Anime Reviews: Steins;Gate
With top-notch visuals, fun characters, and a unique, twisting plot, Steins;Gate is truly a modern classic and possibly the best time-travel anime ever made.
Production: White Fox
Series Length: 24 episodes
Air Dates: 4/6/2011 to 9/14/2011
Age Rating: 13+ (mild language, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Rintarou Okabe (also called "Okarin" by some) is just your average science enthusiast, but his fabricated alter-ego, Hououin Kyouma, is a self-proclaimed MAD SCIENTIST!! and also leader of the Future Gadgets Lab. The goal of this highly-secretive and highly-unofficial organization is to produce futuristic technological devices, including and especially a time machine. After attending a scientific forum regarding the possibilities (or lack thereof) of time travel, Okabe unwittingly stumbles upon one of the speakers, teenage prodigy Kurisu Makise, lying dead in a pool of her own blood. Once the ensuing turmoil is cleared, Okabe sends a text to his right-hand lab member, Daru, to let him know what happened, but finds himself caught in some strange space-time anomaly, which sends him...nowhere! Rather, he feels something is slightly off. Upon returning to the radio building where the conference was held, he finds Kurisu alive and well, and as snarky as usual. Has Okabe unlocked the key to travel through time via the simple act of texting, or could this be the divine will of Steins;Gate, who has chosen him? Be alert! The Organization could be listening in! El. Psy. Congroo.
The Good: Smooth animation; catchy opening and ending themes; quirky art style, story, and characters; later episodes bring gravity and ample twists
The Bad: Starts way too slowly; a few unnecessary episodes
The Ugly: Ruka is the most devious trap ever conceived
Here it is, folks. Steins;Gate, one of the best anime to be released in 2011, if not in all of recent memory, right alongside Bunny Drop, Tiger & Bunny, Madoka Magica, and AnoHana. And that's not even including the always-excellent Fate/Zero, which did begin at the tail-end of that very year. Come to think of it, 2011 was a monumental year for anime, one of the greatest in a long time. Hot damn! But anyway, among all these titles, Steins;Gate proves to be the most popular, and I'll just say it now--that popularity is definitely earned. My God, was it earned. Shall we carry on and talk about why, then?
We'll begin as usual with the technical aspects of the show. The animation is smooth and consistent, which is something you'd think would be a given by now, but considering this is the first big outing by studio White Fox, color me impressed. These guys have potential. As far as the music goes, we have spectacular electropop opening, "Hacking to the Gate," and the much more melancholy pop-rock ending, "Toki Tsukasadoru Juuni no Meiyaku" (say THAT ten times fast!), but other than that, the music is serviceable. Nothin' fancy. It's certainly not bad, but it doesn't do much to stand out.
What does stand out, however, is the artwork. And it stands out in the good way. Closely mirroring the look of the original visual novel, the characters have attractive, yet somewhat quirky designs that look great. Unique, too! I fell in love with each and every single one of our main characters, and their designs no doubt played a big part. The series also makes great use of shadows and lighting to enhance the mood, whether more relaxed and comedic or dark and disturbing as hell. I can't say enough how much the lighting and shadows add tremendously to the overall tone, but long story short, Steins;Gate looks pretty and its glorious veneer never fades even once.
Then we get to the story behind the series, which revolves around Okabe discovering the secret to limited time travel, and the members of the lab using the machine for dumb, selfish things. They do it carefully, though! Steins;Gate swiftly becomes an unusual mix of sci-fi and slice-of-life anime, and you know, it really works. And of course, no story can work without a great cast of characters, and that's exactly what we've got here! Mayuri is an airhead, but she's very likable and cheery, always entering with a victory tune and serving as our emotional core of the group. Daru seems like he's just a perverted otaku and hacker, but I dare you not to laugh at some of his dirty comments or keep a dry eye when some major twists happen down the line. Kurisu is refined and intelligent, but accidentally reveals her nerdy internet savvy at times...and by that, I mean she's a 4chan regular who can't resist a good chance to drop a meme or a Star Trek reference, but she's not without a soft side, and as one of the fan-favorites of the series, this on-again-off-again firecracker may very well resonate with you.
But the story focuses around Okabe, and thus, he gets the most development and is often cited to be the fans' favorite character. At the start, he is a very goofy character with his constant theatrics and monologues about The Organization and Steins;Gate and being a MAD SCIENTIST!! As time goes by, however, he begins to realize just how dangerous and heavy his work on time travel actually is (why hello there, Episode 12!), and grows into a more earnest and serious character. Of course, Okabe's eventual 180-degree shift is the direct result of his meddling with top-secret information causing things to go downhill fast. The second half of Steins;Gate is shockingly dark, and has a plentiful supply of twists, ensuring that the phrase "predictable" never once leaves your face-hole when describing it.
But now, we've gotta address the series' low points. First off, it takes way, way too long to get the ball rolling. After a rather confusing first episode, we get a few very slow-moving episodes until we finally gain some momentum around Episode 5. Would it have killed White Fox to just make those first few episodes go by just a little bit quicker?
The other main problem with Steins;Gate is that, way late in the series, they suddenly remember that this anime is based off of a visual novel, and so we get some one-on-one moments between Okabe and all the ladies. These scenes can be touching, downright heartbreaking, even, but ultimately, their extensive lengths serve little purpose other than to make the VN fans happy. If it were just an episode or two, I wouldn't think much of these interruptions, but they comprise much of the series' second half. If you guys don't mind, we're trying to repair the fabric of the cosmos here!
Those little nitpicky issues aside, I really, really enjoyed Steins;Gate. I'm just a huge sucker for game-changing plot twists and quirky characters, and they managed to squeeze both into this anime! While it's certainly not the Best Anime Ever, as some folks on the internet would lead you to believe, it's certainly one of the best anime of 2011, and as I've mentioned earlier, 2011 was a hell of good year for anime.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10. While it does have some minor issues with handling its time wisely, Steins;Gate stands as proof that powerful, story-driven anime are far from extinct, and that quirky, attaching characters can, indeed, elevate an anime from being merely great to being an incredible modern classic.