Friday, May 18, 2018

Why I Love the 2011 Steins;Gate Anime – And You Might, Too


Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“You have no memory of the three weeks you spent with me. But that's okay. Somewhere out there, you're breathing, speaking, thinking hard about something... That's all that matters. Because somewhere out there you're looking at the same world I am... this world with an unknown future.”1

Based on the visual novel by 5pb. and Nitroplus, Steins;Gate follows Okabe Rintaro and his friends as they stumble upon the secrets of time travel, a dangerous secret society, and a plot to enslave the future.

I love Steins;Gate. And if you like bantering, quirky characters; plot twists; and repeated viewings that blow your mind, you might like it, too.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

Genre: Sci-Fi, Techno-Thriller
Year Released: 2011
Studio: White Fox
Licensed By: Funimation
Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Satō
Episodes: 24, 1 OVA, 1 film, 4 original net animations, and 1 sequel

What You Might Like About... the Writing

Make no mistake: Steins;Gate will keep you on your toes. From the unsettling aesthetics to the plot's twists and turns, you'll never be sure where Steins;Gate is going next, but you'll sure enjoy the ride.

From the start, you get the sense that all is not normal in this universe. Episode one contains a lecture on time travel, mentions of a real-world internet conspiracy, and a terrible crime. Then the push of a button causes the world to shudder and go wild with color. When the smoke clears, a crowded street is dead, with the protagonist left alone, confused... and horrified when he discovers a satellite is now jutting from the building behind him... and the crime he'd witnessed earlier had never taken place.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

This is juxtaposed with just how normal a person our protagonist Okabe is. Immediately after the eerie scene, he joins his friends at their usual hang-out spot: a low-rent apartment in a quiet part of town. It makes you chuckle and relax a bit. There's nothing wrong here after all. It's just a couple of crazy, bored teenagers pretending to be scientists and performing the kind of wacky experiments that become YouTube viral videos. The bizarre events that kicked off the show become a distant memory.

And then the plot kicks into gear.

Like a proper mystery novel, Steins;Gate delivers carefully-placed clues leading up to gut-punching reveals. Details matter in this show, and I'm not the only person to argue that a second viewing will often yield even greater satisfaction than the first.2

But Steins;Gate is not only a master of compelling set-ups and satisfying payoff; it also knows when to leave an air of mystery. Nothing is explained to death in this show, proving its respect for its audience.

What You Might Like About... the Audiovisuals

Steins;Gate has unique design that is dripping with storytelling purpose. Otaku Gonzo Journalism, an essayist and cinematography enthusiast, describes it best in the first part of his series “How to Recognize a Great Anime (in just one episode) [sic].”

Steins;Gate does an excellent job of generating a sense of mystery and suspense in its audiovisual design alone,” Otaku asserts, pointing out specifics such as the usage of lighting in the very first episode:3

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“[E]ach shot is framed in such a way as to make [the characters] look overly white and washed-out... [Even] some of the buildings seem to simply evaporate into the atmosphere as they get further from the camera... There's something unsettling about how this entire scene is colored, as if the boundaries of reality have become opaque and uncomfortable...”4

However, Otaku also points out that “[t]he look of the world is mostly realistic, but with a slightly-off-kilter color palette that would be unusual in any medium.”5 This trend of mostly-normal but slightly-off continues through every aspect of the audiovisuals, Otaku says.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
“The character designs have a very Pixiv-esque feel to them... yet the tall bodies and relatively normal proportions of the characters make them feel fairly realistic... The voice actors are clearly doing anime voices, yet they perform them with more subtlety than they typically would, and the sound design skews so sparse and foley-focused that the events feel like they're being recorded right there in the world, rather than dramatized for television.”6

Everything is otherworldly while remaining inviting and grounded; it's intentionally contradictory. We're not in Kansas anymore, but we're not in anime-land, either. But if this isn't our Kansas, it must be somewhere close enough.

The Characters

The premise, pacing, and plot are solid. The audiovisuals are masterful. But Steins;Gate's characters are still the best part of this show.

I've already gushed about two of the main characters in my Top 10 Anime Guys and Girls posts, so pardon me if I start to repeat myself. I just can't get enough of this cast!

Every character in Steins;Gate (with the exception of one single bit part) feels like a full person, not a stereotype. Each character is incredibly likable, because despite their realistic flaws (Okabe is pretentious and socially inept, Kurisu is proud, Mayuri is naive, Daru is a shut-in who lives off his libido), they still care about each other and bounce off each other well. They're a fantastic portrayal of real friend-group dynamics: one minute they're playing a board game, the next they're harassing each other, and the next they're all laughing about it.

The show never resorts to drab exposition to tell us about these characters; Okabe doesn't preach about his tragic backstory. The characters show off different sides of themselves in realistic and organic moments of vulnerability, such as in one of my favorite scenes in which Okabe and Kurisu open up to one another. As they gaze up at the moon, Okabe tells Kurisu about a painful memory that spurred him to take on his mad scientist persona. In exchange, Kurisu tells him how difficult it was growing up trying to please her brilliant father.

There are so many layers to each of the characters, especially Okabe. He's more than this crazy goofball we were introduced to in the beginning. When Mayuri stares longingly at a quarter-operated machine, pining for the small toys inside, Okabe smiles and, despite his lecture that “Life is cruel and we don't always get what we want,” he gives her a coin. You can tell her delight makes it all worthwhile for him.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

And when he stumbles across a terrible crime against a girl he only recently met, his horror is palpable. He doesn't have it all together, and he's heartbroken that this girl he just spoke to a few hours ago—argued with a few minutes ago—is the victim of something horrible.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
What I love most about the cast, however, is how each character brings out different aspects of Okabe's personality. Mayuri, the innocent, childish one, brings out his protective side. Suzuha and Ruka bring out Okabe's compassion. Faris is one of the few who actually plays with him as he rants and raves about being a mad scientist. Moeka brings out his ferocious masculinity and his raw determination to save as many people as he can. Daru both encourages and makes fun of Okabe's drive for science and knowledge. And Kurisu makes him a better, more introspective person, challenging him in every way.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox

The Conclusion

So if you're looking for a show that's smart, funny, witty, clever, and deep, check out Steins;Gate. If you like shows with striking visuals, amazing voice acting, and shocking twists, you won't be disappointed.

Curious future Lab Members can find this show on Funimation's Youtube channel, which offers the series dubbed in English or subtitled. Best of all, once you've finished binging, you can head over to Crunchyroll to watch the first 5 episodes of the sequel series, Steins;Gate 0, for free!

So what are you waiting for? The will of Steins;gate is waiting.

El. Psy. Congroo.

Steins;Gate, 2011 White Fox
---
Notes and References:
  1. Okabe Rintaro, Steins;Gate, “Achievement Point,” Episode 24, Directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki and Takuya Satō, Written by Jukki Hanada, September 14, 2011, Funimation.
  2. Otaku Gonzo Journalism, “How to Recognize a Great Anime (in just one episode) [sic] [Part 1],” YouTube video, 24:19, June 22, 2016.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US "Fair Use" laws. Unless otherwise specified, all are from Funimation's official YouTube channel.

Steins;Gate and all related names and terms are the property of Funimation.

Review format adapted from Curtis Bell's Iridium Eye. If you're bored of the usual flicks on Redbox or Netflix, check out Iridium Eye for a medley of movies and shows I can guarantee you've never heard of.

From Him, To Him

Friday, May 11, 2018

Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, Part 2 of 2 (TVB Universe)

Here's the conclusion of Brotherhood: The Mountain Ascent, a story set in The Victor's Blade universe! If you missed part 1, click here.

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[Frum Wimbleton and Pepin are on a dangerous trek through the mountains to reach the lands beyond. The boys may be traveling companions, but they have very little in common: Frum is a boisterous, talkative elf while Pepin is a silent Snow Faer. Frum is small and light on his feet, while Pepin is tall and limber. Still, it will take both of them to reach the other side of the mountains... before the approaching storm comes.]

“Hoi, Pep, d’ya think it’s getting hard to breathe?” Frum anxiously pawed at the fabric of his coat collar.

They were getting high on the mountain now, and both boys were panting. At a nod from Pepin, both boys stepped back and simultaneously plopped down atop a snowdrift to catch their breath.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Each lad glanced about the cold mountain while they sat, their breath puffing like smoke from a dragon’s nostril.

Frum shivered and patted his arms, shaking his head. As his teeth clattered noisily, he glanced at Pepin with a rueful smirk. “Boy, Pep, you don’t need nothing, do ya?”

Pepin raised his brow curiously. Then he glanced around at the snow and shrugged.

“Nah, I don't just mean about the cold. Just look at ya! Sittin’ there like a stone, as if this whole mountain could come down on ya an' ya wouldn't blink!” Frum waved his hand at Pepin, gesturing ridiculously.

The stoic Snow Faer cracked a grin. He held out an open palm... and then smacked his hands together.

“Yes, I know we'd both be smushed if the mountain came down. But I'm bein' serious now.” Frum's characteristic smile had faded completely. “Ain't there anythin' that scares you?”

There was a moment of consideration. Pepin tapped his chin before shrugging.

Frum rested his chin in his hands. “Nothin' at all? But weren't you all by yourself back home? No one to look out for ya?”

Pepin held up his fingers in an “O” shape. Zero. No one.

“No family, no girl to keep ya company?”

With a sad little sigh, Pepin frowned and shook his head.

“No best pal?”

Pepin was silent, and he looked puzzled as he contemplated the question. Finally he shook his head and shrugged.

“Oh, Pep! Ya gotta have a pal! Everybody needs one!” Frum cried, jumping from his seat in the snowdrift. “You can’t go it alone,” Frum added quietly, glancing back down the mountain the way they'd come. He looked a bit... sad suddenly. “No one can.”

Frum motioned to the surrounding mountain. “Life’s just like this mountain, see? It’s full of dangers and twists n’ sharp turns. Y’can’t travel up it alone. A climber needs a pal beside him who can pat him on the back and tell him he’s doing a good job when he climbs a real rough crag. Or tell him not to give up when he’s just about had enough and wants to go home. Or give him a good cuff once in a while, just to keep him on his toes.

“That’s what a friend’s for, pal.”

For a long time, Pepin did not respond. He sat on the mountain snowdrift, brow knitted in thought.

But his thoughts were interrupted by Frum clapping his hands on his knees. “Welp, I've got my breath back. Let's keep movin'!” With a fresh spring in his step, he skipped away, merry as ever, as if nothing were bothering him.

Pepin shook his head and shouldered his pack as the two continued their ascent.

#

The drifts swelled from the freshly fallen snow, and it was not long before Frum and Pepin were wading through snow waist-deep. Frum was light enough to continue walking on the surface of the snow, but Pepin was far heavier, and he struggled to cut a path through. The boys had wandered far from the shelter of rock and crag, and the wind snapped at them from all directions.

As snow flew in their faces and stung their eyes, the boys pushed forward, side by side. Their progress was painful and slow, Pepin shoving inch by inch through the thick and heavy snow. The scenery around them was monotone: blinding white and shadowy gray with the thickening clouds overhead. Every sound from their labored breaths to the crunch of flakes beneath their boots was muffled by the snowfall.

So the terrifying crack that rent the air sounded even louder.

Frum spun this way and that, his blue eyes wide with fear. “W-what's—?”

But Pepin knew what. His face was nearly white as his hair. He lunged toward Frum, his mouth wide in a soundless shout.

Two more cracks and a long, whining creak, and suddenly the heavy snow on the slope just ahead shifted in one giant slab. In the next moment, it was all rushing like a waterfall, barreling straight for them.

There was no time to react. Frum and Pepin went under the powder of snow immediately, sucked below by the powerful current. The avalanche crashed down the mountainside, and the boys tumbled down with it: rumbling, crashing, falling…

And then, silence and darkness. The avalanche settled as soon as it had started. For a long time, the new field of pure white snow sat, silent.

And then—“Pep!” Frum's hoarse voice carried eerily over the death-silence of the mountainside. “Peeeeeep!” Frum, powdered white with snow, staggered across the new snowy slope. He whirled about, knees knocking together, eyes roving wildly, completely at a loss. “Pep, where are you?!”

Frum dropped to his knees, digging furiously, flinging snow everywhere. But there was nothing there. He staggered down the slope a few more yards and dropped to his knees a second time. Again, he dug. Again, there was nothing.

“Pep!” Frum’s eyes flooded with tears. “Oh, Pep, I’ve dragged you from your home to your grave! Confound it, Pep, you can't die here! Where are you?!”

Frum wavered down the slope, digging in two more places. “Confounded adventure! Confounded wander-lust! Confound me, Pep! Why'd I have to drag you into this just 'cause I couldn’t go it alone?”

But there was nothing. No sign, no sight, no sound of his friend.

“Pep!” Frum's voice caught in his throat. He staggered a few more paces before staggering face-first into the snow. He sat up, hot tears coursing down his face. “Oh, Pep, pal... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. This is... it's all my fault!” He buried his face in his hands. “Please, Pep... don't leave me all alone...”

Only the bitter wind was there to howl at him for his foolishness.

And then a hand burst through the snow three yards away, waving frantically.

“Pep!” Frum shrieked in wonder and relief, all tears forgotten. He clambered on hands and knees over to Pepin's scrabbling hand. “Don't worry, pal, Frum's here to help!” Immediately Frum set to work, clawing at the snow around Pepin's arm to dig his friend free.

As soon as his head cleared, Pepin gasped for air. He floundered in the compact snow, trapped by its weight.

“Pep! Pep, you're all right!” Frum cheered as he dashed away tears and started digging even faster. As soon as Frum had freed Pepin's arm, the Snow Faer helped dig too. Soon Frum was dragging Pepin out of the pit of snow.

“You scoundrel, you’re alive!” Frum choked as he threw his arms about the Faer. Pepin gasped for air, but offered Frum a weary grin. He patted Frum's back gently. They sat for a while, hugging each other there on the silent snowy mountainside.

#

Pepin stared up at the snow-white ceiling of the new snow shelter. Frum had tossed and turned, shuddering and muttering for hours. At last, however, he'd finally fallen asleep.

Pepin glanced over at Frum. Even in sleep the elf was neither silent nor still, shivering and grumbling in his sleep.

Pepin shook his head with a smile and gently patted his friend's head. Rising on quiet feet, Pepin clambered out of their snow hut and peeped out at the midnight sky.

Stars dotted the clear sky, crisp and clear like diamonds glittering in a black velvet gown.

Pepin stood gazing at them for a moment, watching his breath smoke and rise into the night sky. Then he turned and stared at the snowy slope he’d been buried beneath only a few hours before. Another turn and he was gazing back the way they'd come: down that winding, terrible path that led back to his village. Pepin stared at that one for quite some time, thoughtful. Contemplative.

But then he turned once more, this time to face the slope they'd cross tomorrow: the path they'd been traveling all this time.

Pepin tugged on his hood once before ducking back into the snow fortress.

Frum still slept, mumbling incoherently and shivering with cold.

Pepin shrugged off his beautiful fur-lined coat and set it on Frum’s shivering shoulders. Frum's shivering slowed... and then stopped altogether. The elf stopped mumbling, and a smile spread across his face.

The smile had spread to Pepin's face as he settled back in to sleep.

#

“Wow… what a view…” Frum whispered.

Pepin gazed down the slope of the mountaintop, past the gentle snowdrifts and the coursing paths, past the misty clouds below them, to the greenery below. Trees—first pine and then others, oak and maple—stretched into a forest that passed away into green hills and yellow valleys crossed with sapphire-blue rivers and streams. Smoke rose in lazy tendrils from cheery chimneys of cottages sitting upon the knees of the mountain.

The boys had reached the other side of the mountains.

Frum's face was bursting with a grin that threatened to melt the snow around them for miles. “I think,” Frum announced, his arms akimbo, “that will be an excellent start for my adventure!” He pointed down the mountain slope to the land far beyond.

Rolling his eyes, Pepin shook his head and tapped Frum's shoulder.

Frum spun to him, and his grin grew even brighter. “Right. Our adventure.”

A grin to match Frum's spread across Pepin's face.

“Let's go, pal!”

And together, side by side, the two began the long descent into the lands beyond.