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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 realise that the information might be far bigger - and more dangerous - than they expected...
The third installment in the 'Science Adventure' series of visual novels created by games developers 5pb., Robotics;Notes follows its predecessors Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate into an anime adaptation. At once more conventional and more immediately appealing than the earlier series, it might prove the most likeable entry in the franchise to date.
Anyone who's familiar with the blockbusting Haruhi Suzumiya series will recognize the dynamic of central couple Kai and Aki: he's a wilfully dull and apathetic cynic who resents being involved in others' business; she's zestful and outgoing, constantly roping doubtful acquaintances into projects only she really feels passionate about or even fully understands. Somehow, they succeed in reigniting their high school's ailing robotics club, with the ultimate aim of building their own life-sized super robot, a project begun years earlier by Aki's estranged sister. Along the way they face obstacles - opposition from parents and teachers, resource and technical problems, the difficulty of soliciting help – which are overcome with ingenuity and high spirits, in the typical fashion of high school anime. As with the other Science Adventure series, a shady scientific conspiracy also presents itself, with the innocent 'Gunvarrel' anime series seemingly hiding clues to an ill-concealed global threat, in a manner similar to Channel 4's sci-fi series Utopia.
While the disparate plot elements don't gel especially well in this first portion of the series, the characters are likeable enough that they carry the action along, even if they're not as memorable as Steins;Gate's lineup of eccentrics – with the notable exception of meme-spouting game designer Frau Koujiro. The subtropical Kyushu setting centred on the real-life Tanegashima space facility makes a welcome change of pace from the typical Tokyo or generic small town seen in most contemporary-set anime. Series director Kazuya Nomura previously worked on the beautiful sci-fi drama Dennou Coil (sadly still unlicensed in North America or Europe), and Robotics;Notes has similar themes of uncanny supernatural presences lurking in the friendly spaces of ambient computer networks, though without that series' level of evocative imagination.
The production quality is good, if not as eye-catching as Steins;Gate's, though some of the localization choices for the UK release are odd – why convert sums of money into equivalent sterling amounts when the characters on both subtitled and English dubbed versions clearly refer to Japanese yen? These along with a few other inconsistencies – a character being variously referred to as 'Sister Geji' or 'Sister Centipede' without obvious reason for the variance – put the localization work slightly below standard for a Manga release. Despite this, Robotics;Notes is an enjoyable show with charm and enough depth to make me interested to see what the second half has in store.