Anime can be something special. Steins;Gate proved it.
The self-anointed mad scientists nuked a video game into some gelatinous vision of time travel. Or maybe it was always that way. Doesn’t matter. No one thought they could do it, but they did it anyway. They sent text messages through the airwaves to people they knew. To their friends. Some of them female. Pretty.
They should have been more careful. They should have stopped.
…Wait, no they shouldn’t. This show is awesome!
Yes, Steins;Gate – a show that, now that I have watched it, completes what I like to call the Holy Trinity of Anime News Network, along with Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Clannad After Story, the three top rated animes on their website. In fact, Steins;Gate IS the top rated anime on their website, which is no small task. A series as recent as this, beating fan favourites like Cowboy Bebop, Code Geass, and every single Studio Ghibli film? That’s impressive.
…sorry, Hououin Kyouma (or Okarin – guy has a lot of names), leader of the Future Gadgets Laboratory, alongside his hacker pal Hashida Itaru (Daru to his friends) and childhood friend Shiina Mayuri. Okarin spends most of his days spouting paranoid conspiracy theories to nobody through his phone and inventing seemingly useless gadgets. However, one day everything goes topsy turvy (or more topsy turvy, dude’s a mad scientist). While heckling a lecture on time travel, Okarin discovers the dead body of young genius Makise Kurisu. Distraught, he runs outside, texting Daru the news…
And then everything changes. The lecture he was just at was cancelled before he even got there, there’s some kind of satellite embedded in a building, and Makise Kurisu is alive once more.
Turns out that Okarin’s latest invention, a microwave hooked up to a mobile phone, is actually a time machine. And while it can’t send anything much larger than a melon back in time without turning it into jelly, it can send text messages into the past. Thus begins a fantastic story about altering the past and the consequences of doing so, which brings Okarin into contact with a whole host of interesting and unique characters.
There’s Suzuha Amane, the spunky girl with an enigmatic past…
…Faris Nyannyan, owner of and employee at the most popular maid cafe in Akihabara…
…Moeka Kiryu, a reclusive type who like communicating through texts…
…Ruka Urishibara – and I don’t dare spoil the story behind this particular character…
…and of course, poster girl Makise Kurisu, whose conflicts and relationship with Okarin ultimately drives the plot forward.
All of these characters come together to form one of the most gripping, well handled plots in any anime series I’ve ever seen. There are no filler episodes, and no recap episodes (blegh), just a torrent of conspiracies, dilemmas and determination. The plot really kicks into gear in the second half of the series, in which Okarin spends most of his time leaping back in time trying desperately to save someone’s life by repeating events over and over. While this might seem like it would end up feeling boring and repetitive to watch, it’s actually anything but. Much like Groundhog Day, Steins;Gate manages to keep its repetition fresh and exciting, throwing new elements at the viewer with every passing leap through time.
Speaking of fresh and exciting, lookit dat art!
While I could never say that Steins;Gate is anywhere near as colourful and bright as many of its anime contemporaries, it has a wonderful ‘real-world’ vibe – while the colours are subdued and spend most of their time wallowing in dusty browns and cold greys, I feel that this carries a more realistic approach and, more importantly, matches the look of the game the series was based on. It also enhances the features of the cast. Take a look at this picture of Kurisu.
Her blue eyes stand out exceptionally well against everything else. Another thing to note there is the colour of her hair. Where many animes are content to house their characters’ bonces underneath a hedges of bold tertiary colours, Steins;Gate instead opts for realistic hair tones. What Japanese characters are doing with auburn and dirty blonde hair I don’t know, but its at least a bit more grounded than cyan. One would assume that it’s just following traditional anime signification (ie red hair = angry, fiery) in a more subtle way. Either way, s’bootiful.
Now, you know I’m a voice acting aficionado. So how does the English dub of Steins;Gate stand up to scrutiny? Well, BAM, we got ourselves a really great dub into the bargain. J Michael Tatum and Trina Nishimura put in some of my favourite performances ever as Okarin and Kurisu respectively, nailing every note the characters hit, from potentially psychotic and over-the-top, to emotionally destroyed. The rest of the cast is a strong selection of new and old faces (mouths?), including a potentially career-making first performance as Mayuri by Jackie Ross (who, sadly for dub lovers, has since moved on to working with Valve), a hilariously accurate portrayal of nerd-lingo by Tyson Rinehart (what a name), and the always wonderful Cherami Leigh, Chris Sabat and Brina Palencia to name but a few.
So, final thoughts? Go watch this series, right now. In a world of time travel films and series, I feel that Steins;Gate has one of the most interesting and logical approaches to the subject matter. There are clearly defined rules at play, and running the diverse and interesting cast through the increasingly complicated maze woven by the writers is a thrill to behold.
It is, then, with great pleasure that I hand down the verdict for Steins;Gate of…
A tense, funny, emotionally complex sci-fi thriller, Steins;Gate will keep you gripped from start to finish. A fantastic dub by Funimation makes this a series not to be missed by anyone.