There’s been a lot of buzz over the release of 2011’s Steins;Gate over here in the UK. It seems that a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting, and actively talking, about this series; even before its official release this past Monday. Tobika, for one, couldn’t stop raving about it to me when we initially started discussing it, and so it was with an, admittedly, slightly cocked eyebrow and guarded attitude of ‘let’s see what the big deal is’ that I settled down to start my journey into the world of Steins;Gate.
I’m glad I did.
The first episode does a wonderful job of setting up the overall tone of the show, one that continues to permeate throughout the entirety of this Part One Collection; which, incidentally, collects Episodes one through to twelve across two discs. That tone, you may query, is one of confusion. Wonderfully convoluted confusion.
Throwing us into the deep end almost straight away we are introduced to Rintarō ‘Okarin’ Okabe as a self professed ‘mad scientist’, as he attends a seminar relating to time travel and the probability of successfully creating, and controlling, such an event. Working with his fellow lab members; hacker (not Hacka) Daru, and Cosplaying Mayuri, they collectively form the workforce of their company: Future Gadgets Lab.
Sounds impressive, right? It kind of is, until you factor in that they work above an Akihabara electronics store in a small apartment. Although I actually like that DIY, punk rock ethic, I think it’s pretty bad ass. Remember that thing I mentioned a second ago about time travel? Turns out the intrepid team at Future Gadgets Lab actually manage to create a time machine. Out of a microwave.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you if you started to question whether you’d stick with this series or not throughout the course of these first few episodes: things aren’t made perfectly clear, characters are dense, even stupid or annoying and, critically, events happen out the blue. What Steins;Gate does so well though, especially in relation to my last point just now, is in the way it frames an event or situation as a question, a cliff hanger, a hook that practically forces you to watch the next episode! It’s a narrative trick that’s been utilized time and time again across numerous shows, anime or otherwise, but it’s the way in which its cliff hangers and questions are brought to life, in contrast to the amount of answers given at any particular time, that reminds me of the pacing of one of the best mind bending shows of all time: Lost.
Now, I’m not going to get into a debate about whether Lost was any good or not (it’s good), especially near the end of its run, but I do feel it’s a pertinent comparison; if only in the way Steins;Gate so perfectly falls into the slow burn of revelation.
Across the twelve episodes, many questions arise. Across the twelve episodes, it quickly becomes apparent that the answers won’t be so forthcoming. For every question answered the show sets up numerous questions in its stead. And it’s fucking awesome because of it.
Now, the appeal of this show will probably be directly related to your personal propensity for this question/answer ratio. If you hate waiting, if you find not knowing to be an unbearable exercise akin to torture, then maybe this isn’t for you. You should also learn the noble art of (relative) patience. For a slow burn reveal however that leaves you both nodding your head in ultimate understanding, as well as frowning at the TV in helpless confusion: Steins;Gate is a great show to invest your time into, and this is only for Part One of the series!
The show is well paced throughout, revealing enough only when needed and keeping the majority of its cards continuously close to its metaphorical chest, keeping the viewer continuously guessing throughout. Unlike the complaint I harbored with the collection mentality, and bullshit filler, of One Piece, the Steins;Gate set knocks it out of the park by collecting a decent of amount of episodes together that utilizes the slow build technique, eventually leading the set into an incredible cliff hanger at the end of episode twelve; wherein the stakes are indefinitely raised and the formerly established rules of Steins;Gate’s story/world and characters are suddenly thrown into disarray.
Steins;Gate covers a number of deep, philosophical topics exploring topics as diverse as time travel, string theory and, importantly, identity. At first the majority of its protagonists come off as painfully one dimensional. Hell, they seem to wallow themselves in their solo dimension: the mad scientist schtick, the hacker pervert, the dim Cosplay cutie, etc, etc. Even characters who are later introduced are easy to deconstruct: see if you can spot the one character that may not have Future Gadget Lab’s best interest at heart. If you can’t see them coming a mile off, then I envy you and your sweetly naive inability to clearly read a story and its characters.
Thankfully, as the story progresses we are treated to a deeper growth between the main characters, as well as Okabe’s personal journey into understanding the purpose of self and identity: especially in relation to maintaining a concept of ones ‘self’ within multi-dimensional string theory.
With all of the intellectual hypothesizing on display here, it’s comforting to know that the team at Manga Entertainment have done a great job of bringing Steins;Gate’s convoluted theorizing to us with, I can only assume, little, if anything, being lost in translation. The DVD/Blu-Ray set is rounded out with a few extra features, including; Episode Commentary (on Episode one and twelve, respectively), an overview of the key places within the story highlighted via a map of Akihabara, and Textless versions of the Opening and Closing song.
A gripping sci-fi story, coupled with a well paced question/answer ratio, leads Steins;Gate to be as smart as it is addictive. This is a rabbit hole well worth falling into, with a first episode that grabs you tight and refuses to let go. Not that you’d want it to.
Until next time anime guys, and manga girls. Or vice versa, of course. This has been The Other Guy.
Steve Russell // @stevetendo
Steins;Gate Part One is out now at £24.99 (DVD) and £34.99 (Blu-Ray) , courtesy of Manga Entertainment