A short warning: This is kind of long and I'm a bit of a potty-mouth (I tried to take the cursing out, but some might still be in there). Also, please leave some feedback, especially if you don't like the review. All criticism is appreciated.
The setting is basically this: The Robotics Club at Central Tanegashima High School want to build a huge mecha, and the series follows its members in their struggles with funding and other stuff. Pretty basic. Obviously there's more under the surface than the characters just going at it with spanners, including a mystery slowly being revealed about a conspiracy that would severely endanger a sweeping majority of the people on Earth. It's pretty far-fetched and we're never given a proper explanation why the plan is in motion any way. The series is very episodic and each episode usually focuses on one of the side characters and how Kaito fits in and helps them.
To begin with some negativity, my main gripe with the series, is that it feels so very standard. Generic is another word I could use, but it feels too negative. Robotics;Notes takes what you find in most series nowadays: A cast of rather quirky characters that compliment each-other's quirk/weirdness and go with it. It embraces the stereotypic tropes usually associated with anime and doesn't shy away from using them.
A positive to be found is that the animation is of very good quality. It's not Makoto Shinkai level of quality, but not much out there is. I'm far from an artist myself, so that's about all I'll say about it. One of the few good things with the series.
As far as the voice acting, it's mostly solid. Fukuda Nobuaki stands out as "Doc" in an emotional episode at about the middle of the series. Most others are good, but not outstanding. Part of the soundtrack stand out, but others are pretty run-of-the-mill pieces. Sound department ends up being a little above average, all things considered.
To the characters:
Akiho (the female protagonist) is super energetic and ambitious, while Kaito (male protagonist) is when the series begins depicted as a sloth and generally disinterested in doing anything but playing Kill-Ballad (an on-line fighting game with mechas) which he apparently is one of the top people in the world at. As the series goes forward, Kaito's character is all over the place. Junna is what I like to put in the category of "moe-blob. Basically, she's a throwaway character that's in the series to be cute and once or twice pop into the main plot-line for an episode or two. Contrasting her is Subaru, ambitious and helpful dude, who was told by his father to stop building, and competing with, robots. Then there's Kona, the epitome of stereotypic nerds in Japanese culture; She's a shut-in; almost entirely communicates in memes; is incredibly perverted and is generally pictured as a bit of a nut-case. That said, she does have a back-story that ties into the main story which is intriguing for the peculiarly short time it's given to develop. There's also the obligatory crazy director guy who's completely obsessed with boobs, and has a parrot that's trained (or is just damaged for being around him too long) to chant along in his craving for beholding boobs, as well as the oddball teacher who seems to be the most stupid and unreliable person on earth, but ends up being a person you should count on. You know you've seen these character types before if you've watched more than a couple anime.
A big problem the series has initially, is the fact that it takes a long time to get going. It starts with an in medias res scene, with the group starting up a big mecha and getting it started. After that we're showed the lives and struggles of Akiho and Kaito in their strife to get the robot working. They get some more members shortly, but the two are unquestionably the main characters. So, basically, the first episodes are for introducing the characters and the basic plot, which is usually fine. The problem is that the main characters aren't really that interesting, and neither is the main story to begin with. Viewers who stick around will have a passable series to watch, but there's not a whole lot keeping you in attached to the show or its characters. Let's see why:
The characters, with focus on the main characters:
Kaito - the series main protagonist, mind you- is an extremely bland and terribly boring character. He rarely shows interest in doing anything at all and seems to be sticking around "just because". In the beginning, coming off as eternally sceptical and non-committal, though at times showing intense caring and emotion, Kaito is a character that's all over the place, everything at once. It's not that he breaks out of his usual behaviour once or twice, it's that he doesn't have a starting point. Which is something you can say about the series as well.
Akiho - sharing main protagonist duties with Kaito - is a very energetic character who strongly believes in herself and her vision of building the robot her sister started building years previously. I can see her being a character that splits the audience, like a Haruhi. Infectious and happy-go-lucky personality that can alienate some viewers and enamour others.
The most glaring problem with the side-characters is that they're used mainly as plot devices. Characters pop in and out of relevance when it's convenient to the story, and few are consistent throughout the series. So, even when there are scenes that are supposed to evoke emotional responses, we as viewers haven't been given enough to care about the characters and their fates. Every scene should get some sort of reaction or give you something as a viewer. Tons of scenes and some episodes could and should have been cut out to give the viewer more information and background.
The story, which takes the back seat to introducing the characters. The mecha launching stuff in the opening moments of the show is a set-up for other things to happen in the second half of the series and the main story takes a few episodes to even enter the series. The story is told very episodically, in fragments between the episode-long character arcs, where you get more information about the characters and at times ending that characters arc entirely. Like seriously, what ever happened to Subaru's dad going at him for still being into robots? Did he just chill out after Subaru picked one apart in front of him? It was never very clear in the series, or at least not given enough time to appreciate what the arc ultimately did for the character (nothing at all).
It does pick up a considerable amount later, with some emotional episodes and big events and twists. The middle part of the series is easily its best. Though, with the characters being horribly, infuriatingly uneven, it's hard to fully enjoy the series. Also, some scenes are so ridiculously improbable and out of the blue that any seriousness it's trying to get across gets lost.
Now, I've been ragging on it a lot, but honestly, Robotics;Notes is an enjoyable show at times. It's passable as a watch, but if I were to decide on it being good or bad, I have to go with bad. With the story presented, the show has the potential to be a great show, but there are like six episodes dedicated to the story when the disappointing endgame rolls in, filled with deus ex machinas.
To summarise: The series does a poor job at getting the attention and sympathies of it's viewers to begin with and the pacing is way off from where it should be to tell a story that you, as a viewer, should become invested in. Main characters aren't able to carry the show on their own, and as a result the show is pretty flat in the end. It's almost fun how much we're meant to take for granted without any explanation at all. As such, it fails in doing what any series striving to be considered a serious work should do: Make the viewer care. It certainly has some sweet feel-good moments, but they hardly weigh up the series' shortcomings. It's a good try, but in the end it fails more than it succeeds. It falls short of the line between good and bad, and as such, I won't recommend this series to anyone. Maybe I would recommend an aspiring storyteller to watch it, just to know what pits in writing and storytelling to avoid, and that's certainly not something you would want written on the back of the DVD-case.