Whenever there's been literature about time-travel I'm always hesitant to get involved with it. Though I had no idea what Steins;Gate was about when I started watching it - mostly trusting in its popularity for approval - I was already compelled to renew an interest in the sci-fi niche. Steins;Gate's story is without a doubt complicated, if you're not paying attention that is. It lays out a world in which time travel is a very real concept invented in the upstairs apartment of the Future Gadgets Lab - a student work-space consisting initially of three members: the eccentric and self-proclaimed "mad scientist" Hououin Kyouma (real name "Rintarou Okabe"); a nonchalant high school girl, Mayuri; the genius hacker Itaru "Daru" Hashida.
By inadvertently discovering time-travel in the form of sending text messages to the past, Okabe is compelled to explore his curiousity with zeal. This becomes the main plot for the first dozen or so episodes, introducing new characters who all become members of the lab, often against their own knowledge. I can't say much about the time-travel mechanisms without spoiling the discoveries the characters make over the course of their experiments, so as I intended this to be a read-before-you-buy sort of review, I'll just say that for a skeptic of time-travel fiction, I was impressed.
Not only have they handled the concept remarkably well but they've adapted the traditional sense of time-travel into something original (you'll get what I mean). Sometimes the plot may become a little convoluted, and this is when you have to train your senses to keep up, particulary in the last quarter you would want to watch without distractions. I can say it is worth it though, for the elation I felt in the last two episodes was a great conclusion to Okabe's struggle with his opponents.
As I mentioned before, Okabe routinely defies his opponents with the time-travel mechanism, but perhaps his greatest opponent was himself. Again, without spoiling too much, Okabe forces himself to relive events over a short period of time that take a drastic toll on his psyche. This comes to a head in episode 23 when you get to see how a normal, albeit kooky, student finally feels the weight of everything on his shoulders. It is both heart-breaking and fulfilling from the audience perspective.
But don't let that discourage you, for Steins;Gate has a cast of amicable characters that regularly inject humour and joy into the season's 24 episodes. The on-going interactions between Okabe and Ruka, coupled with Okabe's obliviousness to personal space and comfort zones, reflects well in Okabe's general mischief that frequently puts him at the mercy of Makise Kurisu's anger. Though Kurisu is not the stereotypical tsundere she initially appears, she is an intelligent person responsible for the improvements to the time-machine, and her sentimental side is never forced or contrived. Her cold exterior is never really blockaded by the same lack of emotion other characters often suffer for no reason. No, Makise knows her cleverness but is humble about it, she places pride in her work but her desire to impress her - 'scuse me for saying, dickish - father often creates conflict with the idea that Okabe has made time-travel possible.
The other characters all deserve their notation, even minor characters like Mr. Braun and Moeka, whom I do hate, yes, but for personal reaons. Moeka is a finely crafted picture of mental instability, and it doesn't feel insulting to mental health in the way the writers created her. She struggles with her own demons and this could produce a sympathetic response in some of you.
While it does have a number of flaws at several stages, the animation overall compliments the style and tone of the series rather well. I find there are a few facial angles that stand out to me as irregular, but other than that it is fluid and well drawn.
At a science-fiction viewpoint there's not much to be said about the actual science behind time-travel, so don't go into this expecting detailed reviews of Einstein's theory of Relativity, you will be disappointed. It doesn't concern me either way because the characters are so great, and I had my emotions tested at times in the later episodes, that it's evident this is not a thesis on space-time. This is a character driven story that will make you care, time and time again, about their actions and whether they can find happiness.