Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD 2 - Complete Series Part Two
All of sudden Okabe's fantasies take a turn for the frighteningly real – the lab is stormed by a mysterious organization because of his experiments with time travel. When the group's leader, the former Shining Finger, declares that Mayuri is useless and kills her, Okabe goes crazy. Can he fix the past so that this outcome no longer exists? And if Mayuri's death is the wages of his previous endeavors, what will the price be to fix it?
Sometimes people are right when they assure you that something gets better. Steins;Gate's second DVD/Blu-Ray set is a far cry from the first, forcing the characters – specifically series' hero Rintaro Okabe – to face both facts and themselves as they behold the very serious consequences of what they previously seemed to think of as good-natured messing around with the space/time continuum. This set opens with a rehash of the shocking last scene of its predecessor – a troop of militiamen lead by the previously annoying but harmless Moeka storms the lab and shoots Mayuri dead. Okabe, naturally, freaks, and quickly runs to the recently perfected time machine headset. He returns to the past to attempt to save Mayuri only to find himself trapped in a nefarious combination of the 1993 film Groundhog Day and Ryukishi07's Higurashi: When They Cry. Okabe's attempts are noble and ultimately heartbreaking, and both Mamoru Miyano and J. Michael Tatum offer up noteworthy performances here, with each excelling at different specific emotions but delivering excellent voice work overall. This arc also allows us to see the truth behind Okabe and Mayuri's relationship, taking us back to the day when she first became his hostage. Not only does this explain their bond, it also sheds some like on Okabe himself. Perhaps, it suggests, he is not a lunatic with delusions of grandeur, but rather an awkward person who has no idea how to properly interact with others.
This character insight is not restricted to Okabe, and over the course of the twelve episodes on the discs we learn about who everyone really is. No one is quite who he or she seems to be (except possibly Daru), and as Okabe confronts each one in turn about their dmails and other activities each becomes infinitely more sympathetic than they were before. Simply put, everyone has been playing a role, but now the midnight bell has rung and the masks have to come off. All of this – the fact that characters are now being themselves and that Okabe has a real, meaningful mission instead of playing a game – makes the show engrossing and urgent. The real world, it turns out, is much more compelling than any fiction Okabe could create, and it follows that the stakes become much higher.
Science fiction, in order to be successful, needs to say something important about the world and the way that science and technology can influence it. The way that Okabe and his cohorts recklessly fiddled around with time travel simply because they could in the first half of the series seemed to ignore this general literary rule, but with episode thirteen the show begins to really delve into this more serious aspect of its genre. Once Okabe realizes the consequences that his actions have had, he is forced to contend with the collateral of human emotions that these actions have created. Everyone, it seems, had a more pressing need behind their dmails than he had ever considered, and now as he tries to undo the damage unknowingly spawned by them, he must also look at people in a way that he has previously avoided. Why did Ruka want to be a girl? How did Feris' wish change Akihabara, and why did she do it? Okabe may have been playing, but others had real goals based in their pasts and emotions. As he deals with them, he also learns that even games have a serious component when human emotions are involved. Following his attempts to save Mayuri as these conversations do, we see evidence of Okabe growing up before our eyes. Likewise we learn about Makise, who previously had simply seemed to play the role of straight man to his lunatic. Simply put, as Okabe learns to see outside of himself, he also comes to see others as real people, and it is this that propels the show to its climax.
With the emotions and excitement kicked up a notch or two, the visuals and auditory effects follow suit. In moments of stress Okabe's face is drawn more realistically and in scenes of anger, teeth and gums are shown in high detail. An emphasis on clasped hands helps to showcase the heightened emotional content of the show. Later on in the set, an episode focusing on Moeka is particularly well done. It takes place in a mostly darkened apartment and bears a resemblance to a black-and-white suspense film. English voice Jessica Cavanaugh does a remarkable job during an hysterical scene to the point where those living in apartments with thin walls might want to turn the volume down for fear that the neighbors would call the police. Aural stops are also pulled out during a romantic scene towards the end, with the sound design helping to emphasize the moment and make it more effective, and the ending credits for episode 22 also have some nice auditory tweaks that helps to make them memorable, as well as providing an incentive to keep watching when it seems that things must be about wrapped up.
Steins;Gate may not be the Best Show Ever, but it certainly has some good things to say about the masks we wear and how they can help us to see the world more clearly in some cases. Okabe himself learns this lesson, realizing that while he can be Rintaro Okabe and not Kyouma Hououin and still be just fine, there are times when Kyouma might come in handy too. His realization of this helps to make Mayuri an even more interesting character. The others might all treat her like a child – and that does become increasingly obvious this time around – but her childlike qualities enable her to take the world as it comes. She is unarmored, unlike the other characters, but in some ways she is the strongest of all of them, accepting the world both as it is and as it might have been, no matter how unpleasant that may be. Ultimately this show has proved itself to be, at least in the second half, a captivating emotional roller-coaster that keeps us watching not only to see how the characters evolve, but also to assure ourselves that things will turn out as we want them to. After a first set of episodes that didn't quite manage that (something that comes up in the second commentary track with the sound engineers), it is all the more impressive that it does it so well now. The lesson that was not learned in the first half of the show is truly brought home in this one as Okabe struggles to figure out what is fate and what is not, with a flashback suggesting that perhaps Mayuri was living on borrowed time anyway, and whether or not it is possible to give Fate a big kick and fix things while it's doubled over. While it would have been possible to accomplish this without all of the careful set up in the first half that made for less than compelling viewing, perhaps the impact is all the greater because of the meandering pace and cardboard characters of the first twelve episodes. In any event, Steins;Gate pulls an impressive turnaround and becomes something it is hard to put down.
So yes – sometimes things do get better. Stick with this show and see just how much.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Excellent character work in both development and voice acting. Animation and sound design help heighten moments. Suddenly becomes a very urgent story.
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