Steins;Gate (SG) is based on a visual novel by Nitroplus, which some years ago had also adapted into anime their Chaos;Head work and the result was plain horrible. Seems like since then they learned from their mistakes and improved the pacing and the character interactions; yet it’s still not masterpiece level as it is full of dead time and otaku jokes. I understand it is based on something of which 99% of the players are hardcore anime fans who demand some fan catering, but that is also what makes it rather hard to be liked by anyone who is not into that. I for example am a hardcore fan as well but the constant otaku jokes annoyed me. This is no Genshiken to excuse them in-story; they are there as plain fan catering and I find that to be a cheap method of attracting one’s interest. It’s not like the story can’t work without it; it is very interesting and I consider all the humor as nothing but an excuse to stall time and sell more to otakus. It takes away from the show instead of adding.
The production values are standard in artwork and animation but very good in aesthetics, combining various cinematics that really build up in atmosphere.
- The use of darkness, dementia backgrounds, cryptic dialogues and smart camera angles make it very eye-captivating.
- Voice acting is better described as perky (TUTURU!); the characters all sound like they have mental disorders and that gives them a colorful tone. The context of the dialogues is also semi-smart as it involves a lot of pseudo-science that needs attention to get the terminology; I must say it is very interesting.
- The soundtrack is also a weird blend of electronic music with guitar, pop, and trance, and again I find myself attracted to it even more. WHY COULDN’T CHAOS;HEAD BE SO GOOD?
- There are also many cute girls and otaku culture gags if you dig that but as I said I found them to be an unnecessary extra. What I mostly like about the girls is not them cosplaying or blushing but the way their eyes are drawn that makes them look like they escaped from some asylum, which is awesome.
The concept of story is also very interesting; it is about time travel in quite an unorthodox way. Or at least it was at first before they screw it up with a more commonplace type of method later in the story.
- You don’t travel physically; only your data does in the form of microwaves or memories. The application is very unstable with solid objects and thus it is safe to be used only for cell phone messages or transferring your memories. The protagonist spends half the show experimenting and learning how to link with himself in the past in an attempt to prevent future events.
- There are various twists to this as, for example, there are myriads of different timelines and thus each time-related event creates a different timeline (or as they call it, a world line). Every time they change something, according to the basic principle of time paradoxes you don’t remember making the change unless you have a supernatural ability to do so. Practically only the protagonist retains the memories while all the rest look at you without having a clue of what just changed; a very interesting concept. It even goes beyond that by stating that some events are destined to happen no matter what you do, unless you go back and do something world shaking, which will automatically rewrite history entirely.
- All these are amazing concepts, never used in such an elaborate way in an anime before. I mean, ok, Higurashi and Madoka are famous examples of anime that did something similar but not in such an elaborate way, thus Steins;Gate wins hands down. And mind how I still don’t consider it the best in using the concept properly; just the most complicating and seemingly plausible. I preferred the way Noein and Tatami Galaxy went with it; it wasn’t as cool there but they definitely used the concept in a more balanced and thought provoking manner.
The show also manages to do something very hard for most anime: To have interesting and memorable characters (TUTURU!).
- The protagonist is an interesting character, as he practically has the power to alter time and be the only one remembering the change. Being rather insane who constantly thinks he is being followed by a sinister agency and makes various weird actions in his lab as means of so-called protection , adds to his appeal to see how he will react to each situation. Having events he can’t prevent without rewriting history also offers a sort of heavy price to his awesome power.
- The secondary characters (all of which are conveniently cute girls) are also not just decorations. Despite seemingly being nothing than harem material at first, many of them end up having hidden agendas and gain roles which are crucial to the storyline. Meaning, they all eventually get some nice backdrops and are fleshed out.
- Of course eventually not all of them are plot-relevant as many viewers believe. That cat maid and the transvestite priestess are still nothing more but colorful side-stories, proof of which is how they aren’t even shown in the final episodes. And although some will say that they are still important for the protagonist to have someone to experiment time alteration upon, they still end up being closer to lab rats and harem flavoring rather than crucial peons to the main conflict. To put it in a different way, it is like all those random people the protagonists in Death Note or Code Geass experimented their powers on. They may have learned how they can use them but otherwise did not offer anything to the plot. And it’s not as if all that couldn’t be shown “during” the main storyline either (and this is why I mentioned those other anime earlier).
A problem with the show is that many of its parts are uneven; some episodes are way too light and others are way too heavy. Although this may help to maintain the interest from the viewer instead of making him feel bored by the constant same style, it still doesn’t do it in a great way.
- It takes for the show to reach midway before you even realize there is an actual conflict going on in there. Up to then it is mostly otaku comedy, light sci-fi, and it gets really stupid at times. At one time he tries to change the gender of a boy to a girl with a most improbable method. Another is spent at eradicating a life style from an entire area of Japan. Although these episodes are meant to be a steady build up for darker things that come along midway through the series, I was eye-rolling half the time. You could of course see them as means to get to know the characters as well as smoke screen for the darker twist later on.
- His fat guy assistant is a computer nerd and an otaku, existing to reveal stuff about the internet conspiracy, to provide with lots of otaku jokes and to appeal to a “certain” group of viewers. I could really do without him.
- The girls also seem to be there at first as nothing more than eye candy, as well as excuses for the hero to alter the past. It’s just like a date sim; they tell you their problems and you try to solve them as means to get into their pants.
- Although a few episodes would be ok to be used as nothing but introduction in the beginning, later on entire episodes are spent on changing the past just for kicks. It can be seen as plot-relevant, as experimenting on the d-mails and having an excuse for what to try to change is part of a trial-and-error procedure in doing it right. The problem comes when later on they use up another bunch of episodes just to undo what was already established. These constant changes are not even done with the mindset to benefit the world or prevent evil masterminds from accomplishing a catastrophe; they are just performed on a whim of cute girls rubbing it on the protagonist to help them, so again you get the feeling they are stalling time.
- One could even wonder more opaque issues, such as “What kind of a pervert would alter history just to please a chick?” And seriously why do they all have issues regarding ONLY their fathers? In fact, mothers don’t even exist; this is a completely chauvinistic story with lots of Freud psychology.
Eventually, despite the very interesting idea of the story the presentation remains quite light, even if one does not count the constant otaku jokes. Meaning, do not try to take the show too seriously.
- Just like any other conventional story with time travel or wishes coming true, SG is also using the trope as magic panacea to any problem and eventually exists as nothing but superficial entertainment that nullifies all sort of responsibility for one’s actions. It is overused to the point it makes everything feel possible yet unimportant for being undone so easily. It degrades to just a shallow plot armor devise and nothing more. I have heard how some excuse this as if the hero makes mistakes and learns from them in order to undo them, but let’s be honest, he doesn’t. The whole purpose of the story towards the end turns to how you will make yourself forget everything that happened, as if they never happened at all. How irrespincible is that and what kind of a morale message does it leave behind? “You have regrets about something in the past? Just change it with no cost at all. You don’t like the change? Go back and simply undo it. You don’t like the bad memories of it? Simply forget them. And don’t worry if you mess up a few times because you have infinite attempts and nobody else shares your power to try to stop you.”
This lack of actual danger killed my interest, since I know there is no way the hero won’t win in the end.
- Also, it is more than obvious that any alteration in the past is only changing a few details when in theory it should be rewriting everything. So it is hard to accept the characters still have the same hairstyle, the same clothes, and the same life experiences or are still the same team and in the same room no matter what change takes place. Shouldn’t they all look different every time he changes something? Shouldn’t there be different people in the room, talking about different things? At one point, the whole lifestyle of the city changes and yet they remain the exact same way as before. All these sound minor but it is an issue that comes up after awhile and damages the story’s plausibility.
- Even the excuse of “destiny” doesn’t save it; some events are said to be unable to be prevented yet even that later on has no point as he eventually changes even destiny events with again just minor changes for the world. Feels like a contradiction as well as a betrayal of the original concept.
- The protagonist looks cool at first but if he is supposed to be a mad genius he sure doesn’t try to be scientific. You barely see him talking intelligent or explaining how time travel works; most of that is done by his supposed less smart assistants. He ends up being nothing more than an eccentric shounen protagonist and all the chicks love him just for that. He is also quite inactive for most of the duration and the only reason he does anything is to fulfill the selfish demands of some chick. Furthermore, not even his romantic side matters much. If he does all that for love, he sure sidetracks a lot and ends up doing naughty things with all of them. So if his main goal is to save a girl he likes, he sure doesn’t say no to get some variety along the way. So what is the point of his undying love when he doesn’t even do it for the romance?
- Furthermore, it seems like every time he goes back in time, his assistants already know of the explanations regarding time travel when in reality they had no idea about them yet. His romantic side with them also feels off, as they seem to be fond with him even when he returns to an earlier timeline, at which point they were still nothing but friends. So it is as if all progress regarding time travel explanations and romantic developments goes back in time along with him and makes the whole thing look fake. But the problems? No sir, those get solved and nobody remembers them. Convinient or what? It’s like they are actors pretending they don’t know what happens next, when in reality they do.
Despite the good efforts to make the story smart, it is still full of plot holes and inconsistencies. I was enjoying the anime after the mid part kicked in, because it became darker and more threatening. But eventually towards the end it became almost of a mediocrity for just going back to the beginning and resetting everything, while at the same time simplifying the time travel method.
- Just like in every other anime with time travel and wishes, it turns predictable and mainstream despite its good shot at becoming different. I really liked how it was done with cell phones or memory transfer, yet later on changed to the usual physical way, meaning going in the past where there are two of you at the same time.
- Hell, and all of a sudden time is no longer an infinite amount of world lines and we are again back to the linear model. And even that makes no sense the way they present it.
Every time travel is supposed to be taking you to a different world line, thus not the same you were in before and excusing not meeting yourself from other time travels. There can be only two at most in the same time line. Which makes time travel useless if you are trying to change a past that is different each time and not the same you came from. You may end up messing with events that would have prevented the future events from happening in a natural way. Also, the whole thing is very convenient, as you go back to a different world line but always return back to the same in the future, with the time altered the way you please and no paradox of you being there at all. What if you, from that specific past world line, never time traveled because of your changes? How can you possibly be in a future you time traveled back from, if you never time traveled in the past because there was no threat to need it? See the paradox? The whole thing is a crock theory by modern pseudo-science and despite their efforts to make it believable, any person with my super advanced brain (bragging ftw) can easily see the whole thing as a bad joke.
And even past that detail, the actual storyline makes no sense in general as shown in this super image I made myself.
The first circle proves that A2 was created by itself, something which is impossible. The second proves that there should be three Okabes in the same timeline since time by then was linear again, or two without the third being heard screaming in the background. It is so simple, see?
I also didn’t like how the scriptwriter went for a last-moment plot twist by mentioning that the future threat was prevented, yet another threat took its place? Doing that a few episodes before the ending is just a lame attempt at good last impressions, when in reality it just ruins the solid ending and replaces it with a rushed and poorly introduced last moment event. This is all just random mambo jumbo after all.
1. Hell, he is the only one who time travels and still remembers the changes; what opposition can possibly stomp him?
2. Double the hell, his friends already know all the explanations even back in a time frame when they shouldn’t.
3. Triple the hell, the chicks love him just a few hours after they met, when in the original time frame this was a slow procedure that needed a dozen episodes to take place.
4. Quadruple the hell, he is supposed to be doing all for the love of his life when in reality he is just a crazy horny lapdog.
5. Five-fold the hell, his past selves conveniently don’t exist when he goes back in time, even when time is supposed to be linear again.
6. Six-fold the hell, if there are uncountable timelines then there is no point trying to change the past in one of them. By probability alone, there is bound to be a timeline where things happen the exact way you want them to happen even if you don't do anything. Which means, there is no point changing one timeline if there are infinite others where crap keep happening or occur exactly as you want to.
7. Seventh-fold the hell, in the ending he goes to a present which is not ruined, when his world is otherwise the same he travelled back and returned to.
Leaving aside all that I wrote above, it is an enjoyable show if you don’t think about it and just regard the whole thing as fan pleasing. The production values are very good in aesthetics and the story is elaborate and mysterious enough to keep most casual viewers interested for more. Its characters are also becoming memorable very easily and that alone is enough for most people to disregard the aforementioned hickups. It’s a bit blurry though if they like the date sim aspect or the otaku jokes. All those pretty chicks being there just for the heck of it was not fitting well with me at first; I was in for the mystery and not for the poorly executed romance. Thankfully all that changed in the second half and we get far more mystery and grim events, and far less comedy and otaku culture. I also know how many are watching the show for the exact opposite reasons I do, with the weird story being just an extra to spice the pseudo-romance that is all over the place. To them the dark turnaround will probably feel negative. Oh well, you can’t please them all; if it means anything, the show eventually just goes for the same old fuss in the end so these guys will be double-pleased.
The show is still above average and despite the very unorthodox way it uses time travel and nullifies responsibilities, it is still for mainstream view, as long as you can tolerate the retarded otaku jokes and don’t overthink the numerous plot holes and the inconsistencies I mentioned above. It will definitely be one of the most memorable anime the year it came out but I wouldn’t call it a masterpiece either. It’s silly. At the same time, I recommend other anime with a similar premise. Noein and Tatami Galaxy may have less captivating characters and plot, but they definitely approaches the exact same premise with a lot more maturity and without any convenient time resets.