The microwave is a time machine. Well, it’s either that or the blue police box on the corner.
What’s the Story?
When an errant text message smashes its way through causality and alters the timeline, self-anointed mad scientist Rintaro Okabe comes to a startling realisation, he’s just invented the time machine! Of course science, and possibly the whims of Steins;Gate itself, demand that he further test this discovery, not realising that each message is sending him deeper into a labyrinth of his own despair. When the evil SERN finally make their move to claim Okabe’s work, he realises too late the mess he’s gotten himself into. Can Okabe and his fellow members of the Future Gadget Lab untangle this knot of time and revert the world back to its proper course? What’s more can they do it without sacrificing one of their members forever, or before Okabe truly goes mad?
Well, I’ve finally gone and done it. Steins;Gate is one of those anime that I’ve been meaning to watch for a very long time, but it’s only now as I sit confined in my own home that I’m actually getting around to watching it (I’m writing this post in early May of 2020 for context and since I have no clue when I’m actually going to post this review it does prove one thing, time travel is real! We just haven’t figured out how to go backwards yet). I’m sure we all have a series like this, one that you hear nothing but good things about and everyone recommends, so you put it on your list, but then there’s a thousand other shiny things that distract you and you end up never actually watching it. That’s me and Steins;Gate. Heck I actually bought the DVD set last year because I saw it cheap in a local shop and it’s spent the time since glaring at me from one of my shelves. Why am I telling you all this instead of getting to the actual review? Because I was scared guys. The more time passed the more I realised the expectations I was weighing on this series. Every person I’ve ever spoken to, every review I’ve ever read has praised this series to no end, and every time I think of that there’s this little voice in the back of my head reminding me that hype has killed things for me before. So, I’ve bitten the bullet, does Steins;Gate stand the test of time? Does it live up its reputation?
My God yes it does. I challenged Steins;Gate to impress me and it proceeded to grab me by the throat and drag down into a twisted labyrinth of maniacal highs and soul-crushing lows. Where do I even begin? How about the mechanics of the series? Now time travel series are notoriously hard to write, bending causality to your whim and then trying to put everything back together again in a way that makes sense and doesn’t fall into a pitfall of paradoxes and plot holes takes a chess master degree of planning. I’m going to have to watch this series again (multiple times in fact), but after a first viewing everything tracks and holds together as far as I can tell. I do love the way this series is constructed, like a beautiful puzzle within a puzzle within a puzzle and so on. The very first episode is a terrific example of this, giving us one side of the equation, before returning to it at the end of the series where we finally get the other side and the last pieces slot into place. My hat goes off for the amount of planning and forethought that went into this story.
Another aspect I love about this series is that it’s always moving, giving us one problem to solve and then once that one’s done we move on to the next and the next after that. There’s constant momentum in the series, changing the rules of the game and upping the stakes without ever feeling frustrating. Everything is the logical continuation and escalation of what came before, building off of previous instalments and prepping for the way ahead. It’s that puzzles within puzzles thing I mentioned earlier. It just sucks you in and won’t let go until you’ve seen how they’re going to resolve this. Also the methods of time travel are really interesting as well, sending text messages into the past, sending your memories into your past self (that last one isn’t that original to fans of X-Men, but it’s still a fantastic idea that I’m surprised more series don’t use). On a technical and intellectual level I can do nothing but admire this series, but there’s one more ingredient we need to make a truly stellar series that I can love, let’s talk about the characters.
I both do and don’t want to be Okarin. On the one hand it’s hard not to love the guy. Between his verbose use of language, the breadth of his imagination and just the sheer glee that he takes in life I often find myself feeling quite jealous (I mean when I talk about my plans for world domination and my secret ninja training I just get weird looks). On the other hand though, what he has to go through in this series is heartbreaking. There are several points throughout the series where his mad scientist alter ego cracks and we see the desperate man underneath, struggling to hold himself together in the face of one nightmare after another. I watched the English dub and J. Michael Tatum puts in a great performance, from maniacal laughter to soul-crushing screams, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen while he was talking. The other characters are all equally captivating, all with their own shades and faults that we discover across the series, and all with particularly great performance, I especially love Mayuri’s little speech at her grandmother’s graveside. I even love the romance in this series towards the end, it’s just stellar all round.
In the end Steins;Gate has garnered it’s reputation for a reason. It’s complex without getting complicated. The story itself is a marvellous construction, keeping the momentum going while at the same time shifting from one puzzle to the next and back again. The characters are all lovable with deeper shades than first appearances might indicate and they will have you both crying and cheering throughout. If you haven’t watched this series yet, or maybe it’s just been a while, then do yourself a favour and watch it now! Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to send a text message to my past self instructing him to watch this as soon as possible, I’m sure that can’t go wrong in anyway.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.