From the creators of the visual novels Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate comes the anime adaptation of their latest game, Robotics;Notes. While at first the Robotics;Notes anime seems like little more than a near-future high school slice-of-life story, it soon devolves into a myriad of different stories, often of completely different genres.
The main story of Robotics;Notes centers around a high school robotics club. For the past nine years, the club has been working on building its very own giant robot based on Gunvarrel (their world's version of Gundam). However, this is a world based on our own future so, over the course of the series, the main characters learn about the problems with such a design—namely, weight and cost of materials. They then work together to overcome these problems as they make their dream robot into a reality. It is a great realistic take on the impregnability of giant robots as we think of them while still showing what kinds of giant robots we could realistically build.
In the future according to Robotics;Notes, everyone has an iPad-like device that counts as everything from cell phone to notebook to game system. But perhaps the most visionary use of
these pads in Robotics;Notes is a fully realized world where Augmented Reality is a normal part of life. Everything from tagged landmarks to cleverly hidden mysterious information can be viewed via the pad's AR camera if you go to the right place in the real world. There is even an AI character who can only be interacted with through the pad's AR features—and touch screen, of course.
The characters in Robotics;Notes are all distinct and somewhat interesting, but Otaku Queen Frau Kojiro steals the show. While only a teenager, she is a programming genius as well as the creator of the world's most popular video game. What makes her most interesting, though, is
that she seems to have been completely raised by 2chan (think 4chan, only Japanese). Her entire language base is nothing but internet shorthand speak augmented with a Yaoi/porn obsession and a crazy case of ADD. Thus she is both identifiable and hilarious—whether she's ranting about cheaters and their "haxx0rs" or accusing the other girls in the robotics club of trying to seduce her with their scented shampoos.
While originally appearing to be grounded in reality, Robotics;Notes soon becomes a smorgasbord of concurrent stories that don't seem to share a common genre, much less a common world. The various plot lines involve ghosts, secret societies, world conquest, school life, a multiple personality AI, fighting games, murder mysteries, a father-son slice of life, and the conspiracy surrounding the final episode of a popular anime—just to name a few.
This plot schizophrenia is most likely due to the anime being the adaptation of a visual novel. I assume that normally the player would only experience one of these plot lines per playthrough based on the decisions they make in the game. Only by replaying the game with different choices would they experience any of the other plot lines. Thus one time through the game it's about a robotics club and the next it's about a solar flare doomsday device. But for the anime, all the plot lines have been combined into a single telling of the story which makes the entire series feel far from internally consistent—and more than a little insane.
Kaito is the most unlikable lead character in any anime I watched in 2012. He is unbelievably, fundamentally lazy. All he wants to do is sit in a corner and play his video game—which is, let's
face it, fun to do in real life but boring as the primary behavior of an anime's main character. Should his friends ask him for help, he tells them he will if they can beat him at the game (which of course they have no chance of doing). It's kind of amazing he does anything in the series at all. It's a shame he's the focus, really, as all the other characters—especially Frau—are interesting and have deep and developed backstories. But as he is the main character and player proxy in the game, he is the main character in the anime too—largely to the show's detriment.
Robotics;Notes is now half done and frankly, I'm not sure what to think of it. There are parts of it I really like—namely the robot building and Frau. But I find that, even now, I'd be hard pressed to simply explain what it is about due to its schizophrenic nature and many divergent plotlines. As it stands now, I hesitate to recommend it to anyone except those who liked Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate. However, I don't hate the series and am still looking forward to seeing if it can tie all the narratives together by the time the series ends.
Robotics;Notes is currently airing on BS Fuji TV in Japan. It can be watched in the U.S., subtitled in English, at Funimation.com. Stay tuned to Kotaku East for the review of the second half of Robotics;Notes later this year.