At the humble request of our modest leader @Aspirety, I’ve elected to post my thoughts on my second reading of Little Busters (or in this case, my first reading of English Edition). To paraphrase what I’ve said in my earlier posts, my thoughts are always subject to change, and that was certainly the case with my second reading of Kud.
Kud, as far as I could tell, is a literal mixed bag of influences and interests. Despite her heritage, she’s rather tied to Japan through her grandfather’s hobbies and her grandmother’s culture. She’s well-rounded, skilled in many things but not proficient in any of them. She has issues trying to fit in with everyone at the school since she’s so decidedly foreign. Being foreign is part of her individuality, and she’s proud of it, but she would rather not let that part of herself interfere with her friendships.
This and her textbook politeness is partially why, when the old dorm is repaired, she is unable to find a roommate by herself. Nevertheless, she has a hero in Riki, the only person who didn’t laugh at her eccentricities. With his help, she is able to feel included in the Little Busters, a group full of weirdos who can’t help but compulsively kill each other and hit cats with baseballs after school because it’s fun.
For most of common, Kud serves as a beacon of joy and positivity for Riki and the Little Busters, although her personal issue are far from solved. Although Kud’s interactions with them fulfills the female nature of gathering allies around herself, it doesn’t provide the kind of close interaction she’s been yearning for. There’s a rather large disconnect between herself and the students at her school, although it’s not necessarily from bad intent like the faceless bullies in Kurugaya’s route. It’s precisely because her existence is so entertaining (similar to how Masato is always trodden upon for being stupid) that she feels she can’t find anyone who will see her as nothing more than a plucky mascot. That’s such an intelligent commentary on the nature of token mini-moe as a trope; how does one feel in those shoes? Someone as insecure as Kud wouldn’t feel comfortable around anyone who sees her as nothing more than a novelty, or in her own words, ‘a foreigner who’s gotten the wrong idea’. I certainly wouldn’t!
Kud’s route begins with the simple goal of everyone gathering together to study for an exam. Naturally, Kud sucks at English, so many of the members (especially Riki) offer assistance. Coming into this second reading, it’s interesting to see how the other Busters interact with Riki and Kud as opposed to the other routes. It’s more or less what I’d expect a group of true friends to accomplish, and it’s always sweet to see Kud and Masato showcase their amazing chemistry.
But I digress. As far as the romance with Riki and Kud are concerned, I take back what I said about it being forced garbage. Kud’s romance actually reminds me a little bit of Nayuki’s interactions with Yuuichi in Kanon, which I was of the opinion that she was slowly manipulating him into the relationship they shared during her route. Unlike Nayuki, however, Kud’s efforts to bring Riki closer don’t seem underhanded; in fact, they’re coated with an innocent puppy love that soon blooms into a quiet passion that can’t even keep up with Riki’s efforts to love her back by the end of the route. Her reasoning for roundabout tactics is quite understandable when you think about it. Unlike most of the other girls, who can hold their own in stature and forwardness, Kud is small and shy, so she resorts to being clever. She makes efforts to further her relationship with Riki, but she also knows when to step back and let him breathe. It makes me think a girl like Kud could hold a relationship well, even past the point where sexual interest is lost.
On another note, I both hate and like the fact that parts of the route change depending on Kud’s choice of roommate. It offers extra replayability, but it also requires careful observation of every single line of dialogue to see what’s different. For a casual reader like me, it sounds rather tedious to go through all the effort to read a route three times just to see all the differences. That being said, my choice of roommate in this playthrough was Haruka, as it felt like the most fun and safe (for her) way to go. Being spun around a few times a day is a small price to pay for keeping her pure.
A major theme of Kud’s route is finding one’s identity, which manifests itself in multiple elements. The first is the picture book about the bat and the platypus, where Kud directly correlates herself with the actions of the bat. It foreshadows the inevitable decision she will have to make, one that may end the conflict between forces inside and outside of her sphere of control. It is also, in my point of view, one of the turning points of Riki’s relationship with Kud, as his answer to the question of making friends with the ‘bat’ helps her to understand how valuable an ally he is.
I want to make a quick shout-out to Kud’s voice actress, Naomi Wakabayashi. She gives a stellar, Oscar-worthy performance of Kud, showing complex, human emotions at just the right moments. This is especially prevalent in Kud’s answer to Riki asking her out, which is full of quiet, anxious joy that feels so heartfelt and genuine, it moves my heart. Her voice acting is also part of the reason the last moments of the route are so infamously sad, as it perfectly sells how broken and conflicted a person she has become.
Going back to the theme of identity, we come at last to the coat-of-arms scene. It seems to be a rite of passage in that it signifies the sacred bond between a man and a woman, almost like a marriage custom. We see in Kud’s ‘good’ end that this isn’t necessarily the case, as it’s more of a means of identifying someone based on the basic but powerful emotions of love and hate. It shows to both a single corner of one’s life and the entire world what you represent in their eyes. To Kud it’s representative of a shackle that she can’t loose from herself, the identity that she’s created for herself. She compares herself to a twisted gear, which in her view serves no purpose in the greater clockwork because she ‘doesn’t fit in.’ (Kurugaya and Refrain spoilers) It also calls back to the concept of gears in Kurugaya’s route as a metaphorical building block for the world in which Riki and the Little Busters live in. Despite that, Kud is one of the pillars holding the world together along with Kyousuke and the rest of the Busters besides Riki and Rin. Finding herself at odds with her function in the world because of her regret, as either Kurugaya or Kyousuke might have put it, is dangerous to the integrity of the world itself. But again, I digress.
Shortly after that scene, we discover that the land of her birth, the country where her mother lives, is under attack. Kud dumps information about herself and her homeland to us in a distant, monotone voice, clearly tortured from being torn between obligations to her mother and her new boyfriend. Kud wordlessly leaves the choice to stay or leave to Riki, and her reaction differs significantly depending on the choice.
- If you choose to make her stay, her eyes droop immediately, and she accuses Riki of betraying everything that they’ve ever worked for in mending relations with her immediate family, but unable to choose for herself, she concedes to stay because she doesn’t want to lose Riki. Naturally, her mother is killed on live television and Kud breaks down, with Riki succumbing to his narcolepsy soon after.
- If you choose to let her go, her eyes droop when she begins to speak, and she accuses Riki of betraying her feelings for him, and the final scene with her and Riki in her bedroom takes on a whole new meaning. Nevertheless, she concedes to go on the same principle that she can’t choose for herself. In Tevua she is accused of being a failure and is chained up as a sacrifice. Through (Refrain spoilers) the power of the world’s secret she is able to communicate with Riki in her most desperate moment, and in a powerful act of resolution, she breaks free from her physical and self-imposed metaphorical chains and returns to Japan to tearfully reunite with Riki.
- (Post-Refrain content) If you give the choice to her, she becomes frustrated because Riki is her hero, her only means of progressing forward, and she’s too afraid to act on her own terms. With Riki’s encouragement, however, in a surprising twist, she elects on her own terms to stay behind with Riki. The bad ending happens as it normally would, but like Rin2 it continues forward, giving us a resolution to Kud’s route that is both inspiring and sensical within the context of the rest of the VN.
To close things off, Kud has gone from perhaps the most divisive route in the game to one of my favorite Key routes ever. Although long-winded and full of filler at times, Kud is a standout example of drama and intrigue that has captured my heart and dragged it across real and fictional nations. It seems unbelievable that such a small, cute character would be given so much attention and care and not be given a trash route, but Kud has a lot of heart. Kudos to Chika Shirokiri for giving her one, and for setting the storytelling bar high for Key novels today.