Steins;Gate: Complete Series, Part One
FUNimation // Unrated // $69.98 // September 25, 2012
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 7, 2012
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
The Show:
I haven't had good luck watching anime based on video games.  While a few have been okay, a majority of the ones I've seen have been pretty rotten.  What's worse than a video game anime?  Answer:  A sequel to a video game that's then turned into an anime, when I haven't played either game or seen the original anime.  How many strikes does that have against it going in?  I don't think I can count that high, but suffice to say a lot.  That's why when Steins Gate showed up at my door, I was prepared to dislike it.  I sat on the couch with plenty of caffeine to keep me awake and my handy-dandy notepad to jot down scathing notes.

While the show does start off in a confusing manner, to my surprise I found out that I didn't hate it.  As a matter of fact, I liked it.  A lot.  Turn's out that Steins Gate, despite its origins, is an engrossing and interesting show with an intricate plot that keeps viewers guessing.
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.

Things start to get strange when Okabe and Rintarou go to a lecture by a noted scientist who is going to be giving the results of his research into time travel.  Okabe recognizes it all as a copy of the work of a mysterious person who was active on the Internet a decade previous, John Titor, and storms out after calling the professor a thief.  He runs into Kurisu Makise, who questions him on what he meant when he talked to her 15 minutes ago, even though Okabe has never met the girl.  He thinks she's either crazy or part of the conspiracy that's after him and escapes from her.  Minutes later he hears a scream and finds the girl dead in a pool of blood.
Shocked by this occurrence, he goes outside, sends Daru a text about what happened, and... the world changes.  The science lecture never took place because the professor had to cancel, which was a good thing because a satellite fell from space and landed in the building where it was going to be held.  Kurisu is still alive, and no one has heard of John Titor.  Just what's going on?

No one aside from Okabe realizes that the world has changed, but it turns out that Daru did get the text message about Kurisu being murdered, but he received it five days before it was sent.  Fiddling around with Okabe's cell phone and the lab's hacked microwave oven, the trio discovers that they've invented a time machine that allows them to send information in the form of short text messages back in time.  The only 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." 
As they explore the possibilities of their time machine, they run into a conspiracy theory that claims 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.  The paranoid Okabe wants to find out more about what SERN is up to while at the same time resetting the world to the way it once was.

This anime is built on an interesting premise that works very well.  The idea of a 20-something mad scientist who builds a time machine out of his microwave sounds like the stuff of comedy, but this is a serious show with some engaging premises.  It's not often that you run across a show that has something new to say on the classic time travel story, but this one takes the old idea and shakes it up quite a bit.  The fact that only information, electromagnetic waves, can be sent through time successfully is a nice concept that works well in the context of the show.
One warning however... the show starts off in one of those "what's going on here?" episodes that can be a bit confusing.  The opening credits don't even show up until nearly 10 minutes into the program which lead me to believe I had accidently hit the chapter forward button on my remote unintentionally since it felt like we were dropped off in the middle of an episode.  Suffice to say that just stick with it, but the second installment everything starts to move in a more linear fashion.
The Blu-ray:

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.  The case is housed in a cardboard slipcase that has room for second volume too.

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 director.  These are on episodes 1 and 12.  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's also a clean opening and closing, a map of the area where the story takes place, a series of previews for the show, and some FUNimation trailers.
Final Thoughts:
This is an unexpectedly good series.  The first episode felt like it was being strange for the sake of being strange, but after that the story quickly got rolling and sucked me in.  Before I knew it, I had to get up and change discs, then the next thing I knew the first half was over, leaving me (at least metaphorically) on my knees, fists raised to sky, screaming that life was unfair.  I can't wait until the second set is released.  Check this one out.  Highly Recommended. 
Note:  The images do not come from the Blu-ray discs and are not an indication of the HD quality.

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