Review for Steins;Gate 0 - Part One
Procrastination turns into complete reticence on this one. Usually, I’m eager to watch the newest anime show in town; I want to see what wonderful delights that creators have come up. But the first disc of this particular anime series has actually been in my hands three nights in a row, and I’ve put it back and gone to bed instead. Even now, when it comes to writing the review, I am reluctant to say the least. My instinct is to avoid it. After all, it is the Steins;Gate ‘sequel’ or ‘sidequel’ or alternate universe take, or however you choose to define it. Definition is what we’re talking here, as the original Steins;Gate series was a definitive moment in sci-fi anime some nine years ago. Along came this show from the semi-colon-verse, like Chaos;Head and Robotics;Notes adapted from a visual novel (or vice versa), but what it did transcended the genre, the medium, became one of those water-cooler shows that you simply have to talk about each week. It mashed together geek culture, sci-fi, and an emotionally effective story in a one-off time-travel show that has become a go to favourite of mine.
Only it’s not a one-off anymore. Here we are with Steins;Gate 0, which I scrupulously avoided when it was streamed. It’s the curse of popularity in the TV and movie media. You have a hit, and then you have to follow it up to keep the cash-registers ka-chinging. And so often are classic movies and TV shows followed by lacklustre sequels that I have come to expect disappointment, even from the decent efforts, which in comparison to the original still fall short. Now I really love the original Steins;Gate series, and I have a soft spot for the follow up movie, which covered much the same ground, although it moved the characters forward at least. But it really isn’t a show that needs another series. It can only succeed by taking away a happy ending (forgiven once in the movie as it was only for 90 minutes), and replacing it with even more heartache. It’s like the ‘happily ever after’ at the end of Return of the Jedi completely undone by The Force Awakens, which added 30 years of angst, and a character reset so that it could effectively remake A New Hope. It’s things like that which are blatantly mercenary and cynical. And it’s cynicism like that which has stayed my hand when it comes to the Steins;Gate 0 discs. But cynicism doesn’t write reviews and I’ll have to take the plunge sometime.
Steins;Gate 0 begins with a bonus episode (it’s usually the other way around), but Steins;Gate 23β is an alternate version of episode 23 of the original Steins;Gate series. As you might guess in a show about time travel, alternate realities, and paradoxes, it’s easy to find a jumping off point for a sequel. Spoilers for the original series ensue, and seriously, you shouldn’t be watching Steins;Gate 0 if you haven’t seen the original.
The Future Science Laboratory consisted of ‘mad scientist’ Okabe ‘Okarin’ Rintaro a.k.a. Hououin Kyouma, eternal geek Itaru ‘Daru’ Hashida, and ball of eternal cuteness Mayuri Shiina. Their aim, to create inventions that will change the world. Rigging a microwave to turn bananas into green gel might not change the world, but hooking up a mobile phone somehow turned the contraption into a time machine. That didn’t become clear until after Okabe attended a time travel seminar, and witnessed the murder of a young red-haired scientist named Makise ‘Christina’ Kurisu. He phoned home to tell someone about it, and somehow wound up in another timeline, where Makise wasn’t murdered, and even joined the Future Science Laboratory. History had changed, they’d entered another time track, and much experimentation ensued.
It’s all fun and games at first, until someone gets hurt, and to Okabe’s agony, he found that Mayuri was destined to die, and no matter how much he travelled back in time to save her, he kept failing. By this time, Daru’s daughter from a post-apocalyptic future, Suzuha, had travelled back in time herself to change her own future, and it became clear that saving Mayuri meant undoing all the changes they had made. By this time, Okabe was falling in love with Makise, and had come to the horrific realisation that saving Mayuri meant going back to that first timeline where Makise was murdered. But Suzuha told Okabe that the only way to prevent the post-apocalyptic future was to shift to a completely different timeline, the Steins;Gate timeline where both Mayuri and Makise survive. She managed to convince Okabe to travel back in time once more to save Makise, but he failed in the most traumatic way possible. They returned to the present, with him a broken man.
In the original episode 23, a slap from Suzuha convinced him to try once more, but in 23β, Mayuri protects him from Suzuha’s ire, and convinces him to stop tormenting himself. We catch up with Okabe 6 months later, and he’s trying to turn his life around. He’s put the Future Science Laboratory behind him, has cleaned himself up, and gone back to college; he’s even dating again. After six months, he even tries going back to the lab for old time’s sake, meeting up with friends like Ruka and Faris, but Suzuha hasn’t yet given up on trying to convince him. But he gets a blunter reminder of the past when he attends a lecture on AI from Alexis Leskinen, a guest professor from the US although his diminutive interpreter, Maho Hiyajo makes more of an impact. They used to work with Makise Kurisu, and have used her theories of copying and inscribing memories to circuitry to make AIs with vivid personalities a reality. The first one Okabe encounters is a copy of Maho, but when he’s invited to take part in the project, providing fresh input for an AI, he learns that a copy of Makise Kurisu exists, alive, in software.
12 episodes of Steins;Gate 0 plus the bonus are presented across 2 Blu-rays from Manga Entertainment in this Part 1 release.
1. Absolute Zero
2. Closed Epigraph
3. X-Day Protocol
4. A Stray Sheep
5. Entangled Sheep
6. The Orbital Eclipse
7. Vibronic Transition
8. Antinomic Dual
9. Pandora’s Box
10. Forbidden Cubicle
11. Sealed Reliquary
12. Recursive Mother Goose
Digital banding as a creative choice? If you recall the first series of Steins;Gate, when I reviewed it on Blu-ray. I made quite some noise about how the show’s transfer was almost detrimental to the viewing experience, so prevalent was the digital banding. And now comes Steins;Gate 0, and I was expecting more of the same. I wasn’t disappointed, at first. The first episode I watched was Steins;Gate 23β, the alternate 23rd episode of the original series, complete with that show’s theme songs, which leads directly into this one, and just like that first season, it was raddled with digital banding. But when I started watching the Steins;Gate 0 episodes, the banding was reduced.
Steins;Gate 0 gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs, and the image is clear and sharp, detail levels are good, and colours are consistent. In terms of world design and character design, it follows on directly from the first season, and is on a par with it. It’s just that when it comes to digital banding, it’s comparatively negligible, although not quite reduced down to what you’d expect from a Funimation transfer. This and the look of 23β really have me reconsidering the idea that the banding was a creative choice for that first season.
You have the choice between Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround English and 2.0 Japanese with player locked subtitles. Early on there are a couple of subtitle captions that linger a little too long, but it soon settles down. I went with the Japanese audio, and was happy with the experience. The familiar characters and voices are back, while the new characters in the story are also cast well. There might not be as many ‘Tutturus’ as before, but the tone of the story demands a little restraint in exuberance. One oddity is that the voice actress for Nae doesn’t suit the character anymore, although when you have a ten year or so gap between the series, keeping the same voice actor for a little girl is probably not advisable. The subtitles are timed accurately and free of typos, and the music suits the show well, as do the new theme songs.
The discs boot to animated menus, and disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Funimation Now.
This has the Steins;Gate 23β episode if you consider that an extra.
Disc 2 has a video commentary for episode 2, with Cris George (ADR Director) alongside J. Michael Tatum (Okabe Rintaro), and Monica Rial (Maho).
The audio commentary for episode 8 has J. Michael Tatum with Alexis Tipton (Kagari) and Trina Nishimura (Makise).
You get a 37 second promo video for the series, and the textless credits with locked lyric subtitles.
I had my doubts about another series of Steins;Gate. After all, the first series is a perfect concoction of sci-fi comedy drama, which works as a whole piece. It doesn’t need more. And I am more than cognizant of current studio trends to milk a property until nothing oozes from the creative teats but bloody pus. This is written the day after Disney announced a remake of Home Alone for God’s sake! I was expecting Steins;Gate 0 to be pointless and unnecessary. Technically it is unnecessary given the complete nature of the original, but pointless it most certainly isn’t. It picks a great jumping off point from that first series, a point which sets the tone and style of the spin-off, and it fashions a compelling story that hooks you almost from the first episode. I found myself looking forward to each new episode of Steins;Gate 0 just as much as I did when the original Steins;Gate series was streaming.
It is a different show in a couple of ways. Steins;Gate 0 kicks off after episode 23 of the original series. Having created the telephone microwave and the time leap device, the Future Science Laboratory delivered a lot of fun and geeky antics as they explored the possibilities of time travel, until the bottom fell out of the world when Mayuri was killed. Subsequently, Okabe Rintaro tore himself apart trying to save her life, ultimately realising that it could only be done by undoing all the changes they had wrought so far, and returning the world to the original, alpha-timeline. But this meant returning to a time line where Makise Kurisu had been murdered, and in the beta-timelines, she and Okabe had fallen in love. In Steins;Gate 0, he only tries once to save her, to find a timeline where both Mayuri and Makise survive, and having failed in the most tragic way, Okabe sacrifices his chance for love to ensure Mayuri lives.
That’s the difference, and you can watch Steins;Gate up to episode 22, then stick disc one of Steins;Gate 0 in, watch 23β and continue from there for a smooth experience. We catch up with Okabe six months down the line, and he’s depressed and defeated, having given up the Future Science Laboratory and his mad scientist persona to try and salvage a normal life by going back to college. He just wants as much normality for as long as possible in this timeline, and he has no intention of touching time travel again. But as Suzuha (Daru’s future daughter) keeps reminding him, the alpha timeline is destined to end in World War III, disaster for all, and the only thing he can do is finish what he started, go back and save Makise from being murdered. With that kind of guilt, Okabe has been avoiding the Future Science Laboratory and his friends.
As part of his college studies, Okabe attends a seminar from Professor Alexis Leskinen (translated by his assistant Maho Hiyajo) on artificial intelligence. They both worked with Makise Kurisu in the US, and using her theories on memory transfer (the basis of the time leap device), they’ve created AIs with human personalities. The seminar presents an AI with Maho’s personality and image, but when Okabe expresses interest, they reveal an AI with Makise Kurisu’s personality, image and memories, and they ask him to help their research by interacting with the Amadeus software. Okabe’s torn between anguish and regret, and the chance to connect with a piece of Makise once more, and he chooses the latter.
You might be wondering how Steins;Gate 0 fares without time travel, but there is a bit, at least there are still the consequences of what happened before. We learn that Suzuha originally travelled back with a companion, a girl named Kagari Shiina (sharing a surname with Mayuri is no coincidence), and they lost touch in 1998. Now in 2010, and with Okabe refusing to time travel, Suzu’s using her time to find Kagari again. In the original series, it was revealed that Makise’s estranged father stole her research and fled overseas, and in the background of these episodes, we see glimpses of the consequences of that, the start of a ‘temporal cold war’ (with all apologies to Star Trek) between the US and Russia over that research. Eventually the penny drops, that Makise’s research might exist elsewhere, in her effects, such as the laptop from her university, and within the memories of the AI Makise itself. The time that Okabe thought he had quickly runs out when mysterious armed groups appear, looking for the secrets of time travel, and Okabe has to turn to unlikely people for help. And then one side tests a time travel device, causing Okabe to switch timelines...
Steins;Gate 0 is a lot darker than the original series, understandably so. It begins with protagonist Okabe Rintaro already suffering from PTSD, and as the story unfolds, it continues to provide more torment for him. There are moments of fun to be had with the characters, and it very much does still feel like Steins;Gate. But numerically speaking, there’s only a fraction of the ‘Tutturus’ in this series compared to the original. Also, Steins;Gate was really coy with its story, having a whole lot of fun at first, seeding its narrative in the background, making you work to put it all together by the end of the series. Steins;Gate 0 on the other hand is deceptively straightforward at first. It delivers little story chunks, episodic in nature, with a problem defined at the start of an episode solved by the end. It’s very linear to begin with and disappointingly easy to follow, lacking the intricacy of the original. But as I said it is deceptively so, as it’s also sowing seeds in the background of the early episodes, and the conspiracy really only hoves into view somewhere around episode 6 or 7. By the time this collection ended, I was back in love with the show.
I shouldn’t have doubted them. Cashing in on the popularity of a franchise is usually done when the franchise is still fresh in people’s minds. But eight or nine years after the original series, is long enough for it to have faded from memory, and for creators to have come up with a worthy successor. They really have done so with Steins;Gate 0 and it’s well worth getting, especially as Manga have gone all out with a hefty Collector’s Edition, as well as the usual standard Blu-ray DVD combo.