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DVD Review

DVD cover

Part One (Episodes 1-12)


Starring (voice): Mamoru Miyano, Asami Imai and Kana Hanazawa
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 15 July 2013

Wannabe mad scientist Rintaro ‘Okarin’ Okabe and his friends, ditzy teen Mayuri and otaku hacker Daru, run the Future Gadgets Lab - in reality an apartment above an Akihabara electronics store. But one day while tinkering with the microwave, Okarin and Co. hit the big time - they accidentally invent an honest-to-goodness time machine. Now Okarin can send text messages to the past: that's good. Those messages may be messing with the fabric of time: that's not so good. He's attracted the attention of a sinister scientific organisation that will stop at nothing to hunt him down: that's really, really bad. Plunged into a whirlpool of conspiracies, murder and ever-changing realities, it's down to Okarin to undo all the chaos he has caused - and time may not be on his side...!

Another in a loosely interrelated series of TV anime adapted from the adventure games by producers 5pb. and Nitroplus, Steins;Gate dabbles in superficially similar material to its predecessor Chaos;Head. Sharing the central element of an eccentric, borderline delusional protagonist embroiled in a far-fetched scientific conspiracy, Steins;Gate managing to be far better executed and more appealing than that dismal show, despite some flaws of its own.

Common to both Chaos;Head and Steins;Gate is an imbalanced cast made up of the protagonist, a shadowy antagonist and a roster of half a dozen or so winsome girls of varying types of fan-friendly appeal, with a token male sidekick rounding out the mix. Casts like this are always a signal of a series adapted from a visual novel, seldom a recipe for convincing storytelling; however whereas visual novel protagonists are often pallid ciphers, Steins;Gate's Rintaro Okabe suffers, like Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, from a deplorable excess of personality. An overgrown adolescent who affects a lab coat at all times, rants on his inactive mobile about the fictitious 'Organization' pursuing him, emits bursts of maniacal laughter and insists on being referred to by his pseudonym Kyouma Hououin (a resonant monicker whose effect is best evoked by recalling the scene in Mystery Men where Ben Stiller's character, unable to bring himself to tell a girl his dull real name, claims to be called 'Phoenix Darque'), he'd be nigh-intolerable in real life and as he's on-screen almost continuously, your enjoyment of Steins;Gate will stand or fall on your tolerance of him as a main character. Fortunately, a dual set of bravura vocal performances by Mamoru Miyano and J. Michael Tatum just about rescue the character from flat-out dislikeability.

The remaining cast, stolid best buddy Daru aside, are for the most part the predicted mix of shallowly characterised cuties: despite some promise, nominal heroine Kurisu doesn't rise above her girl-genius persona, and cheerful ditz Mayuri seems incapable of even the simplest task without Kurisu's or childhood friend Okabe's help. Worse, the androgynous cross-dressing temple attendant Ruka is the focus of some highly questionable treatment of gender identity issues, leaving the comparable storyline in Persona 4 in the shade in the insensitivity stakes. Ironically, the most flatly characterised cast member, feline maid café doyenne Faris, is the least objectionable: thanks to a great performance by otaku-queen voice actress Halko Momoi, her shtick of a semi-normal girl doing her damnedest to act like an anime character steals many scenes.

Steins;Gate has a far more distinctive visual style than the numbingly generic Chaos;Head, yet the direction and music are undistinguished for the most part; the glassy-eyed character designs by Huke, celebrated creator of the Black Rock Shooter franchise, are memorable but convey emotion and life with only limited success. The adaptation from the game leads to awkward pacing issues too, with many long scenes of dialogue included to no great effect, and episodes ending in unexpected or seemingly illogical places not best placed to entice the viewer back for more. The script, peppered as it is with references and catchphrases mined from otaku culture and the abstruse world of Japanese messageboards, has been adapted into English with some liberal substitutions that retain the spirit if not the letter of the original, yet may still leave less avid anime fans scratching their heads at certain points.

With this twelve-episode set meandering through its run without much of consequence happening, the cliffhanger that brings it to a close is a sharp change of gear that is clearly designed to shock the viewer as much as it does the characters. If you've not been won over by Okabe's antics so far, you may not care to see where he goes from here, yet despite his and its faults Steins;Gate is a curiously appealing affair. The characters still hint at potential and may yet find themselves part of a genuinely memorable show.


Richard Hunt

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