OP2: “Houkyou no Messiah (咆筺のメシア)” by HARUKI
I pretty much love Robotics;Notes, and I’m pretty much resigned to episodes like this one failing to impress legions of fans. Like Psycho-Pass, R;N set up what looked like a serious kick into overdrive – all the more pronounced as this show has been the more willing to proceed in unraveling its main narrative patiently – and like P-P, it went in an entirely unexpected direction this week by focusing on a relatively undeveloped side character. Especially given the spoiler-heavy preview of the second cour that seemed to suggest massive amounts of fertilizer hitting the fan, such a move caught me off guard – but for me, this was the more emotionally successful of the two NoitaminA episodes this week.
What’s become indisputably clear to me is that Robotics;Notes is an unapologetically sentimental and even sweet show. That seems pretty obvious to me, but less obvious though no less true is the fact that Steins;Gate was similarly sentimental and sweet. Because that show relied on machine-gun dialogue and otaku humor it was considerably tougher to notice sometimes, but if you step back and look at the character web of S;G it’s sentiment that’s at the heart of that story every bit as much as it is here. With R;N we have a younger and more innocent cast in a small-town environment, so the sentiment is worn much much more on the sleeve. As I’ve said before, I think these two 5pb works are much more alike than it would superficially appear.
At the heart of all this is Kaitou, who more and more reminds of an Adachi male lead. He has a quiet and self-effacing manner but there’s an essential decency to him, and his pattern of “reluctantly” helping others around him is no coincidence. That makes him the perfect reluctant hero who’s called on to save the planet – as I’m certain he will be soon enough. But for now his main role has been to quietly support his friends (especially Aki, obviously) and this week it was Jun’s turn. Initially Kaitou is focused on triggering the flags for Kimijima Report #4, but one of those flags is to activate one of the robots “sleeping” in Doc’s robot clinic. That brings his orbit in alignment with Jun’s, because it’s at this moment that she gets the news that her grandfather is in the hospital.
There’s no denying there was a cheesy element to Doc and Jun’s story, but what can I say, I pretty much bought it. R;N is a love story between humans and robots as much as anything, and there was a fair amount of pathos to Doc killing his “robot friends” after one of them (Yashiro) accidentally falls on the 6-year old Jun and injures her seriously. It explains her fear of robots of course, and Doc’s somewhat fatalistic view on the world. The sad thing is I suspect Jun always believed Doc was yelling “How could you do this?!” at her after the accident, when of course he was actually yelling at Yashiro – who he viewed in anthropomorphized terms, like all his robots. Each of them blamed themselves for what happened and thought the other party blamed them too – though I do wonder why Jun’s parents never stepped in and cleared up the misunderstanding between them. Perhaps they did blame the old man (who really aged well, considering he looked just as ancient 10 years earlier) and were happier if their daughter had nothing to do with him.
Of course Kaitou’s own interests coincided with Jun and Doc’s here, but I’ve no doubt he would have stepped in and done his best to quietly bring them together anyway, once he knew the facts. While he acts as a sort of governor on Aki’s impulsiveness, channeling it in positive directions whenever he can, Kaitou tends to instinctively take the lead in crisis situations himself – though usually acting alone (this latter trait has already gotten him into trouble once). He’s only truly confided in Frau Bow so far, and she’s an unstable ally to say the least – though undeniably a useful one. His tendency to want to shield his friends from things that scare him is going to be a potential downfall as things get more and more dangerous in the second half of the series, I suspect.
Of course the fundamental question of whether an episode like this – placed where it was – is a good idea can’t be treated much differently here than with Psycho-Pass. Again, we really can’t say until we know what threads that start in this episode will be followed later on – certainly the triggering of the fourth Kimijima Report, and perhaps Doc’s robots as well might be important factors going forward. But once again we have an episode following a two-week break whose primary in-the-moment function is the development of perhaps the fifth (at-best) most important member of the cast. Is that a wise investment of time, especially with R;N, where many have already called for faster development of the apocalypse/conspiracy narrative? My first instinct is to say no, though I think the episode was very effective in its own terms. If nothing else it was successful at making Jun a more empathetic character going forward.
Lastly, new OP and ED here as well – it’s the latter than I find much more impacting, an excellent ballad performed by Itou Kanako.
ED2: “Topology” by Kanako Itou