To avoid the very real risk of coming off as needlessly hacky, I'm not going to open this with "of course it doesn't". Partially because I already did that in another review, but also because it's not entirely true. While J.C. Staff's animation is clearly worlds away from the quality we'd come to expect from a KyoAni show (just look at this season's Chuunibyou to see what their staff is capable of), production values are not all that a show has to offer. And, indeed, for what it's worth the show looks a great deal less hideous than Toei's Key adaptations, where everybody looked like they had Down's syndrome. Improving on the likes of Kanon '02 isn't really any kind of accomplishment, but never let it be said that I didn't toss J.C. Staff a bone when they needed one.
Visuals aside, how does this adaptation fare? Thus far, surprisingly well. It may lack some of the elegance of earlier Key titles, but this is a fault of the original work more than anything on the part of those tasked with adapting it. In contrast to the more straightforward visual novel gameplay style of Kanon, AIR and CLANNAD before it, the original Little Busters! added an action mechanic to gameplay that the anime acknowledges with varying degrees of success. The KyoAni CLANNAD also included some acknowledgements of the story's video game origins, but Little Busters! has thus far been far more frequent with it, something that works to its advantage as a comedy but will prove problematic if it doesn't drop off as things inevitably get more serious (Key works never stay happy for long).
The cast of characters, too, is an area where Little Busters! is quite unlike that which came before it. While previous games all featured strong-willed, charismatic protagonists and barely any other male presence, Little Busters! has a frail, narcoleptic protagonist and (at its outset, at least) a primarily male supporting cast. A common criticism of Key's previous works was that the stories were obviously formulaic (male protagonist meets different girls with sometimes-supernatural problems, fixes each one individually before a big dramatic story arc involving the final girl's apocalyptic super-problem), and while by all means the story itself still follows that path, at the very least the characters are more diverse this time.
The first two episodes don't move particularly fast, but in a show slated for 26 episodes (potentially longer if the post-game Refrain story gets a follow-up adaptation as CLANNAD's "After Story" did), room to breathe is good. Getting to know the characters before the drama inevitably ramps up is always one of the best parts of a Key work, be it in visual novel or adapted form, and in that element Little Busters! excels. The main characters, 4 friends who collectively call themselves the "Little Busters" (they're clearly Pillows fans), are a charming bunch and their camaraderie is thus far the highlight of the show. The protagonist, Naoe (Horie Yui pulling gender-swapped voice duty for him), serves as something of a passive observer, while the impulsive Kyousuke (veteran voice actor Midorikawa Hikaru) parodies CLANNAD protagonist Tomoya Okazaki's can-do attitude in suitably amusing fashion. Rounding out the Little Busters are Kyousuke's tsundere sister Rin (relatively unknown Tamiyasu Tomoe, whose voice I'd really love to hear more of) and dueling meatheads Kengo and Masato (Katsuaki Arima and Nobutoshi Canna, respectively), whose impromptu brawls make for most of the show's more surreal gags.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Key show without the girls with problems to be solved, and the second episode focuses on one such girl, space-case Komari Kamikita, whose voice can best be described as sounding like a creaky door with a stuffy nose. 41 year-old voice actress Natsumi Yanase may have once had a lovely voice, but a lethal combination of age and pushing herself too hard leads to Kamikita's voice being far from a pleasant thing to hear. Her character is amusing, though, and the voice isn't too horrid as far as these things go. The overarching plot concerns a "secret within this world", to be discovered through the completion of a series of tasks that are revealed as previous ones are completed, and while Kamikita's role in the mystery is unclear at first, anyone who's seen one of these shows before knows that there's more than meets the eye there.
All in all, a promising debut, if not quite what it could've been in the hands of Kyoto Animation. KyoAni's shadow falls long over Little Busters!, and it would no matter what, but J.C. Staff does a fine job with what they have. I will definitely be looking forward to seeing this one as it progresses, particularly when they get to the Kudryavka arc (here's hoping that'll be sooner rather than later!).