Character Analysis of Okabe Rintarou

This anime season has seen some very interesting and disturbed characters such as Ohana in Hanasaku Iroha, Yukiatsu in Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, and the multiple personalities in Ore-tachi ni Tsubasa wa Nai; but I think the most intriguing character is Okabe Rintarou (aka Hououin Kyouma or Okarin) from Steins;Gate. A self-proclaimed “mad scientist” in his early 20’s, Okabe runs a research lab to invent futuristic gadgets, but it’s more closely resembles a hangout for misfits than an actual lab. One summer, Okabe and his lab members discover that their phone-controlled microwave can send text messages back in time. One might see this anime as a science fiction story about the ethical implications a group of friends face when dealing with time travel and the fight against SERN, but I see a story of a socially inept man suffering from symptoms of Schizophrenia.

As of this writing, Steins;Gate has aired 11 episodes. What we know at this point is that the phone microwave can send 36 bytes of data back in time, and with each message, world lines shift, changing the future (or present). Okabe is also the only person in the world who is immune to the effects of shifting world lines, allowing him to remember events that happened in different timelines. There are a few problems with this situation. First of all, based on current physics, while it is possible to travel into the future, it is not possible to travel into the past. Secondly, microwaves are just a section of the electromagnetic spectrum, just like light or radio waves. There’s nothing to suggest that they can cause something to travel back in time. Lastly, Okabe is the only person who can remember initiating an experiment and observing its results. To stand as solid proof of time travel, he would need to be able to record his observations and repeat his results, and then have them verified by a second lab. Under the circumstances, though, it is impossible to prove that Okabe has succeeded in time travel and we have to believe that he is in possession of a fantastical one-of-a-kind microwave, and that Okabe himself has super-temporal powers.

While stories of time travel and a gifted individual sounds great and all, I am a believer of Occam’s razor, a principle that says that the simplest theory is usually the correct one unless a competing theory can be fully explained with proof. With no actual proof that Okabe’s lab has created a time travelling device other than his word, I think it’s safe to say that Okabe is actually suffering from a mental illness, specifically, Schizophrenia. According to the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), there are 3 criteria that an individual needs to meet to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia, and I believe Okabe meets all of them.

To meet Criterion A of Schizophrenia, an individual must display 2 or more characteristic symptoms for a large portion of 1 month. Admittedly, Okabe does not meet 2 or more of the symptoms listed in DSM-IV (only qualifying for delusions), but there is a note that states, “if the delusions are judged to be bizarre, only this single symptom is needed to satisfy Criterion A for Schizophrenia.” So what counts as a bizarre delusion? DSM-IV doesn’t define bizarre and basically leaves it up to you to decide. Okabe believes that he has changed history, he has special powers (reading Steiner), Ruka is a boy, Akiba is a moe Mecca, there is an “organization” out to get him, and that SERN is out to steal his discovery. If that doesn’t count as bizarre, then I don’t know what does.

The requirement for characteristic symptoms to be present for a large part of 1 month may be debatable in Okabe’s case. Episode 1 of Steins;Gate begins on July 28, and episode 11 ends on August 10. That’s a period of 2 weeks in which Okabe experiences continuous bizarre delusions. Whether that counts as a significant portion of a month isn’t defined, but I would consider half a month to be a large chunk.

Criterion B of Schizophrenia covers social-occupational dysfunction. While Okabe is a University student, he is never seen going to class or working a job. One could say that he’s too busy or preoccupied with his research, but just ask yourself, what does he actually do in the lab? That’s right, nothing. All of the research and technical work is pushed onto Kurisu or Daru, with Mayuri being the main source of groceries. With all of this free time, I think it’s safe to assume that Okabe is not comfortable in a school or work environment, especially considering he talks to himself through the phone and makes evil laughs at random moments (another indicator of Schizophrenia).

The third criterion for Schizophrenia, C, involves the duration with which the symptoms have been present. If symptoms are present for at least 6 months, then an individual meets Criterion C. While the anime has only covered a period of 2 weeks thus far, there is evidence that Okabe has had some symptoms long before the start of episode 1. In the second episode, Okabe dictates to the viewer that Ruka is male, however in episode 10 it’s revealed that she is in fact female and Okabe was the only one that believed she was male. Mayuri and Daru also seem to be accustomed to Okabe’s constant talking through his phone (while it’s turned off), and his warnings about “the organization.” This is evidence that Okabe’s strange behaviour has been present for a long time.

While DSM-IV does list Criteria D, E, and F, those are mainly to eliminate the possibility of an individual having a similar but different disorder, and I won’t be covering them here. The biggest problem with whether or not Okabe has a mental disorder is the length of time he has displayed symptoms. The anime does not give any specifics, but I think Okabe’s does have a disorder, it will become more apparent in later episodes.

As for how Okabe developed Schizophrenic symptoms, Steins;Gate does offer a possible explanation in the fever Okabe had as a child. In a discussion between Okabe and Mayuri, Mayuri mentions that she was afraid that Okabe was going to die when he got the fever, and that he had temporarily lost motor function. Okabe attributes this to being the moment he obtained his “reading Steiner,” but it’s more likely that he suffered some brain damage if Mayuri was concerned for his life. Any brain damage sustained as a child could have made Okabe more susceptible to Schizophrenia. His symptoms also seem to only get very serious during the anime. This agrees with the statistic that the modal age of onset is between 18 and 25 years for men.

It seems that with each experiment, Okabe gains a new delusion, but despite his worsening condition, his personality remains largely unchanged. In the very first scenes of the first episode, Okabe is depicted as an egotistical but kind character. He argues that experts in the area of time travel are wrong and that he’s right, and pays for Mayuri’s Opa toy even though he’s short on cash. Whether a delusion or not, in the later episodes he also believes he can beat SERN and changes history to bring Suzuha back. His unchanged personality brings into question whether he really has a mental disorder or if he can traverse world lines.

Okabe Rintarou’s situation is a bit like the problem of Schrodinger’s cat, you don’t know if a cat in a box is alive or dead unless you look inside. Similarly, at this point in the series, it’s not possible to tell if Okabe really does have the power to change history or if he’s Schizophrenic unless we finish the anime or ask the writer(s). While the anime shows time travel as actually taking place, keep in mind that everything is presented from Okabe’s point of view (it’s all moot if he’s an unreliable narrator) and there’s plenty of evidence from the other characters that show there is something wrong with him. Regardless of the result, I think the writers of Steins;Gate have done an excellent job in creating a complex character to capture the interest and curiosity of the viewer.

———–

Further Observation:

Mayuri said she did this when she and Okabe were children and Okabe had a fever, in order to pray for his recovery. She still does it.

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  1. The problem with your interpretation is that Akiba _is_ a moe Mecca in our world, so your theory only works if we assume that Steins;Gate takes place in an alternate universe.
    Also, in earlier episodes Mayuri acknowledged that Ruka was a boy (she called him Ruka-kun) and Daru actually used the IBN 5100. Those events were changed by the shift of the time line.
    Okarin is not schizophrenic, he is just a big child. He knows full well that there is no “organization” and that he is talking to himself on the phone. He just likes to put on a charade.

  2. have you studied schizophrenic symptoms, you sound a bit like a scientist ^^.

    I don’t think Okarin is really schizophrenic he just have a slightly loose nut XD
    Aside from his crazy moments he appears rather sane and he is a nice guy.
    I also think that the world lines can be changed by the microwave, this great anime would be a bit lame with an “it was all Okarin’s delusion” ending.
    just my two cents :)

  3. @Son Gohan:
    True, Akiba is a moe Mecca in our world, I guess I should’ve mentioned that I was writing this from the point of view of an outsider in the world of episode 11. In that case, Mayuri never calls Ruka a boy and they never obtain the IBN 5100. The only proof that any of it happens is Okabe’s word. The fact that the anime only shows Okabe’s view of the world also brings into question whether what we’re seeing is actually happening or part of Okabe’s delusions (I don’t recall a single scene where he isn’t present). Is it possible that Okabe is changing history? Yes, but I also think it’s possible he has a mental disorder.

    The presentation of Steins;Gate is very much like the classic novella “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. In it, the main character describes his gradual transformation into a giant cockroach. Many scholars have labelled him an unreliable narrator and extracted from the symptoms and reactions of other characters, that the transformation is actually an extended metaphor for the onset of tuberculosis. Steins;Gate could be the same way considering the inconsistencies between Okabe’s memories and the world, and the reactions of the other characters.

    Of course, you could be completely right and I could just be overthinking things.

  4. @Fabienne:
    Hehe, mad scientist Nopy :)
    I studied a bit of it in class, but not in great detail. It was one of those things that you know will be on the exam, but only makes up a small portion.

    He does seem normal when he’s not in the lab or talking about Steins Gate, which is why I mentioned that it’s possible I could be wrong. I think if the producers play their cards right, they could make a great ending with him actually crossing world lines or turning out to be schizophrenic.

  5. I haven’t start watching Steins;Gate yet. I know this may be out of topic, but I thought I could ask you since you’ve watch both Steins;Gate and Chaos;Head – are they related and if yes, do I need to watch Chaos;Head to know what’s going on in Steins;Gate?

  6. @Hoshiko:
    They’re not related at all, there’s a whole new cast and you don’t need to know anything about Chaos;Head to watch Steins;Gate.

  7. Haven’t seen tis series yet but I was initially hesitant of it because I believe it’s based on something other than manga? Was it a visual novel? By now I should probably be less hesitant of anime series based on visual novels since I’ve enjoyed so many. But at the end of the day I wish it was easier for me to experience the original visual novel material.

  8. @lovelyduckie:
    Yup, it was based on a visual novel. I like to enjoy anime for what it is rather than compare it to an original medium though.

  9. I very much doubt that Okabe is Scizophrenic. Sure if you force the qualifications upon him, he may seem like one. But he acknowledges that there is no organization, and no Steins;Gate. This is more a form of Roleplaying than any actual delusion. And there are places where the story could not in any way lead Okabe to where he was later lead if what he experienced was only inside his head.

    Like when he convinces Kurisu that he time leaped into the past, by telling her what the subtitles described as a “My spoon”(wut?). She wouldn’t have further helped him if she was not convinced by that.

    And also from a purely storytelling point of view, the Anime as it gets more serious over time, Okabe gets more serious, and has so far not been seen doing any of his “Roleplaying.”

    Also, the Anime is about Time Travelling, not psychology like Chaos;head.

  10. …Nopy (sorry, spoilers), you’re partially right and partially wrong. Okabe IS psychologically ill (possibly schizophrenic) over the course of the game, but the plot is as much about time travel as it is that Okabe is on the slow path to mental recovery. The early portions of the game (that the anime was covering when you wrote this) is all about exposing Okabe’s mental dysfunction and the later half is all about Okabe coping with the extent of his failures, overcoming his psychological disability in the process.

  11. I’m sorry, Liberius. I fail to see anything wrong with Okabe. He may be asocial. But in the end there is nothing wrong with him, as seen after things take a serious turn (Mayushi’s first death).

  12. @Leo:
    In the later episodes, he does appear to have been playing along with the whole “mad scientist” persona the whole time. Whether or not he’s schizophrenic depends on how you approach the issue. From the viewer’s and story’s perspective, no, he’s not schizophrenic. On the other hand, since the story is told from his perspective, there’s no telling if anything is true or not.

    Admittedly, I don’t think he’s schizophrenic, but I think it’s still a possibility unless it’s proven otherwise, like in Chaos;Head, by showing a scene where Okabe isn’t present.

    @Liberius:
    The way they tie in the extent of Okabe’s ‘craziness’ and the amount of time-shifting done is really impressive. As they move further away from the original world line, people seem to think Okabe is more crazy. Conversely, now that he’s trying to return to the original world line, it seems people like Kurisu are more easily convinced by Okabe’s words.

  13. @Nopy
    You make the mistake to consider it a sequel to Chaos;Head. If you do that, then you will obviously expect it to be about psychology. It’s not. It’s about Time Travel.

    And your theory that people are more easily convinced everytime Okabe gets closer to the Beta World Line. This is if you ignore the fact that Okabe still has the “Reading Steiner”, so he can much easier and faster convince people since he knows what to say. And I dont see why you think people consider Okabe more crazy the farther away from the Beta world line he gets.

    As I said earlier, you’re obviously a great fan of Chaos;Head, but Steins;Gate is not Chaos;Head 2. It’s not about psychology, it’s about Time Travel. There may be a few psychological things occuring, but to over analyze to this extend is just annoying.

    And you yourself do not consider him scizophrenic. For this reason I fail to see the reason for the over analyzing in this analysis.

  14. @Leo:
    I’m disappointed that you find it annoying. Analyzing something to the point of exhaustion is a habit I picked up in high school where we were taught to consider all options, then gather as much support for each as possible before reaching a conclusion.

    Schizophrenia is just one of the options that may be possible in this series. It’s not the most likely one, but I simply don’t have the time to write a dozen more articles.

    If this article upsets you, I’m sure there are others countering it that other people have written. Better yet, if you would like to put your comments into a counter-argument article, I would be happy to put it up on my blog as a guest post.

  15. It doesn’t annoy me that you bring up an idea like this, it’s just the fallacious way of gathering evidence for it, using fake facts. Over analysation is not good.

    Besides, Steins;Gate is over now. I won. He didn’t have scizophrenia.

  16. @Leo:
    Like I said, this was a possible outcome based off observations up to episode 11. While I was proven wrong in the last episode, I did not fabricate any evidence.

  17. Honestly, while I can definitely see how some might think he was Schizophrenic, in my opinion his symptoms more closely match Autism. That may just be me wanting more Autistic characters, though. (I’m Autistic)