- RECENT REVIEWS: SHAKUGAN NO SHANA *** FREEZING *** SHANGRI-LA
- ERGO PROXY *** STRIKE WITCHES *** KING OF THORN
The characters pile up fast in STEINS;GATE, a sci-fi comedy thriller (yes, all three terms DO apply) about a group of young, amateur researchers attempting to create a working time machine. But if you miss a beat, fear not. With all of the memory wiping that happens over the course of this series, losing track for a moment might be exactly what you need to start feeling like you’re inside the show itself.
TIME TRAVELLER ALERT:
I have just returned from the future, where this review has already been read and disputed in the comment section. I offer you a warning, dear reader, before you get too far into my description of STEINS;GATE - - and why I completely adored it.
I will NOT be spoiling the ending of this series in my review. I can be completely sure of this, because I’ve only watched twelve of twenty-four episodes. The sense of horror I faced when reaching for Disc Three, only to find that I had no Discs Three or Four available for this review, should speak volumes.
When things kick off, wannabe Bond villain, Rintarou Okabe, is on his way to take in a lecture on recent discoveries in the field of time travel (a process he intends to use for world domination). However, he’s not impressed with the findings being presented. It seems the lecturer has lifted much of his material from the online publishings of purported real life time traveller John Titor.
Titor, you may recall, appeared online back in the year 2000 to warn us of the impending dystopian future of his time, 2036. While most skeptics who have examined his writings have written him off as a hoax, STEINS;GATE imagines that Titor was telling the truth - - or, at least, a past version of the truth. Of course, by travelling back in time we set new events in motion and push our world onto a different path, even if that means proving ourselves wrong...
As Okabe is arguing Titor-theory (something you get the impression he has done before), strange things start happening. A girl is murdered just down the hall. Some sort of spacecraft crashes into a nearby building. Okabe steps outside and turns around to find that the entire city has been deserted... except that it actually hasn’t.
By the next scene, things are back to normal. While the plotting of subsequent episodes is much more straightforward, this initial bout of dreams and delusions have dutifully set the stage for the paranoia, confusion and danger that will come. THIS is a show about time travel.
To help him in his “Future Gadget Laboratory,” Okabe recruits a number of nerds, misfits and pretty much any nosy passerby who will stick around. His motley crew includes a hardcore otaku and computer hacker, Daru; a cosplay afficianado, Mayuri; and an American student, Kurisu. Their primary line of research is a malfunctioning microwave oven that, when used in coordination with Okabe’s cellphone, causes texts and e-mails sent in the current time to arrive in the past.
If you could text yourself five minutes ago, what would you say? How about a week, a month, or even several years? The young staff of Okabe’s lab quickly push the boundaries of what’s possible by repeatedly sending data back to meet their younger selves, each time warping reality in ways of increasing importance.
While the implications of their actions are serious, the characters in STEINS;GATE typically aren’t.
They argue, tease, and laugh at each other constantly. Okabe shouts not-so-secret communications into his cellphone when he needs to vent, even though everyone knows he’s not on a call. And their first and best time-travel test subject is a bunch of bananas, which are called “gelnanas” when the tests turn them into a strange green goop.
The cast quickly grows close, and it feels good to spend time with this time travel club... even if you know they’re going to screw up the space-time continuum for us all.
Alexei Bochenek is a lifelong tech nerd and film buff based in Los Angeles. He writes for various online publications and edits the Los Angeles events website LALookout.com. Follow his Twitter: @alexeigb.