Thursday 28 March 2013

Anime REVIEW: Robotics;Notes


It's that time again where the winter anime season draws to a close, allowing reviewers such as myself to share their thoughts on the weekly series they've been following for the last 12+ weeks before launching themselves into the spring season's offerings. Robotics;Notes is a 22 episode series that began airing back in October 2012, based on the visual novel of the same name by 5pb. The story is set in the same universe as fellow visual novels Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate, however references to either shows are fleeting, if anything at all.

Robotics;Notes Akiho & Kaito
Akiho and Kaito, not your average robot builders

The story is set in the year 2019 on the Japanese island of Tanegashima. Here the exciteable Akiho Senomiya and her laid back friend Kaito Yashio are the only members of their high school's robotics club. Their aim is to build the GunPro-1, a giant robot based on the titular robot from the anime series Gunvarrel started (but not finished) by Akiho's older sister when she was in school. As the two struggle to find financing for the project, they find new friends and members who will help them complete their dream.

However this is only the surface, as at the same time Kaito becomes entangled in the mystery of "Kō Kimijima" and his strange reports. These reports suggest that a world-altering disaster may be on the way, and further investigation suggests not only the involvement of Akiho's estranged sister, but an accident that left both Akiho and Kaito with mysterious ailments many years ago.

Robotics;NotesSubaru, Junna & Frau
The sadly unimportant side cast of Robotics;Notes

The plot of Robotics;Notes can easily be split into two distinctive halves. The first of which features a much more relaxed setting, charting the day to day lives of the high school robotics club. This is the time we really get to know the characters - Akiho is energetic and almost always upbeat, while Kaito is quite dry-witted and only really interested in playing the video game "Kill Ballad". However he does clearly care about Akiho, and their relationship is something that is developed satisfyingly. The joining members of the club include Subaru Hidaka, a robot tournament champion who fights under the (fabulous) guise of "Mister Pleiades" because his father doesn't approve of his hobby, shy karate member Junna Daitoku and gifted super otaku Frau Koujiro. All are brought into the fold through different circumstances and plenty of time is spent fleshing out their characters amidst this "giant robot building" backdrop. To keep things interesting this half also sows a lot of the seeds that come into play in the second half, creating a varied amount of mysteries, conspiracies and even murder which create much intrigue as you try to piece them all together.

Robotics;Notes Airi Yukifune
What is the mystery behind the strange avatar Airi?

When the show finally launches into its world-changing crisis mode in the second half, it's where things begin to fall a little flat. The numerous subplots that have been established don't weave together very well at all, with some taking centre stage for the remaining episodes, others wrapped up too conveniently and others outright forgotten. As such the final episode comes across as really rushed. The worst part of this half is that it serves as a reminder that despite being introduced to this enjoyable cast of side characters, none of them ever really mattered. The story reverts back to being solely about Kaito and Akiho, which the rest of the cast completely disappearing for a few episodes. While Steins;Gate's triumph was in that it's build up was much slower, opening the floodgates for a huge exciting turn midway, Robotics;Notes tries to do far too much build up, which it's second half can't possibly keep up with.

Even when it's making awful shows such as Guilty Crown, Production I.G. has always been top notch when it comes to the animation front and Robotics;Notes is no exception. The character design and animation is crisp and clear, while the CGI robots of various sizes blend in nicely with the 2D art rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Some excellent work when into the robotics design of the show, not only in translating the super robot Gunvarrel of the anime into a working realistic model, but also the aesthetic differences between the robots showcased.

Robotics;Notes Super GunBuild-1
Yes, there are robots.

If you're wondering just how many Steins;Gates references there are in Robotics;Notes, the answer is two...however one you might not notice unless its pointed out. The character of Nae Tennōji (who works for JAXA and befriends the club) is Yugo's (the TV shop owner and Okabe's landlord) daughter, however no reference is made to this (possibly because the Steins;Gate anime was made by a different studio?). SERN are also briefly namechecked in an episode. In the visual novel Daru also plays an important role in the finale (but doesn't appear), however any reference to this is gone from the anime.

Robotics;Notes Mister Pleiades

While it never really quite reaches the heights of its predecessor Steins;Gate, Robotics;Notes is still a solid and enjoyable show for the most part. It's opening half is engaging on numerous levels, and had it been able to carry this through into the second it would have been something REALLY special. This might have proved too difficult a task, the fast paced conclusion still contains a fair bit of enjoyment if you're prepared to check your brain in at the door.

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