Self-styled “mad scientist” Rintaro Okabe has made a breakthrough: his invention, a combination of cellphone and microwave oven, can send information backwards through time. Unfortunately, tinkering with history doesn’t come without repercussions—butterfly effect much?—and soon Okabe and his gaggle of loopy friends are all running for their lives from shadowy powers-that-be who want the “Phonewave” for themselves … and want Okabe and his pals dead.
The most improbable-sounding premise imaginable (although, doesn’t anime specialize in improbable premises?) turns out to be one of the best shows of the year. It lures you in with generous humor—there’s more fall-out-of-your-chair funny moments and quotable lines than in any other three shows combined—then adds unexpected complexities, both dramatic and emotional.
- Unpredictable and highly original premise.
- Rollicking, hilarious character interactions.
- Humor later gives way to an unexpectedly complex and thoughtful plotline.
- First of two parts, so you've got to watch both.
- Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki, Takuya Sato, and Tomoki Kobayashi
- Animation Studio: WHITE FOX
- Released By: Media Factory
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-14 (language, thematic material)
- List Price: $69.98 (DVD/Blu-ray combo)
- Science Fiction
It's all in the name of weird science
His real name is Rintaro Okabe, but he prefers to be called “Hōōin Kyōma, Mad Scientist.” He does everything in his power to live up to the label: the lab coat he wears at all times; the pretentious, elevated, diction he brings to even the most mundane of situations; the way he constantly mutters paranoid theory-spinning into a cellphone, even with no one at the other end. In theory he’s a college student, but he’s consistently skipped out on classes in favor of putting together a “Future Gadget Laboratory,” from which will spring his tools for … world domination!
The Laboratory—a room he’s rented over the shop of a grouchy TV repairman—consists of little more than a hangout space for himself, his female childhood friend Mayuri (“Mayushii”), and his hacker / otaku buddy Itaru (“Daru”). Mayuri is gentle and upbeat, the kind of person it’s impossible to hate, and she stays with Okabe (she calls him “Okarin”) out of a sense that both of them need the space created by the two of them together, especially since Okabe has been there for her since she lost her parents at an early age. Daru hangs out with Okabe mostly because it gives him an excuse to do hacker-ish things, but he’d really rather be down at the maid café where Mayuri works, ogling his would-be girlfriend Feris.
Oddball as all this is, it’s made even odder when Okabe and Mayuri hit up a seminar on time travel, during which several strange things happen in succession. First is a chance encounter with a girl named Makise Kurisu—a young physics genius who spent several years abroad, and came to attend the same lecture—who seems to be convinced she met Okabe a few minutes ago, when he’s never seen her before. Then a strange satellite-like object crashes into the top floor of the building, and Okabe discovers Makise dead … but then encounters her again later on, very much alive, and very confused by Okabe’s interest in her.
It's a microwave AND a time machine!
What’s going on here? As far as Okabe can piece together, it has something to do with one of the new gadgets they’ve been tinkering with in the Future Gadget Laboratory: a cellphone-controlled microwave oven. One of the bananas they put into it is converted into a bizarre green gelatinous substance—and a text message sent to Daru appears to have arrived in his cellphone one week ago. The oven has somehow been turned into a time machine, capable of sending short bursts of information—cellphone text messages—backwards in time.
This is exactly the kind of weird science Okabe loves to sink his teeth into, and in a fit of mad glee he drafts Makise as a new lab member. She would love to have nothing to do with this nutcase, but she can’t deny there’s something funky going on here which doesn’t have an easy explanation—and her normally icy nature thaws out the more time she spends in Mayuri’s company.
She isn’t, however, impressed by Okabe’s headlong plunge into some very shaky territory, like the story of an alleged time traveler named John Titor—another one of those strange things which Okabe remembers from the past but which no one else seems to know about. Titor alleges that an outfit named SERN (hint, hint) has an absolute monopoly on time travel, which they were able to create via micro black holes generated in the Large Hadron Collider. To most anyone’s ears, that sounds like danger; to Okabe, it sounds like a challenge to rise to, and so he tasks Daru with hacking into SERN’s systems and retrieving their experimental data.
Oh, causality, why are you such a harsh mistress?
Every step the group takes leads them into even weirder territory. The data from SERN is encrypted in a proprietary format which requires a vintage PC, the “IBN 5100” (again, hint, hint)—one which the patron of a nearby Shinto shrine has in storage … and who had instructions that someday he’d be asked by someone to use it under disturbingly similar circumstances. That’s warped enough, but even more disturbing is what they find when the data’s decrypted. SERN has been using their time-travel apparatus to attempt to send people back in time, but it doesn’t work—the test subjects die in messy, by-now-all-too-familiar ways.
Okabe’s experiments also now take on an even more disturbing turn. He’s come to the conclusion that while he can send data backwards through time, he’s the only one who remembers what things were like before the world changed. At first he’s thrilled by this—who wouldn’t use a skill like that to, for instance, win the lottery?—but the more he tries to figure out the exact mechanism of the system, the more reality begins to unravel itself. An acquaintance changes sex. People who should exist, cease to exist. One of the “lab members” sabotages her own history, to the detriment of a great many other people. And that’s all before they find themselves staring down the barrels of guns …