Review: Steins;Gate

A show about time-travel might just become a timeless classic of anime.

Advertisements

The Lowdown:

Show: Steins;Gate

Studio/year released: White Fox, 2011; Funimation handled the dubbing and North American release; however, instead of going to network it was directly released on DVD and Blu-Ray, hence why no localized network is listed.

AniB’s thoughts: Continuing on this whirlwind week of new reviews comes Steins;Gate, a request from a while back, and I must say that it was well worth the watch. Featuring a plot revolving around the concept of time-travel and its effects, once only believed to be in the realm of science fiction, the show is an adaptation of a visual novel and is notable for its small, intimately well developed cast of characters and its premise.

On the subject of time travel, it is a notoriously difficult concept to get right, especially in animation. The vast majority of shows devote an episode to the idea at some point, with  the results usually being somewhere between convoluted and mediocre Back to the Future riffs. There are a few excellent episodes dealing with the idea; SpongeBob Squarepants’ “SB-129” from its early seasons was actually one I enjoyed as a one-off idea in a style that fit that show (and yes, I just praised SpongeBob. That doesn’t happen often these days.) Steins;Gate however, did something very different in deciding to make the central plot device be time travel- but not the actual story itself, and in doing so, constructed its characters around the premise to spectacular results.

Steins;Gate is a gripping drama with some action and a strangely slice-of-life feeling that only becomes all too painfully real in the ways the show explores the different outcomes of a day, an hour, a minute, a second. Watching the main character, Rintaro Okabe (usually referred to as “Okarin” by his friends, especially Mayuri) go through the excitement and the anguish of discovering a lifelong dream and the justification of his convictions only to see the implications of every action, from the very beginning of show, and how he changes as a person (though not always outwardly) is quite a journey, and for such a short anime (26 episodes), it feels a lot longer when it’s all said and done. Ultimately though, Steins;Gate also feels worth all that time when it’s completed, and you might find yourself doing some introspection too after watching. There’s surely more to say, but it’s a terrific show that speaks best upon viewing…a journey of discovery might be the best way to sum it up.

 


1. Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with all the richness and detail you’d expect from a show that has a focus on time travel. The character models are pleasing; the visual style brings to life the stakes at hand in the show, and the end product pops. 4.75/5 points.

 

 

2. Characterization: In a show full of standout qualities, the most impressive was the intimately developed cast, consisting of the members of “The Future Gadget Lab” and those around them.

Rintaro Okabe is the leader of the team and a self-proclaimed “mad scientist.” Preferring to be called by the fictional name “Hououin Kyouma,” Okabe is usually referred to by his friends as “Okarin” (a portmanteau of his first and last names.) Often talking in aloof terms or overt exaggeration, Okabe has a much more serious side emerge when his masterpiece invention- a time machine- turns from a theory into a reality- and as such, quietly takes responsibility for all the events of the show as the plot unfolds.

Kurisu is the daughter of a physicist and is studying abroad in Japan, as she is actually an American. She is a brilliant scientist in her own right, but finds herself quickly at odds with the eccentric Okabe, who takes to calling her “Christina.” However, the two grow to like each other as members of the Future Gadget Lab, and she proves pivotal in the plot of Steins;Gate. (SPOILERS: She also develops some feelings for Okabe.)

Mayuri serves as Okabe’s foil, or “hostage” of sorts. A happy, naive girl with lots of warmth in her heart, she knows Okabe better than anyone else, and is known for her catchphrase “Doo do doo! (when greeting anyone.) She’s happy to assist around the lab, has an avid interest in cosplay, and is often concerned quietly when she sees Okabe growing distant in his thoughts.

Itaru, better known as “Daru,” is the lab’s tech genius, which has Okabe calling him “the hack,” much to his annoyance. Knowledgable and chilled about most things in life, Daru has a sort of fetish for “otaku” culture, and the somewhat stereotypical anime perversion for women, which amazingly enough, isn’t entirely cringeworthy in this show. He also has an unusual connection with another cast member…

Suzuhu works for Mr. Tennouji, Okabe’s landloard. A mysterious girl who showed up one day to work for him, she’s athletic with a sense of humor and loves to ride her bike. She shows a sharp sense of intuition and there may be more to her than meets the eye…

As for the rest of the cast…Ruka is a gender ambiguous individual who despite feminine appearances, is a boy; he cares a lot about Okabe as well and is rather introverted; Faris is the owner of a maid cafe (yes, it’s what it sounds like) and is at the center of such culture in the city, and Moeka is a mysterious girl with glasses who usually only talks to Okabe via text messages…all these characters have more depth to them than these brief descriptions in what proves to be a stellar cast. Here quality definitely trumps quantity…5/5 points.

 

 

3. Story quality: Unusually enough, Steins;Gate is adapted from a visual novel, a somewhat unconventional sourcing material, but it makes for a seamless transition here. The brilliant move in Steins;Gate was designing the entire story around time travel as a plot device; instead of serving as a gimmick, it is the backbone in which the framing of everything else, from the superb character development, to the intrigue the story generates, is able to make sense…and it works wonderfully. 4.75/5 points.

 

 

4. Themes: Time travel and the implications of it as the show portrays is at the heart of Steins;Gate, but there is more… playing “God” and trying to manipulate outcome proves to have tangible consequences; the value of lives considering outcomes and personal feelings; true friends and relationships that transcend any sort of time regardless of setting, and even some rather tasteful approaches to usually difficult subjects ranging from gender ambiguity in a character to even tempting fate… it’s all very well done. 4.5/5 points.

 

 

5. Don’t insult the viewer: Great pacing, good music, innovative concept, and an intimate, well developed cast with some interesting themes explored and the writing to match? I’ve got nothing to complain about here. 5/5 points.

Total Score: 23.75/25 (96%): An unusually innovative take on the time travel trope, Steins;Gate starts a little slow but hits its stride with a small but superbly-developed cast of characters and a lot of interesting thematic implications. It’s definitely worth checking out as one of the best anime from this decade.


Like what you see? Did you enjoy Steins;Gate if you saw it? Leave a comment!

The Return of the Critic: AniB’s End of Semester Blowout!

Hey everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve regularly posted, and while I’ve slipped in a few articles here and there (see the Easter special, or the revised top 10 list), I haven’t had a new review or “thought piece” for a while. So, with my final semester of undergraduate work finishing up, I have a big week of reviews and material I’m looking forward to sharing with everyone! Here’s the schedule:

5/21: Review: Samurai Jack (the final season will end the night before!)

5/23: Review: Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu)

5/25: Random Episode Ramblings #1: “Not What He Seems” (Gravity Falls)

5/26: Review: Steins;Gate

5/27: Review: The Huckleberry Hound Show

There’ll be plenty of other material again going forward, but after finishing school and taking a self-imposed hiatus, I’m very excited to get writing again! (And don’t worry- part 3 of the Hunter x Hunter comparison series is coming still!) I’ll also look to potentially slip something else in before the schedule officially kicks off.


Excited to read some new material? Like any of these shows? Curious about any you haven’t seen? Leave a comment!