I just finished watching a truly incredible anime. I had never seen Steins;Gate before, yet I had known from its reputation and genre, one of my favourite, time-travel, that it would in all likelihood appeal to me. Therefore it’s incredible that I waited so long to watch it, I knew it would probably be a great anime for me from a few months into the anime community and yet it has taken me over a year to get around to watching it. Spoilers of course for Steins Gate follow.
And it speaks to its quality that once I got into the swing of it, I completed the majority of it in about a week. That’s very quick for an anime that I’m not embarrassed by watching such that I need to remove it from my queue as soon as possible (Monster Musume) and it indicates that once I got into Steins Gate I had to see what was coming next all of the time. If the basic rating of how good a TV show is is how eager you are to watch more episodes of it and are upset when it ends, then Steins Gate did an excellent job of that.
I did take a few days of getting into it though, while I was watching other anime, it didn’t show its strengths until I got through the first few episodes. I think this is primarily a combination of me not knowing and loving all of the characters yet and the plot being completely and utterly confusing at first. I knew it was a time travel story and the main thing I can say about the first episode is that I figured there were obvious hints that the main characters would be coming back to this point at some point or another and there would be timey-wimey shenanigans promised as Kurisu was found dead then Okabe sent a message and she became alive. But it did take a while to get going as the time travel plot device needed to get built properly after they figured out what they’d done was time travel and then they needed to send D-mails and have Okabe meet all the lab members and the plot only really started feeling like it was kicking in around episode 5 to episode 7, and even more so when Faris’ D-mail ended up completely changing the landscape of Akihabara, giving us our first real time travel consquence. I say that as if gender-bending Rukako and making Moeka never come to the lab weren’t consequences. Looking back at those episodes though, it is amazing how much of the real plot was being subtly built up and I never noticed it until we revisited each event on the journey back in the second half.
Of course however the real kicker and the episode I was left in shock by in a similar way to the ways great Game Of Thrones episodes or other event TV leaves me in shock was the episode where Moeka first comes in and shoots Mayuri. The mood of that episode is fun, it’s upbeat, it’s happy, everything is going right – right until Suzuha makes the connections in her mind to figure out SERN is attacking and that sort of sudden mood switch and Dogma in Ergosphere (definitely one for my ‘best single episode of TV’ list) switches the mood so well and ends on such a down note that even though you’re sure that Okabe will find a way to save Mayuri and she’s not really going to die, you’re in shock that they killed her.
And then the rest of the show was a very brilliant to watch yet torturous ordeal for Okabe to go through, finding away across world lines, working his way through time and space to save everyone he can and it kept me hooked all of the way through, hearing the explanations for why this latest step will work, why it won’t work, and empathising with him all of the way.
Pretty much all of the greatness of this show is the characters. They are people you would want to spend time with, they are all great people yet they’re not boring. Like in most of the best TV shows (the ones that don’t espouse this ideal tend to take it the entire other way but that does tend to lack something), you should want to be with the characters, or to be them, because they represent a part of you or represent a personality trait you like. And for Steins;Gate, you want all the members of the lab to end up in the lab no matter what world line is chosen because they all perform a part and Okabe assigns everyone a Lab Member number which does make them all feel like part of the team. On the less key lab members, Suzuha and Faris are chirpy and confident, while Moeka and Rukako are withdrawn and reserved, Suzuha and Rukako are definitively on the side of the lab and do their best to help, while Moeka and Faris have their own agenda and for a while it seems as though Moeka is a villain. Then again, so does Suzuha, and while these traits of difference speak to Steins;Gates origins as a visual novel (which I have little knowledge of myself) with different endings, it’s turned into a strength in the anime with each girl having different motivations drawing her to Okabe’s lab and seeing them all come together would be compelling even without the time-travel aspect.
The four key lab members are even better characters. While Kurisu is a natural tsundere in the vein of my comment avatar Rin Tohsaka, that’s fine, because I find the tsundere attitude hilarious no matter how many times I see it. And she has plenty of moments beyond that when she shows off her true intelligence, compassion and vulnerability and that it’s there helps burgeon her friendship with Okabe as they take swipes at each other. Daru is a funny character with a good heart who breaks up the tension with a few perverted jokes. I would almost say he’s a neckbeard but he’s too innocent and sweet (yes, even when he is making perverted jokes, it’s always said with a feeling of ‘oh, he isn’t really meaning that, he’s just saying it to get a reaction’) to make me want to apply that term to him. Mayuri is of course adorable with her constant ‘too-too-roo’s and anyone voiced by Kana Hanazawa already has a key headstart in my good books. I initially thought I wouldn’t like her because of… and this is quite petty… her frilly hat which really looked out of place, but I got used to it and it ended up being ‘who isn’t going to love Mayuri, she’s an awesome friendly and lovable girl’.
Yet despite all of that, despite all these good characters, who are both good in quality because of how watchable they are and because they’re good people, a show rests on its main character. And thankfully, they have a huge tour de force as a main character, for the best character and the one we spend the most time with is Okabe Rintaro. Of course, the whole plot revolves around him and we are supposed to empathise mostly with him, but I often find it hard to really put myself in many main characters’ shoes. When the main character is my favourite character, it means I’ve gotten past that barrier and that because I’m having such a blast identifying with this character on their journey this show is going to be one of my favourites. It happened with Assassination Classroom with Nagisa, it happened with Psycho Pass with Tsunemori, and now I can say for sure that it happened with Steins;Gate.
Okabe is a bit mad. Or more precisely, he’s a bit of a gadfly. He’s not really a mad scientist, he says all his conspiracy stuff for effect and to project an image, but it works, because it makes people interested in him, they may be initially put off, like Kurisu was, but they learn it’s a front and that beneath this mad scientist HOUOUIN KYOUMA front he is a very decent and caring guy, clever enough to understand what he’s doing and very easy to make fun of. Because of his facade that so easily collapses, he comes across as much more genuine than most characters and you can easily get a handle on him and yet because of his outward hostility, feel really warm inside when he does something nice for someone. Putting up a facade of a bastard makes him all the more relateable.
So quick summary, Steins;Gate is going into my list of best anime ever, as I knew it most likely would, but it was better than I could ever imagine it being and that was while I was still in the less good first half. As a whole, it was a masterpiece. I know that’s not a particularly original view, but it’s my view because as far as I’m concerned, the hype was entirely right.
side note: Hacking To The Gate was an immense OP that gave me chills from episode 7 on.
now to D-mail this post back to 2011 so it looks like I’m posting a real fresh review