What They Say:
The microwave is a time machine. Okarin proved it. The self-anointed mad scientist nuked bananas into some gelatinous version of the future. Or maybe it was the past. Doesn’t matter. No one thought he could do it, but he did it anyway. He sent text messages through time to people he knew. To his friends. Some of them female. Pretty. He should have been more careful. He should have stopped. Tampering with the time-space continuum attracts unwelcome attention.
Clandestine organizations of nefarious origins take notice. SERN. Always watching. Okarin knows; he can feel their eyes. That’s why he started the top secret Future Gadget Lab. To stop them. You should join. We get to wear lab coats, and it’s dangerous. Danger is exciting because it’s deadly. The microwave is a time machine.
Contains episodes 1-12.
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo while the English gets a 5.1 bump, both of which use the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The series is very much dialogue driven so the use of placement throughout and depth during certain sequences is where it stands out and the series handles it all quite well. The few big moment scenes mostly come in the form of music, but it has some good effects elsewhere as well that stand out. The show is not one that’s designed to knock your socks off, but you do find the mix drawing you in overall as it progresses and gets more intense and atmospheric in its own way. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes here are spread across two discs with eight on the first and four on the second. The show has a rather good real world look to it with a few stand out areas in terms of color and some of the animation is incredibly fluid at times. The show is one that tends to be more about the talking and standing around, but the transfer captures the details well here and brings the atmosphere to the screen in a very good way. The main problem that I had with it is a problem that’s in the source to a good degree as well with the banding that shows up in a few backgrounds here and there. It’s distracting here and there but it’s not something that really detracts heavily.
The packaging for this release comes in a limited edition which means we get a heavy chipboard box that will hold both Blu-ray cases when they’re released. This one has the single Blu-ray case with a separate spacer box alongside it that’s black and white with some background images and the logos. The front panel has a really good illustration piece that has the three primary characters together with each of them through a different color filter that lets each of them stand out while still blending together. The back cover breaks it down in different ways with more of the characters involved through a fractured approach. They’re all done with the same kind of illustration look with different colored filters used for them.
Inside the box we get the slightly oversized Blu-ray case that holds the four discs inside with a thick hinge that gives it all a bit more weight and appeal. The cover artwork uses the same as the front of the box but it has a different kind of vibrancy to it with the paper stock used that lets it stand out a bit more in a different way. The back cover is a fair bit weaker with a bland background that doesn’t stand out much. The concept of the show is sold pretty well here even if the layout of it is a little awkward with the font and colors. A small strip of shows is along the right while the bottom has a list of the discs extras and a technical grid that covers both the DVD and Blu-ray releases cleanly and accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release works nicely as it’s done with a look through the monitor in a way where we see various clips from the series and a few scenes that has Okabe looking back at the viewer. It’s got a particular filter to it that works nicely but overall it’s straightforward in that it hits some of the highlights with the characters and generally looks good. The navigation is kept in theme as well along the lower right which doubles as the pop-up menu as well. Submenus load quickly and easily and navigation is a breeze. The show defaults to English with sign/song subtitles.
The release has a couple of good extras to it that are a bit more weighted towards the English language fans. We get a pair of commentary tracks by the English adaptation crew as they talk about the show and their approach to it. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences are included as well. Rounding it out is an interesting extra that does a brief but simple map of Akibahara and highlights some of the places that the show takes place in.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Steins; Gate was, quite simply, the best series of 2011 for me when it came to simulcast.
Based on the “scientific” adventure visual novel from 5pb and Nitroplus, Steins; Gate followed up Chaos; Head by going in a different direction and really working with something you normally don’t see. With animation by White Fox, the show ran for twenty-four episodes and completely hit it out of the park for me on a weekly basis. It was a series that definitely took some time to adjust to overall with the approach that it’s taking, With the way the series works here, it’s all about picking up on the small differences, the nods towards reality and seeing how things slowly but surely evolve. What’s most frustrating here is that the first half of the series is fascinating to watch grow into what it is that when you get to the end of it, not having the second half right away is a killer.
The series takes place in 2010 as we’re introduced to Okabe Rintaro, a “mad scientist” who operates the Future Gadgets Lab in a small hole in the wall above a classic CRT store. While he’s pretty much piss poor, he’s living a good life that he wants with his childhood friend Mayuri, who is his “hostage” in this situation because she wants to help him out. He’s also aided in the technical realm with Daru, a super hacker who is quite skilled and has a lot of real ability. What really drives the show is that as a male lead, Okabe is just spot on here with how he lives his life. With his phone always in hand, he plays up this fantasy that the people at SERN (aka the fictional CERN) are after him and what he’s creating. There’s a real playfulness to it all here, but it’s also his escape from reality at times as a defense mechanism with how he has to interact with people.
Where things go strange for him though is when at the start of the series he attends a small conference in the area about time travel. Always a controversial subject, that conference has him acting out a bit at it but it also seems to introduce the first differences in the world as he meets a woman there named Makise Kurisu, an attractive eighteen year old girl genius who doesn’t believe in time travel. There’s confusion about that first meeting, but it’s something that does become a bit clearer as this event plays out and we see Kurisu getting killed in a dark room later on that Okabe discovers. Only that a day later, she’s healthy and alive and giving the conference in place of the guy who was originally doing it.
The series of events that unfold here is fascinating to watch because it brings in a lot of little nuances and areas where you can see the confusion coming in because time travel is done a little differently and Okabe isn’t aware of it. He and Daru end up accidentally discovering a method of sending messages back in time through the combination of his phone and the microwave in the office. It allows for only short messages that can introduce all kinds of changes to the past. Though it’s not discussed, it’s obvious that a message from the future helped to save Kurisu, which ended up drawing her into the group (along with a handful of others as the whole series of events starts to change his life in all sorts of ways). But before they can realize how they saved Kurisu, there has to be a lot of experimenting going on.
And that experimenting is fun since the whole idea comes down to taking a square peg and trying to get it through a round hole. The initial experiments involve bananas, but they all turn to gelatinous form when they end up in the past, hence the messages becoming the main form of time travel. The experimenting gets to be really fun as it progresses as everyone wants to add in something new and there’s some real creativity to it as we see how small changes sent to the past have a big effect. But nobody notices those effects except for Okabe as he seems to be able to retain his memories as the “world lines” shift to these new realities. He gets his concerns along the way as the dangers start to surface, both from what the others tell him and the other looming threat.
And that threat, comical at first, is really great to see come to life. While he’s afraid of SERN on some level, there’s also the discovery that there are legitimate reasons to be. With their discovery of time travel, a little hacking into SERN itself reveals that they’ve been working on time travel for decades themselves with nothing going quite to plan. The whole idea of a conspiracy in Okabe’s mind becomes reality, though it’s kept mostly to the background for a lot of it until it all comes to a head. Just in time for the set to be over with. Frustration abounds, but it’s the best kind in the world where you just know that it’s going to be worth the wait.
Steins; Gate is a layered kind of show where each new episode really builds on everything else in a way that expands it all. The whole time travel aspect is exceedingly well done here with the nature of it, how the changes work and the nuance of it all, from someone else from the future supposedly sending messages on a bulletin board to the whole phone microwave aspect. The cast that comes into it here is gradual and there are some really neat things that happen along the way with their interactions and how the past affects them. The initial trio is well established early on with Kurisu being the newest addition, but it also works in others and plays with some good comedy and emotion along the way. Steins; Gate hit all the right marks weekly for me when I watched the simulcast and it’s even stronger and more enjoyable in marathon form here as all the things that bind it together are more apparent. Very highly recommended.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Commentary for Episodes 1 & 12, Akihabara Map, Textless Opening Song, Textless Closing Song
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: September 25th, 2012
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.