I am a firm believer in the notion that a single part of a story is all it takes to both throne and dethrone the entire regent from being cast onto the pedestal of my heart. Refrain, this great mystery that has stared down from Mount Purgatory since I first heard “Kyousuke’s back!” rumbling through my ears, has been reached by my lowly mortal self. This path that I had walked, battered and beaten by those who had come before me, was already beautiful, heartwarming, and inspiring. As clear and refreshing as the Nile runs through Egypt, it flowed and guided me to the beauty that awaited. For this post, I choose not to add screenshots, as I want to type everything out. I ask for your forgiveness now for the length of this post.
The very second I clicked Refrain, I felt a chill in my spine. The static, that ever-mysterious static that laid over the truth like a veil that obscures the elegant and beautiful bride during her wedding day, writhed as though it had sized up my progress. Accepted me through its gates into the cat box that I had theorized about since the very beginning. The truth is always merciless. It does not care about good and evil, it only presents itself, and we often either go mad from the revelation or flee into the safety of a new dark age.
The bus crash! The accursed accident that has been ever so slightly wedged into the trunk of the game, first in the shadows ever since #LitBus was formed, before the game was even released. Here, it shown unabridged, uncensored, in the creeping terror of all that we fear as men. The mentions of field trips from Kud and Rin2 were the drops that spilled over for me; I walked into Refrain with the theory that the other routes were but dreams, brought on by Kyousuke and the others to help Riki and Rin overcome this inevitable tragedy. Like all truths, it and every one beyond was a bitter pill to swallow. I cannot wonder anymore; only accept.
Afterwards, we are tossed into what we believe is the common route yet again, for what I believe is the eighth time. Eight. Eight shooting stars falling from the sky in Komari’s route. The ripples that slowly disappeared from the idle title screen as each route is completed, culminating in only three wandering, lonely souls. Without the bus cg before it, I would have been only slightly skeptical of this beginning. Refrain: to repeat. With it, the most unsettling feelings known to man were thrust upon me. Kyousuke is not back, instead he skitters off into obscurity and Riki is forced to mediate between Kengo and Masato, which ends in failure. It is here, presumably like many others, that I saw the answer. Riki cannot rely on Kyousuke if he is to grow. No, he must take the reins himself, he must march onto the battlefield with the sun in front of him and behind that unknowable, foreboding future that we all face. Kyousuke cannot save you forever, Riki. Take his hand up, not his handout.
Kengo receives an arm fracture from this battle, an odd mirror from when he saves Koshiki in the other routes. Masato is beaten, and the animosity between the pair seems to grow. The cold blanket of uneasiness lay entrenched on the scene, and Riki ponders when they became so divided. What happened, I thought. I had no answers yet. Where was Kyousuke to save them? Perhaps the first truly chilling moment is the next day, when Riki takes Rin to school. Not the sister school where she was supposed to help others, but a school where she was going to be helped.
The first crack in what I believed was my weather but still almighty dam - that precious CG of Rin among the children, her innocent smile radiant in the warm glow of life still untouched by the darkness of the future. To see something so pure, so beautiful, I could not help but force the mist from the eyes from forming. It’s only the beginning, I thought.
“I needed to take on the role that the past Kyousuke had played,” Riki states. In the corridor where we used to see Rin playing with her cats, he picks up a mangy and dirty baseball from the ground… In my mind, the wind started blowing. Cherry blossom petals danced around, and a violin was heard from beyond space and time, signaling the arrival of the first step toward a bright future. One grasped by Riki’s, and by extension, my hands. It is time to reform the Little Busters.
Rin takes a liking to playing catch, reminiscent of the other journeys we went through. Masato and Kengo eventually (though somewhat reluctantly) join, so that Rin may warm up to them for the second time. It is the very definition of beauty in simplicity. Only when Riki picks up a bat and tries to actually form a baseball team, does the illusion shatter. Kengo and Masato promptly leave him, forsaking the idea of the “Little Busters”, and Riki is left alone, even after trying to win back Masato, who instead proclaims his will to become the strongest.
I have said before that the Little Busters are the most relatable cast of characters I have ever encountered in the endless of sea of fiction, and that holds true with Masato as well. I was eight out of ten so far and a bit anxious at how well the story knew me, in whom I was, who I am, and whom I wish to become. Every character was but a hand that cradled my soul. I too was bullied like Masato, and built an identity using my size, living through fear and oddity. To see myself in others is not uncommon to this day. I must compliment the execution of Episode Masato, for being extremely uncomfortable particularly during the introduction of the cafeteria background filled with copies, to being extremely heartwarming with the younger Kyousuke acknowledging Masato’s existence and being accepted for who he is. There exist a few ironic echoes to both Kurugaya’s and Haruka’s routes, where his anger toward bullies goes beyond protecting his friends, and digs deeper into the core of who he has been for so long. A good mystery is always foreshadowed.
Episode Kengo suffers from the same pointless trifling that Haruka’s did: going to Kengo’s house. Neither this journey nor his father are important to the story. What matters, though, is the execution. For the entire game Kengo has been the most mysterious of the Busters behind Kyousuke, and the pieces of his puzzle fell ever so slowly into place, culminating in Rin2 as only one slot is left. His complexity is ultimately and beautifully subverted as he is revealed to be one of the simplest characters. Like Riki in Komari’s bad end, he wishes to protect that which he believes is too weak to defend itself. Kengo foreshadows this in Rin2 when he states his will to protect the Little Busters so they may be eternal. Why does Kyousuke form them only for them to dissolve? Kengo’s sparse interactions with Kyousuke are peppered with little hints and form a sturdy bridge to the next episode, and his animosity toward Kyousuke after his heinous action of showing Koshiki to him during the baseball match of Rin2 is finally understood. All Kengo wanted was to play with his friends, and his breakdown when admitting this hearkens back to my feelings toward seeing Rin’s purity in the beginning.
The cat box is opened. The answers shine in their almost-too-bright light. I can no longer wonder what the secret of the world is, as the winds of change erode the corridor so that only one theory may fit. Kyousuke picks up the baseball just like Riki did and names the future Little Busters baseball team: Haruka, Mio, Kurugaya, Kud, and Komari. They all know. They always knew. This world was created by them and is the controller is held by Kyousuke, and the mission is to help Rin and Riki overcome the tragedy that awaits them in the real world. That’s why he advised against Riki from going after Kurugaya in her route, for he knew she would wrest control from him. That’s why the meteor shower in Komari’s route happened when it shouldn’t have, and that’s why Kud can miraculously break chains. The Key magic has been explained through dream magic.
The final baseball game, where the boys literally part beyond the title of the song, became the second crack as Oda Yuusei’s superb voice acting for Kengo broke through me. It is not easy for anything to end, but what is important are the encounters and experiences we have in life, and what they teach us. Throughout Refrain I longed to see the other heroines, and when I found out Komari was the only one left, I finally had the third strike and broke down. These friends - my friends, were gone.
Kyousuke asks Riki, and by extension, if it’s enough to let them go. No, I say, it is not. No one gets left behind. No longer will I accept something so bittersweet. Kyousuke’s plan worked too well! It is not the upcoming tragedy that Riki must overcome, but the death of his parents. This is the beauty of Little Busters. Their efforts are not wasted, only subverted. “I’ll make myself stronger too,” Rin affirms, taking Riki’s hand as she faces the future. One of, if not my favorite moment of the story, is when she goes back to Komari and assures her she will continue to smile.
I don’t have much to say for the ending, other than its rampant idealism is everything I love in a story. Truly, Riki earns his happy ending, not only by facing the past and the future but by adhering to Kyousuke’s meager advice on what to do during the crash. Refrain rests on the highest note. So, Refrain has turned the tides of Little Busters and has firmly placed it as my favorite story of all time, and I still have yet to even reach the end of this magnificent journey. It combines all that I love from my other favorite stories, and gives it that magic that I have come to love. It surpasses all other stories for me now.