“All that matters is the robot of justice wins!” Akiho Senomiya
Building a giant robot has always been Akiho’s dream – and with the help of the Robot Research Club at her high school on the island of Tanegashima, her dream is about to be realized. At last she can rival her estranged big sister Misaki’s astonishing technical genius abilities. Except for the fact that her ally and childhood friend Kaito (a passionate player of the online game KillBallad) has stumbled upon something very sinister on the internet as he and his shut-in otaku friend Frau Koujiro (the one who created KillBallad) discover a series of hidden warning messages left behind by one Kou Kimijima. JAXA has a rocket-launch site on Tanegashima and Akiho and Misaki’s father is the controller of the base. Something is far from right…
Then a solar storm is reported and all the robots in Tokyo run amok. As unforeseen tragic events occur, it looks as if the club will be prevented from exhibiting their giant robot, GunBuild 1, at the Expo in Tokyo. Yet Aki is not the type to stay discouraged for long and, aided by Kai and some unexpected adult allies, her iron determination sees them on their way to the Expo – and, Aki hopes, a long-awaited confrontation with her sister Misaki. But when something goes disastrously wrong at the expo – the official explanation is another solar storm – the meeting between the sisters develops into a robot catastrophe on a vast and unanticipated scale.
In this not-quite ‘our future’ world of 2020 (we’re told at the start of each episode that although certain ‘real world’ concepts and names are used, this is a work of fiction) the appearance of Nae Tennoji (Mr Braun’s daughter, now all grown-up from Steins;Gate) reminds us that Robotics;Notes is the third anime series to be based on the ‘Augmented Science Adventures’ visual novels from 5pb. (the first, and possibly least successful, is Chaos;Head, the second is Steins;Gate, and a fourth is rumoured to be in development) with a ‘future’ scientific theme. Robotics; Notes started out as a very different animal from the twisted and brilliant Steins;Gate. Its main protagonists are high school students, for one, and the writers evidently had a great deal of fun riffing off of the whole giant robot theme in creating Gunvarrel, a hugely popular and influential anime series directed by Frau’s missing mother. But, as in Steins;Gate, the story takes a significant turn toward the dark side in this second half as sinister forces at work behind the scenes make themselves known, endangering the dreams and lives of the young protagonists that we have come to know and like. The plot (although well worked out, keeping the viewer eagerly watching to see what will come next) turns as mad as a mad scientist’s maddest imaginations. That said, the script cleverly taps in to our growing concerns about the reliable dissemination of information – especially when misinformation is put out on trusted official channels. These are the anxieties that genuinely haunt us all today – as the appearance of more than one ‘ghost in the machine’ plays such a significant role, enhancing our insecurities: who can be trusted to deliver the truth?
Robotics; Notes introduces us to sympathetic protagonists: the indomitable Aki (Yoshino Nanjo/Lindsey Seidel) makes for a strong, stubborn (and female) central character and the more introspective, laid-back Kai (Ryohei Kimura/Clifford Chapin), who tells the story, makes a good foil. The two share the fact that they were ‘changed’ as young children caught up in the mysterious Anemone-gou incident and were afflicted/gifted with the Elephant Mouse Syndrome. In Kai’s case, this means that time slows down around him – whereas Aki experiences the opposite effect. Unfortunately, using this ability puts strain on the sufferer’s heart, so whenever Kai is driven to call on this power, it’s at considerable risk to his life.
The FUNImation reversioned script works well, and is especially good in its rendering of the text speech-influenced otaku ramblings of shut-in Frau (convincingly played by Leah Clarke).
Three composers are credited with the soundtrack which, although not exceptional, does mostly the right things in the right places: Asami Tachibana, Yuuki Hayashi, and also Takeshi Abo, who was responsible for the music for the visual game. The new Opening Theme is “Houkyou no Messiah” by HARUKI, which is lively, feisty, up-tempo etc. but outclassed by the affecting Ending ballad “Topology” which is eloquently sung by Kanako Itou (who has performed several of the songs for Steins;Gate ).
There are two commentaries in this set for Episodes 15 and 22, as well as the second (and genuinely interesting) discussion between three of the US writing/ADR directing team involved in the Science Adventures series (including J. Michael Tatum, the voice of Rintaro Okabe). Add in the textless Opening and Ending themes and the US trailer and it all adds up to a decent bundle of extras.
You’ve just got to love the idea of making a series about what might really happen if high school students could channel their love of Gundam and other mecha shows into actually creating their own full-size working robot. And even if Robotics; Notes doesn’t have the edgy smart vibe of its predecessor, Steins;Gate, it’s still well worth watching.