Time travel has been an integral part of many different types of science fiction since the beginning of the genre. Out of all the science fiction stories about time travel, Steins;Gate truly stands. The story of the show starts off on a confusing note, something which isn’t entirely unreasonable as the show is all about time travel which just invites plot confusion. However, the writers quickly start the main plot by the second episode by introducing all of the major characters and the eponymous “phone microwave”, a device that allows a cell phone to send text messages back to the past through the use of a microwave. It is things like this that really add to the strong comedic element that is present in the show, especially in these earlier episodes. The show is really split into two parts, the first focusing on establishing to the audience the nuances of all of the characters as well as setting up the background of the setting and the plot elements which become crucial come the second part. The second part starts with a powerful twist around the middle of the show and is what really lets the show into the genre of “thriller” as it transitions into a high intensity series of plot twists. Steins;Gate even manages to add in a romance subplot that doesn’t really feel particularly forced or contrived, although it doesn’t get much active attention from the writers until the last few episodes. Steins;Gate goes out with a bang and manages to loop back around, something that seems to almost be a necessity of time travel fiction, with the last episode revisiting the plot of the first episode which made very little sense the first time around. By the end of the show, the viewer is left with a sense of satisfaction as almost all of the characters feel properly developed and resolved, but room for more material set in the universe definitely remains.
The show on the whole includes references and homages to some of the most classic parts of time travel as a genre, including Groundhog Day, John Titor, and the Butterfly Effect. In addition to serving as a tribute to time travel and parts of science fiction on the whole, it also pays its dues to modern culture through the comical rebranding of real world websites such as Japanese image board 2Channel being renamed @Channel and Youtube being renamed Mewtube. The characters of Kurisu and Daru especially also make several references throughout the show to modern cultural artifacts such as internet memes. The show’s characters themselves also make somewhat self-referential jabs at the standard conventions seen in anime today with the character of Kurisu frequently being referred to in show as tsundere and two of the other characters working in a moe maid café. The sum of these references and homages is something of a cross between comedy and a true nod to fans of science fiction and anime alike.
The animation in the show is generally quite good, with the character’s outfits being interesting and the characters themselves being well designed to be slightly more real feeling from Okabe’s chin stubble to Daru actually being overweight, a decidedly uncommon element in most anime. The color palette used in the show is largely devoid of bright colors, but the greys and whites are often accompanied by well executed lighting. The overall effect of this on the viewer is the creation of an atmosphere in the show that strays away from some of the more common aesthetic elements found in anime and more towards that of other types of science fiction.
The soundtrack for Steins;Gate is relatively subdued. Like other visual novel adaptations, the soundtrack draws from the source material with light instrumental tracks that mostly blend into the scene. More often than not, the soundtrack itself is substituted at some more somber moments silence only broken by the sound in the background of cicadas chirping. The intro song, Hacking the Gate by Kanako Itou, however, is a very different story. The song manages to be extremely catchy and the use of an upbeat electronic melody combined with heavier rock elements complements the show’s low key science fiction atmosphere very well. Besides the music used in Steins;Gate, perhaps the most noticeable element of the show’s sound work to me was the voice acting. Even though I don’t know any Japanese and was watching the show subtitled, the voice acting shone through. The voice actors chosen for the characters, especially Okabe and Mayuri, perfectly portrayed their characters through voice intonation alone. This level of voice acting was, in my opinion, something that really pushed the show above and beyond its potential.
The characters in Steins;Gate seem to shine the most out of all of the aspects of the show. The character of Okabe is introduced as a first year university student and self-proclaimed “mad scientist” who runs his own laboratory that produces ridiculous inventions. While he starts off as the bumbling scientist archetype found in many science fiction comedy pieces, as the show continues the audience gets to watch him grow as a character. He begins to show qualities that are relatable to many people in their late teens and early twenties who may have grand aspirations, but haven’t quite acquired the maturity to properly deal with the challenges of being an adult. It’s exactly these features of Okabe’s character and how he deals with them that make the show truly endearing to anyone who has felt unready to deal with maturity at any point in their life. The other main characters help to make the show feel even more real while also complementing the comedic elements that are present. The overweight and perverted Daru provides much of the comic relief in the early episodes, but gains his own character depth as the show goes on. The same applies for the young looking Mayuri whose character is very much explored in the second half of the show as it focuses in on her much more than the first half. Finally, Kurisu presents a very interesting and well-developed character arc. Kurisu is an 18 year old genius scientist who initially seems to just be an over intelligent and tsundere character, but her real character shows through especially during the Groundhog Day inspired second half of the show.
All in all, Steins;Gate is a masterfully crafted show that will be enjoyable to fans of science fiction, time travel fiction especially, as well as fans of anime or geek culture in general. The combination of fantastic writers and voice actors combine to make an extremely enjoyable experience that everyone should at least give a chance.