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Robotics;Notes Complete Collection Essentials Edition Blu-ray Anime Review

15 min read
Robotics;Notes Essentials contains episodes 1-22 of the anime directed by Kazuya Nomura.

Flawed characters, the end of the world conspiracy, robots, and, most importantly, science!

What They Say:
Central Tanegashima High’s Robot Research Club will be shut down unless it wins the upcoming hobby robot competition. With everything on the line, the club’s two members –Akiho and Kaito –devise an awesomely bold plan: build a giant fighting robot!

The Review:
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 twenty-two episode series is spread across four discs with eight on the first and three on the second for each cour and the second disc 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 goes with the standard Essentials design in that we get a fairly compact piece with a slightly thicker than usual case as it holds four discs with some help from a hinge. The front cover gives us our two primary characters together with what they spend so much time on in the show and it’s all set to this white background. Normally, I like the white backgrounds used commonly with Japanese releases but with their uniforms and the robot behind them, it’s almost too much white. but it also fits in its own way with the theme of the show and style of the logo and all of its text that it’s straddling the line. The back cover keeps to the white as expected and has more of the logo-text along the top before going into a very slimmed down and minimal summary of the premise considering its a two-cour set. The extras are clearly listed, we get a nice selection of shots and key character artwork to give it some color. The bottom has that the most though with the shots from the show and the red digital stripe as well as a little blue from the technical grid that breaks everything down cleanly and accurately.

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 four commentaries with the show that brings us the cast talking about the show and those specific episodes. We also get on the two-part 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. This 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 these preconceptions off is 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 come together over it definitely hit 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 on 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.

With the second half of the series, things get a little more complicated and not quite as smooth in a way, though it all works towards a fairly expected endpoint 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.

In Summary:
Robotics;Notes had some big shoes to fill in terms of fan expectations and I was glad that I ended up seeing it after the simulcast and away from the hype. I was able to just get into the show on its own merits and in marathoning the show I really had a great time with it. It builds 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. The second half falters a bit along the way in trying to really hit the marks it needs to 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, 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: June 2nd, 2020
MSRP: $34.98
Running Time: 550 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
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.

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