Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Nov 26th 2012
BD+DVD 1 - Complete Series Part One [Limited Edition]
Rintaro Okabe, who would prefer to be known as Kyouma Hououin, is a self-proclaimed Mad Scientist. Together with his childhood friend Mayuri and computer genius Daru he runs the Future Gadgets Lab in an apartment above an electronics shop. Okabe is rubbing along just fine – although he fears pursuit by the Organization – until he stumbles onto a case of apparently divergent timelines. This leads him to look into time travel and as he unlocks the secrets of SERN and accumulates lab members, it becomes clear that there is more to this time travel business than transporting a few bananas...
Coming from the same studio that brought us Chaos;HEAd, Steins;Gate, apart from also not knowing how to use a semi-colon properly, introduces us to another cast of eccentric, generally unlikable characters who nonetheless manage to pull us into an increasingly complex and bizarre story that seems to have repercussions far beyond what the players themselves realize. In the case of Steins;Gate this lack of awareness sometimes calls to mind a scene from Dreamworks' 1999 film GalaxyQuest when one of the characters asks the others if they have ever actually seen the kind of sci fi show they are currently living; in other words, for people messing with the space-time continuum, Okabe and his cohorts seem to know precious little about it. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the show, and by the end of these first twelve episodes, viewers with strong backgrounds in science fiction (as fans or otherwise) may find themselves shrieking at the characters to quit messing around.
This issue aside, Steins;Gate walks the line between being an enjoyable show and one that alternates between frustrating and a little dull. The main character is Rintaro Okabe, but he prefers to have people call him Kyouma Hououin, a name that at least a few other characters find pretentious. Okabe, a young man of indeterminate age, seems to suffer from paranoid delusions that a group known simply as “The Organization” is after him and the research he and his friends perform at the Future Gadget Lab. Okabe frequently talks to someone on his cell without turning it on, charting the issues that come up, from uncooperative lab members to the potentially imagined pursuit of his foes. Never seen without his lab coat, Okabe is self-important and in the dub speaks in elaborately constructed sentences - “Don't think to ensnare me with this gambit” - which nicely captures the character and makes the dub a little more entertaining than the sub track. Okabe's problems begin when he and childhood friend (and lab hostage) Mayuri attend a lecture on time travel. At the lecture he meets Japanese-American science prodigy Kurisu Makise , and the two immediately get off on the wrong foot. This wouldn't be an issue in Okabe's life if he didn't accidentally stumble across her murdered corpse later in the day. He sends a hurried text to his compatriot Itaru Hashida (better known as Daru), only to discover that somehow the world has been changed to one where Makise never died. This is the start of Okabe's meddling with time travel and what it might have to do with SERN, an old PC known as an IBN 5100, and a lot of shady (and slightly annoying) characters, some of whom seem to know a whole lot more than they're letting on.
The pacing of the show is, in these first twelve episodes, somewhat uneven. Moments of exciting scientific discovery and Okabe's apparent delusions are offset by scenes of daily lab life, trips to a maid cafe, and other less thrilling activities, which tend to drag. When focused on the actual work of the lab, the show is fascinating, and scenes where the group gets into what SERN has been doing have an edge of danger that makes them compelling. The scenes of Makise cooking, Mayuri sewing, and talking about how pretty Ruka is? Not so much. Daru's day-to-day activities fare better simply by virtue of Tyson Rhinehart's stellar performance, making the somewhat pervy character both amusing and natural sounding. Use of the Internet character John Titor also makes for some interesting viewing, although if you aren't familiar with him, reading up before viewing will probably help with comprehension. All-in-all the show starts to pick up around episode nine, and the set ends with a cliff-hanger that makes the second half feel like a must-see.
Visuals are also mixed, with episode 11 featuring a particularly fascinating scene done in black and white. There are lots of close-ups of mouths and other facial features that make viewing uncomfortable, which feels deliberate, and fanservice shots scattered throughout, more in the second half than the first. They don't feel like they fit, but neither are they horribly distracting. The Blu-Ray is sharper than the DVD, as is the norm, but during the ending theme for episode 10 the sound is a little choppy, which hopefully is just my disc. This set of discs comes in the usual chipboard box with a space holder for the second half of the series. Extras are the basics – two episodes with commentary (the first with Rhinehart and Trina Nishimura) is more enjoyable than the second, discussing the recording process and with Rhinehart demonstrating his different death screams from other shows, which are strangely specific – clean themes, trailers, and a map of Akihabara. Animation goes between competent and off-model but overall works.
Viewers with short attention spans or a low tolerance for characters who don't always think things through or who are simply annoying (the shining example here being text-not-talk Moeka) may have a hard time getting through this first half of what, in its second, has the potential to be an interesting show. Steins;Gate has a lot going for it, but the awkward pacing and overall unlikability of the characters makes it a bit trying at times. Episode 12 gives real hope for the rest of it, however, so it may be worth sticking it out and seeing if Okabe truly is delusional, or if maybe there's something to his paranoia after all.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Interesting concept, nice visual flair when needed. The final episode really is a great hook for the rest of the series. Dub script works very well for Okabe's character.
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