I’ll be honest: I went into Funimation’s new “Steins;Gate” with some skepticism after reading the description. It was one of those “um, OK” moments.
I almost gave up after the first episode, but I decided to watch the second, then the third, then the fourth, then the fifth — and then I had to come in for work.
This week’s two-disc set, which contains the first 12 episodes, lives up to the press release as being “surreal,” but it also grabs you with its intrigue.
Here’s the official description; then I’ll translate:
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. Doesn’t matter. No one thought he could do it, but he did it anyway. He sent text messages through time to people he knew. To his friends. Some of them female. Pretty. He should have been more careful. He should have stopped. Tampering with the time-space continuum attracts unwelcome attention. Clandestine organizations of nefarious origins take notice. SERN. Always watching. Okarin knows; he can feel their eyes. That’s why he started the top secret Future Gadget Lab. To stop them. You should join. We get to wear lab coats, and it’s dangerous. Danger is exciting because it’s deadly. The microwave is a time machine.
The story, spun off a video game, is buried in there. Okarin is a young, self-declared “mad scientist” who seems to have inadvertently invented a time machine out of a microwave in his Future Gadget Laboratory. It’s capable of sending text messages — and maybe bananas — into the past. He’s aided by two friends, Mayuri, a spritely female friend, and Daru, an expert hacker. He also draws the attention of another young woman, Makise Kurisu who doesn’t want to believe time travel is possible.
In his mind, he’s constantly watched by something called “The Organization,” and he frequently talks into his cellphone to some supposed unnamed compatriots.
It turns out SERN (yes, the European scientific venture) also may have done the same thing. And when Daru hacks into their computer — well, I’m assuming all heck breaks loose. I haven’t gotten that far yet.
Is SERN really going to come after him? Who is the mysterious John Titor, a character drawn from real life who claims to be a time traveler from 2036 who wants to save the world from an oppressive SERN? And what’s with the strange girl who works part-time at the old-TV store beneath the lab? What’s Makise’s story, and why does Okarin remember her being murdered earlier when clearly she wasn’t?
As it progresses, “Steins;Gate” takes several quick twists that grab your attention as evidence of the microwave’s time traveling capabilities become more pronounced and the secrets at SERN go deeper. It’s a quick pace that serves the story well, though I’m curious how far they can realistically stretch the concept since this release is billed as part one. I can see it working as a 12- or 13-episode series, but anything longer seems like it may be stretched too far.
But the show has surprised me already, so who knows?
Okarin, whose real name may or may not be Hououin Kyouma, joins a long line of lovable mad scientists, one of the most recent being Walter Bishop on Fox’s “Fringe.” Okarin hasn’t has his brain dissected (I’m assuming), but he does have an endearing bit of paranoia and an affable way about him. He also has a penchant to make up names for people, whether it’s welcomed or not.
He’s voiced by the able J. Michael Tatum on the dub, and Tatum does his usual fine work. It’s a bit lighter than his usual roles, and he handles it well.
The rest of the cast meshes well (the characters and their voices). It’s an interesting ensemble that keeps the viewer guessing. Is everyone really just who they claim to be?
Lots of questions, and I look forward to watching more to find the answers.