Anime Reporter gets things moving with Robotics;Notes Part 1 (episodes 1-11). As some astute and well-versed anime fans have no doubt already deduced from the title, this is the latest anime series to follow in the footsteps of Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate (reviewed here). Like its two predecessors, Robotics;Notes was originally a visual novel video game and the similarities don’t stop there.
The plot starts in 2019 with Kaito Yashio (voiced by Blood Lad’s Ryohei Kimura in Japanese and Clifford Chapin in English), a young Japanese student, obsessed with his Phonedroid Pad (Yep, basically what it sounds like, the super advanced great-great grandchild of your smart phone/tablet), though he mostly seems to use it for projecting cute cat ears onto girls and of course, playing his favourite video game, Kill Ballad. Kill Ballad is a touch screen based robot fighting game spun out of this world’s most popular anime, Gunvarrel. (Kill Ballad seems quite similar in style to the Nintendo DS game, Custom Robo Arena.) Kaito is ranked number 5 in the world of Kill Ballad and takes pride in his skills. Kaito is also a member of his school’s robotics club, though that’s mainly so he can have a quiet place to play and he pretty much refuses to do anything for anyone unless they can beat him at a game of Kill Ballad.
The sole other member of the club is Akiho Senomiya (Voiced by Penguin Girl’s Yoshino Nanjo in Japanese and Eureka Seven: AO’s Lindsay Seidel in English). Akiho is obsessively devoted to the club’s ongoing mission, to complete the giant robot Gunbuild 1 originally designed by Akiho’s talented older sister.
Not getting a lot of help or enthusiasm from Kaito, Akiho brokers a deal with the school’s vice principal that if they can win this year’s Robo One remote-control robot-fighting tournament (you can see why they just call it Robo One).
While the initial few episodes build on this premise, the plot soon deviates into exciting and, for the cousin of Steins;Gate, not unexpected levels of plot twists, conspiracies and mysteries abound. I would dearly love to tell you a little bit more about Exoskeleton, a Japanese technological company in dire straits, the ghostly girl who isn’t what she seems, natural disasters and time manipulation or even the bizarrely anti-social cyber genius who only communicates in internet-speech (LOL, GTFO, IKR?) I’d love to tell you more about any/all of these things but it’s one of the triumphs of this series that the plot slowly and gracefully unfolds a few parts at a time. I’d be doing no favours to divulge any more plot points.
So, on to what we can discuss.
Animation: This series is gorgeous to watch, with just the right blend of CGI thrown into the animation to make backgrounds feel vast and intricate and to give technology just the right flavour of ‘futuristic’. Characters are lively and vibrant, with just enough detail for all the right emotive tones.
Action: There’s a little from time to time, mostly in the form of miniature or digital robots duking it out, but what there is, is very nicely executed. Not an all out explosive action free for all, so if you need explosions and special attacks by the crate load, this won’t be for you.
Characters: A wonderfully varied bunch. A lot of different temperaments and objectives are thrown into the mix. Kaito isn’t quite a good guy, he’s reluctant to make any kind of effort whatsoever and while Akiho is overflowing with good intentions, she has pretty much no idea how to put her plans into action. Joining the robotics club down the line are some reliable tropes such as the stuffy prodigy, the antisocial tech-head and the anime standby, timid girl. While these are hardly revolutionary takes on the human personality, they’re likeable and engaging enough to keep people watching, smiling and laughing.
Suspense, intrigue, mystery, plot. I think thefact that I needed to include four words to sum up this category should illustrate my feelings on the topic. This is a pretty layered, well thought out piece of plot. It’s well paced so things don’t become too heavy but it truly feels like each character and plot point has been carefully structured and nothing feels accidental. Part 01 consists of eleven episodes and it simultaneously feels like things are only getting started and there have already been so many significant developments.
This series isn’t quite Death Note, but it’s also definitely not one to just casually watch while doing a half dozen other things. This show deserves to be watched. Fans of Steins;Gate need look no further, ditto for fans of good storytelling.
Robotics;Notes is available on DVD and Bluray from 25th August 2014 from Manga Entertainment UK. For more information, take a look at the Manga UK website and Facebook page. While you’re at it, you might also like to follow Anime Reporter on Twitter or Facebook.
80% – “Something kind of wonderful”– Robotics;Notes starts off on a strong note with a stellar plot and the promise of a hell of a lot more to come. Watch this, then bemoan the fact that Part 02 isn’t out yet.