Rating: 3.5

When I was in Japan last April, I was on the lookout for interesting new manga and anime that may make their way to the rest of the world in the near future. The "Robotics;Notes" manga caught my eye for the flashy cover and the air of general enthusiasm about giant robots. So, when I discovered that not only there was an animated version, but that it had already been translated, I jumped on it and watched it all. Yes, doing that was a bit hampered by Manga Entertainment deciding (as too often happens) to release a 22 episode series in two batches of 11 episodes each: never doubt the lengths I'll go to, to provide comprehensive reviews :)

This series is vaguely related to "Chaos;Head" and "Steins;Gate", but mostly because of the semicolon. The main authors of the other two series, Nitro+ and 5pb, had nothing to do with "Robotics;Notes", which was developed mainly by SHIKURA Chiyomaru (志倉 千代丸) who produced and supervised the other two series.

So, what's it about? In the near future, SENOMIYA Akiho is the president of the robotics club at Tanegashima High School. She got her passion for robots from her older sister, Misaki, and the very famous TV show Gunvarrel (yes, they actually spell it that way in the original). Misaki had founded the club some ten years previous, and had started building a sort-of full scale replica of Gunvarrel. Akiho is carrying on the dream of completing it, after Misaki left the island to go work in Tokyo. Things are not looking very promising, since the only other member of the club, YASHIO Kaito, spends all his time playing an online robot fighting game called Kill-Ballad. To make matters worse, the school vice-principal balked at the huge funding request that Akiho presented her, and demands the club be disbanded. But of course the story can't end there: with the help of the grumpy owner of the nearby hardware store, the genius developer of Kill-Ballad (FURUGOORI Kona, in my opinion the best character of the show), the engineers of the nearby JAXA facility (where Akiho's father works), the president of the Space Candy company, and a few schoolmates, they will overcome adversity and build their dream robot. Or maybe not: Kaito becomes aware of what appears to be a large scale conspiracy that has been running for more than a decade. Investigating the reports of this conspiracy will lead to revelations about the lives of people they care about, and even about why Gunvarrel's last episode was never aired. But in the end, the giant robots of Justice will always defeat evil and save the world, powered by courage, friendship, and a lot of technobabble.

"Robotics;Notes" builds quite a good narrative, with characters who feel different than the "stock" figures we too often get: Akiho loves robots and wants to show her sister that she's not less capable; Kaito looks very self-absorbed and quite rude, but he is curious and cares about others; Kona seems to be a caricature of the shut-in pervy otaku, but her backstory explains why she became what she is, and she's determined and capable (still pervy, though :) ). Even the bad guys have some semblance of motivation, and there's a couple of interesting plot twists that you'll have to wait for the second half of the series to see.

It's really not one of the great works of anime, but it is engaging, and I wanted to know what was going to happen to all the people in it. Sadly, a few details were handwaved too much, leaving some holes in an otherwise consistent plot. I liked very much the idea of a "second generation" robot story: young people growing up with robot anime, using the technology they have access to, to build giant robots like they saw on TV. The fact that they had to come to terms with their budget limitations made it all the more interesting. Also of note, the setting is real: Tanegashima Space Center is an actual JAXA facility, on Tanegashima island, near the southernmost point of Japan (only Okinawa is further South).

If you have even dreamt of building your own fighting robot, if you like mostly-consistent near-future SF stories, and conspiracy theories make you curious, this is really the series for you.

This review was originally published at:
DatesCreated: 2015-03-08 16:16:10 Last modification: 2023-02-10 12:45:24