Robotic;Notes is Not Steins;Gate

It is hard not to sympathize with the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the anime of Robotic;Notes. As the spiritual successor of Steins;Gate, Robotic;Notes has been asked to follow up what is one of the most memorable titles of the last couple years. Indeed, the results of such comparisons have not been too favorable to Robotic;Notes, both critically and commercially. Of course, with greater success comes greater expectations and so some might say that the harsher criticism is perfectly valid. Sure, it is not incorrect to place greater expectations upon the creators of such a fabulous work, but the problem is that this case is more about misplaced expectations than anything else.

To be more precise, the issue here is that people expected a story just like Steins;Gate when in reality, Robotic;Notes is very different. This is not to say that these stories are completely incomparable; in both shows we have a group of characters coming together to build something, a time machine in Steins;Gate and a giant robot in Robotic;Notes, and both of them have large conspiracy plot lines serving as a backdrop. It is easy to be misled into thinking that both shows are aiming to be the same kind of story, but there are some key differences which differentiate the two.

One of the main differences between Robotic;Notes and Steins;Gate is characterized by their settings. While Steins;Gate takes place in the hustle and bustle of Akihabara, Robotic;Notes takes place in a lethargic and vacuous countryside. This is actually quite reflective of both shows for much of their run. Steins;Gate has loads of zany character interactions and often feels schizophrenic because of its delusional main lead, the self-proclaimed mad scientist Okabe Rintarou. On the other hand, Robotic;Notes is much more laid back and down to earth. The main character Kai, unlike Okabe, also has no great ambitions and is content to simply laze around and play his game Kill-Ballad all day long.

This laid back atmosphere in Robotic;Notes has earned much ire, as many seem to think that Robotic;Notes is just boring and uneventful. Personally I think this atmosphere has its own charm and has made the show very pleasant and relaxing to watch. The characters are endearing, and their interactions are natural and pleasant to behold.  Still, there does seem to be the big question of just what in the world is this show trying to be about? What is it building to?

Robotic;Notes isn’t trying to build up to something dramatically different like Steins;Gate.

At least part of what makes Steins;Gate great is the pay-off after its really long build up. People often most remember Steins;Gate for its crazy time-line skewing adventures, so arguably, the real core of the show does not even begin until its second half. Of course the second half of Steins;Gate would have nowhere near the same impact without all the lovable character interactions of its first half. It reminds me of a typical KEY story where things start off in happy and fun times before it turns the corner into something much more serious and dramatic.

However, this is where comparisons between Robotic;Notes and Steins;Gate have really hurt Robotic;Notes the most. There has been a certain level of expectation in Robotic;Notes that it is somehow building up its story to something big like Steins;Gate and that eventually shit will hit the fan. I would know since I myself am guilty of first thinking it was taking this approach. In actuality, Robotic;Notes has never really been building up to a dramatic change of gears in its narrative like Steins;Gate. The core of the show has been visible to us all along –  it is a celebration of mecha!

Yes, there is conspiracy and a few kooky characters here like Steins;Gate, but the show has basically been about robots. The main heroine Aki embodies the very soul of the show with her deep passion for mecha. She believes robots empower people to accomplish things they never could otherwise; they are a vehicle for dreams and ambitions. Robots represent hope and goodness in the world, and Aki’s pursuit of building a life-sized Gunvarrel, this universe’s Gundam equivalent, in the robotics club is her attempts to realize this ideal.

Further adding credence to this idea is how most of the dramatic moments in the show have been related to attacks on Aki’s ideals of mecha itself. The climactic scenes of the show so far have been the mass black-out scene in Tokyo with all the robots in the city going on a rampage, and the unveiling of Gunvarrel’s last episode, which ended up just being a morbid depiction of the end of humanity. As a result of these incidents in the story, public perception of robots is at an all-time low, yet Aki still holds steadfast to her ideals of mecha. This unwavering spirit and love for robots is what drives the show, and understanding this passion is critical to connecting with its characters.

It’s tiring to be compared to Steins;Gate all the time.

Perhaps the fault of Robotic;Notes is that this passion for mecha is elusive to its audiences. In Steins;Gate, it is easy to get why a time machine is so cool, so conceptually it never had to work hard to keep the audience’s interests. I feel the show would hit home most of all with people who do love mecha. Even just being able to understand all the references to mecha anime throughout the show, including things like Char Aznable quotes, helps to enrich the experience. Indeed, if someone does not fundamentally understand why robots are awesome, how could they ever understand the characters?

Regardless, the basic fact of the matter is that Robotic;Notes is just not Steins;Gate. Of course there are some similarities, but both stories have very different narratives. Maybe if people stopped comparing the two, then the merits of Robotic;Notes would really be able to shine through. There is a genuine story here with lots of care and detail put into it, and I think it would be a shame if the only reason Robotic;Notes does not get the time of day is because it chooses not to copy its predecessor enough.

6 Responses to “Robotic;Notes is Not Steins;Gate”

  1. To be honest, all this talk about Steins;Gate, as you pointed out, does Robotic;Notes a disservice. But in the same vein I think by putting that forward as a defense you also hide the actual flaws that gets exaggerated by some of the people who were disappointed. I don’t think the pacing, as you pointed out, is a problem. I do think the character writing and chemistry is a problem so far in Robotic;Notes.

    The truth is Robono and Steins;Gate are more similar than they are dissimilar, and being consecutive entries in the same series will invite natural comparisons. That’s all fair. What is the only unfair thing is probably people’s expectation that were unreasonably elevated by things that Robotic;Notes didn’t promise. Hopefully we can all just put all this aside until the series is over and make some more reasoned comparisons (or non-comparisons, w/e) about all this. The mood of the show has already changed considerably at this point, compared to the start.

  2. @omo

    Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly valid to say that Robotic;Notes doesn’t match Steins;Gate. Steins;Gate easily is the better work IMO. However, if everything that Robotic;Notes is measured by what it does or doesn’t do compared to Steins;Gate, it’ll never be evaluated on its own merits. I would find this especially disappointing considering I think Robotic;Notes has established itself uniquely enough form Steins;Gate.

    Anyhow, I am not sure if the character writing/chemistry is all that problematic. I feel Kai has a really great relation with both Aki and Frau. I think Subaru adds excellent balance to Aki’s explosive personality. The weakest link of the cast by far is the karate girl.

  3. I agree that Robotics;Notes, while occurring in the same universe as Steins;Gate, is accomplishing a different narrative that the latter set out to tell. I was never really into mecha, but I like Robotics;Notes theme of robot-building. While Steins;Gate explored Okabe’s relationships to each individual character Robotics;Notes adopts a communal look at the Robotics club and their aspirations. It’s unfortunate that Robotics;Notes is overshadowed by its predecessor, but I also believe Robotics;Notes has problems with pacing and direction, something that seemed almost perfect with Steins;Gate.

    Robotics;Notes has two narratives, the robot building and the doomsday conspiracy. I find both appealing in their own respects. My main problem with the show is that these narratives seem to briefly intersect rather than run in parallel. When the show focuses on the club, I found myself waiting for the plot to move. When the show was about the conspiracy, the club seemed tacked on rather than essental to the plot and I felt the show neglected the robot building. The show’s inability to effectively mix two disparate narratives weakens it dramatic potency and characterization for me.

    I do think Robotics;Notes is a cut above the rest and that if Steins;Gate was not its predecessor it would have been better received. However, it does (for me) fail to engage its narrative, one ripe with potentiality.

  4. @Ejecting Pilot

    I think the disjointed narratives is a fair point to make. It does feel like whatever Kai is doing is not very related to what is going on in the Robotics club. The connections are tentative and a little contrived at best.

    I imagine though that these two plotlines are going to be converging before everything is said and done. Hopefully it does not come off as forced.

  5. I didn’t play the VN, maybe the anime is not mixing well the different possibilities and storylines. Steins;Gate staff it may be more competent.

  6. i think that i’m really late to say this, but i believe that the main problem with robotics;notes is the fact that is a sequel or at least next to steins;gate, when i watched the numbers of the stein line, i really hope that somehow the characters of stein appear and help(not just in background) the mains in robo, but that never happened (take note that nae doesn’t count), and after the anime end(yep i didn’t play de nv) the last scene neither help, well thats just my opinion.

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