Steins;Gate Review

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Spring season of 2011 was definitely a great time to be an anime fan. Denpa Onna made us want to believe in aliens, Nichijou brought KyoAni out of their comfort zone and was absolutely hilarious, but, above all that, was the sometimes gripping sometimes hilarious time travel tale of Steins;Gate

Never have I ever watched a show that could be so easily alienating and welcoming to a new audience at the same time. With all the paranoia of Primer and the comedy of Back to the Future, Steins;Gate is an absolutely wonderful sci-fi tale that would completely resonate with any western buff… if it weren’t for the plethera of moe culture its Akihabara setting entails. Still, it is a masterful show that I think anyone could enjoy.

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Steins;Gate Parts 1 and 2

Studio: White Fox
Publisher: Funimation Entertainment
Release Date: December 18th, 2012
MSRP: Part 1 $69.98, Part 2 $64.98

Main Feature

Steins;Gate stars the lovably eccentric Okabe Rintaro, known to all as the great mad scientist Hououin Kyouma! In a small apartment near the busy streets of Akihabara, he constantly invents nonsensical devices with the help of his hacker friend Daru while hanging out with his old childhood friend Mayuri. That all changes after he crashes a time travel lecture and bears witness to a horrible murder. Thinking no better response than to tell Daru immediately, a simple text changes Okabe’s life.

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Just as the American release was split up into a Part 1 and Part 2, so is Steins;Gate‘s very narrative defined by a split down the middle. Part 1 is a great mix of adventure and comedy. A lack of regard for basic biology aside, the tale is very well grounded, feeling like something that could actually happen if you just had someone crazy enough to do it. As Okabe comes to understand the machine, he finds an ally in Makise Kurisu, a brilliant scientist and former murder victim. With her help they make the ultimate breakthrough in science… only for it to be wantonly used by their friends. As Hououin gets more screen time with each friend you get to learn a bit about the life he leads. Whether in Japanese or English there are some hilarious one liners and scenes that really help get you to love the Future Science Lab and its new members. Still, there is always a price in messing with the past, and changing it won’t always mean it will change for the better.

Part 2 is where all of Hououin’s fakey, shadowy organization stunts become oppressively real. Okabe becomes a man racing against the clock to save his friends. Luckily for him, time is the only thing he has any control over. It’s here that we meet the real Okabe Rintaro. With reality crushing around him, he has no choice but to abandon the wistful demeanor that endears as much as it irritates and focus on his problems. What follows is a hectic run through time, repeating mistakes until he can figure out how to set things right. The characters are forced to make heartbreaking sacrifices and confront chilling revelations to change the future, casting a dark shadow over what was once a peppy story. Playing with the very format of the show, Steins;Gate keeps you guessing at each new problem that arises. All I can say is, never skip the end credits.

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Technical Quality

As an anime of the modern era, Steins;Gate looks absolutely beautiful. I always find it impressive when I remember it was relative newcomer White Fox that did the animation for this show and not some big studio. While the designs look slightly shifted from Huke’s original drawings, it was a necessary evil, as his weird concentric-circle eyes would be really hard to make look right in full motion. The soundtrack is definitely guilty of reusing music a lot, but it always struck the right cord in setting the mood of a scene.

The dub for this show drew some criticism when it was first previewed. A few felt that J. Michael Tatum just wasn’t hammy enough or young enough in his portrayal, and that by attempting to adapt its dialogue to a western audience it undermined a huge connection between Kurisu and the other members of the Future Gadget Lab. I had to agree it was difficult to imagine anyone in voices other than their original VAs, especially Kana Hanazawa’s bubbly Mayuri or Mamoru Miyano’s fantastically hammy Okabe.

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Despite these worries, watching the dub was still a fantastic experience. Some of the greater moments were toned down (the infamous introduction of Lab Member #004 Christina comes to mind) but the quality of the adaptation as a whole is still fantastic. One particular scene where Miyano speaks to a black street peddler in broken English was turned into Tatum talking jive. Some references might make you groan if you’ve become sick of cake jokes or internet memes, but it feels authentic considering the young, nerdy characters.

The voices themselves were fantastic and really fit each character. Tyson Rineheart’s Daru is so pitch-perfect it arguably overrides the original performance. While the above fears on Tatum’s performance were somewhat founded, he really brought some grounding to Okabe’s character as he sheds off the facade of the mad scientist and deals with the cruel reality his time altering has brought upon him and his friends. Trina Nishimura is fantastic as Kurisu, channeling the exact feeling and energy from the original. Jackie Ross as Mayuri performed surprisingly well, laying out several highly-quotable adapted lines. Overall, the dub was really well done and definitely helps Steins;Gate serve as the perfect launching off point for anyone you’re trying to convert to the anime fold.

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Bonus Features

For those that watched Steins;Gate in its original 24 episode run, you’d be pleasantly surprised as I was that Part 2 contains an OVA epilogue of sorts that caps off the romantic angle of the show, not that we really need any affirmations to its OTP status, honestly. Still it’s a nice little vignette showing the lives of our main characters without the shadow of global threats hanging over their heads, having a little fun in America. The best part by far is him going into character with a TSA official, and immediately being arrested. Overall it doesn’t add much to the actual ending of the show, but it’s a nice touch to see that things have finally gotten better for Okabe.

As with most Funi releases, the main bonus features are commentary tracks on certain episodes. There was a neat little “Map of Akihabara” bit as well, but it doesn’t add much. The commentaries really vary in quality: there is a rather good session between Tatum and Funimation head writer John Burgmeier about the adaptation writing process, but others are populated by sound designers, and thus boring to those who really don’t care for that sort of thing. Overall, don’t let these tracks make your decision; there are definitely better reasons to buy Steins;Gate.

As for packaging, Funimation released the Part 1 Limited Edition in an awesome collector’s box. It’s absolutely beautiful, using original cover art by Huke, and featuring a sleeve to fit in the Part 2 set, which removes some of the apprehension of waiting until a box set is released to make sure your shows are neat, tidy, and together.

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Overall Value

Steins;Gate is an incredibly solid show, and well deserving of a purchase. The dub a fantastic experience. Every up and down hits you in the right way. From quirky comedy, to gripping drama, to awkward but adorable romance, Steins;Gate simply leaves you wanting to see what happens next. If you want to introduce someone to anime, if you love a strong time travel plot, or if you just want to sit down and watch a fantastic show, Steins;Gate is definitely for you.

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