NOTICE: Hi. What you’re reading is an old review from when I was using a different template. It was kind of ugly, so I switched. If I make a mention of spoilers going to be blacked out, they won’t be. Sorry. It’s just so long ago I wrote this and it’s a bother to go back and edit it extensively. Sorry if you get spoiled, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t put any major spoilers in anything without giving big warnings about it first. Cheers.
Robotics;Notes is a bad anime
I’ll keep spoilers to the minimum, but when there are some, they’ll be in black, like the following words: A character in Harry Potter kills another character. Like so. Just highlight the text to see the hidden parts. At your own risk, of course.
So I recently returned to the world of anime, after taking along time off. Most of the new stuff that comes out is terrible moe-blob shit that I couldn’t care less about. Sometimes, amazing series pop up, though, and one of those were Steins;Gate, and amazing show about A group that creates a device that lets them send messages back in time. Basically, it’s centred on one of them, Okabe Rintarou, and him and the rest realising what happens when you fuck with time and causality. It starts out fairly light-hearted with some early shocks and twists and soon evolves into a fantastic character study and a fantastic thrill ride. The characters are amazing, especially Okabe (who calls him self “The Mad Scientist” Hououin Kyouma”, but is generally called “Okarin” by his friends) who is a multi-layered and intriguing character.
I’m not sure about the details, but Robotics;Notes is related to Steins;Gate (it’s Divergence Ratio is named in the synopsis (AND MAYBE IN THE SERIES BUT I HAVEN’T SEEN IT IN THERE YET UPDATE THIS WHEN DONE LOL), something which S;G fans will notice) but like I said, I’m not really sure how. They’re both Visual Novels by the same creator (I think) set in just a differing setting.
The setting is basically this: The Robotics Club at Central Tanegashima High School want to build a huge robot (commonly called a mecha in anime), and the club follows its members in their struggles with funding and other stuff. Pretty basic. Obviously there’s more under the surface than the characters just going at it with spanners, including a mystery slowly being revealed about a conspiracy that would severely endanger a sweeping majority of the people on Earth. [After seeing ten episodes, it feels incredibly far-fetched so far, but I’m going with it.]
To begin with some negativity, my main gripe with the series, is that it feels so very standard. Generic is another word I could use, but it feels too negative. Robotics;Notes takes what you find in most series nowadays: A cast of rather quirky characters that compliment each-other’s quirk/weirdness and go with it.
- Akiho (the female protagonist) is super energetic and ambitious, while
- Kaito (called Kai, male protagonist) is a sloth and generally disinterested in doing anything but playing Kill-Ballad (an on-line fighting game with mechas) which he apparently is one of the top people in the world at.
- Junna is what I like to put in the category of “moe-blob,” which I mentioned earlier. Basically, she’s a throwaway character that’s in the series to be cute and once or twice pop into the main plot-line for an episode or two.
- Contrasting her is Subaru, ambitious and helpful dude, who was told by his father to stop building, and competing with, robots. Of course he does it anyway but is caught when his father stop by the robotics club, and smashed Subaru’s little robot he uses to compete.
- Then there’s Kona, the epitome of stereotypic nerds in Japanese culture; She’s a shut-in; almost entirely communicates in memes; is incredibly perverted and is generally pictured as a bit of a nut-case. She does have a back-story that ties into the main story which is intriguing.
There are more examples to be named, but I can’t be arsed to find out what their names were. Oh yeah, there’s the obligatory crazy director guy who’s completely obsessed with boobs, and has a parrot that’s trained (or is just damaged for being around him too long) that chants along in his craving for beholding boobs. You know you’ve seen these character types before if you’ve watched anime more than once.
A positive to be found is that the animation is of very good quality. It’s not Makoto Shinkai level of quality, but not much out there is. I’m far from an artist myself, so that’s about all I’ll say about it. Excellent quality stuff, usually.
A big problem the series has initially, is the fact that it takes a long time to get going. It starts with an in medias res, with the group starting up a big mecha and getting it to walk. After that we’re showed the lives and struggles of Akiho and Kaito in their strife to get the robot working. They get some more members shortly, but the two are unquestionably the main characters. So, basically, the first episodes are for introducing the characters and the basic plot, which is usually fine. The problem is that the main characters aren’t really that interesting, and neither is the main story to begin with. Viewers who stick around will have a good series to watch, but there’s not a whole lot keeping you in the beginning. Let’s see why:
- The characters, with focus on the main characters:
Kaito – the series main protagonist, mind you- is extremely bland and a terribly boring character. He rarely shows interest in doing anything at all and seems to be sticking around “just because”. Eternally sceptical and non-committal, though at times showing intense caring and emotion, “Kai” is a character that’s all over the place. Which is something you can say about the series as well.
Seriously, fuck this guy.
Akiho – sharing main protagonist duties with Kaito – is a very energetic character who strongly believes in herself and her vision of building the robot her sister started building years previously. I can see her being a character that splits the audience, like a Haruhi. Infectious and happy-go-lucky personality that can alienate some viewers and enamour others.The most glaring problem with the characters is that they’re used mainly as plot devices. Characters pop in and out of relevance when it’s convenient to the story, and few are consistent throughout the series.
Even when there are some very emotional and gripping moments (examples are the Doc-focused episode, where you find out Jun’s back-story and why she’s afraid of robots, and Mizuka’s death, which was a shocking moment as it was a hugely contrasting scene in relation to the show’s previous tone. Not to mention that the second scene was pretty ridiculous, but didn’t suffer for it, so I’m fine with it. The main problem with it, was the fact that we never got to see what Kaito and Mizuka’s relationship was like, except for him stopping by at times to gain favours. The scene was sad, but didn’t leave the viewer devastated.), it’s hard to react accordingly, as you’re not very invested in the characters. As a role-player, I can work myself into the situation and simulate roughly my reaction, but that’s not easy for every viewer. Every scene should get some sort of reaction or give you something as a viewer. Tons of scenes and some episodes could and should have been cut out to give the viewer more information and background.
- The story, which takes the back seat to introducing the characters. The mecha launching stuff in the opening moments of the show is a set-up for other things to happen in the second half of the series and the main story takes a few episodes to even enter the series. The story is told very episodically, in fragments between the episode-long character arcs, where you get more information about the characters and at times ending that characters arc entirely. Like seriously, what ever happened to Subaru’s dad going at him for still being into robots? Did he just chill out after Subaru picked one apart in front of him? It was never very clear in the series, or at least not given enough time to appreciate what the arc ultimately did for the character (nothing at all).
As far as the voice acting, it’s mostly solid. Fukuda Nobuaki stands out as “Doc” in an emotional episode at about the middle of the series. Most others are good, but not outstanding. Part of the soundtrack stand out, but others are pretty run-of-the-mill pieces. Sound department ends up being a little above average, all things considered.
It does pick up a considerable amount later, with some emotional episodes and big events and twists. With the characters being horribly, infuriatingly uneven, it’s hard to fully enjoy the series. Also, some scenes are so ridiculously improbable and out of the blue that any seriousness it’s trying to get across gets lost.
Now, I’ve been ragging on it a lot, but honestly, Robotics;Notes is an enjoyable show at times. It’s passable as a watch, but if I were to decide on it being good or bad, I have to go with bad. It’s just easier to hate on stuff than be positive, and being pissed of at how much potential the series has but is never used. With the story presented, the show has great potential to be a great show, but there are like six episodes dedicated to the story when the endgame rolls in.
To summarise: The series does a poor job at getting the attention and sympathies of it’s viewers to begin with and the pacing is way off from where it should be to tell a story that you, as a viewer, should become invested in. Main characters aren’t able to carry the show on their own, and as a result the show is pretty flat in the end. Speaking of ends, holy fuck does this show fall apart in the endgame. It’s almost fun how much we’re meant to take for granted without any explanation at all. As such, it fails in doing what any series striving to be considered a serious work should do: Make the viewer care. It certainly has some sweet feel-good moments, but they hardly weigh up the series’ shortcomings. It’s a good try, but in the end it fails more than it succeeds. It falls short of the line between good and bad, and as such, I won’t recommend this series to anyone. Maybe I would recommend an aspiring storyteller to watch it, just to know what pits in writing and storytelling to avoid, and that’s certainly not something you would want written on the back of the DVD-case.
To conclude this entry, I’ll present how I would have written Robotics;Notes to make it a better series (in black, because slight spoilers):
The show opens up with Kai and Akiho’s lives, presenting what happened to them in the Anemone Incident and what their struggles are. Mizuka and Kai’s relationship is shown and explained. When Kai gets interested in the Kimijima report, Mizuka tells Kai to stay away from the reports. The viewers are told that Misa sent Mizuka the legs that ultimately end up killing her when they horribly malfunction. Then the conspiracy angle plays in with the evil people doing evil things and such. The story stays the same, it’s just the chronology that’s changed for the better, in order to make the viewers care about these characters.