The following contains spoilers. Reader discretion is advised.
There is something that I must admit before I get too far into praising this anime. I dropped it the first time I watched it. I wasn’t at all excited by the fact that the plot was moving slowly and the characters sat in a room and didn’t seem to do much of anything. After being asked to reconsider my thoughts and give Steins;Gate another look, something I rarely do unless someone has a really strong argument for my doing so, I find myself perplexed by the fact I dropped this show that molests your very soul with emotion and feeling, the kind of thing that very few anime have the ability to do.
Let me start by addressing why I quit the first time and why I feel stupid for doing so. The slow pace of the first third of the series is actually really well done when you can look back and realize that it is not meant as much to progress the plot at a fast pace, but rather to show off the wide array of characters and get you invested in at least one or even two. Which does happen, believe it or not. Despite only ten episodes or so of this character building, there’s a certain humanity to every character that you rarely find in a single character in a longer anime. When the entire cast is like that, you know you’ve reached something akin to god-like.
But that’s not to say the story is something to disregard, because it is also really good. Our main character, Rintaro Okabe, is an eighteen year old scientist who lives in a tiny apartment above an electronics store. He considers himself a mad scientist and has these little bouts where he talks to his cell phone about The Organization catching on to him and his lab. He’s not really mad, just seemingly bored with his life. He invents quite a few things with his trusty companion Daru, but it’s within the confines of a basic, uninteresting life. Soon enough, though, he winds up creating a time machine using a microwave. This is where all his troubles start and that boring life he had becomes a life of pain, suffering, and misery, but also a life of new friends and new loved ones.
The anime starts with Okabe taking his childhood friend, Mayuri Shiina, to a conference concerning the possibility of time travel. During this conference a strange object crashes into the roof and Okabe finds a young scientist, Makise Kurisu, lying dead in a storage room. From here, things go from bad to weird when he answers a mail and finds himself in a world where Makise is alive and well. On top of that, his texts to Daru had arrived a week early. This leads the members of Okabe’s Future Gadget Lab to believe that the creation that they have been working on, a modified microwave, is a time machine. As they learn more about time travel, they find out that SERN, a European organization known for their particle accelerator, already created a time machine, but every experiment they did concerning a physical object turned said object into a gooey, gelatinous mass. They learn that in lieu of physical objects, they can send texts to the past to change the future.
With the help of Makise, Okabe winds up finding himself on a variety of world lines, essentially parallel timelines, with every text to the past he makes. With every new line, he seems to be the only person who can remember anything that happened in the previous lines. He eventually winds up in a world line where he decides to make his discovery of a time machine public. Before he can, though, SERN attacks and kills Mayuri, leading him into a continual cycle of going back in time to save her. It never works though. What he eventually learns from a time travelling girl named Suzuha Amane is that in the future, SERN controls everything in a sort of Orwellian dystopia. In order to save the world from that fate, he must return to the original timeline where Mayuri doesn’t die. To do that, he must undo every text that the members of the lab have sent, as well as his own.
Along the way, he discovers he has very deep feelings for Makise, and she for him, and this is all when he realizes that if he returns to the original world line, Mayuri will live, but Makise will die. Despite this, he returns to that line and learns from Suzuha, who has traveled back in time in her time machine, that he can save Makise from dying and prevent World War III by doing so. With that in mind, he proceeds to save Makise, save Mayuri, and save the world.
Talk about an epic plot. Last year, people spoke of episode nine of Puella Magi Madoka Magica as if it was something that couldn’t be beat. While that episode was good, if you liked that idea of going back to the past again and again to try and save the future, then you’ll love Steins; Gate, because that’s all it’s about. It’s dramatic, it has far reaching consequences, and the plot may start slow, but never lets up after a certain point.
As I said previously, Steins;Gate is really as good as it is because of its cast of characters, more so than its plot. Okabe, our hero, is both hilarious and at times, a deeply involving character. While you don’t see it at first, he has a wide array of emotions aside from arrogant and cocky. He develops so nicely, and while that development isn’t the deepest of any character ever, it’s still fun to watch him accept his friends not as much as assistants and more so as family.
Makise Kurisu is one of the best tsundere characters to ever grace anime for a number of reasons. First of all, she isn’t annoying like many characters of her type. She is, in fact, a very smart girl who just has an awkward friendship with a guy who calls her his assistant and treats her like she’s in on his role plays. The fact of the matter is, despite how much arguing she does with Okabe, the bond that develops between the two is very heartfelt and meaningful. Despite the fact she forgets pretty much every major development that they have with every change in world line (minus the last world line), she still manages to move forward, rather than stay stoic. The fact that she broke Okabe out of his shell and made him show emotions toward another instead of seeming indifference made her just that much better. When she kisses Okabe, it tugs at the heartstrings. It’s a beautiful moment that isn’t destroyed by stupidity and never looked back upon as some sort of joke, but it becomes the emotional basis for the final episodes of the series. I, personally, find it to be one of the best relationships in an anime because of how much growth the two go through because of it, and the new Okabe that emerges that will do anything to save his love from dying.
The other real major character is Mayuri. I can’t say a lot about her, because I wasn’t emotionally invested in her. She was a good character to work off of Okabe and a fun character to watch help him develop, but the only real reason you’ll probably love her is the fact that Okabe does. You see her die so many times and have to feel those same emotions that Okabe does. It comes as a major surprise that she dies, my jaw dropped when it happened. And dropped again and again. She’s the sweet, innocent girl who doesn’t deserve to die, but, as I said, it isn’t for that reason that you find yourself possibly shedding a manly tear over her, it’s the fact that Okabe is continually watching his life’s companion get killed.
Ruka is the last character I want to address in any sort of depth. I’m not a fan of cross-dressers, but he was pretty cute. And she was pretty cute. I was on the fence about his wanting to be a girl. It was a strange area to enter, made stranger by the fact that when he did become a she, Okabe raped her. Made stranger by the fact she’s in love with him. Maybe it’s because I was so invested in Okabe that I felt the way I did about he/she. Ruka is cute, but he’s a guy. The episode where Okabe has to go on a date with female Ruka is pretty hilarious, probably one of the funniest episodes of the series.
There are a ton of other characters, but none that are really of a lot of note. I was amazed by the sheer difference in the characters, all of them played off each other well and none were too alike. On top of that, the way they acted was just human enough that it was believable. The writing is so beautiful to be able to evoke emotions and create a world as believable as Steins;Gate’s.
And the cherry on top is the animation. It’s gorgeous and very distinct. Characters look fantastic and their eyes—my God their eyes—I could just swim in those big, beautiful globules forever. There is just something so mesmerizing about looking into Makise’s eyes, and I don’t know why, but I feel that it is one of the reasons you invest yourself in the characters. I don’t know where this came from, and I don’t have a particular reason to think that, but there has got to be something to those eyes…
Aside from the eyes, the backdrops are typically beautiful, and the only thing I disliked about the animation was the severe contrast of light and dark. I don’t know if this was meant to help convey emotion or not, but it really didn’t seem to. When it was sunny out, the screen was burning bright. When the characters were inside of the lab, it was really dark. There was no middle ground, and I did feel that there was a certain dullness to the colors, that while in no way detracting and more so a distinctive trait of the art style, was still sometimes a little hard to look at.
If you haven’t figured it out already, Steins;Gate is an amazing anime. Very rarely does something like this come along that takes you on such an emotional ride, invests you so much in characters that, while fictional, seem like they live and breathe in our world, and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout, wondering (sometimes slack-jawed, sometimes with a tear in your eye, sometimes with a warmness in your chest, sometimes with laughter rising in your throat) what will happen next. While I previously held Puella Magi Madoka Magica as the best anime of last year, I must kick it off its pedestal and place Steins;Gate where it rightfully belongs, not only as the top anime of 2011, but also one of the top anime of all time. Don’t be like me and quit because it’s a little slow, push through those first few episodes and be rewarded with one of the most emotionally satisfying experiences in anime history.