Region: 2 - UK
Volume: 1 of 2
Length: 325 minutes
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Japanese 2.0 Stereo
Rintaro ‘Okarin’ Okabe is a self-proclaimed mad scientist. He's just made his microwave into a time machine. He's sending text messages to the past. He is in so much trouble right now. Set in the same world as 2008 anime Chaos;Head, acclaimed sci-fi thriller Steins;Gate is a rollercoaster ride of conspiracy, murder and fractured timelines as Okarin rushes to save his past, present and future.
I've been trying to find an anime that completely understands the complexities of time travel plus all the concepts that it can encompass. Steins Gate might have the closest shot at being that title. If it follows through in its second half then I might have found the series I've been looking for.
Of course, that it's not taking itself seriously for the most part also helps. Rintarou Okabe is a good mad scientist, with his constant talking into his phone to no one and rambling about "The Organization". Somehow (it's never quite explained how) he ropes Itaru Hashida and Mayuri Shiina into working in his Future Gadgets Laboratory. Which is really just a clubhouse rented above an old CRT repair shop. Between Daru (Itaru's nickname) and his ogling after the girls in the series and Mayuri's easy going demeanour, nobody seems to notice that Okabe's life is going nowhere and he spends his days figuring out why the microwave in their room keeps turning the bananas to green jelly.
The best shows start off with a mystery and then build on this. In Steins Gate, Okabe and the rest have their mystery when he meets Kurisu Makise. Makise seems to already know him but is then killed. Then a satellite lands on the building they are all in. Then Okabe gets sent back into the past by a week and meets Makise for the first, at least from her perspective. Confused yet? Okay, okay, I should tell you that this angle is dropped right after this only to be brought back as the gang realise they have an actual time machine in their clubhouse that can send messages back into the past. Initially, Okabe does things like trying to win the lottery but as time goes on, other members of the gang try it too. It's here that we start to realise that Steins Gate is playing tricks on us. Only the audience and Okabe know that the timeline has been changed by what they text into the past. Some changes are minor, others have much larger consequences. As the episodes go on, Okabe begins to feel ambivalent towards changing the timeline. Showing his softer side, he usually changes the timeline to help a member of the laboratory. But he can't help shake the feeling that something isn't right about what they are doing.
While the show's comedy elements help build up the affection between this motley crew, it's Okabe that keeps them together. Through a mixture of bribery, blackmail, stupidity and guile, he gets them to do what he wants. Sometimes this results in them hitting him or screaming at him but in true mad scientist fashion, he laughs it off or talks to his phone. I liked the funny moments as they prepared me for the more serious points the show brings up. Think about it: if you could change the world, would you stop and think about the fallout from such a choice? Or would you not notice it until it happened and you couldn't change it back. Okabe figures this out and also that the real life science organization CERN (here titled SERN) will in the future invent a time machine themselves but will also stop at nothing to silence those who know and also those to tinker with time itself. So now, whenever someone sends a message back and things change, he alone knows what happened and I feel bad for him because he has to then tell the crew and in some cases get to know the team again because he's in a new timeline. Sam Becket never had to worry so much.
The show's draw is in the characters and how they grow together as this first set of episodes plays out. In the meantime, the growing problem of what to do with this awesome power and how they use it is going to change things in the near future (no pun intended). The finale episode in the set is a game changer and completely turns the world of the show on its ear. You never see it coming. You know something is coming but when it happens, you don't expect exactly that.
I like the dub on this show. The Japanese voice actors take turns being crazy, zany or quirky and I appreciate their deliberate fun in contrast to what's coming down the line. While in the moment, they have fun with their characters because they know they have the time to do it (again with the time references!).The English dub, hmmm. It's more problematic in that, it is good at getting across the complex relationships in the series but it fails when it's going for casual conversation. I don't know how to describe it. When the show is talking about the butterfly effect inside of a temporal variance or if Makise is bashing Okabe over the head then the dub works fine but when they are just chit-chatting it feels like they are reading from the back of a cornflake box. Call me blown over that a Funimation dub could be this fun, but I can't quite give it full marks for that weird quirk I've stated. For once, I like both sets of performances and that is a rare thing these days.
The blu ray has some clean opening and closing animations. Two commentary tracks from Funimation people cover episode one and twelve. Of the two, check out J. Michael Tatum's (playing Okabe and writing some of the English scripts) track on twelve. He and the other gentleman on the track talk about how hard Steins Gate was to tackle and go into the adaption process for anime. They also correctly identify that they translate the script and come up with English dialogue and not maintain that they "write the scripts" like other commentary tracks do. I like the cut of their gib.
Working on the idea that sleight of hand can be used effectively, Steins Gate unlocks a world that once opened will likely change the players involved. Through comedy, tragedy and a nice and tight script, it's my favourite sci-fi outside of aforementioned show. Please, have fun and try not to get suckered by its tricks. El Psy Congaroo, indeed.