Steins;Gate: Complete Series, Part One (Blu-ray Review)

The microwave is a time machine. Okarin proved it. The self-annointed 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 origin 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.  Steins;Gate is a surreal viewing experience that’s an absolute must-watch for all fans of sci-fi.


Now here’s an anime-series-for-people-who-hate-anime.  Indeed, Steins;Gate jettisons some of those Japanese-cartoon clichés that get pretty tiresome after 360 minutes.  No robots.  No harem of magic schoolgirls-with-swords.  And an adult hero stars rather than the usual high-schooler teen.  AND NO SWIMSUIT EPISODE!!!

The grownup protagonist (that’s not to say he’s probably in his early 20s, though) is self-proclaimed “mad scientist” and conspiracy buff Rintaro `Okarin’ Okabe. Rintaro dwells in a university neighborhood called Akihabara and operates an apartment “Future Gadget Laboratory” to develop technology to overthrow the social order; meanwhile he practices his sinister laughter, possibly works as a teaching assistant (hard to tell), and rants for the benefit of his roommate, a fat computer hacker, and their occasional “assistant,” a young girl more into cosplay.

Not long after Rintaro verbally attacks a professor’s time-travel lecture as nothing more than warmed-over internet legends about a shadowy visitor from the future called “John Titor”, he experiences a strange time-displacement, during which the university building is conked by a falling satellite.  Which may or may not be a Donnie Darko tribute, and which may or may not tie into an accidental breakthrough at the Future Gadget Lab. A microwave oven the gang has “hacked” to be operable by cell phone – and which, just for the hell of it, they reversed its platter rotation – acts as a time machine, under the right conditions.  Teleporting matter only leaves it reconstituted as goo, due to being squeezed through microscopic black holes. But binary data survives the process.

In other words, Rintaro and his growing team of “lab assistants” (including mysterious and possibly traitorous females) can send “d-mail,” text-messages and e-mail pages back in time to alter the present.  With each experiment they disturb reality (and Akihabara) more drastically than before, drawing powerful attention – first e-mails claiming to be the elusive John Titor, then signs that the advanced physics project SERN, which has been experimenting along the same lines with supercolliders and unlimited money, is onto them.

Of course, SERN is a takeoff on the real-life CERN.  John Titor is a genuine conspiracy-theory myth; do a web search on him.  And the mini-black-hole stuff constitutes legitimate scientific theories about “world lines” and time travel.  No, not the same old schoolgirls-with-swords stuff, Steins;Gate is a slow-evolving and talky but brainy and transfixing saga.  When a character hacks SERN and announces “all your bases are belong to ME!” you know you’re in a whole different league.

Box copy accurately brags that Steins;Gate has a vibe akin to The Big Bang Theory.  Imagine Rintaro as Sheldon Cooper, only not quite so much with the pathetic OCD.  There are also strong elements of Michael Crichton in there too, with a true sense of this-can-happen wonder and foreshadowings of apocalyptic stuff ahead.  The main drawback: after 300 minutes a shock-cliffhanger at the end of this episode cycle leaves us all breathless about how the rest of the series will pan out, and if it can live up to the opener.

Though described in anime circles as a semi-sequel to the schoolgirls-with-swords suspenser chaos;Head there is little resemblance between the two series aside from lots of anime and cyber-culture references and the weird punc;Tuation. And no swimsuit episode.


With its realistic settings, steins;Gate isn’t one of the more visually dynamic productions in anime (aside from the credit sequences), but it has a clean picture 16:9 1080p picture.  DVD and Blu-ray versions are packaged together in the typical combo-fashion, with the Blu-ray offering the finest presentation in its native resolution.  It’s just that I’ve seen better.  Much better.


The English-language soundtrack is slightly more Big Bang Theory-esque than the Japanese-language one.  English is Dolby 5.1 Surround, while the Japanese is in stereo.  The Blu-ray version has Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for English, Dolby TrueHD 2.0 for the Japanese.  Like the video, not much here.


No-surprise anime extras have the first and the last episodes with commentaries, the former featuring two actors, the latter with two of the American writers.  Rather regrettably, talking about Steins;Gate doesn’t seem as much on the agenda as much as generalities about anime.  There are also text-free versions of the opening and closing songs, a map of the Akihabara neighborhood, and trailers of other FUNimation anime releases.


A way-cool hard-science time-travel dramedy that, in a better world, would’ve drawn Hugo Award Committee attention.  Watching should actually make you smarter than the mundanes and the muggles.


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