I’m not going to bemoan the commercial failure of Robotics;Notes anymore, I promise (the first volume did about as poorly as expected) but I am going to keep singing the praises of the show when it delivers the goods. I’m continually impressed by the series’ stubborn refusal to pander or take creative shortcuts – it continues to be a story that’s built around the characters, and not the other way around. Not only is the transition to anime surprisingly seamless, but clearly the writing reflects a profound understanding of who those characters are. There are two main reasons, I think, why characters behave in ways that don’t make sense; either it’s lazy writing and they do what they do because it’s necessary for the plot, or they were so underwritten that they never developed enough to have a real personality in the first place. Needless to say, those traps aren’t an issue with R;N.
Building an episode around Airi was certainly an interesting choice at this juncture, and seemingly an odd one at first glance. But Airi’s place in the plot turned out to be quite different from what I’d imagined. Of equal importance is the fact that the episode told her story in an engaging and involving way – as with the episode about Jun and Doc it was sentimental without being cloying, and I think this was actually a subtler and even more emotionally satisfying mini-arc. And yes, it did have a bit of a “route” feel to it despite the unusual circumstances – and those who’d hoped for immediate repercussions from the memorable ending of last week’s episode didn’t get them. Kona is certainly re-engaged with the world in a way she wasn’t before those events, but whether her forwardness with Kai amounts to a real progression in their relationship or simply a route in itself remains to be seen. Keen ears will have noted, however, that Kai did answer “I wonder” when Airi asked if he was in love with anyone.
In addition – really, in conjunction – to Airi moving into center stage was the series’ first look at Kimijina Kou. He’s been a factor, certainly, but this time we have a face to put with the voice – and the most extended use of that voice so far, which is a plus as it’s provided by the excellent veteran Morikawa Toshiyuki. It’s a bit of a race against the clock for Kai, as there’s a major maintenance job scheduled for Iru-O on Christmas Eve – which is obviously pretty suspicious given the events of the last few episodes – and that means any and all data stored on the system (including Airi) could be erased. Kona accuses Kai of being unconcerned about the sentimental side of that, though his seeming nonchalance is obvious his usual front – but the matter of the Kimijima Reports is obviously of great practical importance. The sixth is triggered by successfully surfing for at least three seconds (a lot harder than it sounds), but it reveals the usual Kimijima doomsday warnings about the Committee of 300 and their “silent weaponry” war of propaganda. As for the 7th – and final – report – it appears that the only flags are successfully accessing the first six. However, Airi doesn’t know where Report #7 is.
We’ve certainly seen stories about AI with human feelings before, but I thought this was an unusual and appealing take on the formula. Airi’s behavior in the episode suggests that she expects to disappear when the system goes down, and she pleads with Kai to “take her home” – in this case, to the abandoned house where Kimijima lived and worked. There are a number of surprises waiting for him there, but most dramatically the one that awaits him in the cellar laboratory – a cryogenic system with a girl inside it. I’m not sure exactly what this story says about Kimijima – certainly, that he was a sentimental guy himself, judging by the way he bonded with the sick girl who was apparently no relation to him. But it also suggests the possibility that he might have been something of a crackpot, given that we have no knowledge suggesting that cryogenics has advanced to the point where what he was trying to do for the human Airi was even feasible. In any event it explains a lot about Airi’s behavior, including her fascination with snow – especially on Christmas Eve.
Kona’s Christmas present to Airi was definitely on the sentimental side of the ledger, but I loved the way it played out – with the image in her virtual world so different from what Kai was seeing, and the way she extracted a promised kiss from him (given his blush, it’s possible he might have been unconscious when Kona tagged him one last week). I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Kai was unable to access Sister Centipede in the days prior to Christmas Eve, and that only Sister Centipede remained (judging by this Mona Lisa smile, maybe not quite only) after – though the exact significance is still elusive. It’s also interesting to speculate on just what happened to the real Airi after Kai panicked and called the police – was she even alive inside that cryogenic chamber? If so presumably the authorities will have defrosted her ASAP – which puts rather a sad bow on Airi and Kimijima Kou’s story, if you ask me. And will human Airi continue to impact the story? It’s yet another link between Kai and Kimijima, too, which is all the more reason to believe the net will be closing ever tighter around him (who was that spying on the house from behind the bushes?) as the Committee of 300 crack down on anything and anyone that might derail their plans.