First Impressions – Robotics;Notes

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Or, “Giant Robots and the Children Who Love Them”

OP: “Junjō Spectra” by Zwei

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For me it would be hard to top the anticipation I felt going into the Spring season for NoitaminA.  You had two series from auteur directors, one of whom had been absent from TV for many years, each promising to counter the depressing dearth of good character-driven anime centered around males.  But there’s no question that in terms of general interest, this season was among the most highly anticipated – two shows in Robotics:Notes and Psycho-Pass, both helmed by industry stalwart Production I.G. and both two-cour, that seemed to embody the potential for both artistic merit and commercial appeal that’s been the Holy Grail for the NoitaminA timeslot.  P-P was pretty good, if not all I’d hoped – so how did R;N fare?

I would anticipate that the reaction to this premiere is going to be fairly tepid, but I liked Robotics;Notes the better of the two first episodes.  It’s not perfect by any means but as an introduction I felt it was quite successful, though the considerable lack of flash and pomp is probably going to lead some to find it boring.  I liked the fact that the episode didn’t try too hard, instead focusing on setting the mood and giving us a low-key introduction to the main cast.  The interactions rang true for me, and the overall feel of the episode was refreshingly grounded and unpretentious.

Robotics;Notes comes from 5pb, the folks who brought us Steins;Gate (this screencap certainly brought back memories) and there will be a connection at the very least in the appearance of Tennouji Nae, who was a little girl in that series but will be about 20 given that R;N is set in 2019.  It seems as if the links between the two worlds will be minor elements of the series, though, as it focuses mostly on the trials of a high school robotics club on the island of Tanegashima, south of Kyushu.  The two leads are Yashio Kaitou (Kimura Ryouhei) and Senomiya Akiho (Nanjou Yoshino) and at first flush they seem quite the stereotypes – he a flatlining gamer with little interest in participating in life, she a genki and somewhat clumsy girl who barrels through life relying on pure enthusiasm.  Despite that superficially tired dynamic, though, I liked both characters and found the banter between them very natural.  It’s hard to describe why, exactly – except to say that I knew plenty of kids like them in high school, and while many series try and capture that type, most of them fall short and R;N nails it.

What I also like is the fact that the exposition is handled in a similarly natural way, and that there’s an air of charming innocence that permeates the entire affair.  There are no discordant speeches laying out what’s happening – we see the details of this world in bits and pieces as Aki and Kaitou move through their lives (like the app on Kaitou’s sumafo).  It’s a near-future that’s seen a robotics boom in pop culture thanks to the popular anime Gunvarrel – which mysteriously never aired its final episode (perhaps it was animated by SHAFT, and they’re a little behind).  Another familiar element is the struggling school club, and Aki and Kaitou are this one’s only members – though she keeps speaking reverently of a “He” who said many GAR things at some point in the past.  Aki also has a strong interest in recruiting Hidaka Subaru (Hosoya Yoshimasa) to join, an interest he rather violently refuses to reciprocate.  The goal of the club is to complete the giant robot that was started 8 years earlier and now sits in an abandoned airplane hangar, and in order to receive the funds to continue the Vice-principal has declared that the club must win the legendary Robo One fighting competition – a problem as they have no robot to fight with and the competition begins in two weeks…

This isn’t a series that overwhelms you in the first impression; indeed, it’s one that I have a somewhat difficult time elucidating just why I liked so much.  The best answer I can give is that I did like it.  It’s a first-class I.G. production visually, with excellent character design, lovey coloring and fluid animation – nothing flashy, just uniformly superb.  I liked the setting, the characters, the premise and the tone – it really feels like an homage to youth, and a celebration of a geek culture where people really love something and go a little beyond the bounds of practicality and logic to pursue their dreams.  It’ll be interesting to see the school-club quest merged with the dystopian MIB paranoia elemental to the mythology of 5pb.  I’m not even a hard-core fan of robot anime, more a casual one – and I suppose those who are will be both Robotics;Notes’ prime audience and its harshest critics.  For me, it’s enough that it was fun, charming and entertaining, and made me curious to see what happens next. 

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ED: “Umikaze no Brave” by fumika

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34 comments

  1. A

    Nice impressions. I felt the same way. They kept it nice and simple. From what I've heard, there will be more than meets the eye here, so I guess we won't be disappointed.

  2. J

    Well, if I had to compare P-P and S;N, I'd go for P-P, but for a depressing reason, really – that show didn't have characters that annoyed me too much.

    Here with P-P, certainly a show I was craving to watch, I was underwhelmed.
    I didn't see, like you did Enzo, what made this duo seemingly out-of-the-norm despite their stereotypes. In fact, they were just that to me: your cliché japanese high school characters. This episode felt entirely as fanservice for Aki fans: cosplay, genkigenkigenki, oiling herself, etc. Her extreme genki-ness annoyed me, as did Kai's attitude, who barely even talked. I don't think of those 'cool-headed' males as cool –they're jerks to me; they barely show any signs of affection towards their friends, and these always come back with a smile. It's just not believable; not cool. …He seemed much like Hyouka's Houtarou, only without the smart and the funny inner-thoughts.

    What I was most eager to see was how the drama would play out, much like it did with S;G. "What would happen if a bunch of nobodies built a time-machine?" Or in this case, "What would happen if a bunch of nobodies built a giant robot?" (or at least that's what the premise looks like up to here). Granted, it's far, far too early to judge this series based on its premiere, but from what this episode told me, there won't be much of that life-or-death drama that I loved from 5pb's previous work. We start off quite ahead in the timeline, showing a glimpse of what it'll be like when they eventually finish Gunvarrel. So much for that suspense. Then we find out the school will give them all the money they need if they agree to some conditions. So much for that suspense, too.

    I dunno, it all seems too rose-colored, whereas I was expecting an approach that would seem more likely in real life – with a lot more obstacles. Oh, and let's not forget that Miku-girl at the end of the episode, who seems to carry the fantasy-magic themes in this series.
    No thanks.

  3. A

    Don't worry. There's nothing fantasy-magical about her.

  4. L

    That girl, Airi, felt out of place with the rest of the episode to be honest. They should have just left her until next week.

  5. A

    Great first episode. I was pretty impressed especially since it looks like this is the series that's bringing the moe (psycho-pass declaring outright that there moe is banned in their series). I do, however, have 2 minor nagging concerns:

    1.) I'm worried that Aki's personality is going to remain 1-demensional. It's great that we have a genki main character (who is cute as a button, by the way), but it troubles me to think how I'd feel to have to watch 22 episodes of that high octane personality. It's gonna be exhausting.

    2.) I just really can't see how Aki and Kai could ever really be together in the same club. Their personalities don't really mesh well together; you'd think Kai would be like Oreki in Hyouka and try to get away whenever possible. My impression of Kai might improve later on, but don't you think he kind of comes off like Keima in TWGOK at the moment?

    We shall see! I'm nervous and anxious right now because it's Production I.G. and they've earned a black mark for "that" series >.>

  6. J

    Pretty funny that we posted the same concerns, right down to Hyouka's Oreki 😛

    Also, maybe it's just me wanting to see all possible S;G references here, but in Kai's videogame, there was a mech called STEINGMA I think…

  7. A

    Why is moe automatically a good thing and the lack of it is automatically a bad thing?

  8. R

    Because moe is a mutation of fanservice.

  9. A

    I can't see why you'd think Kai would try to avoid participating when we constantly see that he doesn't. I mean, the fact that he follows her around when he doesn't need to is a major part of his characterization. And clearly he chose to join the club in the first place for whatever reason. The fact that you're assuming things about him and being annoyed when he doesn't match up to those assumptions is an interesting contrast with Enzo's "slightly beyond the cliche" view of the show's characterization. It seems to me that you're limiting yourself by only looking at the cliche and not the character.

  10. A

    lol, so are you saying he's tsundere for Aki?

    and lol "And clearly he chose to join the club in the first place FOR WHATEVER REASON. The fact that you're assuming things about him and being annoyed when he doesn't match up to those assumptions"

    I'm not assuming things. It's YOU who's assuming things, and claiming it's characterization that doesn't exist yet. Are you saying someone who does bugger all but plays video games all day is constantly participating in club activities? "Participation" for you means just showing up, huh?

  11. A

    @Anon 5:48 I never said moe=good and no moe=bad. I said Production I.G. has 2 series: 1 with moe and 1 without moe. The 1 with moe was also very good, so I'm impressed by them.

    I might have expressed it wrong(because apparently, when I say I'm impressed with a show with moe, it automatically condemns the one without), or you can't read. Good job

  12. A

    I'm not assuming things, I'm looking at what they've showed us. They show he likes to play video games all the time, but also hangs out at the club and reluctantly follows Aki when she asks him to. I don't know why, but those are the facts that we've been shown. We'll probably find out later in the show, or maybe not. If it turns out that he's not a club member and isn't participating, then there'd need to be some kind of epic reality-warping plot twist because those are established facts. The show can't be getting his characterization wrong when they're still in the process of introducing it. That's logically impossible.

    You are looking at only the most basic level of his characterization and saying that the show is wrong for not portraying him right. Frankly, that whole way of thinking is insane.

  13. A

    @Anon 11:40 You expressed it poorly yes, which led to misunderstandings on my part. My apologies.

  14. A

    "I just really can't see how Aki and Kai could ever really be together in the same club. Their personalities don't really mesh well together; you'd think Kai would be like Oreki in Hyouka and try to get away whenever possible."

    Prob just your typical childhood friends thing and he got roped into her antics.

  15. A

    Mmm product placement, if only we had vending machines with some nice refreshing Skal 🙂

  16. S

    It looks like it should be fun. Though the only thing I truly require, since they've already set it out there, is that they get to the show in Tokyo and Okarin is doing something nutty in the background. That'll make it all worth it. 🙂

    But I did like ep 1. These Science;Adventure ones always have a slow start, and Steins;Gate actually went through several major changes during the course of it. So, I'm sort of expecting all hell to break loose at some point.

  17. l

    No love for Jojo, Enzo? :E

  18. A

    Not enough "emotional depth".

  19. L

    I liked Jojo (the first ep, at least), but kinda got the same vibes like in those 80's shredder guitarists albums. Enjoyable, but you'd probably never admit to watching it.

  20. Not enough time, smart-ass.

  21. l

    Jojo is the underrated gem this season, not Shin Sekai Yori(not because it sucks, but it's actually popular so its not underrated =p).

    You hyped this enough Enzo now ppl are all over it xD

  22. A

    I'd hardly call SSY underrated. Not mainstream, but certainly not underrated.

  23. Yes Leo, I take all the credit for SSY's popularity. You're welcome!

  24. L

    I lol'ed at the MAL synopsis for Robotics;Notes.
    "The near future, where a device popularly called the PokeCom, packaged with PhoneDroid OS, spreads, bringing the Augmented Reality world close to existence."

    LOL @ PokeCom and PhoneDroid …. I bet there'll be an evil Ringo Corp or HyperSoft later on.

  25. M

    Well you make it sounds not too bad Enzo, I hesitated to watch this because I heard the characters were unlikable which was the cause of why R;N sales flopped in Japan. But I guess it's depends on own's taste, and maybe Production I.G. can make the robot fights exciting to make it watch.

  26. H

    "which mysteriously never aired its final episode (perhaps it was animated by SHAFT, and they’re a little behind)" *snort* I'm sure that this is gonna be a plot point later on but until then this is my new headcanon. xD

  27. T

    "…though she keeps speaking reverently of a “He” who said many GAR things at some point in the past."

    https://notredreviews.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/roboticsnotes-01-notes-and-the-like/

    Those are all Gundam references, though I only got the "mistakes of youth" one. (From what I've heard, though, I suspect that Char is indeed quite GAR.)

    (On a totally unrelated side-note, your About Me still says that you live in Northern California, but wish you lived in Japan. No longer correct, eh? Congratulations!)

  28. Heh, arigato gozimasu!

  29. d

    Does anybody know what that divergence number means? what timeline are they in?

  30. A

    The same one Steins; ended with naturally..

  31. E

    The Chaos;Head reference at the end was strange. The Ominous Timing and choice of "Whose Eyes Are Those Eyes?" suggest it's a lot more than a cute little nod, especially considering the importance of the phrase in the origin work, but Chaos;Head's plot can't exactly guest-star without taking over things. Giant robots are kind of pedestrian compared to the abilities of Chaos;Head characters…

  32. B

    I dunno about this one. Maybe it's because I haven't seen Chaos;Head or Steins;Gate, but this premier really didn't do anything for me. It wasn't bad, but it didn't really grab me in any way either. I'll stick with it for now but hopefully they'll start developing a plot sooner rather than later or else I'm not sure how long it'll hold my interest.

  33. G

    This episode sort of reminded me of Hyouka in its laidback ways. I guess that's a good thing since I love Hyouka with a passion. I'm not expecting Robotics;Notes to reach the creative height of S;G, but I hope the team behind it doesn't buckle under pressure and gets too tired up in trying to reproduce the success of S;G. Other than that, I think it has potential to be very good.

  34. That's a nice comparison, GS. Probably aiming a little high, but I can see it.

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