Warning: Contains spoilers for the first two seasons of Little Busters
For all the misgivings I had about Little Busters Refrain, a lot of it was redeemed by the superb and emotional ending, to the point where those last three or four episodes are nigh perfect to me. So, as you can imagine, I was perplexed to find a third season existed in the form of Little Busters Ex, an eight episode OVA series that was originally bundled with Refrain volumes in Japan. Unfortunately, Ex ended up being every bit as unnecessary as I had envisioned, and does little to justify itself.
Separated into three character-based arcs, Ex moves around the timeline a fair bit, with the first taking place before Season Two, the second taking place after Season Two, and the third taking place both before and after Season Two. As opposed to using the OVAs to flesh the story out, it is once again character-focused, and that is the big issue here. The characters these OVAs are based on are not important at all, because if they were, their development wouldn’t have been relegated to an afterthought. As anyone who has seen Little Busters can attest, the cast is already overstuffed with around ten or so lead characters, so to try and flesh out side characters as well as throwing in a whole new character seems like way too much to me and is also pointless on top. We’ve seen how this ends, so to go back and try and get us to care about these side characters when we know they don’t really matter at all in the grand scheme reeks of milking the cash-cow and grasping at anything they can to keep the anime franchise going.
I might not have had such a problem with Ex if the new character, Saya, was actually good, but unfortunately she is quite lacking. Despite the concept of her arc being kind of great, Saya herself seems like a mishmash of personality traits, changing between tsundere, chuunibyou and clumsy airhead, which makes her seem inconsistent. Even her backstory feels slapdash and uninspired, with how she entered Kyousuke’s world despite not being on, near or in the same time as the bus that crashed with the Little Busters on board, simply being brushed off and never answered, which given how much the narrative hinges on this plot point, is absurd. With Saya we also see Ex venture back into the romance territory that Refrain dipped its toe into, but this time replacing Rin with Saya, a decision I find baffling. Riki suddenly falling for this girl, totally disregarding his feelings for Rin that we know he has, feels like a total betrayal of the well-earned romance between Rin and Riki we saw in Refrain, especially given that we, and by extension Riki, barely know her. I could have let this slide if they’d explored an alternate romance route with a pre-established character, as it would at least be plausible, but a brand new character we’ve never seen before, even despite the plot-based reasons, is nonsensical.
With the Saya route taking up half the series, Ex leaves sparse room for the other two featured characters, Sasami and Futaki, with them both getting a measly two episodes each, and neither of their arcs being very good. Sasami’s offers little insight into her character, which seems to defeat the purpose of the OVAs in the first place, and instead tells a rather uninteresting story that tries to reuse the concept of a fake fantasy world in order to fulfil a wish from Refrain, but ends up devaluing the concept in the process, and barely making a lick of sense as soon as you give it an ounce of thought. Futaki’s section fares better, but is fairly redundant, re-treading similar ground to the Haruka episodes from Season One and managing to be far inferior in the process.
As you’d expect from an OVA series, the technical aspects of Ex are identical to those of Little Busters and Refrain. The animation is at the same level as Refrain, being pretty solid but nothing spectacular, and the soundtrack mostly consists of recycled tracks, even down to the opening, which despite some new animation, uses a slightly altered version of the Season One opening song ‘Little Busters’ by Rita. The single notable addition is in the voice acting department, with Hilary Haag (Clannad, Full Metal Panic, Pani Poni Dash) joining the dub cast as Saya. I’d say she’s on the better end of the spectrum in terms of the dub’s mixed bag of performance quality, but is not quite as good as some of the others such as Tiffany Grant.
Little Busters Ex isn’t bad really, but its nature as an unneeded follow-up and its failure to add anything of significant value to the overarching plot make it seem like a hollow attempt to wring the franchise dry.