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Tokyo Transmission: First Impression – Steins Gate

Titlecards-SteinsGate001

Welcome back once again as I transform from a lowly one off writer, to making it to a full rotation of writing for the Badly.Productions! Today’s Transmission was intercepted through time itself as I bring you a review of Steins; Gate all the way back from 2011. This Sci-Fi heavy anime about mad scientists and time travel is definitely an interesting watch, just be careful, The Organization has eyes and ears everywhere. Let’s put on our lab coats and decode this Tokyo Transmission. El, Psy, Congroo!

Premise

steinsgate_images001Steins; Gate
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi, Seinen, Thriller

Steins Gate takes place in the sweltering summer of 2010 in Akihabara, Japan, as self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe accidently discovers a method of time travel while experimenting with gadgets from his start up research group, the Future Gadget Laboratory.

Steins Gate is the second tale in the “Science Adventure Series”, a video game franchise that quickly spawned following anime and manga of their visual novel series, which to date include, Chaos; Head, Steins; Gate, Robotics; Notes and Chaos; Child. Apart from their love of the semi colon, do these stories share anything in common? Not really. Steins Gate is part of a shared universe, as the all series takes place in the same story universe minus some spin offs and split dimension confusion between each tale. Each game tackles a different “science adventure” element, with Chaos; Head being mental powers of the mind, Steins; Gate being time travel, and Robotics; Notes being well, robots. So should you run out and watch Chaos; Head first to get caught up in the universe? I wouldn’t bother honestly. Besides being…not great…you can definitely enjoy each story separately, but personally, I do love a good shared universe. I don’t know what it is, but knowing something is part of a shared universe really entices me if even one part of it has my attention, and Steins; Gate definitely peaked my intrigue. Hearing nothing but good things about this heavy science fiction anime involving time travel, secret organizations and mad scientists all in a shared universe, how could I not take a look? So let’s talk about Steins; Gate.

Episode Synopsis

steinsgate_images003The episode opens as Okabe is found narrating his thoughts to his phone, while pondering the universe and the lack of understanding today’s science has on its natural laws. It’s not long before a girl calls him away from his thoughts, and they leave the sweltering heat of the rooftop. Okabe and his friend, Mayuri, arrive early to a lecture on the fundamentals of creating a time machine being held at the university, but as Okabe begins to scoff the possibility of the theories versus his own, he hears a loud crash from the roof of the building and runs to investigate, finding a woman making strange gestures in front a satellite. Before discovering any more, Mayuri calls him away with an emergency, only to find himself buying his friend an apparently rare metal toy, as he shrugs off the crash and proceeds to the lecture theater when the announcement of its beginning calls through the building.

It doesn’t take long for Okabe to call out the lecturer for a fraud, stating his work nothing more than slander, stolen from a well-known internet meme, John Titor and his theories, a man who claimed to be from the future back in the year 2000. Before he can press the matter further, a woman he recognizes as Kurisu Makise, drags him from the room and demands to know what he tried to tell her fifteen minutes ago. In confusion Okabe slips into his mad scientist persona of Hooin Kyoma and pretends to report on his phone that an agent of the organization is onto him, before faking his knowledge of her motives and runs off into the building to get away from her. Dismissing her as crazy, Okabe finds an upset Mayuri who lost the toy he bought her, and as they begin to look for it, they hear a blood curdling scream from upstairs. Okabe tells Mayuri to run outside and goes to investigate, finding the corpse of Kurisu covered in fresh blood.

steinsgate_images004As Okabe heads back to his apartment in shock, he sends a text message of his discovery to another friend, Itaru, and in doing so he feels a distortion occur, finding himself now alone in the previously busy streets. After running through the empty city he finds Mayuri and life appears to flow back into Akihabara just as Okabe looks back up to the university and sees a satellite now crashed through the roof of the building.

Cutting back to Okabe’s start up business of Future Gadget Laboratory, Okabe slips into his persona of Kyoma as he lectures his fellow lab members, Mayuri Shiina and Itaru Hashida, about the watchful eyes of the organization, before the TV reports on the satellite crashing into the cancelled lecture Okabe just attended. As his friends tell him they never went to the lecture as it was cancelled earlier, the TV dies and leaves Okabe pondering what happened. Okabe later takes Itaru into the city to check out the satellite and further investigate what happened earlier, before remembering the text message he sent him before everything changed around him as the two stand in the elevator. Grabbing Itaru’s phone, he discovers that at the text message he sent not only arrived disjointed and broken up, but was sent to Itaru’s phone several days ago. Realizing that his text message had traveled through time, but before Okabe can figure out why, the elevator doors open to Kurisu Makise alive and well across from him as Okabe stares in shock having seen her dead only hours ago.

Review

steinsgate_images005So while episode one seems more like a half missing jigsaw puzzle than a fully formed picture of what’s to come, we do spend a lot of time with the cast, which means they stand as our biggest hint of what we’re in for continuing on. With that in mind, it’s good that Okabe, or Kyoma, voice by J. Michael Tatum, is certainly an interesting character if nothing else. The self-proclaimed mad scientist of our show comes across as a very arrogant man, confident in his ability as a man of science, a man staring deep into the void of the universe and laughing brazenly in the face of reality! That sounds like something he would say at least, as Okabe, for all his bravado, seems to just be a university student scraping by to pay his rent. While clearly Okabe isn’t exactly dumb, he doesn’t really do much to prove his professed divine intellect, with most of the gadgets he’s made in his apartment being borderline redundant tools. Most interestingly though, Okabe spends most of his time slipping on the persona of Hooin Kyoma, the “true form” of that mad scientist he proclaims to be. It becomes evident however that this is clearly a persona he has adopted for himself when the mask does slip, showing him to be a fairly average university student under his flamboyant exterior. We don’t know why he does this, I assume it will be dived into as the show continues, but hey, mad scientist planning world domination while hiding from the secret group known as “The Organization” or not, he’s certainly entertaining.

steinsgate_images002Okabe’s not alone however as his loyal friend, Mayuri, and put upon friend, Itaro, voiced by Jackie Ross and Tyson Rinehart in that order, are also part of the Future Gadget Laboratory. Mayuri is clearly a good friend of Okabe, though the two of them are clearly quite different in personality. Mayuri is the cute and cheery friend who contrasts Okabe intellectual bravo by being a rather simple girl, I don’t mean that in a bad way, she just goes about the episode having fun being with her friends and enjoying their company more than doing anything to advance the plot. She’s a pretty inoffensive character so I couldn’t find anything wrong with her presence, but once again it’s clearly going to take more time (heh) to explore the cast and really see where she fits into the story.

steinsgate_images009As far as Itaru is concerned, he appears to be Okabe’s friend, though more realistically than Mayuri. Itaru is more the kind of guy that fell in with Okabe during their time at university and high school together, and become friendly enough to realise they liked enough of the same stuff to group together on the idea that is the Future Gadget Laboratory. It’s honestly a rather more realistic friendship than most anime tend to throw together, as they clearly like each other, but also clearly put up with each other the way you would with that oddball team mate in the group project. Regardless of their history, Itaru is the most average person of the cast, perhaps including his little perversions if you know anyone in real life like the guy, for they certainly exist.

There are more members of the cast I could talk about, but outside of a few glances, we don’t get to know anyone else enough to really look into them, so I’ll cover them next time. These three make for an entertaining group though, it’ll be interesting to see how this group of financially broke friends come to terms with the discovery of exactly what they accidentally achieved in the first episode.

The World

steinsgate_images006Beyond the characters themselves, Steins Gate is set in the pavement melting summer of Akihabara, Japan in the year 2010. From episode one there’s honestly not much more to say about the setting beyond that really, however it does make for an interesting location in its own right. For those who don’t know, Akihabara is basically a hub of pop culture and technology in Japan, often dubbed otaku central. Throw in some eccentric personalities and accidental time travel, and the show could certainly do some interesting things in the coming episodes.

Outside of their immediate surroundings however, the gang of the Future Gadget Laboratory spend most of their time in that very place. While it’s not entirely clear if they live there or not, at least Mayuri doesn’t seem to, the lab is a cheap rented apartment converted into Okabe’s lair, where they spend most of their days tinkering with inventions and working on ideas to take the world by storm. The lab is their personal safe haven, literally as Okabe insists, for he talks often about how a secret agency known as “The Organization” is watching their every move. Largely though, if they did have an enemy it would only seem to be the grouchy landlord Okabe calls “Mr Braun” given a double meaning with his gruff attitude and muscular physique, as well as fixing and selling Braun televisions in his shop below. The lab does act as an effective location however, giving the characters a greater sense of isolation from the outside world as Okabe tries to piece together not only his confusing jump through time, but the murder he witness not hours ago, providing a very different atmosphere when the show needs it.

Speaking of that isolation, Stein’s Gate is labeled as a Thriller, and while you don’t see too much of this so early on, it definitely gives a feeling of Okabe’s internal worry at times. Returning home after witnessing a murder, only to find out the reality he knows is different to what the rest of the world believes would be very shocking from anyone’s perspective. Coupled with a good use of music, lighting and thematic scenery, Stein’s Gate can give the impression of something darker coming our way beyond a fun tale of “let’s play with a time machine”, or at the very least, something more interesting.

Art and Voice

steinsgate_images007In terms of quality, Stein’s Gate is a little older, having originally aired back in 2011, but visually it does look quite good. There are clearly shots that give less detail to the characters when it’s not desperately needed, but it does frame many of the scenes very well, often with nice quality in the more focused scenes. It also makes good use of the summer theming to mix in some interestingly light shots to add a sense of being slightly surreal at times when it wants to express itself as more than an average slice of life series.

I have sampled both the English Dub and Japanese Sub of the Stein’s Gate, and personally I have to say I actually do prefer the Dub. All the characters are very well voiced with some surprising names in the cast lending their talents to the show, with J. Michael Tatum especially having a long history in both anime and video games, even many of the more minor characters have some hefty experience under their acting belt. In terms of the opening video for Stein’s Gate, technically yes, it’s not in episode one but…work with me here. The opening is pretty enjoyable, it’s very thematic, with juxtaposing images of gears and clocks constantly cutting around and shifting in and out of focus, as the main cast is shown splitting into multiple versions around themselves to represent the different possible timelines and outcomes the series dives into. It manages to feel both wild and calm, contrasting how unstable the images, and by association, time itself is. There actually isn’t a closing video almost strangely, it just shows a preview of what’s to come next time. I guess this isn’t really odd, but I’ve come to expect otherwise with anime I guess.

Did I like it?

steinsgate_images008Steins Gate opened with a somewhat disjointed experience, throwing information at the audience as it went a long and left us piece together what it was doing before continuing ahead with the story. It was the first episode, so of course we don’t know the full story, but it did feel more fragmented than usual for a stories beginning. I feel that this is probably deliberate given how this is going to be a sci-fi heavy experience based around time travel, and time travel is kind of a confusing mess. That said I hope the structure does settle in a little better going forward, as I did enjoy my time with it. Would I recommend the show based on this episode? You know, oddly, it’s hard to say. I did like watching it, and personally I never decide the fate of anything after a quick glance at what it offers, but it felt like a strange beginning, as I don’t really know what the show is about beside some of the cast and the notion of future time travel, well…you know, time travel coming later in the show…you get it.

All in all though, yes I enjoyed what I watched, and I’m interested in what comes next, so if you think a show about mad scientists, secret organizations and time travel sounds worth a look, I’d say give it one.

End Transmission

So expanding on shared universes, is anyone else familiar with the 5pb Science Adventure Series? Better yet, has anyone played the games? To my understanding the Steins; Gate games tend to stay inside Japan, or come to consoles I myself don’t possess. I’d be interested in hearing what people think who’ve played through the visual novels compared to the anime if you want to drop a post in the comments. While I briefly said I didn’t really enjoy Chaos; Head all that much, I hear Chaos; Child is actually much better, perhaps I should continue my investigation into this universe another day?

Thanks as always for everyone whose read my articles so far as I make it to month number two, I really enjoyed watching and playing through this months content so I hope you enjoy reading about what’s to come. As always I can be found around the site and on my Twitch page under Drenik74, but I will be flying out to the city of Melbourne early in May for a few days just as a heads up. I’ll see you around next time.