Steins; Gate is just about the best damn show I've seen all year. Period.
I've admittedly been out of the anime loop for a while and though I had heard of Steins; Gate before, I hadn't seen it yet. Holy freaking crap! I loved every second of this first collection and absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on the second!
The series begins with a raving lunatic of a scientist, Okabe, on his way to a lecture on the theories of time travel when all manner of hell breaks loose. A satellite crashes into the building he's in and some girl he's never met before grabs his attention in a hostile way. Then there's a flash and the girl is dead. There's really no rhyme or reason for it, but soon enough Okabe is left alone after pressing a button on his cell phone and he's disoriented as events occurred differently throughout the day than he remembered. Did he just travel through time?
We soon learn that, no, Okabe didn't necessarily travel through time so to speak, rather he shifted through lines of existence. You see, instead of time travel creating a paradox or being singular in the sense that one can move forward and backward, time is like a line and deviations to that line create a shift that spawn a new branch. That's how Steins; Gate approaches the theory anyway, as based on the writings of John Titor (a supposed time traveler from the year 2036 that posted to message boards in 2000 and 2001) whom the show references heavily. Okabe possesses the ability to remember what changed and recognize the differences as such, even though the rest of the world doesn't skip a beat.
As Okabe starts exploring the idea of time travel in the apartment that he calls his Future Gadget Laboratory, the method to his madness starts to creep in. Through the eyes of other characters like Daru and Mayumi, we get to see Okabe's crazed thought process come to fruition. Through experimentation, and a plethora of green goopy bananas later, Okabe soon discovers that the microwave in his apartment possesses the ability to manipulate time when used at certain points of the day and with certain other additions. He and his crew, which soon includes the woman he met at the time travel lecture, Kurisu, discover the ability to send text messages backwards through time. As they experiment with things such as lottery winnings, sex changes, and other fun goodies, other plotlines filter in.
You know that large hadron collider that discovered the Higgs Boson particle? Well, in Steins; Gate it's operated by a group known as SERN whose ultimate goal is to use their technology and science to develop working time travel. In the future that John Titor comes from SERN rules the world and it's a dark future that Okabe wants to prevent. He wants to rule the world after all, or so he says in jest. The team from the Future Gadget Laboratory hack into SERN and use a special computer from decades before that is the only machine capable of cracking their hacking code.
From start to finish, this first collection of episodes is a blast. The characters are incredibly well developed and the story is rich with twists and turns. Relationships develop as the show progresses and there's a different dynamic to each one. I particularly appreciated the personalities of each character and they are most definitely not cliché or one dimensional. The characters here have purpose and go beyond their stereotypes like maid café girl or hentai loving pervert. Some great thought and heart went into developing the cast and their relationships with each other.
The time travel talk turns into a bunch of hooey early on, but taken in the context of the plot it's a great focal point. Things come to a boiling point that literally left me swearing at FUNimation for splitting this collection up. It's cruel to leave the series hanging on the note that they left it and it certainly opens the door to so many possibilities in the second half.
All told there are 24 episodes in this 2011 series and with the split collections that means twelve episodes a pop. This first collection is nothing short of amazing. Steins; Gate may not be everyone's cup of tea. The characters are quirky, the story is "out there", and the science is, well...it's nonsensical. With all that being said it's a beaut. Think Welcome to the NHK level of insanity with a little Eden of the East set to the theme of time travel with pop sci-fi references aplenty. This show was totally my cup of tea and I'd be remiss if I didn't highly recommend it.
Steins; Gate is presented on Blu-ray with a 1080 transfer utilizing AVC encoding. The video is good, if not better than most FUNimation transfers and it's quite a looker from start to finish. The image is nicely scrubbed with vibrant colors, sharp details, clean lines, and an all-around refined look. There are some moments where softness creeps in, but they seem to be intended and do not detract from the presentation in the least. From the slimy green nuked banana to Okabe tweaking out in the midst of a time shift, this series is sharp and beautiful, even if the design is simplistic and unassuming in its own way. Animation is top notch as well and this remains a gorgeous transfer for a wonderful looking show.
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 are available for audio options on this release for Steins; Gate. The Japanese track performs as well as one would expect with a front-centric experience with little diversity on the soundstage. The audio is clean and distortion-free with a sharp sound all around. As far as the English goes, the track offers much more presence on the soundstage as channels get an abundance of use. Though a dialogue driven show, the rear channels don't collect dust by any means. The dub is fantastic as well with a cast that really nailed their characters and a script that localizes the material quite well. As Mayumi would say, "Tutturuuu!".
Some clean animations, trailers, and a virtual tour of Akihabara are included here for good measure. There are also two audio commentaries with English cast members; one for Episode One and the other for twelve. In both cases they talk about the development of the English dub a bit and some about the material in the localization of the script. Pretty worth while listening, if you ask me.
If you only pick up one show between now and the end of the year, make it Steins; Gate. Without a doubt this series is a winner in my book, and I've only seen the first half so far. Sure the second half could completely suck, but if the quality put into the first twelve episodes is any indication that's not a worry. Rich, deep characters, an awesome story, and a wonderfully quirky atmosphere set this series apart from just about everything else on the market. When I finished the set, I watched it all over again from the beginning and I haven't done that since Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, which is frankly one of my top ten. Highly, highly recommended!