Thursday, April 18, 2013

Anime Review: Robotics;Notes

The other noitaminA show from last season which frankly was a bit of an odd fit. While noitaminA hasn't had it's own real, genre I suppose in recent years, R;N is the third series in video game publisher 5 pbs "sceince;adventure" visual novels, the first two of which were Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate all of which are set in the same worldline so there are small references to each other, a far cry from noitaminA's original line-up of josei titles. But hey, I liked S;G quite a bit and when I saw people saying they didn't like the game of R;N, no big deal, I figured that a lot of them simply had over inflated expectations and were disappointed, which happens all the time with sequels, so I went into this with positive hopes and came out feeling, well, much less positive.


Summary: The year is now 2019 and while some technology has changed a lot, people seem to be using min-tablets as computers/cell-phones which have a virtual reality app built into them, but in other ways life is still rather normal. Kai is the put upon friend of Akiho who doesn't want to help her complete her sister's dream of making a life sized robot from their favorite show but he's not heartless enough to completely ignore her either. One thing leads to another and Kai slowly begins to realize that there is something strange going on both in the background with mysterious reports appearing on his tablet foretelling the end of the world and even things going strange in his favorite video games. The more things he discovers the more things he starts to uncover until he seems to have stumbled upon the greatest conspiracy of human history. 

The Good: The mecha genre (or the giant robot genre in general) like all others has gotten a bit stale and boring after decades of stories and it can be hard to make it interesting again. I'm not saying that R;N did quite that but I did like how they paired together the mecha genre with slice of life and I generally amused at how for once our heroes have to build their giant robot, there's no secret government organization that's already made it for them. As contradictory as this is about to sound, while R;N was originally a visual novel with dating sim aspects in it (there were about four girls, each with a different route and ending to the story and only one of them was the "true ending") and did focus on each route a bit none of those events took away from the rest of the story or felt like they were abandoning some of the mysteries in favor of romance. The romance isn't as well integrated as S;G's was (although that story had a bit of a cheat to make it work better) but I certainly think that this means it was easier to adapt than a lot of more traditional dating sims.

The Bad: As mentioned earlier, I already knew that a number of people either hadn't liked or had simply been underwhelmed by the original visiual novel, wrote that off, and expected a show that I wouldn't adore as much as S;G but that would still be rather solid. Sadly no, even knowing that this story just wasn’t anything above mediocre by the end and failed to make some of it’s plot threads come together in a cohesive and emotionally pay-off-y sort of manner (heck, there are some details that were either addressed so quickly I missed it or not at all, important ones) and by the end of the series I just didn’t care what was happening. I guess lighting doesn't strike twice since whatever that spark of specialness that made S;G come together and work, plot wise and character wise, for me just never happened here and I was frustrated that I never got the payoff that I had every logical reason to expect was coming.

The Audio: I liked the first opening and ending songs a bit better than the second set but none of them have really stuck with me the way some of the other OPs/EDs from the winter season did. The voice acting was all fine and a bit more memorable, there was only one crossover character from S;G and they actually had the same seiyuu (which rather surprised me given the 18 year gap between the shows) and I don't have much more to say here. The actors gave the characters the right emotions that matched up with what the characters were doing on screen so they did their job just fine, even if I thought what the characters were doing was dumb a lot of the time. 

The Visuals: Production IG actually worked on both noitaminA shows this season and thankfully R;N did not suffer the random decrease in quality that Psycho-Pass had once or twice. I actually really liked the design of the Gunvarrel (you can tell that the same designer also did some of the mechs in this season's Gargantia), although the CGI for some of the later scenes wasn't as well integrated as I would have liked. The character designs were likable, the scenery looked fine, honestly there was nothing spectacular here that I can talk about but the show didn't look bad by any means either.

I'm going to be a bit mean and give this a 2.5 out of 5 for just not explaining some important details in the end and being, well, boring. Don't feel the need to pick this one up for Funimation (they're streaming it and have the physical rights I believe) or even rewatch it, next show please!

*How Helen would have re-ordered the anime, the spoiler edition. Basically we discover what was going on with Misaki, Akiho’s sister, very close to the end and it seems like she had a very tense, interesting story to tell. So I would propose a rather radical re-writer where the first half of the story is half set in 2019 with Kai and the others meeting up and slowly learning about the reports and the other half (so alternating back and forth within an episode) with Misa’s story, slowly showing how everything started going wrong years ago to add more tension and to well, help pad out the story. I figure that by around the halfway point her story would be done and the story could then focus exclusively on the 2019 part with the current events, just given how this show meandered a lot I think this would have at least forced it to be tighter in plotting and execution and that Misa’s story was probably a heck of a lot more interesting than a lot of the stuff that actually transpired.


  1. I found that Robotics;Notes was a strange show, but despite its flaws (sloppy writing, bad pacing, weak ambiguous ending, etc) I can't fully bring myself to hate this show.

    I suppose the way I experienced this anime is very different from the way most people experienced it. If you just take it prima facie, there's not a lot that would keep me, or most people interested. However, there is a sort of meta-mecha line of thought that appears throughout the show.

    Mecha fans in general tend to be some of the worst fans in terms of nit-pickiness and an overall cantankerous presence on the Internet, however, looking beyond that, the general mood towards new mecha (that is actually coming out) has some subtleties that many on the outside may not catch. If you look at the various trends within the mecha genre, you'd see the result of ever-changing attitudes towards technology and even the belief in modern ideas like science and progress.

    Looking back, the first mecha shows like say Mazinger Z, you'd see an optimism, a belief in technology and progress, etc. As magical as the robots were, they were "products" of science and they existed to save people. However, as the 60s and 70s passed by and we entered the "postmodern" era where our faith in technological progress began to fade out, we saw sci-fi and mecha anime also change. With the advent of cyber-punk anime like Ghost in the Shell, the man-made modern cities and technology that we had previously believed could save and improve the human condition, became problems in and of themselves. Satoshi Kon's anime tends to end in the destruction of cities (for many reasons that will not dive into here), but with these themes of overdevelopment and a much more cynical and conservative outlook on technology, robots were no longer the panacea to the ever-lurking sense of social and global destruction they once were in the Mazingers and Astro Boys.

    Robotics;Notes tackles this technological cynicism head on and says "No, robots are the result of our sweat, tears and blood. They can help humanity, but only if we can fight for it and learn to not be afraid of the fruits of our scientific progress."

    That sort-of meta-mech theme that we see throughout the show is why I like this anime so much, and I will post this comment on my own blog since it is fairly lengthy and I need to update that thing myself...

    1. The show did feel a bit meta at times I'll readily admit (I am still amused that they had to build their robots after all) and after reading some of the Golden Ani posts I was wondering if this show was closer to the giant robot genre than mecha, which I was under the impression usually had a different kind of mood/tone. And thank you for the comment!

  2. I don't know, I generally use the terms 'mecha,' 'giant robot' interchangeably. I do use the terms robot to distinguish Gundam or Votoms from super robots shows like Mazinger. I suppose this show is an attempt to have the super robot spirit within the real robot universe. Which is pretty absurd, but whatevz.