"Let's yakyuu!"

“Let’s yakyuu!”

ajthefourth: As mentioned last week, Little Busters introduces a different set-up scenario than previously-adapted Key works by having a main group of five pre-established friends. What this means for our hero, Riki Naoe, is that he’s not isolated due to a recent relocation (Yukito, Air, Yuichi, Kanon) or lacks friends due to his perceived delinquency (Tomoya, Clannad), which already makes him very different from his predecessors. What this means for our story is that there are existing relationships to build upon, ones that will contrast with the developing relationships that Riki is sure to establish with the to-be future haremettes, or baseball team members.

However, the most interesting study in Little Busters, both from a literal and construction standpoint, is the character of Rin Natsume. The fact that she has been included as a “member” from the get-go makes her unique, simply because of her gender. This is no watery childhood friendship, a promise to be lost to memory and the whispering wind, Rin is already well within Riki’s radar because she’s already his actual friend.

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Seemingly, Rin is a refreshing breeze in a stagnant or bygone genre. Or she would be, if her characterization was steadier. In the company of her friends, all male, she is confident and assertive; however, as soon as another female character, Komari, is introduced to the mix, she becomes an awkward, stuttering mess. The same girl that kicks Misato upside the head and orders the group into helping her clear out the storage shed cowers behind weak-looking Riki for fear of a be-ribboned girl with cat mittens. This reduction is more frustrating to watch than Komari’s introduction, which my blogging partner will touch upon in a bit, because it lowers Rin to the level of the budding friendships that Riki is beginning to acquire. In spite of her introduction as one of the group, the viewer, and Riki, must be reminded that she is also an option, another route.

This idea is reflected within Episode Two as a whole. The series is at its most genuine when it focuses on the established group dynamic, and at its weakest when Riki is off meeting potential additions to the team. Speaking of that…

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otou-san: Let’s talk about infantilization for a second.

I don’t want this to turn into a “you can’t condemn rapey-ness in a shoujo anime unless you’re prepared to condemn the genre as a whole.” Mostly because I am prepared to lay judgment down on all of anime, but especially on the mighty Maeda. Perhaps it’s not measurably worse than comparing the moe equivalent of Rain Man to a stupid cat, but with Key it’s… somehow institutional.

Gao, you say.

Uguu, you shout, as if to say “but if it works, it’s ok, right?”

Starfish dozo?? you plead as you desperately try to inject your idealist-romantic’s tears straight into my ducts.

Far from the manzai-team abuse of Chuunibyou’s lead pair, infantilization of female characters in anime (probably the biggest gripe that mainstream audiences have with moe in general) manifests as a mix of physical abuse and tenderness, with a healthy side of psychological patronizing. In the world of Key, where a lead character is always a helpful gentleman and the haremette is basically a solvable problem with hair, it always feels pretty prevalent to me. Even powerful Tomoyo had the emotional maturity of a newborn gym sock and Kyou’s assertiveness was a mask for a garden-variety tsundere schoolgirl crush.

And then there’s Anteater Panties. Here, Maeda has obviously mastered the art of subtlety because she not only lacks a kawaii catchphrase, she wears her metaphorical taco-stegosaur on her drawers instead of her shirt. I think you’ll agree that we’ve reached a new level of nuance.

As for Rin… I’m sure in the end it’s going to be a hackneyed, worn-out something in her backstory that makes her so shy, and eventually she’ll be a good friend to all the girls. But while (being a girl, and thus a route) she’s probably the most obvious of the core group, at least I can see a story in there. Too often — and here I’m thinking e.g. the Mamiko Noto girl in Clannad — the “depth” is tacked on like an off-painted spoiler on a Ford Escort, but here the effort is made to create interest early on. Interest in what, though?

Tragedy, no doubt. Beautiful, barely-orchestrated tragedy — the kind that wakes Maeda from his endless repose and wracks his body with spasms of pleasure. It’s only episode 2, so the great beast still slumbers, but when the tears of a few thousand virgins reach him… god help us all.

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