Sunday, February 24, 2013

Anime verdict - Steins;Gate

Let me start off by pointing out that this particular anime isn't for younger audiences - it's definitely a more serious story, and there's some language, questionable jokes (mostly Daru's fault) and a bit of fan-service mixed in.
Also, please be warned that although I did my very best, some spoilers have slipped in just the same.

...and I also might talk your ears off.  This is a looong post, guys.

Steins;Gate was dubbed by Funimation in two parts last year, and I started watching it soon after the first twelve episodes were dubbed and released.  This series dives into a popular sci-fi subject - time-travel - by a rather interesting method.  Rather than physically travelling through time like a 900-year-old Time Lord in a blue phone box (which the show makes references to a few times), they change events already passed and alter their future by sending text messages back in time using a cell-phone.  This also involves one of the strangest time-machine discoveries I've seen yet - microwaved bananas, which turn fluorescent-green and their molecular structure pretty much breaks down.  They eventually stop nuking bananas to send their text messages since it was both getting expensive and they didn't actually need the bananas as a catalyst or fuel source.

In a nutshell, if you take a look at my currently non-existent list of anime favourites, you would see that the top spots are now occupied by three different series, all of which are on an equal footing.  These three would be the The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series - which only recently joined the top ranks as I've sort-of rediscovered the series* recently, if that makes any sense; the short, 13-episode Angel Beats!, which I've talked about before; and now Steins;Gate.

Thanks to Funimation for uploading the trailer

The story is quite mind-bending and lengthy as well, spanning a full 25 episodes and going through two major, interconnected arcs - which Funimation conveniently released in two parts, giving us the big unexpected cliff-hanger at the end of episode 12, which in my opinion is also one of the funniest episodes of the whole series.  It's rather ironic too, considering said cliff-hanger, but I can't say anything more about that cliff-hanger without risking giving away its cliff-hanger-ness.

On to the characters.  In the line-up we have main character and protagonist Rintaro Okabe, the slightly eccentric, self-proclaimed mad scientist; Shiina Mayuri, Okabe's childhood friend and the cheerful character of the bunch; Hashida Itaru, usually called "Daru", the hacker/computer expert of the group - also the group's go-to guy for anything relating to manga/anime/games, though he has a penchant for, *ahem*, "adult games", which of course leads to several questionable jokes and comments; and finally Makise Kurisu, genius theoretical physicist specializing in space/time  - also with a slightly strange, albeit hilarious idea as to what a grapefruit salad should contain, among other things.

There's also a rather interesting and recurring element in the story - SERN.  And no, I didn't misspell that.  In the real world this would be spelled CERN, which is a laboratory in Europe where they smash sub-atomic particles together (mostly protons if I remember correctly) at nearly the speed of light.  This of course leads to some interesting discoveries concerning quantum physics and how to manipulate particles - for instance how certain particles react and change near light-speed or when colliding with certain other particles, quantum entanglement, singularities, that kind of thing.  I could get all nerdy and talk about the Large Hadron Collider itself and the elusive Higgs-Boson particle as well, but I'll save that for another time.

SERN in Steins;Gate, on the other hand, aren't quite as normal/benign and are more concerned with time-travel.  In fact they're quite dead-set on being the first to manipulate (and travel through) time, though their results have been less than spectacular.  Now take that element of the story and combine it with the time-manipulating cellphone/microwave and Okarin's "paranoid" alter-ego.  Should get interesting, right?  Well...I don't know if this counts as a spoiler, but it does indeed get quite interesting.

There's another point I'd like to talk about, one that should be (theoretically) devoid of spoilers.  If you watched that trailer above, you might have noticed that the colour palette looks like it's been slightly bleached, or had a bit of life sucked out of it.  This is actually the first anime I've watched with this kind of visual style, and I have to say, it suits this series perfectly - it matches the setting, story, characters, everything.  Up until now all the other series I've watched have been rather vibrant and colourful, from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (except for the film, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which also has a more grim, toned-down palette that suits the movie 100% perfectly) to Shakugan no Shana, which is usually pretty vibrant considering there are often flames and special powers involved.
This slightly grim palette is often combined with more dreary settings or lighting (rain, overcast, dark alleyways), or goes the opposite way and you get slightly "over-exposed" footage with a glaring white sun - which still manages to be slightly hazy and weak at the same time.  You of course get a few nice sunsets which help round out the colour palette, which also contribute to a couple of great dialogue scenes between Okabe and Kurisu.
In my opinion this visual style especially suits the second half of the series, where (SPOILERS) you can see that time itself along with Rintaro Okabe, the self-proclaimed mad scientist and expert on time-travel, are starting to "fall apart" in a way, due to the many alterations and jumps through time he's had to perform.

That leads me to another point.  I'm kinda jumping around here, but I'm just writing what comes to mind, so please bear with me.  This will of course be full of spoilers, so skip ahead to the conclusion if you don't want to read anything about the events.
This series has a rather interesting way of going through character development.  For anyone who's seen Groundhog Day, it's a familiar enough process, where going through more-or-less the same event dozens to hundreds of times quickly starts to affect the person going through it all.
In Bill Murray's case, he's initially just desperate to end his never-ending February 2nd, until he realizes that in order to move forward he himself has to change, and he progressively becomes a nicer, happier person.  I guess you could say he becomes more "open" as well.
In Rintaro Okabe's case, however, it's sort-of the opposite.  In the events leading to the cliff-hanger in episode twelve, you can see that he slowly starts to realize that they've dived into the deep end of the pool yet barely know how to swim, and is in fact very ready to pass on the torch and return to a more normal day-to-day experience.
After that cliff-hanger, though, he becomes very focused on one single goal, and even manages to become better friends with Makise Kurisu (which of course leads to them being more than friends, but I saw that coming at 88mph), but in the process what you see is not someone becoming more open and happy, but someone starting to "freeze" and shut down.  Events that would usually shake him would then merely puzzle him - just another thing to figure out and fix.  In other words, he basically goes numb.  It takes Makise's confrontation and a couple of slaps to "wake him up", but that also leads to one of the more awesome scenes between just the two of them.
I could also go on about Okarin and Kurisu's friendship and the rather interesting way it develops, but that would also require more background info on how time-travel works in Steins;Gate.  I personally found it really interesting and at the same time rather sad.  You see both of them becoming friendlier and more trusting as events unfold, only to have those steps forward repeatedly erased and being back at square one, with Okabe being the only one with any memory of said steps forward.

I've now almost run out of things I can say without discussing plot points in greater detail.  In a nutshell this is the third anime to join my top-favourites, and I can definitely recommend it to any fellow sci-fi and/or anime geeks.  The characters, voice-work, setting, visual style, and story are all great - not to mention it can be seriously hilarious sometimes, especially when Okabe and Kurisu get going.  However, like I said in the first paragraph, it isn't for younger audiences, so keep that in mind :)

To end this post, a word about the main Intro and Outro.  I say main because they switch for the last 4 episodes, and although the Intro is basically the same (slight difference in which parts of the original song they used) the outro is fairly different, though I only listened to it once.
The intro itself is pretty similar to most other intros I've seen, where you're basically introduced to the characters, though in this case with some really interesting transitions, effects, and theme song.  The theme songs in particular really fit nicely - and I still don't speak Japanese, so I'm again saying this based on the sound alone.  The second intro is particularly interesting, where the effects of repeated time-travel start to appear and the sequence is slightly glitchy and jumbled.  It sounds worse than it is, but trust me, it really works well.
As for the first outro, love the song and the visuals, with a shattered hourglass slowly reversing back into a single piece.  It takes about a minute and a half though, so nothing else really goes on during the outro.  It just has a cool song and cool visuals.

That's basically all I can say without revealing too much of the story - I've already revealed more than I planned.
I'm not sure I'm 100% satisfied with this blog post, but I can be rather self-critical anyway ;)  I can't say I've nailed down the format either, but I'm working on that.  I'm hoping to turn this into another regular series - this should also help quell the number of huge multi-subject posts before they get too numerous.

MeshWeaver over and out.

* The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was originally just a "normal" favourite, but a few weeks back I re-watched the entire series followed by the epic movie (which I think I've now seen about 25 times, it's that epic) and for some reason I now notice a more complex, underlying level to all the characters. The movie does a great job of getting that ball rolling - though the only character who hasn't really changed from my perspective is Mikuru Asahina, whom I'm hoping will get a more important role if they continue the anime series.  The whole cute-girl/eye-candy theme is getting old, and she's apparently more active in the books, so here's hoping.  Anyway, I'll do a proper post about the series eventually, so keep an eye out.

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