I have no doubt R;N is going to get a lot more serious and dark given who created it – the hints are certainly there already – but I, for one, hope it doesn’t go too far in that direction. There’s a relaxed quality to the series that’s a lot harder to achieve than it might seem, and it makes even an episode such as this one where an awful lot happened feel measured and manageable. Even more, there’s a real innocence to the show – the two leads feel convincingly like real teenagers and not mini-adults, and there’s a sweetness to the tone that makes it feel like an old-fashioned adventure yarn.
Clearly Robo One was never meant to be more than a preamble to the main story, but I confess I was surprised to see R;N power through it as quickly as it did. There was an awful lot I liked to the way the contest played out and not much that I didn’t, and that starts with the fact that the innocent tone carried over to the tournament itself. The ring announcer was a goofball, the first opponent a classic arrogant grown-up and the fights themselves were quite low-tech and straight out of a Saturday-morning cartoon. Even when things got loud and boisterous they didn’t go over the top, because this isn’t that sort of a show.
Another strong element of this turn of events was that it gave Kaito a chance to be seen in a better light. His flatline demeanor proved to be most useful in the ring, where he didn’t let the taunts of his opponent get to him and kept a cool head despite Akiho and even Mitchie making a racket in the background. It wasn’t too surprising that he proved adept at controlling Tanegashi Machine-san through his game controller, but he also immediately spotted the ruse when the truly fabulous Mister Pleiades proved to be none-other than classmate Hidaka Subaru, the stuck-up robot expert. Kaito has a quiet determination to him that was hinted at in the first two episodes but which circumstances allowed to shine more brightly in this one.
In terms of the main storyline the hints were flying fast and furious, without a doubt. It’s become obvious that Kaito-kun is suffering some variant of the “Elephant and Mouse Syndrome” which affects Akiho – he shows signs of it as soon as the gang arrives in Tokyo – and seems to need to suck on “space candy” to stay awake at one point. When a true attack hits during the finals against Mr. Pleaides, it seems to be the opposite of the scenario with Akiho – time slows down for Kaito, with the side-effect of making Subaru’s moves easy to read. The attack also carries with a flashback of Kaito and Akiho passed out on what looks like a ship, on which I can only assume an incident occurred with is the cause of their respective conditions. There’s also the matter of what I at first though was an Aurora Borealis, though that made little sense given that this is set in the South of Japan – the way Kaito alludes to the effect in Tokyo gives the impression that it’s either a recent development, or something that not everyone can see.
There’s plenty of story unfolding here not even including the main pair (or should I say trio). We have Misaki, working in Tokyo for a slimy suit who seems very interested in Kaito and the school club. And Frau Kojiro (Nazuka Kaori) shows up in town, revealed to be a girl who’s also very interested in Kaito. With the Robotics Club saved not by Tanegashi-san’s win (it lost on a technicality) but blackmailing Subaru-kun, the story now turns to the giant robot in the airplane hanger and that takes us to JAXA, where Akiho has decided to go for help. And JAXA, no doubt, takes us closer to the core mythology and the crossover with Steins;Gate. That should perk up the interest level, but for me, I’m already quite pleased with where the show is – these first three episodes have succeeded by being confident in the story they were telling, and not trying too hard. It sounds easy but if it were easy, every show would do it.