Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Steins;Gate Episodes 1 and 2 – Everything’s Just a Little Off

Steins;Gate Episodes 1 and 2 – Everything’s Just a Little Off

Once upon a time, there was a show called Chaos;Head, about a borderline hikikomori (and flat-out insane) high school otaku who was embroiled in a series of murders linked to some epic conspiracy involving mind control. Only the appearance of several beautiful girls over the course of the show would tip viewers off that the show was based on a harem visual novel.

Now Nitroplus and 5pb, the creative teams that gave us Chaos;Head, are getting another one of their visual novels put on the tv screen. Unlike the previous show, this one involves a cast of mostly college students, much better art direction and character design, and a plot about time travel rather than mind control. Like the previous show, it kicks off with a remarkably disorienting presentation style made worse by an unreliable (and mentally unstable) narrator.

Okabe will often talk into his phone about how "agents" are pursuing him. Makise is the first to note that phone isn't even on

Rintarou Okabe (who insists on being called Kyouma Hououin for some unknown reason) is a self-declared mad scientist who goes around rambling about his fantastic inventions and how a conspiracy is constantly monitoring and impeding him in his work. Most people who know him understand he’s just a little off, and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Of course, given the two members of his “lab” are an overweight hacker and otaku with a professed devotion to 2D girls (Hashida Itaru), and your stereotypical 16-year-old-who-acts-like-she’s-six high school girl (Mayuri Shiina), sanity might be scarce commodity in his neighborhood. One of the few sane people around seems to be Kurisu Makise, a brilliant young woman who is already publishing technical articles and offering lectures while still a college student.

Okabe's dramatic introduction of Mayuri and Itaru is hindered just a tad by the fact that neither of them give a crap

In the first episode, Okabe has a random introduction to Makise, who seems to already know him from somewhere. When he later finds her stabbed to death, he sends off a panicked text message to a friend, only to find the world literally shift under him. Suddenly, the lecture he attended previously never happened, a satellite has crashed into a building, and Kurisu Makise is alive.

To call the first episode disorienting is to put it mildly. In addition to the above oddities, there’s an extended sequence where just Mayuri and Okabe wander around the city devoid of any other people or signs of life. Even their initial scenes seem disjointed and meandering, although this might just be because neither is capable of holding on to a sane thought for longer than a few minutes.

One of the many random plot threads introduced in the first episode is Mayuri discovering and then losing a super rare collectible toy. I have no idea if this is will have a deeper meaning to the plot down the road, but signs point to no

The second episode greatly stabilizes the narrative, in part so the show can introduce the remaining girls of the “harem.” I’m not going to bother talking about them them, save for the fact that one of them is seeking a legendary IBN 5100 (really IBM, but the creators don’t want to get sued), which is the same computer time-traveling fraud John Titor claimed to be seeking. At the same time, John Titor pops back up on internet message boards, and Okabe discovers all memory and evidence of Titor’s “visit” in the early part of the decade has disappeared.

And by the end of the episode, Okabe has come to the startling conclusion that one of his inventions actually works: the microwave which he rigged up to be remote controlled by his cell phone mysteriously transports a banana back to the bunch it was taken from, although it still clearly had been microwaved.

I've never microwaved a banana, so I don't know if turning the thing into a green blob of goo is also an effect of Okabe's tinkering

Is all this, on a certain level, rather hokey? Oh yes. By choosing to use a real life time travel hoax for their backdrop (albeit with several additions and changes thanks to the whole “parallel worlds” excuse), the authors have just revealed their own inability to come up with something original. In some ways, it makes this show feel like an animated version of the DaVinci Code, where one’s ability to enjoy the material is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge about how many errors about historical and contemporary events, people, and organizations are littered throughout the text.

Still, if one is inclined to enjoy tales of conspiracy and/or time travel, you can do worse than Steins;Gate. Put aside the deliberately obfuscating premiere episode, and what remains seems a reasonably well thought out story, with no small amount of humor derived from the (literally) insane behavior of the cast. The humor and the darker undercurrent to the story is one of those odd juxtapositions at which anime often excels.

Feyris Nyannyan (center) works at a cat-maid cafe catering to 2D-fetizing otaku like Itaru. Probably the reason she and Mayuri (left, in a wig) keep up so well with Okabe's delusions is that they are used to dealing with crazy people

Of course, the show is still in its warm-up stages, and with a 24 episode run there’s plenty of time for plot to derail into an inconsistent mess, or simply degenerate into outright silliness. But, for the moment, Stiens;Gate will remain on my watch list, if nothing else for the fantastic animation and voice acting work.

And as much as Hana-Saku Iroha and Anohana will likely be better shows when all is said and done, there’s something to be said for a show that actually tries to surprise, misdirect, or otherwise challenge its viewers. It might fail miserably in the attempt, but at least it’s trying. And I’m curious to see if they can pull it off.

There's been nothing on the creepiness level of Makise's corpse since the first episode. My guess is that they are saving up for later

If you’re feeling similarly curious, you can watch the series here.

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  1. October 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm

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