Episodes 1-12 and Steins;Gate 23ß
Time travel is just science fiction, right? Not if you’re Rintaro ‘Okarin’ Okabe, the self-styled mad scientist – because he has time-travelled through innumerable alternate world lines. And all because he and his friends at the Future Gadgets Lab sent a message through time using a smartphone and a microwave, setting in motion a series of disastrous events leading to World War III. Now he’s back in a relatively stable timeline in which his kind-natured childhood friend Mayuri is still alive – but the young woman he loves, genius scientist Kurisu Makise, is dead. Or…is she? Enter Kurisu’s colleague, diminutive Maho Hiyajo, who has been working with genial Professor Leskinen in the States on Amadeus: a sophisticated AI programme based on Kurisu’s memories. The avatar looks, moves and sounds exactly like Okabe’s lost love – so when they ask Okabe to act as a tester, he’s at a complete loss. For as no one in this timeline knows what Kurisu really meant to him, how could they understand his feelings?
Meanwhile, Mayuri and friends continue to work at Faris’s maid cafe, Daru, the genius computer hacker/otaku continues his covert surveillance, and female-identifying Ruka works as miko at their father’s shrine – all watched over by Suzuha (Daru’s daughter from the war-torn future) who has returned to this timeline in her timecraft to try to get Okabe to help her undo the damage he’s inadvertently done and prevent World War III. Suzuha reveals that there was another passenger in her craft – a young girl, Kagari, who has since gone missing. Does Kagari hold the clues to solving the mystery?
I really enjoyed the first Steins;Gate anime series. The main protagonists are sympathetic and the premise intriguing. The way the story unfolds keeps the viewer engaged and the SF plot doesn’t insult the intelligence. So I had high hopes for this follow-up (which is not strictly speaking a sequel) and which have been realized in some respects. This time the series comes from a new studio, WHITE FOX (Girls’ Last Tour, Re:ZERO) with a new director, Kenichi Kawamura. Steins;Gate 0 begins with Episode 23ß, another alternate version of the events of the previous series – before plunging into the new timeline through the bewildered viewpoint of Okabe, the traumatized time traveller, who is the only one to remember everything that happens in every alternate reality he visits.
Maho also loved Kurisu, although she compares their relationship to that of prodigy composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with Antonio Salieri, referring, I imagine, to the play/film of Peter Schaffer’s play in which the older Salieri can’t come to terms with the young man’s effortless genius. The musical parallels are tantalisingly dangled and then not really developed in a meaningful way: Kurisu and Maho discuss Mozart’s genius. Fragments of Mozart are played and seem to be significant…but then are not followed through. Maybe they will be in Part 2… But Maho herself is a strong addition to the cast and a good foil for Okabe: she might have a prickly exterior (not helped by the fact many people assume she’s a child, due to her short stature) but she’s passionate about her work in neuroscience and she was a good friend to Kurisu. Might she become more than a friend to Okabe…?
You could be forgiven for thinking – looking at the bevy of young women surrounding Okabe – that Steins;Gate 0 is yet another harem series and, in some ways it is, albeit one boasting a more sophisticated plot than most. But this is down to its visual novel origins, because in a game, there must be multiple possible endings. I usually enjoy stories that take time to establish the characters – but here there’s a feeling that some of the perorations are not advancing the story effectively and that things are being spun out.
Both Japanese and US dub versions have their respective merits; I liked the Funimation cast a lot the first time around and find that J. Michael Tatum still impresses as Okabe (not that Mamoru Miyano disappoints in the original). Both Monica Rial and Sayuri Yahagi bring Maho convincingly to life.
On the music front, this has the strongest OP and ED that I’ve encountered in a long time. Kanako Itou (who also sang the OP for the original series) delivers “Fatima” and the main ED “LAST GAME” by zwei is a powerful, doom-laden ballad coupled with a sequence of arresting images. The music for the series is credited to Moe Hyūga, Nobuaki Nobusawa and Takeshi Abo (the latter composed the soundtrack for the original series).
Extras on this BD/DVD combo release from Manga Entertainment comprise Episode 2 Video Commentary, Episode 8 Commentary, Promo Video and Textless Songs. However the Limited Edition also includes a smartphone stand, cellphone strap, art book and art cards housed in a rigid chipboard box plus space to slot in the Part 2 episodes once they are released.
While not as impactful as the first Steins;Gate, the strong returning acting cast and intriguing premise help to make this a fascinating watch; it’s just not quite as gripping as it could have been. The problem of adapting a visual novel into a single storyline persists. But the characters are appealing enough to make this viewer want to know what happens next!