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Andrew Osmond goes in search of cults both good and bad

The second half of Robotics;Notes comes to Blu-ray and DVD, completing the tale of students determined to build a giant robot on their island home of Tanegashima. The series goes especially deep into fandom; what fans do and why. We looked previously at how the kids’ robot-building is an extension of fan projects in the real world. In the show’s second half, we learn more about how the characters are motivated by the wild, crazy fantasies of manga and anime, and also by experiences in their real lives. But will reality tip into fantasy completely? Will the giant robot finally stand, walk, fight to protect the world? Watch and see…

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There’s one particularly clever subplot in Robotics;Notes which is worth some unpacking, especially as it connects the show to another recent anime. The heroine, Akiho, is in love with the anime classic Gunvarrel (invented for the series, though its similarities to a certain real robot franchise are obvious, starting with its name). It has a shock ‘secret’ ending, flabbergasting fans, and a controversial reputation. In one scene in the second half, a Tokyo man physically attacks Akiho, describing Gunvarrel as an anime made by murderers. Soon after, we get wacko conspiracies both real and faked, as bad guys invent one preposterous story to cover up another, terribly real one.

This is a reference which Japanese otaku are likelier to get than Western ones. It’s raising the twenty-year old spectre of Aum, a real-world murder cult which attacked the Tokyo Underground in 1995, after spouting anime-style fantasies to its followers. We covered Aum in depth last year, in connection with the surreal show Penguin Drum. However, one thing we didn’t mention is that Aum notoriously produced its own anime and manga propaganda. Ever wonder what a killer religious cult anime looks like? Actually, it looks disconcertingly like the real thing…

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The messianic-looking guru with the beard is Shoko Asahara; he’s animated less reverently in this semi-anime Japanese documentary, made after Aum’s terror attack on Tokyo and Asahara’s arrest. (As of writing, he’s been on death row for a decade.) As we commented in our previous article, Asahara’s apocalypse teachings used elements of popular anime, such as Space Battleship Yamato and Akira. The result was to drag the reputation of anime through the mud; otaku weren’t just seen as geeks or anoraks, but also as a cult of mass-murdering nutcases.

While the later episodes of Robotics;Notes go rather wild, the series effectively ends up a fight between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fandom; between people who love anime for the ideals and hopes it embodies, and those who are obsessed with it because they hate the real world. If the Aum anime above now looks like a summation of what’s destructive and dangerous about anime, then the exultant fan-made film below is the flipside. It’s the celebrated opening film for the Daicon IV convention in 1983, Osaka. (And if you’re wondering about the space vegetable in the video, it’s punning on ‘daikon,’ an Asian radish.)

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As many fans know, Robotics;Notes forms a very loose trilogy with Steins;Gate and Chaos;Head. All three titles originated as “visual novel” computer games by the same source company, though the anime adaptations were each made by different studios with few obvious crossovers. But – minor spoiler – if you’ve seen Steins;Gate, you should look out for the name of a certain sinister company, modelled on a quite reputable real science organisation… Well, unless you think that mucking about with the Higgs boson or ‘god particle’ could destroy the entire universe. The plot of a future anime, perhaps?

Following Robotics;Notes,the fourth of the so-called ‘Science Adventures’ will be Chaos;Child, with a game trailer available here. It will be set in the ruins of the Tokyo district Shibuya after a quake, and will reportedly have a J-horror tone. As we mentioned above, each of the first three ‘Science Adventure’ games has been adapted by a different anime studio: Chaos: Head by Madhouse, Steins;Gate by White Fox (Jormungand, The Devil is a Part-Timer), and Robotics;Notes by Production I.G. But given all the shows so far are about otaku, it’s time that one of these titles was given to the most seminal otaku anime studio of all, which grew out of the heroic Daicon film above – namely, Studio Gainax!

Robotics Notes 2 is out now on UK DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment.

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