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DVD Review

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Part Two (Episodes 13-25)


Starring (voice): Mamoru Miyano, Asami Imai and Kana Hanazawa
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 12
Available: 30 September 2013

Hack into the secrets of time travel! The microwave is a time machine. Okarin proved it. The self-anointed mad scientist nuked bananas into some gelatinous version of the future; or maybe it was the past. As refinements are made and text messages sent through time, the shifting timelines begin to attract unwelcome attention. Clandestine organisations of nefarious origins take notice, and the Future Gadget Lab is thrown into a deeper conspiracy than it has the resources to handle. Who are SERN? And what do they want with Okarin...?

Previously in Steins;Gate, the lazy daily life and meme-spouting ramblings of the members of the Future Gadget Laboratory were brought to a nasty end as their accidental creation of a working device for transmitting information through time attracted the attention of an armed conspiracy, leading to the untimely death of one beloved member. With mounting desperation, FGL leader Rintaro 'Okarin' Okabe repeatedly attempts to avert his friend's death by altering the past, only to find himself unable to change fate. Only the revelation of another lab member's secret identity as a visitor from the future created by the time machine's misuse stands a chance of averting disaster both at home and for the world.

This kind of overheated summary of events is no doubt typical of the kind of thing the fiction-addled Okabe would come up with, and thus appropriate for the show; it's seldom the series itself achieves this level of tension, however. As in the first half, pacing problems stemming from the adaptation from a sprawling visual novel mean that many episodes lack drive and end at odd junctures, with the desperate quest to avert Okabe's friend's death coming across as cheap and silly. Worse yet, the plot's insistence on killing the character off in a variety of gruesome ways in different timelines because it's 'fated' makes a mockery of its pretensions to scientific realism, never all that solid in the first place. It's a pity that with some more rigorous plotting to support its fairly likeable cast, Steins;Gate could have achieved something really memorable.

As it stands, the requirement to adapt as much as possible of the visual novel's multi-stranded plot means that several of these episodes chunter along in second gear, as Okabe spends time with the secondary heroines and their personal issues. While these are more or less relevant to the plot, some are jarringly poorly handled, notably the story involving sociopathic introvert Moeka that leads to a casual treatment of suicide almost as as cavalier as the references to priestess Ruka's gender identity issues. It's a lacklustre storyline that adds nothing to the series - save to bolster Okabe's identity as accidental saviour - and is sadly reflective of anime's tendency to throw in irrelevant material when the main plot weakens. Only a surprisingly intimate scene between Okabe and main heroine Kurisu, where the emotional bond between them transcends anime clichés and comes across as genuinely heartfelt, redeems the writing in this portion of the series.

With the climax approaching and revelations about the nature of the war for control of time travel coming every few scenes, it's largely to Steins;Gate's credit that it keeps its focus on the small cast and central location, and the resolution of the central murder-mystery, while hokey, at least allows Okabe to put his absurd grandstanding to use and perhaps even move past it. The finale is followed by a standalone story involving the characters on a jaunt to the USA, which adds little except to fulfil the wishes of those who want to hear more mad-scientist verbal sparring and see Kurisu in a maid outfit, but is serviceable enough.

The production values are of the same elementary quality seen in the first half of the series, with many dialogue scenes played out over still shots and cutaways and only occasional forays into visually striking animation; it's understandable given the minimal visual flair involved in the source material, but leaves much to be desired. Fortunately the voice casts do their utmost to make up the shortfall, and Steins;Gate is probably best treated as an extended radio play with some occasional nifty visuals. It's really only the meandering, flimsy plotting and unwise approach to some of its material that stops it from getting a more generous score.


Richard Hunt

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