See: “Yashio, Kaitou”
Honestly, my feeling at the moment is that if someone isn’t satisfied with this episode of Robotics;Notes, they’re probably hopelessly beyond the series’ reach at this point. While there were over-reaches (Sister Centipede’s “death” as a snowburst for one) in the first act I can only call this episode a masterpiece – especially the second half, which felt like a payoff for all the heavy lifting the series has been doing for so long. You can only get that kind of emotional traction when you’ve done the hard work in building characters that viewers can identify with and care about, and R;N has been slowly, patiently and skillfully doing that for the last six months.
In a funny sort of way, R;N feels like the answer to the question “What would it be like if Adachi Mitsuru wrote a giant mecha anime?” If you’re the sort of person who gets a little thrill out of that prospect, this series was probably right up your alley. If you’re the sort that’s either bored or horrified at the idea, well – I suspect you probably aren’t reading this because you likely tuned out many weeks ago. I’ve commented already on how Kaitou plays very much like an Adachi male lead: self-effacing, seemingly a little shiftless, insanely talented but not motivated to go out of his way to call attention to the fact. And most importantly, always at his best when the stakes are at their highest, and always there when his friends really need him.
It goes beyond that, though. What might Adachi-sensei do? He’d probably set the series in a high school. He’d make the male and female lead childhood friends with a warm but complicated relationship, and he’d give them some tragedy in their past and serious sibling issues. He’d tell the story in a very deliberate fashion, and though the plot would focus on the giant robots and some sort of larger world crisis, the real focus would be on the characters, who would be complex and instantly relatable. He’d make the adults a mix of villains and goofy but ultimately caring figures who try to do their best and sometimes screw up. In short, I think he’d write something a lot like Robotics;Notes.
There were a lot of really, really good things in this episode but make no mistake – the star of the show was Kai. There were no half-measures here – he was a badass hero, plain and simple, the guy who did pretty much everything right. From the moment he dragged himself from his sickbed and limped into the command center with his coat over his shoulder, it was clear that R;N was going all-in with the GAR this time around. Subtle it was not, but if you didn’t get a charge out of every minute from that point on you’re probably a lost cause for this series (and I admit it’s not for everybody, having left cynicism broken by the curb a long time ago). Determined to take to the battlefield in the new and improved Super GunPro-1 and take on Misa and Sumeragi, using Kimijima’s seizure-inducing device (found thanks to Airi) – despite the fact that doing so might just kill him. The stakes? The life and death of 5 billion people, that’s all. As setups go, heroes don’t get much better than that.
Then Kai goes and compounds the matter with one of the most direct, GAR and no-BS confessions you’ll ever see. It suits him to a “T” of course – Kaitou has all along been free of the usual silliness associated with anime male leads, especially when it comes to females. “Hey – I love you, you know.” It was pure gold – and that’s coming from someone who frankly thought Kona-chan much the better match. The thing is, better match or no, R;N has been setting up the connection between Kai and Aki for so long that it was probably the only way things could have gone. There’s a real tenderness and honesty to their relationship, and I found her reaction solidly in character – especially when she made it clear she’s fully aware of just how much he’s been doing for her all these years. I loved the reveal that the rest of the club had been watching them, and Kona and Subaru’s reactions were spot-on, too, especially when she decried them as “Normalfags!” for their storybook romantic moment.
How rare is it that we get not just the confession – and a genuine and unambiguous “I love you” at that – but a damn fine kiss to boot? I’m a bit disturbed that Aki didn’t return the words to Kai – not that it isn’t obvious – but then, it’s not as though he hasn’t already set a dizzying number of death flags as is. I have to applaud the R;N team (on top of everything else) for knowing the perfect moment to have Aki worry aloud about “Will this set the death flag?” just as I was cursing Kai for setting so damn many of them. I sincerely, fervently hope that bit of self-referential humor is a sign that the series is taking the meta approach to this – to be honest, having Kai die at the end would really, really suck. Seriously, Adachi would never go there. If any cast of characters has earned their happy ending it’s this one, in series that’s been unabashedly innocent and sentimental right from the beginning. I can only say again that Steins;Gate was not so dissimilar to Robotics;Notes as some would have you believe – there was a certain innocence and undeniable romanticism to those character interactions as well. But there’s no denying that this is a very different sort of story – a sweeter and gentler one, for all its conspiracies and tragedies.
I was very worried after last week that R;N would be unable to provide a satisfying conclusion if it was based around the final confrontation with Misaki/Kimijima, rather than on a character-driven coda that followed it – but this episode has convinced me otherwise. We’re set up for what should be a thrilling and nerve-wracking finale, and I’m emotionally bought-in so heavily that I’m going to be on edge right up to the end. This is why, in the end, I tend to prefer series that focus on character too heavily at the expense of plot rather than the reverse: those kinds of shows can always crank up the action at the end and if you care about the characters, the impact is profound. It’s impossible for a plot-driven series with 2-D characters to deliver that same impact, because you can’t crank up character development this late in the game and overcome a series worth of deficit. Robotics;Notes is most certainly not without its flaws, but it’s very, very good at what it does well – and it does the right things well.