Robotics;Notes Part 1 (Episodes 1-11) (Cert 12)
2 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 257 minutes approx.
Japan likes their robots there is no questioning that, as the wealth of anime and super sentai shows involving giant mecha piloted by neurotic teens bears witness. But one area that has yet to be explored in great depth is teens building their own mecha! Step forward 5pb and Nitroplus, whose visual novels on that very subject provide the template for the third in the unofficial Science Adventure trilogy which began with Chaos;Head and continued with the epic Steins;Gate, the major link so far being the misplaced semi-colon in the title and the music of Kanako Ito.
At the centre of Robotics;Notes is the energetic robot enthusiast Akiho Senomiya and the laid back game playing Kaito Yashio, the last remaining members of their school’s robotic club. Aki wants to build a giant robot based on the popular anime Gunvarrel called GunBuild-1 but the school refuses to fund it, unless they can win an upcoming robot tournament. This they do, in the process exposing the reigning champion, the flamboyant Mr. Pleiades, as studious classmate Subaru Hidaka, who joins the club in exchange for their silence about his alter ego. In the quest to get cheap parts for their robot, the club’s number grows with shy karate student Junna Daitoku, whose grandfather Tetsuharu ‘Doc’ Fujita runs the local robot repair shop.
So far, so typical high school anime. But then things start to get a little more involved. Kai spends most of his time playing a game called Kill-Ballad, at which he excels, on his tablet. One day a female AI name Airi appears on his screen, revealing herself to be an Iru-O app. She shows Kai a document called Kimijima’s Report No.1 written by a man named Ko Kimijima who died under mysterious circumstances. The report alludes to a NASA cover-up involving the existence of monopoles from the sun and predicts the earth will be hit by solar flares at regular intervals in the future.
Borrowing a cue from its more recent predecessor Steins;Gate this show is partly built around a conspiracy theory which takes a tangential form for the time being in order to focus on the building of the robot. With Aki’s estranged older sister Misaki, who started the robotics club, somehow connected with Kimijima’s death and with the company she works for, making exo skeletons, in the news for the wrong reasons, the plot thickens.
A second subplot involved the creator of Kill-Ballad, who turns out to be a hikikimori named Kona Furugōri. Fulfilling the obligatory transfer student role for this series, Kona is an eccentric and temperamental brat who prefers to communicate in text speak, her sentences littered with such irritants as “LOL”, “WTF”, “w00t”, etc. She contacts Kai for help in tracking down the top three players of her game whom she also believes are cheating, but their research reveals a shocking development.
Finally, the Gunvarrel anime is shrouded in mystery. Directed by Kona’s mother its final episode never aired with numerous rumours floating around as to why this was. But its legend lives on as the theme song is used as a code to hack all computer tablets playing the Kill-Ballad game, something Kona pleads innocence to.
While Steins;Gate showed little in the way of connection with its predecessor Chaos;Head this show addresses that balance by incorporating some of its features – most notably the otaku shut in Kona and in another, more fantastic plot device, the magical abilities of Aki and Kai. As kids they were both subject to something which gave them a strange power called “Elephant-Mouse Syndrome”; for Aki she is hit with moments where time speeds up for her while for Kai, it is the opposite and time slows down.
Of the three shows this one is the lightest in tone so far. The storylines may not give this impression but the interaction between the characters and their various foibles is designed for levity. Something the previous two shows never did, the comic affectations of chibi figures, sweatdrops, etc are present here and the character designs, despite this being a Production IG project, follow the KyoAni model for maximum moe effect for the girls. Despite a female heavy cast, there have been no signs that the robotics group is likely to become a harem situation which is a relief, at his avoids the show descending into a diluted mess of weak clichéd jokes and hackneyed prurient set-ups.
The personalities may fit familiar tropes but they are executed with keen intent for individuality and not routine laziness. Kona is the most outrageous of the group with her computer slang speech and dirty mind, while Aki is the likeable dynamo to keep things moving, clashing with the languorous Kai. Aside from the sly old Doc, a number of the adult support cast have yet to lay their cards on the table, which we can assume will be forthcoming in the second half. Also keep an eye out for a familiar face from Steins;Gate!
And if the robot angle feels like a cheap gimmick to sell the show, you might be pleased to learn that a lot of research has gone into the actual mechanics and logistics of such an endeavour which I’m sure many engineering enthusiasts will either find interesting of perhaps flawed to the point of heated discussion.
Robotics;Notes is a heady mix of a number of genres which, for the moment, has shown signs of competence and not being overwhelmed by its abundance of plot threads. There is a lot to take note of but its execution makes it easier to follow than to recap. The problem is, can it all be brought together and resolved in the second volume? At this halfway stage one would normally fear this to be a tall order but if Steins;Gate is any indicator then we can afford to have a little faith rather than wait in dread.
Dolby True HD: English Language 5.1
Dolby True HD: Japanese Language 2.0
Episode 06 commentary
Science Adventure Series Interview Part 1
Episode 10 commentary
Textless Opening Song – “Junjo Supekutora”
Textless Closing Song – “Umikaze no Brave”
Rating – ****
Man In Black