This year saw the return of Udon to the manga scene. They spent much of the 2000s trying to convince American manga readers to read manhwa with little success and have spent most of the last few years publishing anime and video game artbooks. I guess that market has done well for them, as at long last we started seeing a trickle of series under their name, including today's selection.
STEINS; GATE, based on the visual novel by 5pb x Nitroplus with art by Yomi Sarachi. First published in 2009 and first published in North America in 2015.
Okabe Rintarou is convinced that he's destined for greatest. Under the pseudonym of Hououin Kyouma, he and the fellow members of the Future Gadgets team are to change the world with their inventions, even if Okabe is the only one who takes it seriously. Everything changes on the day he attends a lecture by young genius Makise Kurisu and a satellite crashes into Akihabara. Okabe discovers that one of his inventions is a god-to-honest time machine. As more and more people are roped into Future Gadgets, Okabe starts noticing strange changes to the people and events around him. Are he and his friends actually changing the present? If so, will those changes be for the best or not?
Steins;Gate is something of an anomaly. While it's based on a visual novel and technically kind of a harem story, it's also got a lot of character and technobabble that gives it appeal beyond VN fans, especially after it got an animated adaptation. A lot of that charm is still there in this manga version, but there are also little changes that do change the tone and I suspect how well received these changes are will vary greatly from reader to reader.
The most noticeable change is in Okabe's outlook. While he's still his usual puffed-up, cock-sure self, there's an edge of paranoia to this version which makes him pricklier than most versions. Mind you, we get more than enough hints that Okabe's paranoia is not without some cause, but it also makes it a little harder to justify why so many people would be drawn to him in the first place. Another notable change is that there are so many little changes that go unnoticed by the cast save for Okabe. It's not just happening whenever he and his friends try to use their time machine; it's happening steadily to all sorts of little things. When combined with Okabe's prickliness, it gives the whole story a bit more of a suspenseful, disturbed air.
Otherwise, if you're familiar with either the visual novel or the anime, you're getting pretty much the same thing here as you are with either of them. The story beats are much the same, and the same goes for the characterization. It's got enough differences that it's not completely redundant, but it doesn't quite distinguish itself enough to bring anything new to fans.
There's something else that holds this version back: the art. Sarachi's art is hasty and unpolished. While the characters all resemble the originals, they all look like they were rather hastily, even lazily drawn. That means faces tend to go off model fairly frequently and everything looks like it was just run through the moe filter after calling it a day. At least the expression are pretty wild, especially where Okabe is concerned. Backgrounds are also something that Sarachi can't be bothered much with. They tend to be either grey gradients or hastily rotoscoped cityscapes. It's weird to think that this was actually released before the original release of the visual novel because by just looking at it I would have guessed it was a slapdash cash-in made afterwards.
The Steins;Gate manga does some interesting things with its protagonist, but it's not enough to make up for lackluster art and the feeling that I've already seen this story done better.
This series is published by Udon. This series is complete in Japan with 3 volumes available. 2 volumes have been published and both are currently in print.
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