Stein’s Gate (Shutainzu Gēto)

Game adaptations that work exceptionally well as film (or longer narratives in general) feel rare to me – but maybe that’s a reflection of my limited knowledge of animation that falls into that category?

Stein’s Gate (Shutainzu Gēto) 2011

Either way, I think this series is outstanding.

It’s rightly considered a classic of speculative fiction and anime; it features a compelling cast, premise and execution – and I mention that last aspect because for me, I can enjoy a show with fascinating ideas and give it a bit of a pass if the execution doesn’t quite match up, but I know not everyone is as forgiving as I am!

However, I don’t really feel Stein’s Gate has too many flaws – I mean, it panders with the harem aspects and main character Okabe has a moment of rage that stretched my ability to go along with him, but other than those two aspects I think the series will be well-regarded for decades.

Here’s a quick Wikipedia plot summary:

[Stein’s Gate] follows Rintaro Okabe, who together with his friends accidentally discovers a method of time travel through which they can send text messages to the past, thereby changing the present.

So, with that simple description comes a whole lot of tension and trauma as Okabe finally finds meaning through his discovery – only for his obsession to quickly pull his friends into life and death situations that soon keep compounding until Okabe is driven right to the very edge in his frantic efforts to right the wrongs he’s largely responsible for.

And yet, there is romance, friendship, comedy, conspiracy and alternate timelines aplenty, twists and welcome surprises too – all explored in a very intimate setting that is beautifully realised; the Akihabara/Tokyo that the show depicts seems to strike a perfect balance between hyper-realistic and anime-romanticised.

The writing too I found to be top-notch – it’s self-aware without bludgeoning the viewer with the fact, generally where Okabe’s friend Daru takes the lion’s share of the one-liners or general wit.

In fact, more often than not we’re encouraged to laugh at Okabe and his delusions of grandeur, something that will either become a source of fondness if you make it through the whole series, or which will drive you batty and force you to maybe walk away too soon, as I nearly did.

Having said that, I think that the science-fiction elements are both front and centre, but it’s still a drama and boy, at times it really made me feel for the characters.

Okabe certainly puts himself through the ringer and part of the cleverness of the writing is that one of his friends, Mayuri, is such a sweet girl that his fear of making her suffer becomes a powerful storyline indeed.

Perhaps it’s not a revolutionary move in terms of storytelling – I mean, I don’t care so much if a villain suffers – but she’s so without guile that Rintaro’s mistakes really pack a bigger emotional punch than they otherwise might.

Anyway, enough rambling – I’ll close with a note that I think if you like time travel, drama or romance you’ll enjoy Stein’s Gate a lot, but a quick note: my DVD came with an OVA but presented it as episode 25 and to be honest, I don’t think the OVA has the same impact as a final episode.

If I was able, I’d jump back a bit in time and not actually watch it 😀

5 Stars

Images sourced from google/anisearch.

Armitage III (Amitēji Za Sādo)

The late 1980s up to the mid 1990s represented a real peak of cyberpunk in anime, with the obvious giant that is Ghost in the Shell joined by Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed and Battle Angel etc but one OVA that can go overlooked seems to be Armitage III.

Armitage III (Amitēji Za Sādo)
1995

I think I can see why that might be so – Armitage just doesn’t seem as consistent overall, though the original four episodes are still pretty good; there’s mystery and tension, some nice reveals and great designs/scene setting with just enough character development for what I was after.

However, it’s still worth seeing if you’re a fan of the genre.

The classic ethical questions around Personhood are all there and in this series there’s some (not a heap) of political turmoil as a backdrop too, it’s a nice extra element to what is essentially a murder mystery at its heart.

The fight scenes are satisfying and the villain is pretty good too and Naomi herself is a great heroine though for me, her punk attitude comes across a touch forced(?) at times, I think she works better as a ‘conflicted’ rather than ‘cocky’ hero. Maybe it was some of the dialogue?

The OVA was edited down to one film and given a new English dub with some Hollywood folks (Kiefer Sutherland, Juliette Lewis) so I feel like the team behind the international release put some real effort into the series but Armitage III still seems to have more of a ‘cult classic’ status, rather than being as widely known as GITS.

As an aside, I did occasionally find her visual design to vary a little too much across promotional images/dvd art/episode/films, so much so that at times Armitage almost appears as two different characters (well, maybe not that different).

4 Stars

(Nearly ten years later a sequel film was made (Dual Matrix). You can see a jump in animation quality and the introduction of some CGI (mostly vehicles). And while I thought the story started a little slow (and Armitage behaves quite out of character at one important point) it was pretty good too, some of the fight sequences especially were great).