Episodes: 24 + 1 OVA | Total Runtime: 9.5hrs | Studio: White Fox
Genre: Sci-Fi, Psychological Thriller | English Dub?: Yes
Time-travel. The mere thought of being able to traverse to a time and place outside of everyday life; it naturally peaks your curiosity. It's a concept that has been widely popularised in all forms of media over the past century & has been featured in a number of my favourite shows; such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Erased & of course, Doctor Who. But forming a story around this concept can often be a tricky feat. It requires an element of precision in order to perfect & protect the integrity of its premise; ensuring continuity is maintained with plot holes minimal-to-none. In 2009, studios 5pb. & Nitroplus would prove that they were up to the challenge.
Crafted as a visual novel, Steins;Gate would see a release in Japan exclusively to the Xbox 360 before eventually being released to other platforms & in the West several years later. It's one of those rare games that was able to transcend players who were not fond of or familiar with this storytelling medium, resulting in increased attention & worthy praise around the world. Whilst today we will not be talking about the game, we will however be diving into the anime it is based on, as voted for recently via a social media vote. Will this adaptation be able to reach or even exceed the bar the original work set? Let's find out!
Welcome to my review of the 2011 anime show produced by studio White Fox; known as Steins;Gate.
Steins;Gate follows a young scientist by the name of Rintaro Okabe, who lives vicariously through his delusional persona of Hououin Kyouma; a self-proclaimed mad scientist, who maniacally laughs in the face of adversity & overly paranoid to the point he believes some secret organisation is spying on him. As a founding member of the Future Gadget Laboratory, alongside his close friends Daru & Mayuri, the lab’s goal is to create elaborate inventions which no person has created before. You'd think by this description, he must be working in a secret lab; conducting experiments confidentially & working tirelessly to break down the barriers of scientific discovery. The stark reality is that they are based in an apartment above a TV shop in Akihabara, Japan. And their inventions? Whilst elaborate is accurate, in reality they are of no real practical use in the real world. Not to mention that only one of them considers themselves to be a scientist.
The story begins when our protagonist attends a convention on the theory of Time Travel, but ends up witnessing a strange series of events that he cannot comprehend. It’s through these events that he becomes acquainted with a young, intelligent & fellow scientist by the name of Kurisu Makise, although their encounter is quite awkward due to Rintaro‘s hysterical state. Eventually concluding that what he witnessed must be the workings of a certain "Organisation", he resumes his work on the lab’s latest invention; a remote-controlled microwave. Using bananas as test samples, the results are almost impossible to logically explain. It’s that this point that Kurisu locates Rintaro’s “headquarters” and pays a visit, only to become distracted & intrigued by the strange results from their latest invention. She offers her help, in exchange for her discretion & of course, her joining the Future Gadget Lab.
Following further experiments & a little “deep research” thanks to their resident "SuperHacker" Daru, they later discover that their microwave is in fact a time machine. Now, if you're familiar with microwaves, you will know that a human person cannot physically fit inside such an appliance, but the machine works a little differently. It’s able to send text messages (what Rintaro refers to as D-Mails) to the past when initiated under specific conditions. If successful, the message would travel through time & be received by the recipient in the past, causing the world line to alter accordingly up to that point. The group proceeds to experiment with the device, making changes to the lives of their acquaintances at their request, but what if a certain group was aware & watching, preparing to take this machine by any means necessary.
The events that proceed leave our protagonist in a state of despair, as he must work out what he must do to prevent these circumstances from coming to past or to accept the consequences. The true question is how far will Rintaro go in order to protect those closest to him.
Although the show starts off a little slow in the first few episodes, it uses this time to ease you into its premise by establishing the relationships & personalities of its core characters; presented in a comedic, slice-of-life style. It amps up the curiosity factor during the experiments, as you discover what happens to the world line alters each time a D-Mail is sent. At roughly the half-way mark, the plot takes a sharp turn that gives the show a more serious tone, which accelerates & concludes in a compelling & nail-biting finale that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The storytelling is masterfully crafted; creating an experience that will peak your interest throughout & blends various moments of comedy, drama, action and heartfelt moments without feeling awkwardly jarring. There are numerous plot twists scattered throughout, giving the show an unpredictable feel & while some key events will appear to be brushed over, they do come full circle over time. The progressive nature of the show allows itself to delve into numerous subplots without losing its pace or integrity. Even the stories presented by the show's less prominent characters felt just as meaningful as the show’s main plot, in my opinion.
Another strength the show possesses is its ability to embed an intelligent level of exposition into its plot. By using a blend of factual & fictional science, it not only justifies the existence of time-travel & events in this world, but comes off in a believable & accessible manner. I admired this approach greatly, mainly because I have previously seen some time-travel stories use a bastardised version of this concept. What I mean by this is that it’s presented as a mysterious power or an item that’s used as a convenient way to drive the plot & allow its events to take place without much of an explanation. Now to an extent, I can overlook this shortfall if the story has other positives surrounding it but with Steins;Gate, it feels more legitimate. By explaining how the time machine works & the show’s theory of time travel, it comes off authentic; like its presence is logically earned. This would only further my investment & got me on board to seek out the show’s conclusion.
The show also includes a number of real-world references. Some examples from the show include CERN, the Nuclear Research Organisation (famous for their Large Hadron Collider), John Titor (famous for posting bulletins in the early 00s about being a time traveller from 2036) & the IBM 5100 computer. Of course, the show renames a majority of these references to avoid any legal issues, but these particular examples are not just thrown in as an acknowledgement; they are key parts of the show’s story, further applying a sense of realism. Allow me to use professional wrestling as a comparable example. Fans like myself are aware that it’s a form of sports entertainment that’s generally pre-determined & whilst we know this to be a fact, we can suspend our disbelief & believe that what we are seeing is real. I felt a similar feeling when watching Steins;Gate. Of course, it’s a work of fiction but allowing real-life events & elements to sink into its story, it allowed me to immerse myself in a way that made myself believe that this could happen realistically, even if just for a brief moment.
Overall, there is so much potency overflowing in this show. From the main plot to the subtle references, it provides an eventful journey on the surface & an ample amount of exposition underneath, crafted in a way that feels complete & near perfection. C'est Magnifique!
Aside from its story, one of its strongest assets is its cast of characters. First, let’s take a brief look at our protagonist. From what we know about so far about Rintaro, his persona allows him to act in an exaggerated manner but he’s prone to embarrassment if the circumstances don’t go his way. It’s clear that he is very intelligent for his age, but the persona he uses acts like a mask to hide his true personality. This, of course, naturally wears away as a result of the plot & it was fascinating to see the real Rintaro underneath, as he slips into a state that feels like all hope is lost.
For Kurisu, her role is an interwoven part of the plot & proves to be a crucial aid in Rintaro's journey; from both a scientific & personal standpoint. Her personality traits could be classified by the common term of 'Tsundere' (i.e. cold at first, but over time becomes more friendly and open) as she generally presents herself in a serious & professional manner. Compare that to the opposing personality of Rintaro, they are destined to clash, creating some comedic & entertaining encounters between the two. Hearing Rintaro call Kurisu "Christina" & his “assistant” made me nervous, knowing how much these terms are detested by her but curious as to how she work react.
To compliment our technical duo, we have Daru; a talented mind when it comes to computers & hacking. He is a vocal fan of the otaku culture & often shut down by his acquaintances for his perverted remarks. Alongside him, we have Mayuri; the equivalent of a younger sister to Rintaro, but not by relation. Although she comes across with a innocent, child-like personality, she is very perceptive & understanding towards others. Her shared past with Rintaro makes them both very protective & supportive of each other & no doubt you will hear her infamous catchphrase "TUTTURU!" more than once. Personally, it never came off as annoying to me.
I must also give mention to the presence of Suzuha Amane; a part-time employee at the TV shop below the Future Gadget Lab's headquarters. She is a friendly character, serious about maintaining her physical health & appears overly curious regarding the activities of the Lab. She can remain reserved at certain points, which could be perceived as suspicious. Keep an eye on this one! There are numerous other characters here that I'd love to dive into; including the socially awkward mass-texter, Moeka, the sensitive shrine maiden, Luka, the queen of Akihabara's moe scene, Faris & the TV shop owner, Mr. Braun. The show is able to make every character’s presence feel important; not just a convenience to provide filler or satisfy a particular situation. This is yet another reason why Steins;Gate gains my praise; for ensuring that everyone’s involvement is suffice & wholesome.
Moving onto the voice cast. For the English dub, the role of Rintaro was granted to J. Michael Tatum, who previously earned his stripes in key roles for shows like Baccano, Black Butler & Spice and Wolf. For the role of Kurisu, we have Trina Nishimura; who you may know for her role as Mikasa in a small show called Attack on Titan. Both work very well individually & in co-operative scenes. If you are a video game fan, you'll be happy to hear that Ashly Burch (Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn) & Cherami Leigh (Makoto in Persona 5) also feature in show as Mayuri & Suzuha respectively.
A solid cast overall but despite their commendations, the voice work of the Japanese cast is on another level. With the likes of prominent stars like Kana Hanazawa & Tomokazu Seki on board, everyone felt perfectly suited to their roles. Special mention must be given to lead Mamoru Miyano, as he absolutely delivers as Rintaro. From the comedic moments of hysteria to the crumbling moments of hope, the spectrum he provides truly makes our "Mad Scientist" feel alive.
Both casts deliver polished performances but as a personal recommendation, I advise watching the show in Japanese as I felt the cast added an additional level of emotion in key moments. It’s worth the sacrifice of reading subtitles & much as I enjoy the fruitful tones of Tatum's voice, Miyano’s performance won me over here.
When compared to other shows released in 2011, White Fox did a great job in terms of visual presentation. There is a pleasant level of detail throughout the show with an emphasis on lighting effects & the choice of a darker colour palette, to further instil the more serious nature of its events. Unfortunately, some of the more darker scenes in the show prevent these details from fully flourishing & whilst this could be perceived as an artistic decision, a small adjustment could've been made for added distinction. Adjusting your TV is not the end of the world, so I don't see this as a critically objective point when it delivers in other areas.
In terms of music, the show chooses to keep the conversations with its characters as the focal point, allowing its songs to provide a pleasant accompaniment intermittently during key scenes. The music itself covers a variety genres, but most tracks use a combination of ambient tones, subtle synths & a scarce use of classical piano. Special mention must be given to the track ‘Gate of Steiner'; a subtle piano track that melodically flows effortlessly with a hint of melancholy to give an added weight to the scenes that use it. Let's not forget the show’s opening track, which plays as a striking ballad of electronics keys, strong guitar chords & an upbeat tempo to welcome you into each of its episodes. The energy its soundtrack contains elevates scenes to a distinctive level.
Steins;Gate is one of the best time-travel stories that I've personally experienced. Its combination of realism, progressive storytelling & variety in its subplots helps create a highly potent sci-fi experience; presenting an enduring journey of discovery that forces our protagonist into a sea of despair, as he is forced to come to terms with the consequences of his actions. It’s strong enough to logically justify its presence with an ample amount of exposition that feels accessible, without insulting the intelligence of the viewer. The show's artistic decisions & music compositions help set the serious tone that it presents, complimented with a cast of characters that were well-crafted & backed up by fantastic performances from both its English & Japanese voice cast.
My only initial concern was that the show was essentially condensed from a 25+ hour video game into a near 10hr TV show. In this situation, there will always be compromises made & my fear was that some of the additional context from its original work would be omitted or watered down. However, I believe I was proved wrong as the show did a fantastic job adapting the original work that translated effectively into the TV format; hitting the right notes without any key moments being omitted from my perspective. This show has since garnered the reputation of being one of the most highly-rated anime shows of all time & from everything I’ve stated in this review, it's easy to see why.
Steins;Gate is a must watch for any sci-fi fans & those who have recently started their exploration into this art form. It’s thanks to the extensive focus & high standards towards its presentation & storytelling that allows it to present an enthralling time-travel adventure that will make you wish you could go back in time, just to experience it again for the first time.
Steins;Gate is an adaptation of the visual novel, created by studios 5pb. & Nitroplus; available on a number of modern consoles. As noted, the visual novel is much larger in scope, providing added levels of context to the show’s events & contains multiple endings as a bonus. This does come with my recommendation, especially if you wish to explore the added context & interactions. There are currently two versions of the VN available; the original & the Elite version. The original is comprised primarily still images, but remains the unrefined & original product that inspired the show. The Elite version uses screenshots & footage from the anime, while providing the same potent story the original VN provides. Most people tend to play one of them, but both are great & whilst not essential after watching the show, either is recommended by myself.
There is also a side story called Steins;Gate 0; presented in both visual novel & anime form. Explaining its premise here will spoil this show, so maybe we'll save that for another day but I would say it was a little different, it’s a great side-story that links with the plot of the original (if you’re hungry for more Steins;Gate that is). If that's not enough & as of writing this review, a thematic sequel called Steins;??? is currently in development & scheduled for release later this year! Just don’t tell the organisation this news.
Thank you very much for reading & a special thanks to everyone who voted for this review. I hope you enjoyed it & stay tuned for more anime reviews; here at SkyPunk Media.
Until then, El Psy Congroo.