Steins Gate - Part 2 Review

It took a little while to get there, but the first part of Steins Gate certainly exploited many of the advantages of a science-fiction story that involves time-travel. It took into account some of the issues of time paradoxes in its suggestion that a time machine could be developed with help from the future, and it addressed the complicated matter of diverging time-lines that must inevitably occur when an event in the past is altered. Much of these ideas were explored in a playful manner through self-styled mad scientist Okabe Rintaro 'Okarin' sending D-mail text messages into the past through his Future Gadget #8, 'The Phone Microwave (Temporary Name)' to help resolve apparently minor matters for his growing team of assistants.

Small changes to the past can however potentially have vast and unpredictable consequences, and by the end of the first 12 episodes in Steins Gate Part 1, things had just (finally) taken a rather serious turn with agents from an mysterious organisation bent on evil research, SERN, had launched an attack on Okabe's Future Gadget Laboratory. In the shoot-out that ensues, at least one of Okabe's assistants (mentioning no names) is shot and killed. Part 2 of the series then takes advantage (does it ever!) of another narrative device associated with SF time-travel storylines that some might consider a bit of a cheat. Whenever anything bad happens, you can always just go back and fix it when you have a time machine.

Problem easily erased and resolved, you might think, but of course, it's not that simple. Firstly, Okabe may have sent a few D-mails back into the past through his Future Gadget #8, 'The Phone Microwave (Temporary Name)', but his experiments with time-travel are far from perfected and there are limitations to the technology. There's also the earlier established premise that you can never entirely predict quite what impact any attempt to change the past will have on other events in the future. But if at first you don't succeed, well like Marty McFly in Back to the Future 2, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, or in the anime world like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, you try, try and try again...

The vast majority of the second part of the Steins Gate then involves Okabe repeatedly going back to try to prevent the death of someone close to him, but finding that, whether through "fate" or the theoretical 1% Divergence Barrier, it proves to be almost impossible to achieve. That might sound a little repetitive in an 'Oh my God, they killed Kenny' kind of way, where Okabe's (unnamed) assistant repeatedly dies in a number of bizarre ways, but the series takes the implications of this very seriously. The impact of watching someone you love die repeatedly is fully felt, and you can imagine the lengths it drives Okabe to in order to alter what seems inevitable and the terrible compromises he must consider.

In order to attempt to do this, Okabe has to do something that might also seem repetitive in a been-there-done-that-and-it-wasn't-even-great-in-the-first-place kind of way. He actually has to go back step-by-step and unravel all the little changes he made in the first place. What makes this more interesting than expected is that you've now discovered a lot more about the characters and their motivations, which shows that the effort put into the seemingly insignificant scene setting, personality development and character interplay is paying off. You really care about each of the characters and - crucially - become aware of the implications of the fluidity of time when subtle changes can entirely wipe characters out of existence or out of awareness. This all now starts to mean something for the characters and the viewer.

The idea is sound and the groundwork covered in Part One proves that it now has a purpose, but what is marvellous about the second half of Steins Gate is how well the creators manage to juggle all these characters and their distinct motivations with the unravelling of the times-lines and their construction into a new "reality". It's admirably clear and concise in its treatment of these complicated issues, and it maintains a pace and a tension that drives the series along as it deepens the connections. Much like any series, but particularly in one that hops between numerous alternative time-lines, it should all come together in the end, and Steins Gate does that exceptionally well.

Steins Gate - Part 2 is released on DVD and BD by Manga Entertainment, the series English versioned by Funimation. The Blu-ray set reviewed here contains 13 episodes (episodes 13 - 24 plus the OVA epilogue in episode 25) of the complete on two discs, with nine episodes on one dual-layer BD50 disc and four on a single-layer BD25. The BD is AVC encoded with a 1080/24p transfer and Dolby TrueHD audio tracks. The UK set is presumably Region B encoded, but this was not verified, as the series was reviewed from checkdisc.

As noted in the earlier review of Part 1, the series mostly uses a hazy quality with muted colours, which means it doesn't really come across spectacularly in High Definition. The image quality nonetheless is fine, there are few notable problems other than the usual colour banding issues, which may or may not be an issue depending on the settings of you display device. I found that they were very prominent, particularly in the hazy images. In scenes where stronger contrasts and deeper colours are used, the image however looks particularly good.

The original Japanese audio track is presented in Dolby TrueHD 2.0, the English dub is Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Both are fine with a robust and clear presentation of the dialogue and soundtrack. English subtitles are optional and are in a white font. All on-screen text (phone texts, e-mails, computer posts) are also subtitled with overlays. It can be difficult to follow everything, but usually there's not much requirement on the viewer to read it all, as the main points are covered in the dialogue.

Again, there's not much of interest in the extra features in Part 2. The commentaries on Episode 19 and 24 are provided by the American crew responsible for the English dub. In addition there are the standard Textless Openings (2), Textless Closings (2) and a US Trailer.

As you might expect from a series that relies on the science-fiction premise of time travel, you really have to stick with it to see if it all comes together at the end. That's particularly the case with Steins Gate, which seemed to lack drive and direction in the first half, only for all those perceived weaknesses turn out to actually be of vital importance in the second half. Except for the goo-bananas. As well as being thrillingly paced and strongly characterised in a way that makes you really care about the dilemmas faced, the second part of Steins Gate reveals the true quality of the series to be in the intelligent characterisation, the consistency and the clarity with which it deals with its time paradox storyline. It's most certainly worth your time.

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