In the same vein of Steins’ Gate but if you haven’t seen that series, this works well as a standalone series anyway.
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 Spoken Languages: English, Japanese, English subtitles.
Set up in both 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese, Robotics Notes is unusual that despite the labels I couldn’t tell the difference…unfortunately it was more the fact I had to raise the standard settings for the English audio which is rare for a 5.1 release. Both tracks are good, clear and no issues with sound transition or syncing, but was a bit strange with this release compared to other releases in 5.1 formats.
Robotics Notes has a very good colour scheme and is showcased very well with the aspect ratio with no slowdown on a widescreen format, no picture issues with distortion when pausing and no freezing or synching with the audio so a very quality release. It combining CGI and animation with slow and fast paced movement with a lot of different scenarios so it flows through quite well and never hurts your eyes. One unique thing I noticed is that when it comes to the currency, the UK release actually translated it into Great British Pounds…sounds like an odd thing to notice but first time I’ve ever noticed it in UK releases so a nice little touch.
A two disc release, both with the same images – Kaito looking nervous just behind of Akiho, with a selection of Play All, Episodes, Set Up and Bonus on both discs. When selecting, the menu slides and is replaced by a new one making it look at least more interesting – as well as some footage in the faint background of the menus as well. It is bright and colourful, and at least is more interesting than recent menus I’ve seen, no issues with selection from the main menu, sub menus or from the show itself.
We have a couple of dub commentaries for this release – our first one is on episode 6 featuring Leah Clark (Frau) and UK con favourite Monica Rial (Junna) – the ladies seem to have fun with the commentary, ranging from Leah enjoys how unique her character is, and how the scripts and how directed. (Particular researching all of Fraus’ internet speak) – working the higher pitched voice and how they grow – talking about their high schools and what they were in terms of clubs (not robots sadly) Monica having early video game rage with Mario and Street Fighter, what the girls are nerdy for (theatre(Leah) and history(Monica)) – and how Leah feels she is a shut in when deadlines occur –I did like how Monica linked with the characters and then asks questions to Leah relevant (like how Junna isn’t good at karate, and realised what also failed at – with Monica was ice skating…), it was an informative and fun commentary.
The second commentary is on episode 10 involving Lindsey Saddell (Akiho) and Gerrad Green (Subaru) – talk about meeting for the first time and how the show has links to Steins Gate being in the same universe, and Lindseys’ previous role in it, how they play around with the roles (Subaru and his two sides to him) and how Lindsey did have a robotics club – talk more about the characters with funny quips, but the two seem to be a lot quieter and not talking as much with noticeable gaps in the commentary, so wasn’t as interesting as the initial one.
The other big extra was a segment called Science Adventure Series, an interview John Balm (ADR Director), Jim MciNtyre (Writer of Stein’s Gate/Robotic Notes) and John Burgemeir (head writer of Funimation) – they how all the series link together (probably need to watch Stein’s Gate to realise a lot of the conversation and how it was weaved into) – how the writing and acting process is going through, how there are some many paths or how everything merges into the future…again, very interesting but at the same time because I haven’t watched Steins; Gate a lot of it falls flat to me (especially as Robotics Notes actually works well as a standalone series).
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A lot of the information I got about this show from research due to not seeing it is that it is based in the same universe as Steins; Gate. Whilst it did get a UK release I haven’t seen it/reviewed it, so I was concerned that you would have to know about that series to get what was in this one. Fortunately, if you do, it isn’t that noticeable and is very serviceable as a standalone series of its own – and it’s a show combined a boy using his video game skills to help make (and work) a giant robot based on an anime…I think most people I know would love to do that…
We are quickly introduced to our two main characters Kaito and Akiho, who in name only are part of the robotics club in their school which aren’t having much luck with funds. Not that it bothers Kaito, all he seems to care about is playing a game called Kill-Ballad, a sort of mecha beat-em-up. However, an old hanger of the robotics club has a giant robot prototype based on a Gundam-esque anime in their world called Gunvarrel who never aired their last episode. This plot point potentially aside, they may get the budget to build the giant robot if they can win an upcoming robot tournament with a design of their own. Using a combination of intel (Kaito taking on a passion fruit bun challenge with the local store clerk for info), befriending (making friends with the robotic parts salesmans’ granddaughter Junna, a cute karate girl) and…well begging, they manage to enter the tournament.
Suddenly things get a bit more interesting – we learn that Akiho has a condition known as ‘elephants’ mouse syndrome’ where an incident from several years ago causes her to actually seem to fast forward herself in time causing extreme fatigue. Kaito, not really interested in the robotics club as Akiho is, becomes the pilot by reworking the controls so they work like his video game. So the tournament goes…and we learn Kaito has the reverse problem of Akiho in that time seems to reverse for him…which sadly leads to them losing in the tournament to the charismatic Mr Pleiades. However, he figures out it was an old friend who used to be in the robotics club named Subaru, who via blackmail and because technically a person from their school won the robot competition, they get the funding and now look to aim big with other sponsorship.
What gets interesting is two factors; we get introduced to the creator of Kill-Ballad…a girl their age named Frau, who is quite the shut-in, speaks in web speak and is utterly hilarious, but definitely seems drawn to Kaito because of his legit playing and trying to use him to find cheaters…and through his games device a girl seems to be talking through to him. Thanks to Junna, he learns this seems to be a recurring myth – and it turns out to be an Artificial Intelligence called Airi…who basically explains the true plot. The incident that caused the protagonists their conditions was caused by a man named Ko Kimijima, and that seems to bring Mizuka, his clerk friend who sells him those weird buns for information, quite scared…
There is a LOT going on in these 11 episodes. There are some internal issues with Junna being introduced to the club despite being afraid of robots, Subarus’ father not wanting him to work on robots and follow his footsteps as a fisherman, Frau using Kaito to find the cheaters, what the relevance is with Airi and the strange music at her sightings (and her two sides to her), a high potential sponsorship for the robotic club with a big company, the initial (and sadly disappointing) debut of their robot, and what the link is with the last episode of the anime, there is a lot to go through, which as you can tell is hard to keep up with when watching a show like this. The first 11 episodes end with some big cliff-hangers which actually link the sub-plot of the cheaters storyline with the major plot involving this Ko Kimijima, and it does seem to get a bit lost in everything that is happening that you aren’t sure if this is basically a school club show to build a giant robot, or more focusing on this mysterious incident of the past and how it links to our leads’ main conditions. There is a lot of history with some of the side characters – the robotic parts old man Fujita, a.k.a. Doc obviously has some history involved and why his granddaughter is afraid of robots, and Mizuka, who seemed to be there just as a plot device to help Kaito actually does have history as well, and considering how scared she seems to be trying to remember the incident and trying to make sure Kaito doesn’t get involved, this appears to be the direction this series is going on – making a 180 from a school club making giant robots…
It doesn’t hide its humour though and manages to break up a lot of the monotone with some fun characters. Each of the main cast has their quirks – Frau being the obvious one, but Subarus’ other side of himself is hilarious, and Junna is adorable with her nervous karate which actually helps in getting sponsorship (which Frau picks up on and practically drools over her – whilst reading her own yaoi pairings of course…) – Kaito himself has his quirks with his gaming and seeming indifference with the robotics club with plenty of sexual tension with Akiho. The trouble is he himself doesn’t hold the series very well as an interesting protagonist – he gets himself into some sticky situations, and his condition links well with the plot, but he doesn’t really make himself present well – his character is quite uninteresting to this point. And sadly, the rest are either not in it enough (Frau, Junna, Subaru) or seem to be sliding away (Akiho).
What it does do well is build its story into a good cliff-hanger and the fact that everything does manage to mash together to build the bigger picture. It is a bit confusing and may require a rewatch, but it does set up nicely from a club building a mecha to a 7 year mystery that the town has been aware of but never found an answer for, and because of these combination of kids and ghosts of the past, it could finally be solved. This isn’t a bad show by any stretch of the imagination, there are just too many things that don’t make it as good as it could be. That said, I am really looking forward to the second half and see what does come about this…
Robotics; Notes is a bit of a missed opportunity – there is a ton going on and it can get lost in the shuffle. The lead character isn’t as interesting as the side ones and it doesn’t seem to know where it is a school club, mecha, business, comedy or drama show at times. However, it does manage to tell its story and get to the end while mixing all these mini-plots in, and with a lot of intrigue and storytelling, it certainly could go really well by the end. A stand alone series that doesn’t require you to watch Steins;Gate, watch it a couple of times and see if it gels with you.
Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: August 25th, 2014
Running Time: 275 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.