Steins;Gate is like a Takimoto Tatsuhiko (Welcome to the NHK) story without being written by Takimoto, which is something I need right now.
Some people were getting hyped over Steins;Gate as an extension from Madoka Magica, seeing as it’s adapted from a Nitro+ game, and Urobuchi Gen, the writer of Madoka, writes games for Nitro+. I for one saw mostly bad flags at first—for one thing, Nitro+ has made shitloads of games of varying quality, and it’s not like this one was written by Urobuchi, so comparison to Madoka is moot. And besides the fact that other Nitro+ game adaptions have been notoriously bad, not even the adaption of Urobuchi’s other game, Phantom, was any good. (Note: Phantom actually has a generally positive reputation, but I can’t even begin to fathom why. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A GOOD BEE TRAIN ANIME, GUYS.) Madoka was good because Urobuchi wrote the show itself.
And the studio, WHITE FOX, has so far made two other shows: the first was mediocre fantasy porn game adaption Tears to Tiara, and the other was Katanagatari, which disappointed me more than pretty much anything I’ve ever watched. My hopes couldn’t be lower.
That is, until I had another look at ANN and found out the series is directed by Hamasaki Hiroshi, whom I’ve been wanting to direct another show for years now.
You probably haven’t seen either of Hamasaki’s other two directorial works, Texhnolyze and Shigurui, because neither is very popular—and for good reason. They’re both hard shows to watch.
One of my favorite blog posts ever, from a site that died a long time ago and whose fucking name I can’t ever remember, was about Hamasaki’s directing style and how in his series, the backdrop of the story is actually a character itself. This is most prominent in Texhnolyze, which features art design by the amazing ABe Yoshitoshi, and throughout which the background gets about as much screen time as the characters (and probably sees as much development as they do.) (Add to that lines like “This city doesn’t want a spectacle right now,” and it seems the city is literally a character.)
Even more than that, Hamasaki’s trademark is an intense focus on the human body being pushed to extremes. Both Texhnolyze and Shigurui are known for their high muscle and body detail and the strange and disturbing body modifications or mutilations taking place therein. The first few episodes of Texhnolyze are about the main character being one-armed and one-legged, falling over himself and slowly dying as he limps around the slums—it’s grueling. In Shigurui, bodies are often grossly destroyed in glorious detail.
Neither of those qualities stands out in the first episode of Steins;Gate, but a third detail does—weirdly structured and impenetrable storytelling. Texhnolyze is famous for its first episode featuring zero dialog or music for the first 14 minutes, and for the plot not really emerging until halfway through the 22-episode series. That could also be attributed to the writer, Chiaki J. Konaka, who’s an artfag lunatic, but Shigurui also starts off with an episode that takes place after the rest of the series, and which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense on first viewing.
Suffice it to say, I have no fucking idea what’s going on in Steins;Gate so far, nor do I expect it will be revealed in the second episode. I don’t think this is one of those series that uses a confusing beginning as a gimmic—it’s just going to be a confusing story all the way through.
Some of Hamasaki’s trademark visuals were present, especially in the OP (above), which was a lot like the Texhnolyze op (below). It also had the blown-out daytime sky that’s used in both of his other shows, some cut-aways to random landscape aspects (they don’t stand out as much because this isn’t a beautiful Madhouse production like his other shows are), and while they weren’t in the episode itself, there were a lot of insects in the OP, which are something he seems to enjoy putting in his shows.
What Steins;Gate reminded me of most was Welcome to the NHK, especially with the lead character’s conspiracy obsession and with the out-of-place cute girl in a party of otherwise demented otaku. If you think it’s an odd comparison because NHK is a lot more straightforward, then I recommend checking out some of Takimoto’s other stuff, like the short story ECCO in volume 2 of the English release of Faust. His stuff gets pretty weird just like this.
That said, Steins;Gate is certainly more weird than anything Takimoto’s done and steps more into Kadono Kouhei territory with storytelling style, which is good. After overloading myself reading and watching stuff by Narita Ryougo, NISIOISIN, and Takimoto, each of whom’s works are always pretty similar and can thus be hard to take in clusters, I’m happy to have something in this vein that *isn’t by them.* As much as I’m looking forward to Nisemonogatari, I really could use a break from NISIO for a while.
I’m glad that Steins;Gate isn’t what I expected. I expected something more plot-driven and serious that would make me want to wait until it’s over to watch. Since it’s more disjointed and strange, I feel like I can watch it weekly and get that hit of something I could really use right now.