Welcome fellow ladies and gentlemen. I, Acejem will be your host reviewer this time round by reviewing an anime series called Steins;Gate:
Before I begin reviewing Steins;Gate specifically, allow me to make some comments regarding the quality of anime as of recently. For a while (since midlate 2008 to late 2010), anime has been stagnating. Things were looking grim since the passing of its most recent glory years of 2006-2007 where epics such as Death Note, Code Geass, The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kanon and Clannad alongside some personal favourites including ef tale of memories, Spice and Wolf, Nodame Cantabile, Seirei no Moritibo, Kara no Kyoukai and 5 Centimetres Per Second were available.
Although 2009 to 2010 had some good series such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Sengoku Basara, Summer Wars, Bakemonogatari, Rainbow and Eve no Jikan, these were much more a rarity, as there was an average of 1, maybe 2 good animes per season during this period.
Fortunately, come 2011, the anime industry is on full recovery delivering blockbusters such as Madoka Magica in the winter season, AnoHana and Tiger and Bunny in the spring season, and Mawaru Penguindrum and Usagi Drop in the current summer season which is close to concluding. Furthermore, the upcoming fall season shows great potential with titles like Fate/Zero, Persona 4 the Animation, Guilty Crown, Mirai Nikki and Last Exile 2 set to air in the near future. It is indeed looking to be the strongest year since 2007.
Within that, Steins;Gate is definitely one of the stronger animes so far in an already strong and fierce competitive year.
What is Steins;Gate?
In a nutshell, Steins;Gate is a science fiction story about time travelling. It is the anime adaptation of the critically acclaimed visual novel of the same name developed by 5p.b. and Nitroplus. It is produced by studio White Fox (previously known for their anime adaptation of Katanagatari), directed by Hamasaki Hiroshi (nothing too notable other than Texhnolyze) and the series composition done by Hanada Jukki (who seemed to have been invovled with a lot of “moe” series such as K-on, Nichijou, Idolmaster and Seitokai no Ichizon, thus Steins;Gate really sticks out as different). It is a 2-cour (2 season length) series that started airing during the spring season (~March-June) and has just recently finished airing earlier this week.
Although set in the same universe as its apparent spiritual predecessor Chaos;Head, the only common relevance between the two is the location the anime is set in, Akihabara. Otherwise, the two series are completely different both in story and in quality as Chaos;Head was a poorly adapted anime. Therefore, it is incomparable to Steins;Gate and a viewer should not be prejudiced just because he/she has watched or played Chaos;Head in the past.
Normally, the notion of time travelling, alternative universes are looked upon unfavorably or at the very least seen as a somewhat cheap mechanism as it can often cry “Deus Ex Machina”. However, unlike most series which have a time travelling or alternative universe element, these elements itself are the bread and butter of Steins;Gate‘s story and thus does not feel like “Deus Ex Machina” at all.
The story is about a group of friends composing of Rintaro “Okarin” Okabe (the protaganist), Mayuri “Mayushii” Shinna and Itaru “Daru” Hashida who have invented a customized microwave device capable of sending text messages into the past. One day, Okabe finds a famous researcher by the name of Makise “Christina” Kurisu (the main heroine) dead in a building, sends a text message to the microwave device by mistake, and finds himself in a situation where Kurisu was “revived” and his time reversed back. Following the event, Okabe introduces further “lab members” into his circle including Suzhua Amane and Moeka “Shining Finger” Kiyruu to further discover this phenomenon.
The first half of the series composes mainly of the cast, mainly Okabe, goofing about and experimenting with their new discovery, like the self-proclaimed “Mad Scientist” he is. Okabe hops back and forth between different “world lines” changing something significant each time. Although there are some dramatic moments, it is fairly lighthearted, with plenty of comedy. Some of the comedy will only be understood by people who understand anime terminology, cliches and tropes, whilst others are more general purpose and will be understood by most people. Fortunately, most of the comedy is in the form of dialogue and is “wit-based” rather than in the slapstick nature, thus it is largely entertaining to see the bickering that goes on between the various “lab members”.
In contrast to the first half of the series, the second half is much more “serious business”. Okabe discovers the inevitable truth and dire consequences of time travelling and altering the past. He strives to undo the alterations and bring the world back to equilibrium. But things are not easy for Okabe as he faces many hurdles and challenges along the way, and the audience is treated with many suspenseful and intriguing plot twists along the way. This second half is where Steins;Gate was transformed from a “good” series to an “amazing” one and is easily comparable to the quality in story and plot twists that Madoka Magica brought us two seasons ago.
Its plot is the strongest component of Steins;Gate as the audience is kept on the edge of their seats and are left wondering what will happen next once the second half of the series commences.
The characters in Steins;Gate are largely entertaining and compliment each other well as a cast.
The character that stands out the most, is our protaganist, Okabe. He possesses two main personas, his comical “Mad Scientist” persona and his “serious business” persona. His mad scientist persona is most prevalent in the first half of the series, though it does appear in small doses in the second half to prevent it from being a complete drama-fest. Nonetheless, it is always humorous and entertaining to see him with this personality, which the following youtube videos represent:
In contrast, his “serious business” persona constitutes most of Okabe’s personality during the second half, to the point where in dire emergencies he does not give a damn whether or not it will cause the outrage of tens of thousands of feminists:
Despite the two extreme polarities in personalities, Okabe is also able to be nice when he needs or wants to. He can also be a romantic, but I will refrain from showing an example of that as it will be a massive spoiler ;). Okabe is very much a multidimensional and entertaining character is arguably the “best” male character from 2011 so far.
Another highlight character, is Kurisu. Firstly, I would like to personally thank the developers for making her a good “tsundere”. In this day and age the number of Type A/“Kugrie”-style tsunderes which both verbally and physically abuse others (most commonly the loser, pathetic main male character) one moment and then in complete polarity be lovestruck the next, are just as numerous as there are stars in the sky. It was very refreshing to see a tsundere in the personality Kurisu is, and a part of me wonders why more anime if they choose to include a tsundere, don’t do so the way Kurisu is portrayed:
As for some other characters, Daru is quite hilarious with his otaku antics as serves pretty well as a comic relief character, whilst Mayuri is a decent “moe” character as she isn’t a complete airhead or “moeblob” unlike some other “moe” characters like Mikuru (Haruhi Suzumiya), Yui (K-on) or Tsukasa (Lucky Star). The only character I had a problem with was Moeka, as she was portrayed too much as an emotionless girl type – e.g. Yuki (Haruhi Suzuimya) or Rei (Neon Genesis Evangelion).
Animation and Audio
In regards to animation, White Fox did a decent job. Although not spectacular, it is was no where near terrible.
On the audio front, the opening and ending songs used for the series fit in pretty well:
However, though it was not necessarily bad, there were very few BGM tracks that were notable. The only track I could remember having a significant impact was when the original Steins;Gate Visual Novel opening being used as an insert song for one of the latter eps of the series:
Hence, the weakest components of Steins;Gate were definitely on the visual/audio side of things. Nevertheless, they were at the very least above average given today’s standards and a viewer should not be discouraged just because of non-stellar art or soundtrack.
Steins;Gate is an excellent anime and is worthy to be named as one of the top series of 2011 so far. Not only is it consistent in its pacing (many animes have rather poor pacing), it is one of the rarer 2-cour animes that do not contain much filler (if any) and as a result does not waste much in getting its point across. In addition, it can be a proud member of the “doing justice to the original Visual Novel source material” club, as the vast majority of visual novel adaptations are either mediocre or outright terrible. Aside from Key/Kyoto Animation VN adaptations, ef tale of memories, Higurashi, possibly Fate/Stay Night and now Steins;Gate, I cannot think of any other VN adaptations on top my head that did its original source material justice.
Its story is some of the best I have seen in the anime medium and Okabe as the main protagonist was very entertaining and a total delight to watch. It is a must watch for science fiction fans, and is highly recommended for any anime fan regardless of genre preferences.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Suggestions to Steins;Gate: Madoka Magica