Flawed characters, the end of the world conspiracy, robots and, most importantly, science!
What They Say:
Kai and Aki dream of building a giant fighting robot based on a super-popular anime, but that’s going to be impossible if they don’t get more members into their school’s Robot Research Club. They’ll take anyone they can talk – or force – into joining them, including an eccentric robotics champion with a secret identity and a l33t video-game designer who’s spent one too many late nights online. Finally, their goal looks like it’s within reach.
But when a sentient AI program tells Kai about mysterious documents hidden on the internet, things start to get strange for everyone. As the club members track down the secret messages, they realize that the information might be far bigger – and more dangerous – than they expected.
Contains episodes 1-11.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty good as we get the original Japanese language track in its stereo form while the new English language dub adaptation is in 5.1, both of which are encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The show is one that has a decent mix when you get down to it as a lot of it is focused on dialogue, some of which is done with a little quirk or two through the digital screens, but also brings in a few outlandish dialogue moments because of some of the characters. And it also has some decent action pieces that are related to the robot fighting matches themselves. With this and the way there’s some really nice incidental bits with the background sounds and the like for the robots and the digital devices, it has a pretty nice design that keeps you in the mood of it well. The design of the show doesn’t give it anything to really stretch with here, but it definitely works well and has a clean and clear feeling that makes it easy to immerse yourself into. The tracks for this release are locked though, so sampling on the fly between the two of them is a non-starter.
Originally airing in 2012, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This half of the season has eleven episodes which are spread across two discs with eight on the first and three on the second, which is also where the extras largely are. Animated by Production I.G., there’s a lot to like here with the design of it since it has a bright and colorful approach but also blended well with the real world backgrounds. There’s a lot of fun little design elements to it here with the data pads which brings us some of the gaming side of things as well as communication and I like how it’s handled, especially the augmented reality aspect. The transfer captures the details pretty well here as there’s a clean look to it and it avoids problems in general, though some of the interior school scenes with the dark green walls just looked a bit noisier than the rest to me. Overall, it’s definitely a solid looking release that has a lot of pop to it.
The limited edition release for this series is pretty nice as it comes with a heavy chipboard box that will hold both halves of the season. The front of the box has a very upbeat approach to it with a look at Aki and Kai in their school outfits with a white background for the whole thing. With the white of their outfits and the mix of flesh tones and blues from the other parts of their clothes, it’s a very light look that we don’t get often here but looks really appealing. The logo is kept simple along the corner in silver foil which definitely gives it a slick look. The back panel under the glued on sheet has a larger bipedal look at the Gunvarrel which is in a fairly standard action pose but works well. The glued on sheet covers things well with a few decent shots from the show, a good look at the premise and the extras and a clean technical grid. There’s some nice datapad style aspects to it with the way its sectioned out as well which is a nice piece of detail.
Within the box we get a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case to hold the four discs for the two formats. The case uses the same artwork as the front cover, which works well here even if I’d like something different than the box, while the back cover mirrors the glued-on sheet from the outside of the box. The case does have artwork on the reverse side, though it’s not a traditional reversible cover with a back panel, as the left side has a cute picture of Airi while the right side shows Subaru in his two different forms. The spacer box that’s included in the set is all white with some silver and black text that holds the six art cards inside where each one is for a different character. The front provides some great pieces of character artwork while the back of them provides a mini bio, a nod towards their interests and a choice quote.
The menu design for this release is one that certainly does what’s needed but it doesn’t hit in terms of the right kind of style to really sell the show or be fully in theme. The left third or so has the navigation on an opaque white background with the logo along the top that covers the basics as you’d expect while partially doubling as the pop-up menu as not all the options are available at that time – a frustrating aspect of FUNimation releases. The whole screen is given over to clips from the show which uses a variety of different shots, from characters to mechanical to some schematics as well. I would have preferred seeing something a bit more in theme such as the datapads and what they offer or something with a bit more of an industrial edge that would have been appropriate. Everything loads quickly and smoothly and without problems, though it’s worth noting again that the language tracks are locked based on menu selections with no changing things on the fly.
The extras for this release are pretty good overall though obviously geared more towards the English language fans. The basics are here in the clean opening and closing sequences which are always welcome. On the English side, we get a pair of commentaries with the show that brings us the cast talking about the show and those specific episodes. We also get on the second disc a twenty minute video piece in which the director and a couple of the actors talk at length about the show, the casting and some of its meanings.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the visual novel game of the same name developed by 5pb, Robotics;Notes is the third installment in the lightly connected Science Adventure series. That chain of events started with the interesting Chaos;Head which was followed up by the massively popular Steins;Gate. Which is why I felt bad for Robotics;Notes from the start since it had so many expectations put upon it that it likely wasn’t going to live up to it in the slightest. Shaking this preconceptions off are an important thing at the start here and once you do that, you can get into it pretty well as there are some really intriguing threads going on with it. But the other part that gets me is that they do go with some of the stuff that I loved from the other shows in that we get science based conspiracy theories that are doled out in small pieces, building to something larger but always leaving you wondering if it’s true or not.
The series takes place on Tanegashima island in 2019 where it has that kind of small island feeling to it and a sense of laid back. The primary characters that comes together over it definitely hits some good spots as it reveals itself because the characters are all flawed or damaged in a lot of ways. The world of 2019 is one that is similarly flawed in a way as starting back at the turn of the century, robotics became more of a thing and there’s a lot of exploration of it, including the high school that this spends its time with as there’s a robotics research club there that has spent the last fifteen or so years across multiple members building the GunBuild-1, which is based off of a massively popular internationally acclaimed animated series called Gunravvel. But also amid these kinds of basic technological changes to the world, we also learn that there have been a number of solar flare events that have gone on, causing a red aurora to be visible over Tanegashima, which is pretty unnerving in the evening and night sequences.
With this as the backdrop, we’re introduced to the two members of the club with Aki, the senior high school student who is desperately trying to complete the GunBuild-1 that her sister worked on, attempting to show her that she can do it. She’s joined by Kai, a childhood friend, who has zero interest in any of this and just spends his time with his datapad to play the KILL-BALLAD game. The two of them aren’t in a relationship in a romantic way, but they’re close in their own way because of their experiences. The one that really impacted them was a few years prior while out on a cruise, when a solar flare hit and caused some sort of unexplainable event to happen that at various times, they each suffer an “attack” where for her, time speeds up for a minute but feels like more, whereas he goes in the other direction as it slows down, which allows him to seem like he has super fast reflexes. They call it an Elephant-Mouse syndrome and they do a decent job of taking care of each other when the attacks hit as it’s very disturbing to them even as they try to play it off.
With it being a small club, it’s naturally close to being shut down and a lot of this half of the series deals with the way that Aki tries to figure out how to save it, first by working towards participating in a competition that will provide the club with prize money and then building up the club membership a bit to do it. Both sides of it works pretty well, even if the actual competition feels like it comes in fast, but what we get is to see how Kai gets drawn into it against his will in a lazy way, but ends up showing that he has some really good reflexes in general from his lengthy gameplay. This also brings the pair into contact with their main opponent in the competition, a fellow student named Subaru who hides his identity by taking on the name Pleides and wearing a Char-like costume and mask for the competition itself. There’s a really fun dynamic that exists between the group as it goes on since Subaru tries to keep that part hidden but it comes up, either through prodding or his natural desire to take on that kind of boisterous role.
The club and the things that Aki does to push forward really does dominate it, and it is enjoyable on that level alone because she has a strong enough personality to command it and make it work. But what drew me in was seeing Kai and what’s going on with him, as he’s so focused on his game for the first few episodes that when we do start to do things with him, it’s definitely a more relaxed but engaging approach. With his strong connection to his datapad, and its use of augmented reality, he ends up discovering a hidden personality in the area that communicates with him in a very natural way, so much so that we learn that she’s been trying to get in touch with him in a number of ways over the years. It’s done as if she’s a little sister kind of thing, a girl named Airi, but what it turns into is what really grabs me and brings the science side in.
There’s a mystery going on in the world related to the solar flares, but that’s tied into what Kai starts to discover as Airi reveals that there’s a series of notes out there from a man named Kimijaro that predicted what was coming and has uncovered a massive conspiracy that may involve a massive intentional die-off of humanity in order to truly control the world. There’s a lot of dates thrown about and as each of the notes are discovered, we get more clues about what’s going on and Kai keeps it secret as he tries to understand whether it’s just a story or something that’s true. But there are so many grounded pieces that come in that he – and the viewer – can’t help but to take it seriously and really engage with it. Especially after coming off of Steins;Gate where conspiracies were the order of the day. Kai’s discoveries have its own challenges, and it looks like there are those in his life that may have a connection to the notes themselves, which keeps it pretty intriguing to watch.
There’s a pretty good supporting cast that gets built around all of this, such as when Aki brings in Jun, an underclassman who is involved in karate but has an interest in everything that the group is doing. There’s also Frau Koujiro, the teenage creator of the game that Kai plays who essentially buys an abandoned building next to the robot testing area that the group uses. She’s taken an interest in Kai because of his skills and she uses him to help find cheaters in the game, but she also provides a certain level of skill and intensity that helps as the mysteries start to reveal themselves more, as well as a few good nods when it comes to the robotics competition itself. I also really found myself liking Subaru a lot as we got to know him, seeing how he’s so outlandish when in the zone and working his robot, but also the painful side that exists when we’re introduced to his highly disapproving father.
Which is one of the main themes of the show when you get down to it. These characters all have something in their backgrounds that has totally damaged them. Sometimes in light ways, sometimes in more serious ways, but they don’t wear it on their sleeves constantly. Some of them have a connection to each other with them, such as Aki and Kai with their illness, but also with Aki’s sister that has gone off to Tokyo and is working in some sort of secret corporate science arena. These kinds of damage are intriguing to watch as it plays out and it makes it easier to be drawn into them as characters because, as important as the flaws and problems are, they aren’t the defining aspects of them. And the problems largely aren’t just dropped in front of us in the first couple of episodes either, allowing us to get to know them as the individual rather than be defined by that. All of it just makes them more real in the end.
Robotics;Notes has some big shoes to fill and it’s a difficult place to be since expectations are high and it’s very easy to be let down. Coming into this well after the simulcast has ended and the hype from it has passed, I was able to just get into the show on its own merits and in marathoning these eleven episodes, I really had a great time with it. It’s building a pretty realistic near future world with a few quirks to it and the surreal aspects that are coming into play. The robotics side is one of the main threads here, as you’d expect from the title, but it isn’t this overpowering piece of it. It’s used to show the characters, which in turn leads us into the discovery of the conspiracy that may be at play and a threat to the world at large. I love the way it seeds it slowly but surely and that each reveal just draws you into the whole thing even more. Robotics;Notes is a bit of a hard sell but it does a lot of things really well and the release has me wanting to see where it’s all going to go.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Science Adventure Series Interview Part 1, Actor Commentaries, Textless Songs, U.S. Trailer
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: February 18th, 2014
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.