When you consider how many times Robotics;Notes has actually raised the ante already, it’s clear this is a series that has the potential to go extremely dark (and I suspect it will). It’s because the show was so patient in establishing the characters and delivered so many peaceful moments that things like what happened this week really have impact. We’ve had substantial drama involving major characters three episodes in a row now, and quite a bit of sadness along the way. It really feels as if the narrative arc of R;N has been something of a stealth attack, setting the audience up for the sucker punches to come.
And boy, did we get a couple of them this week. At first it seemed as if we might have an episode centered on the GunPro-2 and the upcoming robot competition, a bit of a breather or calm before the storm (though it’s always been obvious that the club arc was going to intersect fully with the conspiracy arc sooner or later). The new GP2 is powered by magnetic monopoles – which have apparently been falling from the sky like rain – via a laser which coverts their energy into usable form and beams it to a satellite array on the robot’s back. The kids have been told by Nae (who I still don’t trust) that they have to vacate their hangar because JAXA has decided to launch another rocket from Kagoshima within five years (coincidence? I think not) and apparently offers them assistance in relocating the project their old abandoned hangar and runway.
As this is happening there are signs that the net is closing around Kai, and quickly too. Sawada Toshiyuki – who’s busily defending the erratic behavior of his company’s robots in front of the press, and soon will be doing so in court – has turned up a mention of Kimijima Kou on Twipo by Junna, which Kai told her to erase. He of course connects Kai to Misaki’s high school and her sister, and as much as accuses Misaki of covering up Kai’s involvement to protect him. She offers to “get rid of him” if necessary, and Sawada tells her “no need” – whatever that might mean. The behavior of both Misaki and Sawada is quite confusing – in her case, trying to figure out just why she’s doing what she’s doing. In his, I’m puzzled as to why he hasn’t acted against Kai and Kona more quickly, if they’re as big a threat to the conspiracy as they superficially seem to be.
That Misaki would be a critical factor in this episode was hinted out only briefly, in a short pre-open flashback sequence of Mizuka – fresh from her accident – receiving her cybernetic legs as a gift from Misaki. This was a cruel turn indeed, given what seems to happen later in the episode. Kai has finally located the 7th Kimijima Report at Cape Kadokura (where firearms first came into Japan in 1543, via a Portuguese trading ship). As the rest of the club is testing GunPro-2, Mizuka confronts Kou about his continued digging into the truth despite her stern warnings to stop (just how did she know where he was at that moment, I wonder?) as a strong wind begins to kick up to greater and greater ferocity…
It’s hard to know how much of what happens in the last third of the episode was engineered, and how much was coincidental. That’s especially true of what appears to be the big shock of the episode but turns out to be just the warmup. While the test appears to be a major success there’s something wrong with the GunPro-2’s movements – it’s the martial artist Jun who spots it – and Subaru runs alongside it to investigate. A huge gust of wind knocks the robot over, seemingly directly onto Subaru (there’s your cliffhanger, since we never see the result – I’m suspecting he’ll have dodged out of the way). I’m not ready to believe the Committee of 300’s reach is long enough to control the weather in a specific place on a specific day, but I’m also reluctant to take anything that happens in this series as pure coincidence – even something as seemingly minor as Mitchie being late to the test. It was Nae (who I don’t trust, by the way) who sent the club back to work out in the open rather than the controlled conditions inside JAXA, after all. Even if Subaru survives, it’s a sure bet that GunPro will have suffered some damage from a fall like that (incidentally, a much larger-scale version of what happened to Junna at Doc’s workshop 10 years earlier. Coincidence?).
There’s no ambiguity in the final scene – either as to the ending, or as to the cause. That in a few short minutes we could be made to completely forget about the shocking events with the robotics club is remarkable, and a testament to just how brilliantly executed and jarring that final scene is. With the ominous strains of “Kagome, Kagome” you knew something terrible was about to happen, and after its mysterious message – a dial-up ringtone – it most certainly did. Just as I was watching GunPro more and more nervously with every shot of the trees swaying in the wind, I was shouting “Go stop her!” at Kai when Mizuka started walking away from him. Those moments where he was frozen in shock were some of the longest in anime this year, but when he finally sprung into action he arrived in what seemed to have been plenty of time. And Kai proved himself strong enough to overpower Mizuka’s cybernetics when he wrestled her to the ground, but that was a false reprieve. As you would expect from someone with his determination and general empathy for others Kai never gave up in trying to stop Mizuka’s agonizing lurch towards that cliff, literally digging in his heels – it was only when she made the heartbreaking decision to save him by forcibly making him release her that his grip was broken.
There’s so much about that whole sequence that was stunning in its impact, not least of which was seeing the normally calm and impassive Kai completely broken down by what he witnesses. Everything about it – the BGM, the look on both characters’ faces, the sound of the impact – is flawlessly executed. In terms of its meaning for the story as a whole, well – it’s hard to escape the notion that Misaki’s “gift” was an insurance policy, a ticking time bomb that could be triggered if Mizuka (who obviously knew a lot about Kimijima) should prove too dangerous to be allowed to live. It’s hard to think that Misaki could be capable of such a thing, but whatever has happened to her there seems to be no remaining trace of the girl that Aki and Kai idolized and adored. It’s fascinating that Mizuka’s last request was that Kai thank Misaki for her gift – fascinating and very likely meaningful. I think the other big question is just how Kai can recover from this, not just the trauma of witnessing what he did but the fact that he’ll likely (unjustly) blame himself for what happened. He has the 7th report now, if he chooses to open it – but will this harden his resolve to dig to the truth no matter how deep he has to go, or convince him that only heartbreak is to be found on that path? Knowing Kai, he’ll swallow his despair and plow ahead – but the eyes of the people responsible for Mizuka’s death are surely watching him more closely than ever now.