I’ll resist the urge to say “I told you do”, because we’re probably too late in the game for any large number of viewers to be won over by R;N (or to admit to it, anyway, with so much derision already invested in bashing the series). I’m personally of the view that this was a very strong series right from the beginning – one that patiently built the story from the ground up, through the characters – but there’s no denying that the crowd-pleasing factor has been cranked way up in the last couple of episodes. The conspiracy has begun to round into shape, and the dynamics among the main cast have never been more interesting.
Much of the exposition we get this week comes from Misaki’s boss – who I only now realize I’ve neglected to mention is named Sawada Toshiyuki and is played by the legendary (and deservedly so) Shinichiro Miki. I’m not a fan of exposition that comes by way of characters making extraneous speeches for the audience’s benefit – please see Shin Sekai Yori for an example of the way to do exposition without short-cuts – but that aside, he has some very interesting things to say as Tokyo simmers in darkness and the robots rise up to terrorize the populace. We get by far our most descriptive mention of Project Mars – “the plan to throw the world into chaos with a robot uprising”, which is “only a precursor to a larger plan”. Does that fit with my theory as espoused in last week’s episode post, that the larger goal is to wipe out life on Earth and set up shop anew on Mars, warmed by a newly hyperactive sun? I don’t think there’s anything conclusive either way – my first question is, why is this plan called “Project Mars” in the first place – what’s the Mars connection? But it’s clear from Sawada’s words that Project Mars (and presumably Atom) have been in the works for a long time, and that he believes it, the death of Kimijima in 2010 and the release of the propagandized “Gunvarrel” final episode are directly linked. Speaking of that final episode, Sawada also reveals that the entire crew of Gunvarrel was brainwashed, except for Kona’s mother (Maeda Ai), who somehow broke free of it – and this is a tactic that was apparently used on Maguyan (always great to see a star of the last generation like Ueda Yuji get a nice gig), the member of the Kill Ballad development team that was used to hack Frau Bow’s accounts and set her up as the scapegoat for the robot rebellion.
The great thing about Robotics;Notes is that the world-changing events are seen mostly through the effect they have on the daily lives of the kids at the heart of the story. That makes this a series that plays very much on a human scale despite its grand conspiracies, which drives some people crazy but is a selling point for me. Kai has been at the heart of the series pretty much non-stop since the beginning and has established himself as one of the best MCs anime has seen for a while, but the show has really benefited from Kona’s move into the spotlight. She’s been the funniest member of the cast since she joined it (arguably getting a tussle from Mister Pleiades, who makes a winning return this week), but we’re seeing the other side to her now, and it’s completely believable and involving, especially the story behind why she developed Kill Ballad and what “Gunvarrel” means to her. And while our attention was directed elsewhere, Kai and Kona were developing into one of the more intriguing potential couples of the year.
The transition to anime has been pretty seamless, and it’s easy to forget that this is a show based on a traditional VN experience – even easier than it was with Steins;Gate, I’d argue. I can’t help but wonder where the personal side of the story is headed, based on that. I like Aki-chan just fine and I think the deeply caring relationship she and Kai share is beautifully presented, but there’s just no denying it: it’s with Frau Bow that Kai has the romantic chemistry. And it’s really blossomed in the last few eps as she’s faced her existential crisis and he’s become her knight in shining armor. Kai has filled that role for Aki since they were chibis, or course, but Aki projects a resolve and optimism (though it’s no doubt partly a cover) that Kona-chan lacks. Kona has her own cover, of course – she hides her attraction to Kai behind a stream of 2ch verbiage and otaku innuendo – but it’s been obvious practically since they met.
Kai is a tough one to read in this case. He certainly put himself through the grinder for Kona this week. Not only did he break into her apartment and stop her from killing herself – though it can be debated if that’s what she really wanted, as she didn’t use the blade on herself and the danger came from sheer exhaustion and a tub full of water – he tortured himself physically so that he might slip into his “slow motion” mode and defeat the CPU playing Kill Ballad, thus allowing Kona to access the Roboratory (heh) Industries robot control server. But the thing about Kai is, he pretty much does this every week – he doesn’t usually do it in such a flashy manner and the need isn’t normally so dire, but he’s invariably the one who takes it upon himself to help whichever of his friends is in trouble. Was his answer the truth – that he was doing it for the right of the act himself, and would have done all he did whether Kona needed him or not? Even if that were the case, that doesn’t preclude Kai having feelings for Kona – and that’s where I fall on the matter. Kai would have put himself through that anyway given the stakes involved, but it seems clear to me that he feels something more for Kona than simple friendship.
It’s unusual to see a sci-fi story that can develop equally compelling overarching plots and personal stories simultaneously – maybe Steins;Gate was the last one, who knows – and it’ll be fascinating to see where both paths lead from here. I sincerely hope VN mode doesn’t kick it, and this is merely Kona’s route before we move on to Aki – and it does seem worth remembering that while it was Mayuri that Okabe had the deep childhood friendship with, it was Makise that he ended up with (and rightfully so, I’d argue). One of the things I loved about S;G was the way it handled that potentially clichéd triangle without resorting to cliché, and that gives me great hope here – though Aki’s hilarious reaction when Kona grabbed Kai’s arm makes it clear that she’s not OK with the notion that he ends up with another girl. But her kiss after his heroic collapse makes it equally clear that Kona has made a decision not to accept the “forever alone” end. All this is taking place as the net closes around the innocent world of the Robotics Club, with Kona’s unwilling involvement in the Tokyo events making it impossible to believe that she and Kai can escape the notice of the Committee of 300. I hope enough of you have stuck around, because I very much believe the best is yet to come.