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GENRE: Anime ORIGINAL AIR DATES: April 6, 2011 - September 14, 2011
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

Hey babe, I sent you a D-Mail, if you know what I mean.

If you've ever managed to send a text message back in time using your microwave, then "The Organisation" is most likely watching you, and you're most likely watching STEINS;GATE. It is a rather peculiar anime and one I have been enjoying despite it making about as much sense as Serial Experiments Lain in Dutch with Gaelic subtitles. It's best described as a sci-fi crossed with a slice of life. I certainly haven't seen anything quite like this before, so it has that going for it.

STEINS;GATE is based on a visual novel for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 (among other platforms), which I have not yet played. I'm of the opinion that the less you know about this show (or the game) before going into it, the better. If at any point during reading this you feel you are sufficiently convinced to check out the show, please stop reading and start watching. This is a show that contains a compelling mystery and backs it up with at least a somewhat logical amount of pseudo-science — and knowing how it works in any detail will unravel the riddles therein. Please keep this in mind when reading, thank you.

The main character of STEINS;GATE is self-professed "mad scientist" Rintarou Okabe (though he'd prefer you call him Kyouma Hououin). He is an 18-year-old going on forty, with stubble and likely a little bit of ol' Uncle Halitosis from all that Doctor Pepper and Pringles he consumes. With the assistance of his human laboratory guinea pigs, he seeks to boldly go where no man has gone before: back to the past. Unfortunately, they're pretty much restricted to 36 bytes of data, so sending a human back isn't going to work out. If they can do it, however, they'd be one step ahead of SERN, who attempted things like this before but they ended up in failure.

After a few bananas get turned into jelly, Okabe and his team successfully manage to send text messages to the past. After that, their hair-brained schemes continue, including changing a person's biological sex, bringing a dead person back to life, and winning the lottery — all by sending strategically worded text messages into the past with their trusty retrofitted microwave, I mean, "Future Gadget #8: Phone Microwave (name subject to change)". These are called "D-Mails", after the Delorean from Back To The Future. The team never was good with names.

Events take a darker turn when Okabe starts receiving threatening text messages from an unknown sender, the lives of his friends become endangered and the real repercussions of the "D-Mails" become apparent. The show then becomes an endless run of leaps back in time to try saving lives, with varying degrees of success. The series takes a huge amount of inspiration from existing unexplained phenomena, such as the very real John Titor, a "time-traveler" who surfaced online in the early 2000s. I guess you could call this show the X-Files of anime. Okabe is Mulder and Kurisu is Scully, the truth is out there, trust no-one. The show is loaded with references, some of which I understood, others I did not. I must admit the reference to the "cake is a lie" meme from Portal took me out of it a wee bit, but to be fair, it is a game about science so it all ties in.

Dub lovers rejoice, and I don't mean the genre of music that originated in the 1960s. The voice talent is in top form. J. Michael Tatum provides the voice for Okabe Rintarou and manages to consistently perform beyond expectation. Not one voice performance is weak. I do, however, have to point out that the sound leveling isn't always decent; I understand that after a gunshot or explosion you might want to stretch it out into a long drone for effect, but the voices are far quieter than the sound effects. This is not something you should listen to with tinny phone speakers or cheap earbuds; it's a show for headphones or some decent speakers. On the positive side of sound design, the soundtrack is atmospheric and brings to mind a survival horror vibe, somewhat fitting given the show's ulterior subplot. Quite often it drives the music all the way down to Okabe's heartbeat — it's very fitting in those moments of sheer desperation.

I find my timing of getting around to STEINS;GATE rather fascinating; only recently was it announced that an anime adaptation of the sequel is in the works. Also, the sequel is coming to PC in May this year, making it the ideal time to check out this series if you haven't yet.


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