Extraordinary. I think that might be the best catch-all to describe Steins;gate, the unique and riveting series recently released by FUNimation.
The premise is pure science fiction. Between attending lectures on time travel and dodging away from an imagined organization that has it’s sights set on him, self-declared mad scientist, Rintaro Okabe, runs a motley lab out of his apartment in which he creates “future gadgets.” He and his brilliant team find themselves inventing a machine that is capable of sending messages back in time. Though excited about the discovery, they soon discover that manipulating time has dire consequences, not least of all because the covert society tracking Okabe may not be so imagined after all.
An outline of the story gives the gist of the plot, but it doesn’t convey the uniqueness or excellent execution of Steins;gate. The tone of the series is almost claustrophobic, exemplified by the small apartment in which much of the action occurs, the bland tones used to animate the series, and the choices in animation, including the extreme close-ups and other angles at which the “camera” often focuses. But further, the series is as much mystery as science fiction, and also contains plenty of comedy, angst, romance, and yes, moe (which plays a purposeful role in the show and it’s setting of Akihabara).
The characters of Steins;gate are particularly memorable. Okabe reminds me of a favorite character, Vash the Stampede (Trigun), in terms of being portrayed as a humorous caricature, whom we get to know better and better as his humanity is revealed through unimaginable circumstances. Other characters include Kurisu, the young genius who will long be remembered as a prime example of tsundere; Daru, the overweight and perverted hacker; and Mayushi, Okabe’s childhood friend who becomes a most essential part of the plot, particular as this DVD set reaches it’s cliffhanger climax.
The voice cast excels in these meaty roles. Mamoru Miyano is particularly memorable as he digs deep to express voicing ranging from maniacal laughter to deathly distress (sometimes in the same breath!). The English voice actors have much to live up to, but do a good job in bringing their own quality to the characters. Again, the actor playing Okabe is a bright spot, as J. Michael Tatum delivers a strong performance doing the English version of the mad scientist.
The FUNimation release is relatively bare on extras, though voice acting aficionados will enjoy the fun insights provided by the company’s VA’s on commentary tracks. The set also features an interactive map of Akibahara, showing important locations in the show. The Blu-Ray DVDs are of the expected quality, though perhaps they’re not a necessary upgrade over DVDs.
Volume one ends on a cliffhanger (though the time travel focus of the series perhaps makes it a bit less shocking than it would otherwise be), but it’s not necessary to keep the viewers entranced. The story, characters, style, and depth of Steins;gate make it so that most viewers (and certainly this one) find it impossible to resist watching the rest. It’s among the best releases of FUNimation’s recent slate, and one of the best anime of recent years.
Review copy provided by FUNImation.