Studio: White Fox
Original Run: Apr 6, 2011 to Sep 14, 2011
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Romance
Okabe Rintarou a.k.a Okarin a.k.a Hououin Kyouma is a self-proclaimed mad scientist and founder of the Future Gadget Lab which boasts a grand total of three members; Okabe, his ditzy childhood friend Mayuri and the perverted computer expert Daru. Their latest and proudest achievement is the Phone Microwave, a device that turns bananas into mysterious green gel. It’s all quirky experiments and harmless shenanigans until it’s revealed that the Phone Microwave is a cell-operated time machine that can send messages to the past.
The ability to manipulate time may seem like a boon at first but Okabe soon realizes that it’s more of a curse – one that’s too great for one man to bear alone.
Steins;Gate is one of those anime that I’ve seen near the top of a vast majority of rec lists. Since I’m me, it took me a while to get around to it and even when I did, I was pretty unimpressed by what I saw at first. Around six episodes in, that started to change. By the halfway point, I was wholly invested.
We’ll begin with the negatives for a change since nearly all of this show’s demerits lie in its initial episodes. While there are some intriguing things early on, they’re all overshadowed by what seems to be a glacial pace and cringeworthy characters, which you can tell is not a good combination. The resident mad scientist is so completely over the top that you get secondhand embarrassment every time he opens his mouth. And when it seems like not much is happening anyway with these less than charming people, it seems pointless to keep watching. But if you plough through that, Steins;Gate starts showing its true, brilliant colors.
Once this show gets going, it really gets going. The plot weaves an intricate web of many questions and few answers that keeps you guessing while at the same time developing its characters and their relationships so that they become fleshed out people rather than the one note caricatures of before. Steins;Gate is like a puzzle that’s slowly and steadily put together over the course of its run, finally presenting the full picture with a grand flourish. Needless to say, it’s a very impressive picture.
Time travel is an inherently interesting premise and while the science bits flew right over my head, the way the consequences of messing with time are presented is nothing short of amazing. The story explores both the large-scale effects of outright changing the past and also the toll looping in time can take on an individual’s psyche. But what really makes Steins;Gate stand out is how the aforementioned features are incorporated into multi-faceted interpersonal relationships that are all but guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. There’s quite a lot of tragedy involved but it feels authentic rather than manipulative.
While we’re on the subject of relationships in Steins;Gate, I have to add that it features a very well-developed and touching love story that’s seamlessly weaved into the rest of the story. The characters have great chemistry from the beginning itself. Even when they’re annoying individually, their banter is entertaining. The romance isn’t presented blatantly but rather evolves surreptitiously throughout the narrative until it’s confirmed in a quietly emotional scene that carries the same note of bittersweetness as nearly everything else in this anime.
On the whole, Steins;Gate is a great, nuanced show with a slow start and a stunning finish.
It took me quite some time to warm up to Steins;Gate’s characters. They’re a small, cozy bunch who seem uninteresting or even annoying at first but as the story progresses, each of them becomes likeable and even charming in their own way.
Okabe Rintarou, the mad scientist protagonist, is a walking ball of cringe at first. Prone to loud bursts of paranoia and rather ridiculous theories, he can easily give anyone secondhand embarrassment in the first several episodes. But as things get more and more serious, we get to see Okabe losing the energy to maintain his eccentric persona and the actual person underneath is revealed. And that guy is almost painfully kind and also a little lonely. Rather than a mad genius, we get a normal man with a bleeding heart who’s stumbling through life like anyone else. The time travel antics, which start out harmlessly enough, almost break him at several points but he always soldiers on with an inner strength that’s truly admirable.
Makise Kurisu is an actual genius scientist who has reservations about time travel but is sucked into it anyway after a series of disastrous – but also hilarious – encounters with Okabe and his group. She’s a classic tsundere but is thankfully not prone to random bursts of violence. For all that she has a prickly exterior, she’s a very nice person underneath it all. Shiina Mayuri is Okabe’s childhood friend who shares a deep and truly special relationship with him. She’s kinda wacky most of the time and doesn’t actively contribute much to the plot but her presence is thoroughly felt throughout.
Hashida Itaru or Daru is the Lab’s extremely skilled hacker. He’s a stereotypical otaku in many ways, obsessed with the 2D world and unapologetically perverted, but he’s also a pretty cool guy who never fails to stick by his friends despite the potential danger. Then we have Amane Suzuha, a young girl with a steel core that doesn’t quite match her bubbly exterior and some very obvious secrets. She’s easily the most sensible out the cast no matter and is a compelling character from beginning to end.
Other characters of importance include the socially anxious Moeka who’s got a few secrets of her own, Ruka who struggles with her gender and her romantic feelings and Feyris whose good cheer hides a sad past.
Art and Music:
Steins;Gate has a very muted color scheme, with washed out colors, pale or dark lighting and a general absence of anything bright or flashy. Rather than give the whole show a depressing vibe – though it sometimes does that too – it serves to make the whole tale seem very grounded despite its fantastic premise. Character designs are distinctive and overall quality is quite high.
Neither the OP nor ED appealed to me at the beginning but it grew on me fast with repetition and by the end, I was fond of both. The opening, Hacking to the Gate by Kanako Itou, is visually a treat and suits the tone of the show perfectly. There are a total of four ending themes, all pretty great, with the first one, Toki Tsukasadoru Juuni no Meiyaku by Yui Sakakibara, running for the majority of the episodes.