Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Thoughts on Robotics;Notes

So I just finished watching Robotics;Notes. First off let's get this out of the way. This show is a quasi sequel to Steins;Gate a show I have not seen but is on my list to watch. I can't say if any characters, themes, or concepts from that show come in since I haven't seen it but Robotics; Notes does give me some things to talk about so let's go.

This is a good but not great anime and in my opinion at least what makes it that is it's transitions. The show really really wants you to believe it's about one thing, then another and then pull the double whammy when it goes, "nope I'm both". That's kind of frustrating because it actually does get you invested in both of its... I think premises is the right word, and the wait for you to actually care about the other when it switches and the fallout when it switches again can be maddening.

The worse example of this is where in one episode both premises have an apex in tension and the next one is about sorting out the fall out. One character dies and unrelated to that another is involved in an accident. When the show is sorting out the consequences for each event I can't help but thinking I want to know what's going on with the other.

Alright alright. The show sells itself as a club anime. An anime about a group of young kids getting together to do something.  These are pretty common yet I kind of like them.

Bands count right. There was that battle of the bands scene.

Anyway for a western audience

What makes or breaks these shows, beyond obsessive nerds liking the fact that a show was made out their hobby, is the motivation. What does the hobby and the club mean? Why is it important? Why will the characters flight for it? When it inevitably gets shut down, because it always gets shut down, what will be the emotional fallout?

This time it's a high school robotics club, and the show does a really good job of making robotics connected to these character well being.

For me just show Iron Man jumping out of a plane with a flight capable exosuit with a HUD and landing into the coolest party I've seen on film and I'm sold.

But still I suppose. "Robots are cool!" isn't very emotional. Nope this show tries to make things more tangible.

The top project the robotics team is a scrapped working life sized robot from their chief's favorite show and originally started by her distant older sister. This character has, "sister issues" as said sister has been dunking her for years but she deals with it not in the angsty sort of way you would expect but by trying to surpass her. "Hey look at me. I did this super cool thing. Come on. You know you dig it."

The Cheif's, Akiho's, defining character trait is her overwhelming optimism and idealism, which really does go a long way for  misdirection when the show starts turning into something else a third of the way in.

The while Akhio in a way is the main character the show is up front in that it is not from her perspective we're viewing things. Our true protagonist is the guy she hangs with Kaito. While all plots converge at the end Kaito is the guy who's most obviously connected to everything, and has a personality that doesn't seem at odds with the light fluffy robot stuff and the later science fiction conspiracy stuff.

Did I mention that. Okay Kaito finds and unravels a science fiction conspiracy.  It's a mild spoiler because the show really really wants you to think it's just about the robot club for about seven episodes or so and even then only slowly reveals how important everything else is.

It's like watching Bamboo Blade and suddenly finding out you're watching Ghost in The Shell, except the show still wants to and actually is engaging you with the Bamboo Blade stuff.

Let's just say there is some mood whiplash.

In a way I feel this thing is trying to simultaneously deconstruct and then reconstruct Giant Robot anime by justifying Akiho's red ranger personality as her trying to emulate her heroes, and  then over the series meeting her with reality as her friends tell her, "Do you want to build a toy or a working robot because you can't build both." Turning this Gad Guard looking thing into something that looks like closer to an actual working robot.

And then putting her in a situation where here extreme persistence and idealism is crucial to victory in the later darker later parts, giving a speech that wouldn't sound out of place in Gurren Lagann, and Gurren Lagann is kind of ... passionate.

Now that I think on it she is like a self-aware gender flipped Kamina.

I've been dancing around the second premise because it in and of it self is twist. Realizing that this isn't just a moe club show is part of the experience, but I need to describe it.

"Big Sis" hasn't been around for a reason. She's been caught up in a Philip K. Dick style conspiracy, and that conspiracy also explains a lot of other character's back stories and motivations. And the show is interesting that it never hides the fact that there is something, "wrong" or off with those other characters some of whom are main characters, but it also tries it's damnedest to keep the focus on the robot club stuff until background plot forces it not to.

Doing this puts you in a weird head space where you take all the subtle clues at face value and aren't asking obvious questions. Why does this character have prosthetic legs? What happened to this character's parents?  Why would somebody create an augmented reality A.I?

Who cares. We got a robot competition to win. The show wants to stretch out that time so when you finally do start asking questions and caring about the answers it can feel unsatisfying as the show continues to focus on the robot stuff and likewise the show was so good at focusing on and giving weight to the robot stuff that when it gets to the other stuff it can feel frustrating that it's putting off the robot club.

All in all answers to all of the questions are satisfying but also mildly convoluted. The early part of the show mostly sticks with hard science fiction, dealing in stuff that I know for a fact is out there. We have augmented reality. Heck I have it on my cell now.  We have robotics. Solar flares can explain a lot of wacky stuff, especially with tech. Monopoles are a little out there but we do have existing theories. And temporal illusions are an actual thing our brains do.

As the show goes on however it wants to keep integrating all of this stuff and applying and after a while it all seems stretched since some of this stuff is cutting edge and nobody knows how it all works yet. Could an electro-magnetic wave transmit hallucinations straight into the brain? Hidunno. I've been hearing some stuff, but most of it is kind of nutty

and it's difficult getting actual science on how electromagnetism effects the human brain for... reasons.

Nobody likes it when the words human, brain, electromagnatism, lab setting, and scientific experiment are used in the same sentence. So that's a thing.

But anyway that was a leap I wasn't willing to make and it sort of broke the ending for me, which depends on your faith in omnipresence of electronics. But there you go.

I really like the show but it has its flaws.

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