Steins;Gate is one of the better orchestrated time travelling stories I have seen. Not only does it challenge your ability to piece together different elements of the story, it also entertains fairly well with the wacky personality of its main character, Okabe Rintarou. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, here is the plot summary from MyAnimeList:
Steins;Gate is set in the summer of 2010, approximately one year after the events that took place in Chaos;Head, in Akihabara.
Steins;Gate is about a group of friends who have customized their microwave into a device that can send text messages to the past. As they perform different experiments, an organization named SERN, who has been doing their own research on time travel, tracks them down and now the characters have to find a way to avoid being captured by them.
The original Steins;Gate was a visual novel for the Xbox 360 created by 5pb and Nitro+. Spanning 24 episodes, Steins;Gate initially comes off as a mass of events with little connection to each other. For example, what does a dead scientist, a UFO, and a text message have in common? Not much, unless you come up with some wild story. Steins;Gate does come up with a wild story, but surprisingly, it’s highly ordered and actually has a method to the madness. The story can effectively be broken up into 3 different phases: a fun experimentation phase, a consequence phase, and the Kurisu phase. These three phases work in concert with each other to form the traditional elements of a story: the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.
The experimentation phase, as I like to call it, consists of the exposition and takes place from episodes 1 to the end of 12. I found this part of the series to be the most boring in terms of plot. Most of the episodes were centered around Okabe, the main character, and his lab members playing around with their time machine for their own benefit. Although not very attention-grabbing, the first half of the series was essential in establishing the conditions necessary to move onto the next phase.
I would consider the end of episode 12 to be the beginning of the consequence phase, which consists of the rising action. It is here that Okabe discovers that time manipulation is not without its consequences. This is when the story started picking up and shifted from a comedic tone to one of dark desperation.
The Kurisu phase is so named because it is largely focused on the cute teenage prodigy, Kurisu Makise, and consists of the climax, falling action, and denouement. In this phase, we see a reversal of roles as Kurisu, who had been the one helping Okabe deal with the consequences of time manipulation up until now, suddenly becomes the damsel in distress.
The entire story is told from Okabe’s point of view (there is not a single scene where he is not present), and if you’ve studied literature, that would make you immediately question the reliability of the narrator. However, the story is more focused on character development through both external and internal conflict. The antagonist is initially presented as the organization of SERN, but slowly shifts to Okabe battling with the consequences of his past decisions. Over the course of the series we see him develop from a goofy nerd to a man struggling through adversity before rising to the title of hero.
A story with a well-written plot and excellent character development deserves top-notch animation and that’s exactly what Steins;Gate received. While White Fox is a relatively new animation studio, they have proven themselves fully capable of creating high-quality animation with Katanagatari, and now with Steins;Gate. One of the ways in which I compare animation quality is to see how characters look when shown at a distance. If their clothes are still the right colour and there are no lumps sticking out of their faces, then I usually consider that good for a TV anime.
One final thing that really helped deliver this series was the voice acting of Mamoru Miyano, who played Okabe. Not many anime voice actors are able to create convincing auditory displays of emotion, but Mamoru is one of them. Okabe is certainly no easy character to act, often jumping from emotions such as joy, hopelessness, anger, and sadness. My favourite part about Mamoru’s performance was that he was able to make his voice sound hollow and devoid of life when Okabe had all but given up on his quest to change fate.
Steins;Gate is definitely one of the hidden gems of the year with its well-organized and written story, and excellent execution. I look forward to seeing what the movie will bring.