Steins;Gate

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s never enough time is there? Never enough to watch anime or to save the world. What would help us solve these terrible problems? Time travel! And that is what Steins;Gate is all about, time travel, and the troubles and joys that come with it.

Definitely known as one of the more heady animes out there, this show does a decent job with seeming scientifically advanced, all while intertwining a confusing storyline, somewhat unique artwork, and amazing characters. This is one of the more well-known shows out there, and after watching two seasons of it, I can understand why. It has an effect many other shows cannot have, and does it very well.

Characters

Rating: 8

They get within a hair of having too many characters in this show. Those of you that follow me regularly here know how I can’t stand it when there’s so many characters you can’t remember who anybody is. And they come really close here. But nevertheless, I think I could name nearly all the characters in the show just sitting here thinking a little about it. They’re all memorable in their own ways.

The main set of “lab members” are of course the most memorable. Okabe Rinatro, Shiina Mayuri, Daru Hashida, and of course, Makise Kurisu. Poor Okabe, he definitely bites off more than he’s ready to chew, as they say. The “mad scientist” chuunibyou thing definitely gets him into the weeds, as he sets about having his team build a time machine. But for all that, he goes through more pain and trouble than any human seemingly could endure, and he makes it all work out in the end. I like this character. One of my favorites, Mamoru Miyano (Death Note, Zombie Land Saga), does an epic job with the acting for this character. Season 1 is all the chuunibyou version, Hououin Kyouma, and this guy does a great job with these kinds of situations, where his character himself is putting on an “act.” I love his pretending to talk on his phone about the “Organization,” it’s hilarious once you realize he’s not actually talking to anyone, which you realize pretty quickly. It’s just cringy enough. It definitely sets apart his character. But once season 2 rolls around, Kyouma has abandoned the act and is just Rintaro again, and Miyano puts away the “act” and pulls off a wonderfully troubled and unhappy young man. The contrast is not so great that it’s ridiculous, but instead seems completely believable. I have a good deal of admiration for this performance.

If Rintaro was a real person, my admiration would be on a totally different level. When we think of a character having to watch someone die over and over again, we (rightly) think Re:Zero. The suffering and anguish of all parties, including the viewer, is most acute in that show. But this is the second series you’d think of in this context. Maybe it’s a little more difficult to understand than in Subaru’s case, since he actually has to die to reset things, and he has no control of the time he resets to. For Rintaro can control when and how he returns. But the result is the same. Countless instances of reliving the same few days or weeks over and over and over again, trying a new sequence of events or altering the situation slightly every time. And always it ends the same. One of his dearest friends always dies, no matter what he tries. Speaking in human terms, I don’t know how one could withstand this mentally. I guess imagine deja vu happening in large sections over and over again. That’s mind-boggling enough as it is. But to have such desperately tragic outcomes at the end of all those sequences…it would take an extraordinary will-power impelled by some extraordinary driving force to get one through this. Season 1 doesn’t make it super clear how difficult this is on him. It’s obviously wearing on him, but so often he sports that “mad scientist” act that it doesn’t seem as apparent. But in season 2 he’s completely overwhelmed, and has given up in the kind of shell-shocked way we’d expect from such difficult struggles. But he overcomes it, and pushes on anyway. The thought of time jumping in two-week segments 3000 times is almost enough to make me physically sick. His friends are a great help to him, which I love about this series. And I like the argument that it’s his love, not just for his friends, but for one person in particular, that get’s him through it all.

Kurisu, “Christina” as Kyouma puts it, playing on how the Japanese pronunciation of that name sounds similar to how “Kurisu” is pronounced, is an instant favorite. Harsh and cold on the outside, wildly tsundere, but kind and very human in reality. I love how she is the smartest person in the room among their lab members. Daru’s right up there, but in a different way. It’s funny, he’s not “book smart” like she is, but is undoubtedly what we would term intelligent. They kind of personify these two kinds of intelligence. But anyway, back to Kurisu. Red hair, astounding purple eyes, and lab coat make her instantly recognizable. Or, she would be much more so, if Kagari wasn’t introduced later, but that aside. Without Kurisu, Rintaro never would create the time machine and find the Steins Gate world-line. Her centrality to the story cannot be overestimated. Not only is she the brains behind the time machine, but Rintaro wouldn’t have made it his sole focus if it wasn’t for his encounter with her at the conference and the subsequent aftermath there. He puts any number of people through enormous trouble to correct the world-line where Kurisu dies. I mentioned the trouble he causes himself. And I think it’s all for his love for her. Season 2 is so painful for him, and for us, watching Kurisu exist only as the AI Amadeus. We have the luxury of not having to make all those time leaps, but we still realize what he’s ultimately going to do when we see this. We know he’s going to have to go back and find the Steins Gate world-line. Oh, and we’re already aware that he has done that by the end of S1, which helps us make up our minds about him too! But even there, throughout season 2 we get a great deal of context on why he would even consider making all those time leaps. It’s almost entirely about Kurisu, and how important she is to him. I think we would all make the same decision. That’s a great part about this series, and about these two characters.

Daru and Mayuri are not as heartfelt as these other two characters, but they have super unique traits that make them completely memorable. They both speak in rather unusual tones, which is primarily what makes them unique. Daru is an out-of-shape otaku hacker nerd, and oddly enough he sounds like it! It’s funny listening to him speak. Mayushi is soft and sweet and cute, and not oddly at all she sounds like it. It’s her death in some of the world-lines that causes Rintaro a whole new level of despair (as it does us). It doesn’t hurt in quite the same way, but the desperation of their situation becomes so much heavier once this starts to happen. Now Rintaro has to juggle two different extremely negative outcomes in his quest through world-lines. And who doesn’t feel for poor Mayushi? She’s so sweet and good, and we know she’s in love with Rintaro, yet she won’t ever be able to have him. Rem does a better job at displaying her pain in this situation (another Re:Zero reference), partly by simply taking over the whole show, but that aside. They’re very similar in their position in their respective shows, Rem and Mayuri. But there’s hardly anything similar about these two beyond that. In context it’s interesting to consider.

The rest of the characters all have their role and do a really good job. I think I’m a bigger fan of Moeka than I should be, with her weirdly shy behavior. Rukako’s side story is a little bit too much off the main track, but it effectively adds to the apparentness of the difficulty Rintaro is causing with all his time leaps. It puts a bit of a spotlight on another area of human troubles too, and does a good job at that. Same kind of thing with Faris, a big shift off the main storyline, but still highlighting a very human struggle. I don’t love the addition of Kagari, since she looks almost exactly like Kurisu (bangs and eye color are different, not sure anything else is), but she’s another heartfelt story that adds to the pain of S2. The “loli girl,” Maho Hiyajo, plays the role of the scientist left vacant by Kurisu in S2, and does a good job, if she doesn’t add too much extra to the story. Yuki and her relationship with the committed 2D-ist Daru. And the warrior Suzuha, an unhappy reminder of what the world could come to.

Something that’s kind of consistent with every character in the story is nicknames. This is a little unusual for anime characters on the scale we see it in this show. Sure it happens in limited amounts (Re:Zero comes to mind again), but in this show almost every characters gets a nickname. “Daru” is a shortening of Itaru. Mayuri is affectionately called Mayushi. Kurisu becomes Christina. Rukako is actually Luka Urushibara, and is even called Ruka at times. And of course Rinatro is Hououin Kyouma. In fact, almost all the nicknames originate from him. Mostly this is just him playing his chuunibyou part, trying to come up with cool code names for everybody. I could get into the aspect of him being portrayed as a “godlike” character, as this naming of people would fit well in that category, but that’s a little bit heavy, and the writers are on even less stable ground than the science they’re using behind time travel. But regardless, this is a fun part of this show, and it makes the characters much more personable in a way, much more familiar.

This show is quite character-driven, and rightly so. Most of them are extremely relatable, and that’s saying something for a show that’s about some as un-relatable as time travel. Rintaro’s heroism is quite profound. Kurisu’s lovability is quite powerful. Mayushi’s goodness amidst sorrow is very strong. Daru’s quiet endurance is something we all can understand. For this show to stem from a storyline in a game, the characters are remarkably human and very well done. It’s not on the scale of some of the greatest animes out there as far as characters are concerned, but it’s still great beyond all argument. It’s very entertaining to watch all these characters throughout this series.

Artwork

Rating: 7

I said above this artwork is “somewhat unique.” I want to say it’s completely unique, as I cannot easily think of another series with similar looking art. But it somehow doesn’t feel super unique. I think I’m probably confusing “uniqueness” with “groundbreaking” or “defining” or some other such concept, and that’s affecting my view here. There’s nothing super special or different about the artwork. If anything, the characters themselves are a little plain. But in a good way. I like the monotone faces and the simple but expressive eyes. Kurisu’s eyes are on another level, but that aside. As we know with sci-fi genre anime, there’s lots of large monotone areas of color and a significant variety of hair colors. It’s not extreme in that regard (most characters have a shade of brown), but it’s enough to have that sci-fi feel.

The seriousness of this show is reflected in the lack of saturation. It’s not as unsaturated as something like Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Attack on Titan, but it has an undeniable grayness about it that tells you a lot about the tenor of this story. That’s very effective in this show. It’s just enough to make us a little depressed, but not so much that we can still realize there’s plenty of hope to be found here.

I like to take note of how shadowing is used in every anime I watch. Its effect is often as unrecognized as it is profound. And looking at this show, you can hardly say there’s a ton of shadowing. That feels odd for a show with so much darkness in it. But upon closer examination, the shadowing is just limited, but very focused. It’s aptly placed around Rintaro’s eyes, whereas most other characters don’t have much shadowing around their eyes. It’s placed very intentionally beneath Kurisu’s triangular set of bangs that hang mysteriously over her eyes. Regularly we see characters highlighted from the rear with lighting, generating a shadowy contrast to our front view. It’s very limited, as mentioned, but all very well done.

Story

Rating: 7

You might think I would spend a ton of time on the story in this one. This anime is, arguably, heavily story-driven. And arguably the storyline is one of the things that attracts people to this show, and in my case it certainly kept me engaged from episode to episode. But I’m not going to. Reason: this story is too many tangles to try to unravel.

I don’t mind it being tangled. Yes it gets too complicated to follow, and strays a little from what it originally was. But I don’t mind that in this case. The plot twists are not unbelievable. They are unpredictable however. Believability and unpredictability are the essential combination for effective plot twists. I was as surprised as anyone when Mayuri was shot. But I never questioned that it could happen. I was astounded when it dawned upon Rintaro that Mayuri and Suzuha’s time jump attempt in S2 was about to become the center of a shootout, but I never considered this unthinkable. Those two plot twist were similar granted, but they were handled very effectively. I still remember the shock of all the alarms in my head when I realized with Rintaro, when the clocks stopped and the phone signal ceased, that something really important and really bad was about to happen. It’s things like these that make plot twists really work. And while there are a lot of plot twists and the story gets incomprehensible after a while, you don’t mind it because it does all tie together, and it does all work.

Because no matter where this story started, or how many difficulties Rintaro’s actions bring about, the goal of finding the Steins Gate world-line is never lost. Even season 2, which unfolds from a single instance picked out of all his world-line jumps from season 1, leaves you no uncertainty that this is about finding “Steins Gate.” And as confusing as the meaninglessness of that phrase is, we get it when we recognize that is what the story is about. It’s quite well done.

Time travel is a difficult concept to handle for someone even well versed in the metaphysics of it all. It is often better for storywriters to simply plow through the science and just insist that it is happening. And essentially that’s what this show does, and so it’s as believable as it needs to be. The whole John Titor thing is a little weak, but at least it’s mysterious and intriguing enough for this tale to be of some use. I don’t know if any of the writers have any clue about this idea of microwaves and singularities and all those important sounding words (well not microwaves but meh), but it doesn’t ever try to become too much. It’s just the science fiction, and doesn’t ever try to be real science, which is good. As far as the idea of world-lines and timelines and parallel realities and convergences…yeah I’m just gonna leave that as it is. It’s fun, it’s convenient for the show, it creates a lot of mysterious and interesting events, and that’s what it should be. It’s handled pretty well. I thought the homage to Back to the Future was funny, when Suzuha pretends she’s disappearing from an old photograph once. But anyway, I can’t neglect to mention that time travel aspect of this anime, but I’ll leave it at this. We’ll just have to read Kurisu’s report if any of us are really curious.

Overall: 8

The poster child for time-travel anime, this is a must-see for all anime fans. From one episode to the next you will be entertained. Season 1 is all about the adventure and the side stories and character development and just generally the difficulties involved with something that’s as little understood as time travel. People like to say this is one of the sadder animes out there, but after watching season 1 I wasn’t really sure why people thought that. Yes Kurisu and Mayuri die many times, and we’re aware of how many times Rintaro has made time leaps, but between the pace, the side stories, and Rintaro’s chuunibyou act it doesn’t quite have the impact you might expect. Then I watched season 2, and season 2 is just sad sad sad. You can tell Rintaro has given up, and yet things get worse regardless. It’s sad watching Kurisu as a machine, and Rintaro having to interact with her that way. It’s sad knowing Mayuri can’t be Rintaro’s Orihime. It’s sad watching Kagari’s story unfold as she clings to her future mom Mayuri. We have to watch Suzuha’s time machine, with her and Mayuri in it, be blown away by a helicopter rocket two or three times. It’s just sad and it won’t stop being sad. Until it resolves at the end of course, and you know we’re re-entering the situation in season 1, and even that will make you cry. The whole thing makes your heart beat a little faster and your emotions feel just a little stronger.

Yes, this evolved from a game. The game was based a lot on the silly John Titor hoax from the early 2000s, and hence the manga and anime followed similarly. That probably explains the wide diversity in side stories and character development. These kinds of situations are not always so well handled though. Obviously the other big game-turned-anime we think of right away is the Fate/ series. Character development suffers a little bit in that show in my opinion, even if it is a little more artistically beautiful. Steins;Gate doesn’t allow that to happen, but manages each storyline and associated character very effectively. It doesn’t feel like it came from a game. It just feels like a very well developed set of characters and storylines. And that’s where it’s most effective.

I wouldn’t say “fun” to watch, just because it is at times quite depressing, but it’s super entertaining and you won’t be able to put it down. It does wear on you if you watch too much of it at once though. But that said, you will want to finish once you start. Just pace yourself, don’t watch more than 3-4 at a time, and you will thoroughly enjoy this series. Given how they handled S2, it would be quite easy for them to create a season 3. I wonder what would happen to this show if they did, but I know I’d be there to find out regardless! I would welcome Rintaro and Kurisu and Mayushi and Daru and all the cast and crew of Future Gadget Laboratory with open arms.

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