me SEE THE ENDING, so to speak (not that they weren’t making it extremely obvious). When I didn’t predict how a route would go when I got halfway through it, it was because there was the aforementioned ridiculous thing that was bolted on.
The “real” story, as in the right girl’s path together with the final route, is better in that the twists were actually kind of interesting instead of dumb and it’s where it differentiates itself from Angel Beats. How the story unfolds is a bit more clever than Clannad’s handling of the After Story route.
It’s definitely not as great as Clannad and I don’t think even the main route came together all that well. Even though it was better and actually interesting, a lot of it was still kind of ridiculous. I’ll let light orbs go, but this was kind of pushing it.
This all makes me kind of worried about Rewrite, but that has a trailer where a guy fights a dinosaur, so who knows?
Narcissu is about people who are dying.
I read the first Narcissu last year during the summer. That was about a guy and a girl, both terminally ill and pretty much left to die. Faced with the choice of dying in the hospital or dying at home, they reject both and escape. Escape to where? Well, they figure that out along the way while we sit in the backseat and listen in.
Narcissu Side 2nd came out this year to everyone’s surprise and it offers another perspective on someone whose life is slowly draining away. This time, rather than following the journey of two people who are dying, we see how the waiting to die affects the person who’s about to die and everyone around them. Side 2nd takes place years before Narcissu, in which the protagonist, Himeko, meets Setsumi, the girl from the first Narcissu.
Side 2nd is interesting because it illuminates Setsumi’s character and leads into so many of the little details in Narcissu. It’s impressive how Side 2nd adds to the original Narcissu, even though it was already a pretty complete story. And after finishing Side 2nd, reading Narcissu again, and finishing with the new epilogue, I was amazed by how everything fit together.
Narcissu is fascinating because it shows us the end of a life without the usual drama that accompanies it in other fictional works. It’s not about people who are dying and are fighting to live. It’s not about people who are dying and decide to go out in a blaze of glory. It’s not about people who are dying after a life well lived. Narcissu is about people who have barely lived their lives and are resigned to the fact that it’ll be over shortly.
No shouting, no tears, no hope, just silence.
It took about a year for me to finally finish this thing. No, it isn’t about the movie.
Something I never get tired of in visual novels is the ways that writers take advantage of the branching and resetting in the overall plot of the game. What’s fascinating about Fate/stay night is that its narrative progresses across all of its different routes. Even though the story begins and ends in each route, the narrative continues and both Shirou and our understanding of the world and the other characters grow from route to route.
In that light, Heaven’s Feel is the perfect end to the entire thing. In each arc, Shirou’s heroic ideals are the thing that is being challenged. In Fate and Unlimited Blade Works, the worst that could happen was that Shirou would lose his life because of it. But if you’re a hero, that’s not such a bad way to go, I guess. Things are not so easy when the thing you would lose is the life of your love.
It’s that classic moral dilemma: would you kill one person to save a hundred? Fate/stay night poses that question a little more specifically. What if that person was yourself? Shirou goes ‘hells yeah’. What if that person wasn’t yourself? Shirou goes, ‘I’ll save everyone’, but he can’t. What if that person was your beloved? ‘…’ What if the one you love is the direct cause of those peoples’ deaths? ‘……….’
It’s not just the difficult part of Shirou’s ideal that’s attacked. He can’t save everyone, but failing at that is understandable and human. But the sense of justice from being a hero is also under assault. All he has to do is kill whoever’s been taking the lives of innocents, what’s so hard about that? Oh, it’s his lover, well, that kinda sucks. What is a hero to do?
I don’t remember where I read it, but each route is supposed to represent a different stage in life. In childhood, we cling on to our ideals at the expense of everything else. In adolescence, we try to reconcile our ideals with everything else. And in adulthood, we recognize what’s really important and we throw away our childish things.
It’s in UBW that a lot of people say that Shirou becomes GAR and mans up. But really, it’s in Heaven’s Feel that Shirou mans up for reals. Fate/stay night is about Shirou growing up and it appropriately ends with him throwing away his childish ideals for the one he loves.
I was looking forward to this route because I’d get to find out just what the hell this Unlimited Blade Works thing was all about. Like I mentioned before, I’ve been constantly reading all of this stuff about how UBW and HF are where it’s at, so I was very, very eager to finally experience creating over a thousand blades and whatnot firsthand. And Fate wasn’t even as terrible as I’d been bracing for, so I was waiting to be blown away.
That excitement was dampened by the realization that I’d have to go through a bunch of school life stuff again. This was my least favourite part of Fate and remains my least favourite part of UBW and HF. The biggest problem I had with this was that there was about as much of it in UBW as Fate did. I’d hoped that with all of the setup that Fate had, we could get through this stuff quicker. Just like Fate, UBW gets good when we get past all of this stuff.
UBW was a very interesting experience for me because it made me realize that my assumptions of what Fate/stay night was about were off. Before playing it, I’d heard that the other routes weren’t about Saber. This was baffling to me, because I’d always thought that Fate/stay night was about Saber. Everything that I knew about F/sn indicated to me that Saber was a central character, if not the central character. After all, she’s essentially Shirou’s ticket into the Holy Grail War and the only way that he can do anything.
Now, I’ve only played a handful of visual novels, so Fate/stay night was yet another interesting take on how interesting the structure of the story for a visual novel can be. Unlike Ever17 or Umineko, where the characters’ motivations and personalities remain pretty constant, Fate/stay night takes more of an alternate universe approach, where enemies in one route become allies in another and background characters from one route are thrust into the limelight in another.
What’s really fascinating is that these alternate universes aren’t equivalent in their importance in the story. In Ever17, each route is different, but it doesn’t really matter which order you go traverse through them since they all serve the same purpose. In Fate/stay night, UBW expands on what we’ve learned from Fate, both in the mechanics of the world and the development of the characters.
UBW is the route that makes it clear that Fate/stay night is about Shirou. You could make the case that Fate was as much about Saber as it was about Shirou. I don’t think you can say the same about Rin and UBW. Yeah, she’s the main heroine of the arc, but unlike Saber, we don’t really get as much illumination or focus on Rin. Instead, it’s Archer that takes Saber’s place in smacking some sense into Shirou.
That’s not to say that Rin doesn’t do anything to help Shirou along. She does, but in a way which is much less noticeable than Archer’s head-on antagonizing Shirou for his ideals. Essentially, the role that Saber played in Fate is split between Rin and Archer. And of course, Archer’s role in Shirou’s development is much greater, given that he’s speaking, as is revealed in the game, from experience.
I can see why everyone loves this arc so much, especially compared with Fate. While Fate is fine as an introductory story with the promise of other routes to follow, I feel like UBW is just as interesting when it’s considered on its own. I hinted at it before, but for me, it was Archer who made the route, not Rin. To be honest, I don’t really like Rin all that much, at least not compared to Saber or Sakura. But I guess I’ll have to head off to HF and decide whether or not it’s better than UBW before I can say that conclusively.