The larger truths are revealed, but can Gunvarrel end up saving the day?
What They Say:
Kaito, Akiho, and the rest of the Robot Research Club have finally completed their dream of building a giant robot, only to discover they’ve still got a ton of work to do. As they draw up plans for a new model, strange things start happening around them. A robot uprising wreaks havoc in Tokyo, a network-based AI crosses over into the real world, and the Kimijima reports foretell of an impending apocalypse.
Contains episodes 12-22.
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 2013, 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 packaging for this release is pretty straightforward as we get the standard sized Blu-ray case with an O-card slipcover for it which has different artwork than the case itself. The slipcover gives us a look at Kona which has a pretty good expression about her as she’s in her school uniform sitting against a white background. With the small and simple logo along the upper left, the character artwork dominates and it definitely has a very good look about it as it’s essentially a very Japanese cover. The back cover goes with the all white approach as well where there’s some good text along the upper part to sell it, a really good set of images through the middle that stand out more because of the white background works really well, and we get a good breakdown of the premise and the extras on the release. And it’s all done with a great little in-theme approach to it all. The bottom has the technical grid that covers all of the information for both formats that’s covered cleanly and accurately. The case artwork itself essentially replicates the cover but it changes out the front cover with Jun in her school uniform. The cover is reversible where the left panel has a good group shot of the kids while the right side brings in our JAXA cutie.
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)
Robotics;Notes proved to be an interesting show as the first half of the series progressed and it started to reveal itself. It wasn’t one that grabs you hard like Steins;Gate does as you realize the quirkiness of it and the larger stories and material there, nor does it go for the stronger action like Chaos;Head. Which is good, since this series has to stand on its own against expectations of past works. With the club aspect and the working of the world with robots on it, we saw how that was used within the student context, life in Tanegashima and the slow peeling back of the conspiracy story that hinted at what the world may be facing. Conspiracy theories are always fun when seeded like this and I think they did a good job of teasing it out in the first half, giving you something to chew on and really wonder how much is reality and how much of it is just fiction.
With this half of the season, things get a little more complicated and not quite as smooth in a way, though it all works towards a fairly expected end point in a way. With the team working on the whole giant robot for the expo with the help of JAXA, we do get to spend some decent time with the group as a whole as they work through their various problems and quirks. Some focus is put on Jun for awhile as she copes with the things that went on in her past with robots that made her afraid, which times to her grandfather being in the hospital and he’s not exactly keen on what the club is doing to try and help her. We get some minor flashback material but it definitely helps to explain why she is like she is and helps to draw her grandfather into the story a bit more, which is useful as he was around the edges a bit for a lot of it while dealing with Aki and Kai and we see him become a bit more key as the season moves on and the kids need his expertise more and more.
Similarly, we get some detail about Kona’s life and what she’s gone through as she continues to explore things about what’s gone on with her parents and with her mother specifically. Her story is actually an interesting little thread within the larger narrative that doesn’t quite get the impact that it should as we see how connected she was to the Gunvarrel storyline and how that’s a part of what the conspiracy side has been connected to. Even though it plays out fairly well when marathoned like this, I can’t help but to imagine smaller aspects like this feel like they aren’t as important as they should be when viewed weekly. Kona was the harder character to get into overall because of her disconnect from everyone and the l33t speak that she uses. It does work well enough, though you can’t help but to feel that a lot of it is dated as well considering it takes place five years from now, but the way she and the others work and her time with Kai helps to make her a bit more interesting than I would have expected based on the first introduction.
As the character stories progress, Kai is continuing his search for more of the files that Kimijima left behind and it’s definitely intriguing seeing him talking about what this mysterious group has been up to, the solar flares and their grand goal for ending the majority of humanity in order to reshape the world. It’s all so fantastical that it’s hard to take seriously, but it has enough ring of truth to it that it keeps you from dismissing it outright. What makes it really interesting is that as the search goes on and more pieces fall into place, the larger things outside of their view start factoring in, including the way that the number of robots out there end up going wild in Japan, turning the populace against robots in a big way. It’s an important event for the social shift that it starts to create, and it shows how so many of them can be controlled in such an easy and big way, but it also causes the whole JAXA program to collapse, among other issues as well. Because the start of this also has other events from those in control that want to use the Tanegashima launching pad for a mysterious rocket launch.
In a way, as the show moves towards the final arc, there are a lot of threads being pulled together but there’s a loose sense about it that keeps it from being truly compelling. When we get the reveal of the true villain of the day and what’s attempting to do, and what he’s actually done over the years, If it was given a lot more time, I suspect it would be a lot more interesting, but when it comes down to how Aki’s sister was being used, the technology that comes into play and some of the deceits that are thrown around in order to achieve the goals, it has a looseness about it and a kind of awkward tension that keeps it from really making it feel dramatic. That it goes to a final giant robot fight? Well, yeah, that was awesome and fun to watch and more realistic in a way than giant robot fans would want to admit, but it fit the world and definitely tied that together well against the larger backdrop.
The series as a whole is one that I do like, and even though it falters towards the end in some ways, it does manage to provide a lot of fun throughout it. I like the characters, I like the conspiracy theory aspect of it and I definitely had fun with the technological aspects they brought in with the PhonePads, the solar flares and more. But there’s just something about this half that kept it from geling in a really compelling way, to tie it all together into something that really brings out the tension and excitement. It has it in spurts, but it’s unable to carry it through the final part of it into the ending itself. There’s a lot to like with the individual parts of the show and some of the larger themes, and the fun of the characters as they get explored, but there’s also the big plus that the show really does try to work at a pace that fits without the usual fluff that can throw off other series. No hot springs, no will they or won’t they things or mooning over other characters. We get touches of relationship material at the right time, but the main focus is on the science and the conspiracy alongside the eagerness of robots. And I have to like that.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Science Adventure Series Interview Part 2, 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: March 25th, 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.