I had no idea what I was getting into before watching Steins;Gate. A few of my friends had recommended it and I knew it was highly rated on MAL, but I had no idea why. They described the show’s premise as “teenagers use cellphones to time travel.” Well, Steins;Gate delivered on that idea, and on so much more that by the end of the show I needed a second brain to comprehend it all.
The basic plot of Steins;Gate is this: A self-dubbed “mad scientist” named Okabe Rintarou accidentally invents a time machine in his apartment, called the Future Gadget Lab. He has two lab members at his side, Lab Member 002 Mayuri Shiina and Lab Member 003 Daru. At first the lab members toy with the time machine, sending back bananas that turn to gel. Eventually they being to send emails to the past, “D-mails”, which they use to alter the past and change each lab member’s life for the better…or so it seems. What beings as a very slice of life anime makes a sharp turn into a serious show regarding the consequences of altering time, acceptance of yourself and your regrets, and never giving up on your friends. And that’s what’s beautiful about this show: It slowly builds up a relationship with all the characters through comedy and everyday antics, only to shatter your emotions with one painful, unexpected scene where Okabe has to fix with important interactions with each character to really show their true character and feelings.
To begin, let’s look at the characters. Okabe Rintarou is an adult who never really grew up; he sees himself as mad scientist with an evil organization seeking to thwart all of his ambitions. Ironically he is not far off from the mark, but more importantly it is an act in order to make those around him happy, specifically Mayuri. He and Mayuri have been friends for many years, and he began his act in order to cheer Mayuri up when her grandmother died, and he has not quit since. However, he does have a contemplative side to him, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his friends and never gives up, always trudging forward. Daru is your stereotypical otaku; he loves to play eroge VNs (like Katawa Shoujo!) and provides great comedic commentary. He is also a “supah hacka” who helps the group with his impressive computer skills and produces the world’s first time machine…accidentally. Mayushi is just a bundle of adorableness and stays in your brain with her signature “tu tu ru~.” Lab Member 004, Makise Kurisu aka Christina is the perfect counterpart to Okabe. A genius at the age of 18, she provides the scientific background behind the entire show but also has quite the otaku side to her, which she is embarrassed to admit. None of these characters are really one dimensional, everyone has real life personalities, well, except for perhaps Mayuri, but even she has a serious side. This makes it so much easier to become involved in the show and truly empathize with their situations. and it also makes the plot all the more enticing.
The plot behind Steins;Gate is one of the most interesting ones I’ve come across in anime. Instead of a show simply involving time travel, it is a show about time travel. This means that the show actually analyzes the science behind time travel, whether it is actually possible to send a person back in time. There are actual constraints on what they can send through time and how they do so. D-mail (Delorean mail) can only send 36 bytes of information, word lines have a certain “divergence number” from one another, and John Titor, the “real life” time traveller, is the inspiration for the story. Parallel world lines and explored and performed perfectly; the science behind the show makes enough sense to not ruin your suspension of reality. Although the plot does start off a bit slow as a slice-of-life anime, by the midway point your are gripped to your chair and just have to continue watching as the show leaves you wanting more on cliffhanger by cliffhanger. Seriously, do not give up on this show just because you don’t like the first 3 or so episodes, there is a plot, I promise you. (And it only gets crazier and crazier!)
The OP for this show is awesome; it’s fast, bass pumping, and really gets you hyped to watch the next episode with its “Hacking to the gate!” line. As a plus the lyrics change as the show goes on in order to remain relevant and you begin to understand more and more of the lyrics as you continue to watch the show, which is a nice way to reward viewers. The ED is “eh,” it’s nothing particularly special but it isn’t bad, just your average ED. The soundtrack for this show is fantastic, likely due to the fact that Steins;Gate was originally a visual novel where music is a major factor for manipulating the player. Standout tracks include “Promise”, which wells you up with tears and feels, “Christina I” also accomplishes this. “Tender Affection” sounds as if it came right out of the visual novel with its piano focus and romantic overture. “One of Selection – Gate of Steiner” is beautiful and and the normal “Gate of steiner” is great for climatic moments in the show. My favorite track is “Tubes”; I really enjoy the use of static in the song combined with the deer scare sound. It just seems like such a rainy dong song. On the whole Steins;Gate’s OST is very successful in setting the mood for each scene and the songs also standalone very well.
Although Steins;Gate is one of the best shows I’ve watched so far in my short anime career, no show is perfect. The art in Steins;Gate is your standard fare and character designs are relatively uninspired. Also the whole “saving Mayuri” plot by jumping back in time repeatedly overstays its welcome for the slightest bit, I was worried I was going to watch an Endless Eight situation unfold. Thankfully that did not happen and the pot picked up again quickly. As I mention the plot, I also have a gripe with the last few episodes of Steins;Gate, where all of a sudden World War III will break out after Okabe prevented SERN’s dictatorship. On one side, the plot was getting even more ridiculous, which was hilarious, but it also felt like cheap out so that Okabe could save Kurisu. So instead of her death having any real meaning she just gets saved at the end. I think I would have preferred and ending where Okabe returns to the beta timeline with Mayuri safe but without his Kurisu. It would have been a painful ending, sure, but it would have been progressive in letting the viewer know that endings aren’t always happy. A final gripe I have, although perhaps this is only me, was that it was confusing to keep track of the dates as Okabe began to travel back in time to save Mayuri. Sure the date would flash on screen, but I had not really been processing them as they had merely appeared as numbers which made it harder to connect to the month and day in such a short time. Perhaps instead of #/## had it been July 8th or something I could more easily follow where exactly Okabe was in the timeline.
Steins;Gate is an anime which combines time travel, tsundere love, otaku humor, SERN, brand recognition, poor American accents, moe culture, and a whole lot of other tropes into one beautiful package. It is a show that attempts to be grounded in reality, sure the science is “out there” but in the context of the universe it works. Actual time travel theories and ideas are explored, and real life events and places are incorporated to make the show relevant to your actual life. Okabe Rintarou is a genius protagonist, he has such depth that it is easy to empathize with him throughout the series. He is the symbol of the series; he wears a comedic mask which hides a tortured individual. Much like Okabe, this show will make you laugh your face off while at the same time tearing your heart out. Steins;Gate is an example of an anime which successfully pieces all of its core components together in the right ratio to produce a show that is as close to a perfect anime that one might find. I highly suggest anyone reading this to watch it if you haven’t and witness how Hououin Kyouma dominates time and fate to create his own ideal world.