The first half of Steins;Gate was a very pleasant surprise. Based on a video game, I wasn't expecting a lot, but the quirky show started out nicely and I enjoyed the first handful of lighter themed shows. Then it took a serious turn and the series became really, really good. Part one ended on a nail-biting cliffhanger and this second collection keeps up the pace and raises the stakes. It's one of the best anime show's I've seen all year.
In the first part of the show viewers are introduced to Okabe Rintarou is a self-described mad scientist, and a paranoid nut. He lives with a hacker friend, Daru Hashida in a small apartment above a TV repair shop that doubles as their secret lab. Along with their (female) friend, Mayuri, a cute and na´ve cosplay fan who often stops by, they make up the Future Gadget Lab and devote themselves to making high tech gizmos.
The Future Gadget Lab gains more members in the first few episodes. Kurisu Makise is a young female scientist who lives in America and argues frequently with Okabe, Moeka Kiryu a quite, socially awkward girl who prefers to communicate via text message, and Suzuha Amane, a part time worker in the TV repair shop down stairs.
Things really start to pick up when Okabe hooks his cell phone up to a microwave oven and discovers that he can send text messages back in time. The big problem is that every time they do that they change the past, which in turns alters the 'present.' No one can tell that these changes occur except Okabe, an ability he labels as a "Reading Steiner."
Well, that's one big problem. Another one is that fact that Sern, (the European group in charge of the Large Hadron Collider) has actually created black holes in secret and that they're attempting to use them to make their own time machine. They are very protective of their technology, and when they discover that someone else is working on a time machine (having detected the texts that lab members have sent to themselves) they send out a hit squad to confiscate Okabe's time machine. During the scuffle, Mayuri is killed.
In this second half of the show Okabe has to figure out a way to save his childhood friend. He manages to jump back in time and changes the past, but not enough. No matter what he does, where he goes, or how he tries, Mayuri ends up dying. He's seen it time and time again and it's starting to have an effect on him. It seems that the more he changes time, the worse things become. He finally decides that he has to 'undo' all of the changes that the Future Lab made... changes that saved lives and improved the lot of several people very close to Okabe.
This series was excellent. The plot was full of twists that worked very well, and even if I saw a couple of them coming, the show was still surprising. Added to that is the fact that the story moves at a good clip, changing on a dime and zipping off in new directions. The time travel aspect can be a bit confusing in parts, but if you pay attention it all makes sense.
While the plot was very good, the creators didn't skimp on characterization. The people who inhabit the show are very nicely done. Some are a bit thin in parts, I would have liked some more background on a couple of them, but they're very likable and Okabe especially changes from a wacky oddball in the first episode to a realistic person by the end (well, as realistic as a time-traveler can be.)
The show also has somewhat of a false ending. By the end of episode 21 everything is wrapped up for the most part. After the credits roll there are a couple of more minutes of program time that serve to set the plot for the next two episodes in motion. After those two are completed and the show is finally wrapped up, there's still one more show. Hey, I'm not complaining... I enjoyed it all.
This combo pack contains two DVDs and two Blu-rays in a double width Blu-ray case. Each format has the first 12 episodes of the show.
This set presents the show with the original Japanese Dolby True HD 2.0 soundtrack or an English dub in Dolby True HD 5.1. While I really wish the Japanese track had a Dolby True HD 5.1 option too, both tracks sound very good. People who prefer dubs will be happy with this one; the voices aren't artificially high for the women or filled with fake accents. The English actors did a good job and brought their characters to life. It's also more engulfing than the original language track. They throw some dialog to the rears occasionally (when someone is walking out of a room or behind what's being shown on screen) and that's very effective.
The 1080p 16:9 image looks pretty good, but there is some banding throughout the series which slightly mars the picture. Aside from that, which appears to be inherent in the anime and not a problem with FUNimation's encoding, the image looked fine. The lines were tights and the colors were bright.
There are two commentary tracks with the English voice actors and the English ADR people. These are on episodes 19 and 24. I have to admit I'm not a fan of commentary tracks on anime by the people responsible for the English dub. Unlike director or actor commentaries on movies or even those involved with the original version of the anime, I just haven't heard any that add to my understanding or appreciation of the show. I spot checked a few of these and they generally left me cold.
There are also two clean openings and closings, a trailer for the show, and some FUNimation trailers.
One of the better anime shows released last year, Steins;Gate is a multifaceted program that gets better as it progresses, and it starts out well too. With a nicely convoluted story and some excellent characters, this is a must-see show for anime fans. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images do not come from the Blu-ray discs and are not an indication of the HD quality.