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Manga Review — Robotics;Notes Vol. 1

Up until a few years ago, Science Adventure fans could only dream of seeing a western release of Robotics;Notes. Yet here we stand today, having Robotics;Notes officially localized not only once but twice—first via the visual novel in 2020 and now, via Asakawa Keiji’s manga adaptation in 2023. Gone are the days where thousands of fans would petition for the story to see an English release.

This series has come a long way in the west and it’s truly a blessing to finally see a non-Steins;Gate Science Adventure manga officially localized. UDON Entertainment previously released the Steins;Gate 0 manga adaptation in three “2-in-1” volumes and is now doing the same for Robotics;Notes after substantial fan demand. Now many of you may be wondering… how does the manga compare to the visual novel or the anime adaptation?

Long story short, the manga adaptation’s first volume is a stellar adaptation of Phase 1 of the visual novel. And honestly, I’d go so far as to say it’s an even better adaptation of Robotics;Notes than the anime is.

I’ll break down my review into a few parts: Story; Characters; Release Quality; and Overall Thoughts.

So first and foremost, let’s talk about the story. Robotics;Notes is the third entry in MAGES. and Chiyomaru Studio’s Science Adventure series (otherwise known as SciADV)—it is a lengthy, interconnected sci-fi visual novel franchise. Each SciADV entry has its own somewhat self-contained plot with a brand new cast and, oftentimes, a completely new sci-fi theme. For instance, Steins;Gate centers around time travel whereas Robotics;Notes centers around conspiracy, robotics, and augmented reality. But ultimately, each Science Adventure entry both narratively and thematically builds off of its predecessors to make an overarching storyline. Robotics;Notes is the third part of that storyline—and a fan favourite part of it for good reason.

Robotics;Notes takes place in 2019 and follows Chuo Tanegashima High School’s Robotics Research Club as they attempt to build a giant robot against all odds. At the start of the story, the club is composed solely of two members and they stand on the verge of disbandment due to a lack of results in recent years. Their vice-principal presents them with an ultimatum: win the ROBO-ONE (or ROBO-BAN) hobby robot fighting tournament or disband forever. Lurking behind the scenes, however, is an earth-shattering conspiracy that will shake the entire world. Slowly, the Robotics Club’s members’ daily lives and this increasingly worrying conspiracy begin to intertwine.

The original visual novel is highly praised for its profound themes encompassing the age of information and the pursuit of dreams. Within the span of volume 1, Robotics;Notes’s manga covers only Phase 1 of the visual novel (which makes up the first ~13% of the game), so it does not adapt much of the story to begin with. But even just from what this volume covers, it’s still abundantly clear how special of a tale this is. The manga is filled to the brim with heart, an incredible pace, and is handled with real care and attention.

From volume 1, the manga’s narrative remains mostly faithful to the original visual novel. However, it makes a few inevitable cuts (such as in truncating the tournament) and other occasional slight changes. Some of these changes are with key terms, such as changing ROBO-ONE to ROBO-BAN. (though this was most likely due to the real-life ROBO-ONE sponsoring the visual novel and anime, but not the manga).

The manga does make some small story-related changes too. For example, at the tournament, Kaito, Akiho, and Mitchie sleep at a lodge instead of at a 24/7 burger joint. Changes like these are remarkably minor to the overarching narrative, however. And if anything, they’re actually pretty funny. They provide value for visual novel readers to see a slightly different take on the same general story. But all in all, volume 1 of the manga faithfully adapts the visual novel.

If there’s one thing that Robotics;Notes has a reputation for among Science Adventure fans, it’s being the most character-driven entry in the series. Whereas other SciADV entries like Anonymous;Code focus on the plot first and foremost, Robotics;Notes stands out for its enormous focus on slice-of-life and character interactions. For me personally, Robotics;Notes has my favourite cast from the series—by far. Almost all the characters are remarkably well-written, incredibly nuanced, and most of all, just so damn loveable. They all bounce off one another so well, making the cast seem like a cohesive unit. From Akiho to Kaito, to Subaru, to Junna, to Frau, these characters are all just such a joy to see interact with each other. And it’s because of how well-characterized they are, that Robotics;Notes’ themes can resonate so easily with many people.

Now, the manga adaptation handles these characters superbly—quite a bit better than the anime does too. One aspect of the manga that I greatly appreciate is the level of detail at which they spend time on character interactions. They spend a massive number of panels and pages solely dedicated to characterization. They could have adapted the story quite differently from how they ultimately ended up doing. For instance, they could have compressed phase 1 into a much shorter time frame to give more space and attention to the plot-heavy parts of the narrative. And yet, they opted to focus on the early little moments that make you care for the main duo. All in all, I’d say they did a good job with this approach.

As a textual medium, the manga adaptation has the advantage of being able to maintain much of the visual novel’s narration and internal monologues, which are sorely missing from the anime adaptation. This is why Kaito’s depiction in the manga is so well done.
On a surface level, he seems like he’s nothing more than just an apathetic asshole obsessed with fighting games; but there’s much more to him than that. Kaito is a broken kid with a broken dream. He escapes into his world of video games and latches onto Akiho to deal with his trauma and emotional problems. If you cut the internal narration and monologues for the sake of trying to compress the story into a short time frame, you completely lose out on what makes his character so special.

Thankfully, volume 1 of the manga characterizes Kaito amazingly—not as well as the visual novel (of course!) but it’s still great. Ultimately, Robotics;Notes’ cast is phenomenal and the manga does an incredible job with characterizing them in a manner consistent with their depictions in the visual novel.

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Robotics;Notes’ manga adaptation is being translated by Andrew “Steiner” Hodgson, a long-time professional translator with an extensive background in the Science Adventure series. He previously officially translated Anonymous;Code and the Steins;Gate 0 manga. Steiner was also part of the original Steins;Gate visual novel localization team, where he served as song translator and editor. In short, he has been a part of all the best-received official translations this franchise has had.

While my Japanese isn’t quite good enough for me to comment too extensively on the Robotics;Notes manga’s translation quality (and since I haven’t looked at the Japanese version either), I have consulted a few fan translators on the quality of the manga’s translation. They all attest to it being superior to the original visual novel’s official localization. And I myself can confirm that the manga reads quite well—be it in narration, tips, or dialogue. So at the very least, I can confirm that the localization is well-edited and isn’t lacking in its portrayal of character voice.

The manga’s translation renders a few key terms differently than prior Robotics;Notes localizations. For example, the mascot Fink (フィンク) is rendered as Phinx, though that’s also how it was officially romanized in the Japanese version of the manga. And although there’s no ス at the end of フィンク, this translation makes the idea of what the mascot is supposed to be a fair bit clearer. So I actually like this rendition of the term best out of all existing translations. But all in all, I can’t comment too extensively on the translation itself.

Robotics;Notes‘ manga features tips much like the visual novel. The above one here shows their rendition of フィンク.

One complaint I do have with the official English release is with sound effects. The localization translates most of these sound effects but is ultimately inconsistent with how they handle it alongside the Japanese. Sometimes, sound effects are in both Japanese and English. Sometimes, the sound effects are entirely in English. And some other times, they’re present only in Japanese. This is a relatively minor complaint, but I would’ve liked to see the sound effects consistently in English all throughout. But besides this, I have no complaints about the localization.

All in all, the Robotics;Notes manga is off to a promising start. Its first volume serves as a fantastic adaptation of Phase 1 and I could honestly even recommend it to newcomers who are on the fence about checking out the visual novel. That being said, I’m quite apprehensive about the manga’s approach going into volumes 2 and 3. The manga spends one third of its entire length only adapting Phase 1. That means that they have to cover Phases 2-12 in the span of two 2-in-1 volumes. I’m curious to see how the drastic speed-up in pacing will look like. But I can say this with certainty: Robotics;Notes manga volume 1 is a better adaptation than the anime is—and the anime itself already adapts Phase 1 decently well, as it spends three whole episodes on it.

What separates the manga from the anime adaptation is how much time it spends on internal monologues. The anime opts for more of a “show, don’t tell” approach; however, this comes at the great cost of Kaito’s characterization, which happens largely through internal monologues in the visual novel. The anime, of course, still has plenty of merits thanks to its solid direction, fantastic animation, and an impeccable soundtrack. Overall, though, because the manga chooses characterization through narration instead, its first volume feels truer to the spirit of the source material.

For English-speaking Robotics;Notes fans, I’d say this release is a must-buy. Asakawa’s take on the story provides plenty of substance to existing fans looking for more Robotics;Notes content. All in all, the manga serves as an excellent complement to the original visual novel.

If you would like to see more Science Adventure localizations, I would highly encourage supporting the official release. It’s a rarity to see an official localization for a manga adaptation of a visual novel.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Robotics;Notes volume 1 is physically available for sale on various different retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the Crunchyroll Store. Each volume of the Robotics;Notes manga costs $24.99 at MSRP.1 Each 2-in-1 volume is 356 pages long. People purchasing from Barnes & Noble can pick up their exclusive edition, which features different volume covers and bonus posters. Volumes 2 and 3 will release on January 2nd 2024 and February 27th 2024 respectively.

The Robotics;Notes visual novel originally released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 back in June 2012. A 22-episode anime adaptation followed shortly and aired in October of the same year; it is currently streaming on Crunchyroll outside of Japan. The title later received an updated re-release entitled Robotics;Notes Elite for the PlayStation Vita in June 2014. Considered the definitive version of the visual novel, it features significant graphics improvement, occasional insertions of anime scenes, and script modifications. HD versions of Robotics;Notes Elite are available in English on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam.

  1. Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price ↩︎

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An avid visual novel reader and particularly a massive fan of the Science Adventure series.

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8 months ago

Wow! What an in depth review!