Review for Steins;Gate Part 2
Have you ever got your hands on a show so good that you actually don’t want to watch it? They’re the shows that you want to savour, that have extra meaning for you, that you deliberately heighten the anticipation before diving in. And when you do start watching them, you want to deliberately lengthen the experience, maybe watch one episode a night, or deliberately take a break after a colossal plot development just to let it sink in. I have several shows and movies like that on my to-watch pile. And it isn’t just limited to home video as a media. I have books that I have yet to read, that I have been looking forward to for several months now, CDs that I have yet to listen to. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to enjoy your own purchases. When it comes to review discs, the conflict between interest and responsibility can cause a little hassle. I’ve been desperately not wanting to watch the second part of Steins;Gate ever since the review discs arrived, and I’ve managed to delay the inevitable by reviewing other titles ahead of it first. But now, it is the last September title on my review pile, and I simply have to dive in. Let me put it this way, if this was my own purchase, I wouldn’t have watched it till the middle of next year, so efficient have I become at procrastination.
Time travel! It’s all fun, games, and happy flowers until someone gets killed, then you get trapped in a paradox trying to fix it all. For the Future Gadget Laboratory, which originally consisted of mad scientist Okabe ‘Okarin’ Rintaro, leet hacker Itaru ‘Daru’ Hashida, and cute hostage Mayuri ‘Mayushi’ Shiina, but then soon picked up genuine scientist Makise Kurisu and several others, it really was fun and games, when Okarin created a time machine from microwave and a mobile phone. Soon everyone was lining up to ‘fix’ their past, which was only a problem for Okarin, as he possesses the Reading Steiner, the ability to remember events in all the time streams. That only added to his natural state of delusional paranoia that attributes all that goes wrong in his world to the nebulous Organisation.
But sometimes you aren’t paranoid enough. It turns out that there really is an Organisation. It’s called SERN, and it’s been researching time travel for years. Okarin managed to figure out how to make it work first, and SERN will do anything to possess it, and keep it secret. Which is how someone winds up dead, in the jaw-dropping cliff-hanger from the first collection. Of course Okarin by this point has a fully working time machine, not just the D-Mail contraption he had rigged up earlier. He’s figured out how to leap his consciousness back in time, and he’ll keep doing it until he saves his friend. The only problem is no matter what he changes, his friend keeps on dying, as if by the cruel hand of inevitability. Okarin will need help from an unconventional source, he’ll need help from the future. But it looks like there has been a time traveller from the future among them all along.
The concluding 12 episodes of Steins;Gate are presented across 2 Blu-ray discs, as well as the OVA episode.
13. Metaphysics Necrosis
14. Physically Necrosis
15. Missing Link Necrosis
16. Sacrificial Necrosis
17. Made in Complex
18. Fractal Androgynous
19. Endless Apoptosis
20. Finalize Apoptosis
21. Paradox Meltdown
22. Being Meltdown
23. Open the Steins Gate
24. Achievement Point
25. OVA: Egoistic Poriomania
Steins;Gate gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at the 1080p resolution. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and the animation comes across without issue. Steins;Gate is a detailed and stylish anime, with memorable character designs and detailed world designs based in the real world. The character animation is smooth, detailed and engaging to watch, while the story has an autumnal, faded, almost sepia palette that is deftly applied. The direction is accomplished, establishing emotion and feel through creative animation style. Steins;Gate is a top quality anime with strong production values. This Blu-ray doesn’t quite do that justice, as the prevalence of digital banding, colour gradients in areas of similar colour is much more than I have come to expect from Blu-ray. While the show’s detail is never in doubt, and the progressive playback is impressive, the banding looks almost as prevalent as that on a DVD, and that is disappointing.
Actually in this second volume, the digital banding exceeded even that displayed by the first volume and was actually distracting at times. Kadokawa are a company that are pretty reluctant to allow foreign distributors to release their shows in HD for fear of reverse importation. I would love to see what Steins;Gate looks like on the Japanese Blu-rays to determine once and for all if the banding is a creative choice akin to J.J. Abrams lens flares in Star Trek, or if Kadokawa deliberately delivered flawed masters to Funimation.
The images used in this review are sourced from the PR and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, and Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Japanese, with optional subtitles and a signs only track. I gave the English audio a try, and sure enough the surround up-mix offers greater space and vibrancy to the effects and music. The dub itself is okay, better than okay actually, cast well and performed with the distinctiveness and quality that you would expect from a show like Steins;Gate. The problem is that there is no way that it could ever match the original audio. There’s no matching the manic vulnerability of Mamoru Miyano as Okarin, Tomokazu Seki delivers unprecedented perverted nerdiness as Daru, and no-one, but no-one other than Kana Hanazawa should be permitted to ‘Tutturu’. The original Japanese cast deliver such distinctive and expressive performances, that even as a dub fan, once you hear them, you’ll never want to hear the show any other way.
The subtitles are timed accurately and free of error. There is also a lot of screen text that needs to be translated, and for this Blu-ray, Funimation opted to use a plain white font, akin to the subtitle font, but scale it up to match the on screen text, orient it to the same angle, and place it next to the Japanese text that it translates. Sometimes this amounts to a whole screen of computer text, and there is a lot to read, so a (shining) finger on the pause button comes in useful.
Both discs present their content with animated menu screens. As usual, these Blu-ray discs appear to be identical in content and presentation to the US release, although coded for Region B by Madman Entertainment and most likely shorn of any US Funimation trailers.
Episode 19 on disc 1 gets an audio commentary with Script Adaptor and voice of John Titor, Patrick Seitz, and voice of Moeka, Jessica Cavanaugh. It’s a nice, interesting conversation, and well worth listening to.
On disc 2, we begin with the audio commentary on episode 24, with ADR Director Colleen Clinkenbeard, Mix Engineer Nathaniel Harrison, and ADR Engineer Stephen Hoff. As you can imagine, it’s a more technical commentary, but it’s informative and easy to listen to.
Disc 2 concludes with two textless opening sequences, two textless ending sequences, and the US trailer for Part 2.
Spectacular! There are a whole bunch of other superlatives that I could apply to the conclusion of Steins;Gate, but I’d exhaust the thesaurus and bury the point before I’m done. This is the most amazing conclusion to an anime series that I have seen, and for one thing it is because it is a most definite conclusion. It isn’t the open-ended vagueness that you usually get with anime series in the hope of a second series, this is a finale with weight, impact and emotional depth, and it is the best I have seen in a long time in any medium.
Steins;Gate also does something else a little differently from other anime shows which also makes it stand out. The average anime, fun though it can be, is usually concerned with the technicalities, making sure the characters hit their clichés, ensuring the right amount of series specific technobabble is in the script, delivering on fan service, and concentrating on plot ahead of character, on spectacle ahead of emotion. Steins;Gate does have these things when required, no self-respecting mad scientist is without his mad-scientist phrasebook, a group of otaku building a time machine in a Tokyo suburb will conform to certain clichés, and there is a smidge of fan service when required. But driving Steins;Gate are some things rather unique in anime; it’s emotion, and it’s character. Yes, it’s about time travel, it’s about changing the past, repairing the future, and the plot is full of unexpected twists and reveals as the conspiracy behind SERN is explored. But at the heart of the show, the story is about three people, and it’s about love, and it’s about what someone is prepared to sacrifice for that love.
It’s in this half of the series that you really begin to appreciate the quality of the character animation, and voice actor performances, as the main character is repeatedly put through his personal hell. The concluding episode of the first half hit with a major cliff-hanger, when a main character was killed. Up to that point, Steins;Gate had been a light, but brilliantly put together sci-fi comedy, with the occasional dark overtone. But that character death heralds a major shift in genre for this second half, as it becomes a time travel thriller. A death shouldn’t be permanent when you have a time machine in your possession, but as Okabe finds out, there are laws regarding the physics of time travel, and call it fate, call it destiny, call it convergent time-streams, it means that some things are inevitable.
As the story unfolds, Okabe keeps jumping back in time to try and save this life, and keeps on failing, and the anime so effectively portrays the consequent emotional breakdown that he suffers that you can’t help but empathise. It’s when he finally encounters John Titor, the self-proclaimed time traveller from the future that he gets thrown a lifeline, and he learns about the 1% differential between time streams. It transpires that by creating the time machine in the first place, he shifted reality so that his friend would die. To rectify things, he needs to shift reality back to where it was before, and it means undoing all the changes that he and the rest of the Future Gadget Laboratory made. It means erasing all knowledge SERN has of them and their time machine, which requires hacking into their system again. For that, they need the IBN 500, which vanished when they started sending D-Mails into the past. So Okabe needs to undo all the D-Mails, travel back in time and convince his friends not to make the changes that they have made to better their lives.
It’s an impossible task to complete alone, but fortunately he has the help of Makise Kurisu, who through all the time leaps and different time streams, believes his wild explanations of the time leaps, and of the dread fate that awaits one of their number. She becomes the rock he can lean on, and the shoulder he can cry on. Inevitably they begin to fall in love. This is a problem if you recall how the show started. For Okabe to change the course of the future, he has to undo all the D-Mails, and the very first D-Mail was the one he inadvertently sent at the Time Travel symposium, when he encountered Makise Kurisu’s corpse. In the end, he has to choose between the two people that he cares about the most.
For all of the technicalities, for all of the convolutions of the plot, Steins;Gate succeeds by grabbing the viewer by the heart. Even at the height of the paranoia and tension of the thriller that is the second half, it can still make you laugh, and it can still elicit heartfelt tears. It is brilliant storytelling of the highest order.
Then there is the OVA episode, which I hadn’t seen up to this point. It gets pretty heavy going in the second half of the series, as the conspiracy is unravelled and Okabe goes through his emotional rollercoaster, but the ending of the show is definitely worth it. It does leave one small question hanging, but that’s what the OVA is there for, a single-shot episode set after the main story, that harks back to the lightness and frivolity of the first half. The main cast set off to America to support Faris in a tournament. This episode is worth it alone just to see the US authorities’ response to Okabe’s mad scientist persona, but the real joy is to see the resolution of his emotional arc.
There is a whole lot of Steins;Gate Part 2 that I haven’t talked about, particularly Moeka’s arc, which took a wholly unexpected right turn at the end of part 1, and goes down a seriously dark road in this half, I didn’t talk about the brilliance that is Suzuha Amane’s arc and so much more. Quite frankly they are all spoilers, and it’s stuff that you should discover for yourselves. It will be well worth the effort, as this surely has to be Manga Entertainment’s release of the year. All that’s left now is for someone to license, dub and release the Steins;Gate feature film. Manga? Anyone?