Wait a minute, let me check something…
Well, here’s the thing. Last week was definitely the first time that Robotics;Notes has generated more discussion than its flashier stablemate, Psycho-Pass (both here and elsewhere). That it did so with an episode that generated a lot of violently divergent opinions is almost beside the point – as noted in the comments to the Episode 16 post, all that debate pretty much means the episode was a success. I certainly fall on the side that consider the episode a classic, but I made my case in that post and there’s no need to re-hash it. What matters is that people are talking about R;N at last, though I doubt it’s in time to generate many BD/DVD sales.
In a way, R;N operates with the simplest formula of any of the top anime currently airing, which is ironic given that it’s rooted in the same Byzantine international conspiracy as Steins;Gate. The entire show is basically constructed around believable character interactions which drive the plot – and this week represented very much a restatement of the core purpose. Robotics;Notes started out establishing Kai and Aki and the ties that bind them, and after the most turbulent and disturbing events in the series it returns to that essential component, just as Kaitou and Akihisa do when things are going to pieces all around them. It could hardly be any simpler, but that’s why it works.
Let there be no doubt that things are definitely going to pieces: the episode opens with a very dark (literally and figuratively) stretch. Just as the events with Mizuka made me forget about Subaru at the end of episode 16, I didn’t even remember him while the first portion of this ep played out. Mizuka has indeed died (there didn’t seem much doubt) and this has understandably cast a pall over everything and everyone in the cast. We’re quickly reminded about the Gunpro accident (for now I’ll use that term) when the Principal announces that the Robotics Club is to be disbanded because of it. Subaru is seriously injured but alive, though “he may never be the same” according to Kai; his father is furious, and JAXA’s higher-ups aren’t too pleased either. Jun blames herself for what happened (lending some credence to the notion that the accident was operator error – caused by her distraction when Kona went tumbling in the wind – rather than the wind itself) and Kai inadvertently makes her feel worse. In short, life sucks and everyone is miserable (and then there’s that apocalypse thing).
Kai is still wrestling with what to do about the 7th Kimijima Report when he gets a surprise visitor at its location: Sawada Toshiyuki (Miki Shinichiro as usual stealing every scene he’s in). There’s not much to be learned from his line of questioning – he seems intent on making Kai admit that he knows about Kimijima, though of course Sawada knows full well that Kai does indeed know. And the surprise call from Misa immediately afterwards is similarly vague. She warns him to “protect” the Kimijima Reports and not let anyone else know about them. I can’t think the timing of these two interventions is coincidental, though the puzzle is what to make of it – is Misa secretly working in opposition to her boss, or did they stage the event for Kai’s benefit – and if so, to what purpose?
As to the matter of the club, it’s here that we see the tone of the episode change. Akihisa’s earlier meek acceptance was either a front or a reaction to tragedies that had just occurred – in reality, she’s her usual pugnacious self, and intends to continue the Gunrpo project on her own (it might be argued that the dream she had about Misa prompted her, but I think she’d already decided). The reality, of course, is that in Aki’s mind “on her own” means with Kai’s help, and the scene between them at the hangar is the strongest of the episode. Kai definitely pushes her buttons on purpose in his initial refusal and declared intent to have Gunpro disassembled immediately – in my view both to test her mettle and make sure she’s serious, and to convert her lingering self-pity into anger. He then falls back on the earliest patterns of the series, saying he’ll only help if Aki can defeat him in a game of Kill Ballad – a game he promptly lets her win. We’re back where we started, with Aki and Kai alone against the world – except that Doc decides to disregard instructions to disassemble Gunpro 1 and 2 and instead continue the project at his workshop. This is fascinating given the eerie parallel between Subaru’s accident and Jun’s, and serves to prove the cathartic events of a few week’s back have healed his heart (I don’t think there can be any doubt that Doc’s involvement is going to bring Jun back into the picture). We also get a surprise savior in Mitchie, for whom the death of Mizuka has prompted a kind of reawakened conscience and awareness of his failings as a mentor.
It’s this sort of quiet resolve and refusal to turn his back on a friend that sets Kai apart from most main characters, and it also drives him to open the last Kimijima Report. Interestingly, this turns out to be an executable rather than a text document – it promptly disseminates all the reports to the entire world (just moments after Misa – if it was really her – told him to guard their secret). This is obviously a huge game-changer but leaves us with some likewise huge questions. I’m still not sure, frankly, where Sawada, Misa and even Nae stand – Sawada’s behavior is very odd if he’s nothing more than a zealous Committee of 300 agent trying to protect a secret. I don’t believe we’ve ever been officially told who the fourth person in those old Robotics Clubs pictures is – I’ve guessed it was Kimijima but it doesn’t look much like him, and that’s surely a critical factor. In any event if it wasn’t already Kai’s cover is completely blown, and he seems to be in a wildly precarious position. And how will the world react to Kimijima’s allegations – will they be universally dismissed as the ramblings of a crackpot, or will they prompt someone to serious consider the science of which he speaks?