Robotics;Notes – 22 (End) and Series Review

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Robotics;Notes closes with an ending that may not have been everything I wanted, but was everything I expected.  And that seems just about right.

It’s the first series review post of the season, and this is always a taxing week.  I don’t especially like series review posts, not just because they take a lot of work but because it’s never much fun saying goodbye to series and characters you really like.  And that certainly applies to Robotics;Notes in both cases, because this is a show where the characters basically are the series.  That in itself doesn’t make a series great, and R;N doesn’t quite rise to the standard of greatness.  But if you’re going to do one thing really well, characters are probably the best choice.

The jackals who have been baying about the weaknesses of this show since the first episode certainly aren’t going to be silenced by this finale.  In a generation of anime dominated by series that focus on short-attention spans and turgidly self-aware romantic comedy, this was never a series that was destined to win much popularity despite its connection to the very popular Steins;GateR;N doesn’t push the hot buttons the way S;G did, and generally doesn’t go out of its way to cater to the larger audience – as I said last week it’s a sort of Adachi Mitsuru take on the mecha genre, with a lot of earnestness and a very slow-build approach when it comes to plot.  The rewards of Robotics;Notes definitely become much more obvious with a little patience, but that’s never been a recipe for commercial success.

As so many series – especially two-cour series – do, R;N peaked one episode before the show concluded.  Last week’s episode was a tour de force, a combination of thrills and surprising developments and honest emotional payoff.  This one was much more routine, with nothing too surprising and very few chances taken.  If R;N didn’t telegraph the style of ending it would pursue by the way it conducted itself over the first 21 eps (I’d argue it actually did, and quite well) it certainly laid out the boundaries of what the ending would look like with last week’s episode.  That was the one where all the really important construction was done – this was really just the final coat of paint.

If I’m surprised at anything in this finale, I’d say it’s the fact that Misaki survived.  I know Kaitou set up a veritable United Nations of death flags last week, but I had the feeling after Aki made light of it that the series would probably choose to be content with tweaking that trope (though that didn’t stop me from sweating it out with Kai right to the end, when he lay down in that flatbed to stare up at the stars).    Misaki, on the other, seemed like a character who was a sort of “dead woman walking” for most of the series.  I think it would have been a more conventional route to have her pay a price for the sins she’d committed because normally in these sorts of stories, someone from the home team has to.  I was expecting a sort of Anikan Skywalker death/redemption scene, but it seems as if Misa-nee walks away physically if not mentally unscathed by everything that’s happened.

Love it or hate it, Robotics;Notes definitely delivered up an unabashed happy ending.  We did get the tragic death of Mizuka (for which I’d have expected Misaki to suffer a karmic price if nothing else), which in hindsight was certainly the series’ darkest and most emotionally powerful moment.  But after that, everything came up roses (unless you’re a hard-core Kona shipper) – Kimijima is erased, Airi is revived and freed from his control, the townsfolk put the torches and pitchforks away and celebrate the robotics club, and even “Gunvarrel” is rehabilitated in the public eye.  Maybe it’s because we see such a uniformly upbeat conclusion so rarely that it feels a bit funny to see this one play out, but in retrospect it seems very consistent with the overall tone of innocence and hope that defines the show.

While the ending is very much in character, the fact that it isn’t an especially challenging one can’t be denied.  And that’s most obvious when you look at the number of questions the finale didn’t really answer.  At the head of the list for me is why Kai seemed to suffer no ill effects from his Elephant and Mouse episodes, despite the stern warning that “he might die” which we heard last week.  I’m still completely in the dark about just where the hell those monopoles that rained from the sky came from, and why – maybe that’s a mystery 5pb wants to keep in-house and use later, I don’t know.  What about Airi – has a cure for her disease been found while she slept, or did she wake up only to face the same fate she did when Kimijima was with her?  I also can’t help but wonder whether Frau Bow’s mother is alive or not (her too, I imagine).

The image we’re left with is of three astronauts taking off from JAXA’s Kagoshima launch site, one of them (only one, in fact) wearing a “Gunvarrel” patch on their arm.  It’s pleasantly ambiguous – was that Aki?  Perhaps it was Aki, Kaitou and Misa-nee for all I know.  What we know for sure is that Kaitou deleted “Kill Ballad” from his PokeCon as soon as the final battle ended, symbolically leaving behind both his childhood and his obsession with Misa-nee and the incident which changed him forever.  On the personal side I’d say things are pretty unambiguous after the events of last week, and while I’ll still content the romantic spark was a lot stronger with Kona-kun, in the context of the story this was probably the only way things could really have ended up.

If in the final context Robotics;Notes is measured solely in terms of a comparison with S;G, it’s going to suffer an ignominious fate.  On the commercial side the difference is obvious.  On the artistic side it’s not as obvious as it seems, and while I’m not going to claim that R;N is the equal of S;G I will say it’s both closer in terms of quality and in matters of substance than you’d believe if you only listened to the naysayers.  I won’t belabor the point further because in doing so I’d be furthering the disservice to this series, which is really only connected to the world of S;G by a few relatively tenuous threads.  It deserves to be judged on its own merits because in no way is it a direct sequel to Steins;Gate, and the overlap in mythology is such that one could easily be excused for forgetting it existed for ling stretches of the series.  For some viewers that’s no doubt a criticism – for me it’s neither a positive or a negative in itself, merely a cautionary note about how we choose both to judge and to watch R;N.

As I’ve said many, many times over the course of 22 episodes the strength of Robotics;Notes is in the characters and the way they interact with each other.  Very few anime will take the time to develop characters as patiently and exhaustingly as this series does – maybe sometimes at the expense of developing the plot, but that mistake is better than the converse.  As was the case with S;G, the strength of the show is in the moments when the characters simply converse – rather than the snappy “old Hollywood” rhythms of Okarin and Makise, R;N offered a kind of naturalistic life-study.  It was refreshing to see an anime where every line of dialogue didn’t have to express a plot point or make a joke – sometimes characters said things just because that’s what that character would say in that situation.  As a result, the relationships felt very real and grounded, which is a good thing as there were definitely times where watching them play out was the primary action taking place.

At the head of the list of characters comes Kaitou, who will certainly be on the short list for best male leads of 2013.  He’s the first character since Cross Game’s Kitamura Kou (how can it be only now that I see the ironic similarity in that name to Kimijima Kou?) that actually reminded me of Kou.  I haven’t seen a non-Adachi teen male lead express such decency and unpretentious GAR in a very long time, and it was an incredibly refreshing change from a long list of faceless leads who fail to make much of an impression (clearly, this is one area where 5pb excels).  The supporting cast was excellent as well, with Kona making the strongest impression on me – she consistently delivered the funniest moments in the show thanks in large part to Nazuka Kaori’s weird, fearless comic performance.  As a female lead Aki was less of a standout that Kaitou, as she was asked to fill more of a conventional role in the story – yet she did fill that role quite well, thankless as it sometimes was.  And her payoff with Kaitou (in the penultimate episode) felt like a well-earned reward for the buildup in their relationship.

We’ve pretty much come to expect a high technical standard from Production I.G. (Psycho-Pass #18 notwithstanding) and they certainly delivered here.  As with the series itself the visuals aren’t flashy most of the time, but they’re rock solid and there are some really lovely visual moments over the course of the series.  Robotics;Notes was a marvel of consistency, with none of the usual peaks and valleys in animation and detail we’ve come to expect even in an I.G. series.  In the final analysis I think this was the better of the two shows they delivered for NoitaminA over these last two seasons (I haven’t yet watched the P-P finale but it won’t change my view on the two series as a whole) because it got the emotional side right, which is both the most difficult and most important task in any series.  Robotics;Notes has its flaws and I’m disappointed  – though not surprised – it didn’t fare better commercially, but for my money it’s one of the most emotionally complex and humanistic sci-fi anime in years.  Ultimately, for all its dark moments, this was a series that expressed a core of innocence and idealism, and those were very much the dominant themes in the finale.  They used to be a lot more common in anime as a rule, but the fact that they’re somewhat rare birds now just makes me appreciate the amount of heart Robotics;Notes displayed all that much more.

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ED3 Sequence:

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  1. B

    I remember Kai openly saying that he wanted to be an astronaut. So, I think that's him.

  2. B

    Also, I forgot. With Guardian Enzo talking about Cross Game and such, it made me smile when they showed Kai hitting with a baseball bat at the card slide at the end.

  3. l

    I agree. Kai is the astronaut. How many times did we flashback to the scene where Misa told him he needed to have the "right stuff" for his dream? Plus in the flatbed truck as they rode back to the hangar, Kai said that maybe it was time he went back to trying for his dream. Those are all clues that the astronaut was Kai.

  4. F

    All in all a very entertaining series with very likable characters. My only complain would be the lack of an epilogue but its understandable due to the length of the series. Btw, aki was standing on gunvarrel in the last scene.

  5. I didn't catch that, but are you sure it isn't Misa?

  6. B

    I think it's Aki. After checking it, the hair colour has more closer to that of Aki's. Misa's has more darker tone.

  7. C

    "But after that, everything came up roses (unless you're a hard-core Kona shipper)"

    This makes me laugh. Last week's episode is not really all rosy for me since I am a Kona shipper, but I moved on. I think that the peeps from online forums felt letdown from the event on episode 21 that they ended up unable to appreciate the finale. Although I am a Kona shipper they should have reserved the Aki and Kai scene for the last episode.

  8. H

    I can't really hat R;N but the ending was really a downer, i had higher expectations of it, all i can say is that it lacked IMPACT .. compared to Psycho Pass and Zetsuen no Tempest (where everything comes together wonderfully) Robotics;Notes failed to do that.

    Examples, where did the Monopoles come from !!? (they are a blatant deus-ex-machina in every sense of the word .. god that comes down from the sky to solve everything, i thought they will be explained later .. but nothing at all), then there is the goal of Kou and what really motivate him .. we never got any reason for all the chaos he caused .. “I just want my plan to succeeded” doesn’t sound like a a good motive to kill 5 billion people.

    Also .. who are the committie of 300 .. were they a lie by Kou or were they the good guys (like the girl from JAXA and the guy who worked with Misa) !!? nothing explained again .. what about Kona’s mother, was she killed, how !!? .. who killed her ? .. is she still alive ? .. where is she if she is alive ? .. etc etc

    There are just so many of sub-plots and threads that are just left hanging in the air and never resolved or explained .. that damages the overall series value and enjoyment pretty badly (despite it having a lot of excellent moments and a great start)

  9. H

    From what I've heard, 300 was also behind the events in Steins;Gate so I think we can safely say that they are neither nice nor made up, in this universe anyway. My big unanswered question is what was up with that subplot involving the Kill-Ballad players being ungodly good and then found dead in their homes and had been dead for months? I can't recall that subplot having any closure, and can't even think what the point of it in the grand scheme of things was, this series certainly left a lot of things hanging.

  10. Z

    "Any logical inconsistencies and unresolved plot points can be excused so long as the emotional content quota is filled" is what I'm getting from this series.

  11. w

    Like many other commentators, I can't say I loved the ending, but looking back, I guess it was the only ending they could have done with the number of episodes they had left. Lots of unanswered questions–the one about Kona's mom is the biggest one I want answered (everything else is meh, I'll just accept that people did weird things in the name of science and that the monopoles were a freak phenomenon, haha). Do you think they will be making an OVA or an extra episode anytime in the future? I'd love to see a more extended epilogue (and I totally felt gipped with no Aki x Kai dedicated scene at the end! xD)

    Thank you for following and blogging this series, Enzo! 🙂

  12. S

    That ending was certainly a low point of the series for me, but there were some nice little touches that at least kept it from being a complete disappointment. Besides that, I did really like the series at least. It won't take a place as one of my favorites for sure, and I really wish they had answered more questions, but I enjoyed the ride and grew attached to the characters. In the end, I can be happy with that.

  13. i

    You might wanna fix the topic title. It's 22 eps, not 24.

  14. d

    Yes, final episode was uneven and not quite wrapped up, but the series as a whole had a great consistent tone — the ED was somehow wistfully looking back at that feeling of unlimited possibility, all that big blue sky overhead. If atmosphere/tone/mood aren't considered ancillary elements — sometimes they are/sometimes not — they're real drivers, the result is really quite a thing then.

  15. E

    Can't say much, since you have pointed out all the unanswered questions yourself. Only that, this ending really lacked IMPACT, contrary to what the old fart in white suit said. It has cool BGM, but I don't feel anything of it. It's too ridiculous. 5 billion lives are at stake, but other characters (who happened to know that) sat back on their couch and watch everything through TV. So what if Kimijima Kou is the administrator? Shut down the power to whole facility. Raid the the whole place as the giant robot took care of the spider robot. Unplug all the cables. Smash all the electronics. Can the bomb still be launched?

  16. B

    What your saying also lack impact you know.

    Kimmijima could still launch it. The rocket has fuel to launch, Kimmijima still exist in some way in the network. He still has control in that scenario.

  17. E

    At least they are frantic. At least they tried. <– if my suggestion is taken.
    Can you really sit back in some warehouse, and leave it to some classmates, when a bomb is a about to fry all of you, you, your dad, your mom, your brother, your sister, your friend, your pet…

  18. S

    I think that the Cross Game comparison only partially works because Adachi is also a master when it comes to the sports aspect of his series.
    R;N is like Cross Game if Adachi had glossed over every single baseball match…

  19. I actually consider the baseball to be generally the least interesting part of Adachi's baseball series (and I love baseball), but I'm certainly not claiming that R;N is the equal of Cross Game or Touch.

  20. B

    In the end the show was solid. Yes, I was an unabashed Kona shipper so it was disappointing to me in that sense, but at least the romantic subplot ending wasn't offensively bad (KoiChoco, I'm looking at you).

    That said, you're right that if it's compared directly to S;G, it's no contest. Especially in terms of the ending R;N leaves a lot to be desired. The fact that is was a happy ending all around jibes, that was the tone of the show and that's fine, I like happy endings so I have no problems here. But there are SO MANY unresolved subplots that it becomes really distracting. I can barely focus on enjoying the happy ending because all I can think of is what ever happened to the half dozen major subplots that seemingly just got dropped out of nowhere. Monopoles. Airi's disease. Kona's mom. The dead Kill Ballad players. The committee of 300. I understand that time is limited and if one or two of these things had been left unresolved I could accept it as the cost of doing an adaptation, but having so many of them unresolved smacks of poor planning. Write around them if you aren't going to have time for them. The overall impression I can't help but be left with is that they thought they'd have enough time for everything but realized partway through that they wouldn't and had to scramble to get to the end. You can't really fault them for it, a time limit is a time limit, but they could have planned it better to avoid a lot of this.

    Does it fair well against S;G? No. But it was still better than all of the moe high school shit we have to deal with these days so I'll give it credit for that, and it was a good show. I don't regret the hours spent watching it. But too much squandered potential keeps it from being great.

  21. R

    I didn't start off thinking of S;G from the beginning. It's not that I was any smarter, but very much to the contrary that I was slow to relate R;N to S;G even though I know that it's created by 5pb. I guess that might help me in appreciating this show more.

    While I do have questions about the plot, I very much enjoyed the relationships depicted amongst the cast — it's pretty pure and sincere. I like Kai a lot — he's the most quiet hero to me. Last episode and episode 16 were highlights of the show. Too bad that there were only 22 episodes. If it could have a couple more or 25 episodes, I think we would have more questions answered and more threads tied better together. I would also like to see more of Aki — it would be great to go beyond her smile and positive energy and delve deeper into her feelings behind chasing for her dream (catching up and connecting with her sister again).

    It's not the best amongst the carry-overs, but of the two NoitaminA shows, I prefer R;N way more than PP.

  22. K

    I really enjoyed this anime despite the few loop holes and unresolved questions. This anime had really well developed charatcers that made an emotional impact to the viewers.
    The plot movement was gradual but had a good pacing and foreshadowing
    Its rare to find anime like R;N with such depth and plot movement these days. Most anime are harem and have 0 plot line with nothing more but shallow charatcers and monotonous endings…

    Overall score for Robotics; Notes : 7/10
    Well it left an warm but satisfied impression on me

  23. B

    I would say they are going to create another series with Kai as the new lead. (He kinda was the main lead, and Fes as the supporting role where Asaki could be a brief character. I think the whole sci-fi dream will go to space and there'll be a space adventure. Once that's wrapped up they'll go to a intergalactic one or something. However, it would be nice to see robots fighting on a intergalactic scale where humans have colonized the universe due to the hero Kai's legacy or something. I feel though the plot would get too weak. So to throw a monkey wrench they might consider linking it to Gekko state lol and having the league of the 300 be responsible for contacting the Corallians. lol.

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