Shows that don’t try too hard often give an initial impression that they don’t care that much, but the two qualities are very, very different. There’s a relaxed quality to R;N that I find very appealing, because it lends a quite natural air to the goings on and the character interactions. The series seems very confident in the story its trying to tell, and isn’t worried either about explaining everything right away or crowding the story with artificially manufactured “events” to make the early episodes more, well – eventful. Everything is happening at the speed of life, and that seems fitting for a series where one of the major plot points concerns the speed at which we perceive life passing by.
“Natural” is also the word I’d use to describe the relationship between Kai and Ahiko, and I’m especially finding Kai more appealing as a main character as the eps progress. He’s not an idiot, but quite capable – and he doesn’t make a fool of himself for no good reason for comic effect. His breezy demeanor suits the material because like the series itself he’s not rushing things, but you get the idea there’s something deeper happening too. There’s a strong sense that he and Aki care about each other in a way that goes beyond mere longevity of acquaintance, but it isn’t caught up the cliché of traditional teen romance. And while they jab at each-other, it’s built on familiarity and a comfort with each other, and their relationship seems very evenly balanced. Other shows that try much harder to create chemistry between the leads could take some lessons from this one.
There are two major development as I see it in this episode, and somewhat surprisingly neither involves Aki and Kai’s trip to JAXA. That’s over in a flash – turns out her Dad (Koyama Takehiro)is President of the branch, and while he’s patient and indulgent with Akiho (Mom is quite the opposite) it’s clear he’s humoring her when it comes to requests for sponsorship. There’s also no Steins;Gate connection hinted at in the JAXA visit, which will doubtless disappoint some. With that source of potential income cut off and the runner-up prize from Robo One not slated to support the club until after Aki and Kai graduate, she’s desperate enough to try and solicit sponsorship from Mitchie’s Uncle, who as it happens is President of the company that makes Kai’s “Space Candy” – and more than a bit of a sleazeball. One of the strengths of S;G was the wealth of entertainingly eccentric side characters, and we’re starting to see that develop here.
The first big event is the formal introduction of Frau Kojiro, who remarkably enough is even weirder than the impression she gave last week. She’s bought a warehouse to move into, makes vague allusions to her Mother being involved in something strange and appears to be something of a cross between a hikikomori and Daru from S;G. Nazuka Kaori (Eureka) is delivering an odd and risky performance here, speaking in halting, mumbled netspeak, but I found myself laughing nonstop at the very strange conversation she had with Kai in her new bunker. She talks of her 1 TB of BL, and tells him to “Make a thread about it” and that it’s “time to fap”. She’s an odd duck for sure, this one, and I don’t know how well the character will hold up – but for now, I’m on-board.
The second headline for me is that Pleiades AKA Subaru decides to actually participate in life. We get just a glimpse of his family life – a hothead father who clearly disapproves of anything connected to robotics and has extracted a promise from his son that he’s not involved with them (thus the creation of the alter ego). Subaru has taken quite an interest in Kai, especially given the superhuman reactions times his “Elephant & Mouse” condition allowed him to use at the tournament, and tries to recruit he reluctant (surprise, surprise) sempai to join him at the World Robo One competition in Vegas. This (and a sneaky bet by Subaru) nudges Kai into revealing a bit more to us about his condition, which resulted (along with Aki’s) from a mass-fainting incident (reminiscent of Murakami Haruki’s brilliant “Kafka on the Shore”) that occurred four months after a rocket launch (I’m impressed that Production I.G. got a real kid to play the young Kai) that the pair witnessed along with Misaki.
That launch, it would seem, is the key to the conspiracy at the heart of this series – and the fact that it occurred on 9/11/10 probably isn’t a coincidence. There’s also an odd incident with Kai’s Kill Ballad console, which emits a dialup ringtone and shows him an image of a girl, followed by a girl’s voice being emitted from it – the implication being that she’s trapped inside. It’s an interesting plot and figures to get more so, and it’s worth remembering that S;G too was more focused on the characters for the first block of episodes, with the conspiracy only co-headlining later on. R;N isn’t as flashy as that show and neither are the characters, but the overall template – and this should surprise no one – is more similar than you might think at first glance. This is the sort of show that tends to get better and better in a slow build, and given how much I like it already that gives me enormous hope for the future.