Can’t talk long, the organisation is on to me. El. Psy. Congroo.
What They Say:
Hack into the secrets of time travel!
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.
The audio and visual quality of the DVD release is pretty standard with no visible issues or errors throughout the series. The audio is well balanced and comes across clearly with no distortion or muffling, whilst the visuals play smoothly. Subtitles are easy to read and don’t have any noticeable errors, typos or other visual problems. Visual quality in the DVD release is high, so it’s expected that the Blu-Ray release will be even prettier, whilst the presence of 5.1 surround sound for the English dub is a welcome one.
Steins;Gate’s menu is a simple but stylish one. The background is black with numerous white lines and symbols all over, a visual style which is often used in the show and the original visual novel. Also featured are full scale portraits of the characters on the main menu, a small loop of video clip in one of the larger circles and a loop of the opening sequence music over the main menu. Each menu features setup, episode selection and play all options, whilst the second disc also has a bonus features option. Clicking on the sub-menus causes a short, couple second clip of the ending sequence music to play whilst it transitions. The episode selection menu has episode titles and an image of the episode, a feature which adds to filling out the menu screen and giving a hint as to which episode it is if you want to repeat a certain episode. Setup has subtitle options and English 5.1/Japanese 2.0 options, whilst the bonus menu has options for each feature. All the menus work upon clicking, although there is a slight second or so of delay between clicking and the transition beginning which is a little annoying, although not a deal breaker.
Steins;Gate volume one features two bonus features. The first is a two minute video clip showing a map of the Akihabara area of Japan and the locations which are featured in Steins;Gate, including a little information about each location and their relative placing in regards to each other. It’s an interesting little feature and, whilst not very informative, it provides a tidbit of extra information into how the world is laid out and the relative placements of where the events happen.
The second feature is a commentary of episode 12 by a couple of the people who work at Funimation in regards to writing and translating the series into English, one of whom also plays Okabe in the English dub. Whilst the episode is playing there isn’t any actual commentary on what happens, which is what I was expecting, although they do make a couple of comments for the final climax scene when it begins. The rest of the information is about how they usually adapt the original Japanese translation into a fluent English dub and decide who should play each part. Michael Tatum, who plays Okabe, also adds a little information on how he decided to portray Okabe’s voice in the English dub which is interesting to hear, especially since most bonus features usually come from the original Japanese side of things. Hearing how series are translated is something which isn’t usually discussed in bonus features, so this is a nice addition. A hot topic of discussion is how they adapted the pop culture references from the original script into something a Western audience is more likely to connect with, including their inclusion of Star Trek and Doctor Who references. Overall, it’s a decent feature and worth watching if you are at all interested in how series are translated, especially with something as dialogue heavy and reference heavy as Steins;Gate.
Steins;Gate is an interesting concept. Set in the present day, it focusses around a small independent research laboratory in an apartment run by self-proclaimed ‘mad scientist’ Okabe Rintarou, who also goes by the name of Hououin Kyouma due to it ‘sounding cool’. Also Okarin, according to Mayuri. Okabe’s topic of interest is creating various gadgets and machines and, ultimately, to stumble upon the means in which to perform time travel. The series makes frequent reference to the internet phenomenon of John Titor, a real world person who supposedly time travelled back from the future to warn humanity and features his philosophies throughout, adding an extra twist to make time travel come across in a rather unique way. In the world of Steins;Gate, time travel is performed through ‘world lines’, in which the person in question is travelling on a world line and, if time travel is performed, the world itself adapts to the whatever new outcome is necessary to accommodate the time travel. Of course, when this is performed by someone who calls themselves a mad scientist with no real regard to the stability of the world, it causes all manner of problems.
Okabe isn’t alone, either. At the start of the series, he’s accompanied by a couple of other characters, strictly referred to as ‘lab assistants’ and given a number. These are Mayuri Shiina, a young girl with a love for chicken and an avid cosplayer, and Itaru Hashida, a computer hacker and visual novel aficionado. As any self-respecting mad scientist lab team should do, they also have their own nicknames, going by Mayushii and Daru respectively. As the series progresses, more and more members get added to the lab team, starting out with Makise Kurisu (Kurisutina) and followed later on by Moeka Kiryu (Shining Finger), Suzuha Amane, a girl who only uses her nickname of Feyris NyanNyan and Ruka Urushibara. Part of the reason why Steins;Gate is so enjoyable to watch is due to this combination of characters, each of them has their own distinct personality and their relationships cause all manner of crazy banter and discussion, combined with some of the best dialogue seen in an anime for a long time. Another feature worth noting about this show is that it is heavy with pop culture references, referring to other series, internet memes and other various topics, all performed in a very self-aware manner. One of the complaints I’ve heard personally about the English release for the series is that a lot of the references have been changed to suit a wider audience, replacing Japanese culture with Western culture including mentions of series such as Star Trek. Whilst some people may be bothered by this, the reasoning behind this is sound and the manner in which it is done doesn’t affect the flow of dialogue in any way, so it’s not a huge issue.
As for the story itself, it’s complex. A general trait of time travel stories is that a lot of things don’t really seem to make sense at the point of them happening, only to all become revealed later on (or earlier on?) and, whilst Steins;Gate’s idea of time travel avoids that happening as much as some other media, it does still play a part. The first episode alone features one of the main characters being found dead in a storeroom by Okabe, just to be alive in the very same episode later on. One of the main features of the series is the lab’s time machine, which is literally an old mobile phone attached to a microwave, allowing for text messages to be sent back into the past and effect events there. There is a limit on this, though, only allowing a certain amount of data to be transferred at once, minimising the potential impact unless used in a very specific way. As the characters get a grasp on how it works, bigger changes start to be made and, through some innate ability, Okabe is the only one who remembers what the world was like prior to the changes occurring. Eventually he starts to realise that the changes that have been made to the world may be permanent, as he doesn’t know how, if it’s even possible, to reverse a change that has occurred, causing him genuine worry. He starts to contact John Titor, only to be told that due to his ability to remember the previous world, he may be the key to becoming the saviour of humanity, which fills Okabe with both glee and dread.
Throughout the story, Daru manages to learn that SERN has been able to replicate a form of time travel using the Large Hadron Collider, but with mostly unsuccessful attempts. After an episode or two of searching for an ancient type of computer to decode SERN’s database, Daru learns that SERN have tried sending people back into the past through this method and the results have been… fatal. Okabe’s own experiments have managed to send bananas through time via the phone microwave, reappearing as a weird, green gelatinous substance and, from the evidence found in SERN’s files; people travelled through time and reappeared in a similar format. Whilst finding this information deters Okabe and the other lab members from attempting to travel through time themselves, it does have repercussions later on in the series, and actually leads to the climax of the first half of the series, an event which changes the entire tone of the series and causes a massive shift in character and plot direction. Throughout the episodes, the changes caused through sending messages through time get greater and greater, starting out from a single failed attempt to win a lottery to eventually changing an entire area of the city and, by the time Okabe realises what’s going on, he also realises that he’s gone too far. The final scenes of the last episode of the first half are genuinely shocking, supported by directorial, visual and audio cues to create a suitable climax.
As for the characters, they’re a very enjoyable bunch of individuals. Be it the somewhat-tsundere Kurisu slowly falling for Okabe or Suzuha’s spunky sporty personality creating bipolar conversations with him, every conversation is fun to watch. The only character that doesn’t really come across that well is Ruka, the series’ token trap character. He doesn’t really add much to the story in the first half, with many of his scenes revolving around him being embarrassed about his cross-dressing nature. Things change a little later on due to messing with time, but even then he doesn’t come across as being particularly interesting or even necessary. Everyone else’s quirks really add to the believability of the series, they all act, react and discuss things like any normal group of people, cracking jokes and berating each other whenever the opportunity arises. On that note, the voice acting in both the original Japanese dub and the English dub is fantastic, with the voices matching their characters’ personalities and mannerisms perfectly. Especially noteworthy is Okabe, as his madcap personality requires a certain level of flair to pull off, a flair which is mastered in both dubs. He even does the typical evil laugh and spiels off ridiculous dialogue about conspiracies and plots with finesse. The fact that the other characters still come across as well as they do is a sign of the quality in their dialogue and development, otherwise they would probably be obscured by Okabe’s massive, spotlighting personality.
As for aesthetics, Steins;Gate manages to stand out here too. Be it the thunderous cracks of a microwave time machine throwing lightning around the room or the exaggerated gulping of Dr. Pepper from Okabe, sound effects are top notch. The music throughout is relatively restrained, however, usually performing the task of ambience and blending in with the overall effect of the scene rather than standing out. The sheer absence of music in the final sequence was a fine choice though, further adding to the impact of what happens and the dialogue. In regards to music, the opening sequence (Hacking to the Gate by Ito Kanako) and ending sequence (Toki Tsukasadoru Juuni no Meiyaku by Phantasm (FES Cv. Yui Sakakibara)) are fantastic in regards to musical quality, the theme of the series and the actual visuals. The opening especially has some lovely animation and visual touches which really suit the style of the show, be it cogs and wheels or the multiples of each character representing the numerous timelines.
As for visual quality, Steins;Gate looks absolutely fantastic. The original style of the visual novel is represented well, albeit understandably in less detail. Huke’s original designs have been adapted well and the characters look great, whilst the animation quality is top notch. Considering a lot of the story is dialogue and doesn’t feature much in the way of flashy movements or fight sequences, the budget seems to be spread across the episodes evenly, allowing for high quality throughout. The use of certain visual quirks now and then also look great, from the ‘floating in a singularity’ scene when Okabe switches world lines completely for the first time to Okabe’s heavily stylised sprinting sequence near the end. CGI is also rarely used, aside from a couple of sequences outside of reality during world line shifts where giant CGI hourglasses look slightly out of place, but it’s nothing significant. Overall though, White Fox couldn’t have done a better job in adapting the visual novel’s original style into an animation.
With its quality aesthetics, interesting time travel ideas and lovable character cast, Steins;Gate has the ability to stand out above the crowd and provide something interesting and new to the time travel sub-genre. Very much recommended for anyone who enjoys time travel based materials, be they anime or live action. Whilst there aren’t many series which are quite like this, I’d probably recommend anyone who enjoyed Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Mawaru Penguindrum or Serial Experiments Lain.
Overall, Steins;Gate is one of the most promising first halves in a long time. Plenty of character development throughout has made almost all of the characters likeable and relatable, plus the original twists on the mechanics of time travel keep it from becoming overly clichéd. References to both real life time travel theories and pop culture also add to the idea that these characters are real people living relatively normal lives. Well, normal for a mad scientist. As for the aesthetic qualities, it also stands out with its own style of characters and high budget animation, combined with some interesting directorial quirks. Not only that, but the ending presents a huge cliff-hanger for the second half and pulls it off in an extremely impressive manner, delivering a powerful impact and changing the way in which the whole series has come across so far, for the better. The second half is much anticipated.
Japanese 2.0, English 5.1, English Subtitles, Akihabara Map and Episode 12 Commentary bonus features.
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A+
Menu Grade: A-
Extras Grade: B+
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 15th, 2013
Running Time: 325 (Series) 26 (Extras)
Price: £15.72 (DVD), £27.99 (Blu-Ray)
23” Samsung HDTV, Creative speakers and Sub, Laptop via HDMI port