Saturday 3 March 2012

Anime REVIEW: Steins;Gate

Since its beginning back in April last year, Steins;Gate has been one of those series that while I was completely aware of it, I didn't have the foggiest clue what it was about. I knew it was popular, and I knew it had a very good reputation...but that was about it. So it wasn't until my Huke fan-girl of a girlfriend marathoned the series in two days and then demanded that I watch it as soon possible that I realised it was perhaps EXACTLY the kind of thing I'd be looking for in an anime. So yes - Steins;Gate is a 24 episode (plus one recently released OVA) series that aired between April and September 2011. Based on an X-Box 360 Visual Novel, it featured character designs from Huke, who is also known for creating the popular Black Rock Shooter.

Set in the summer of 2010 in the Japanese district of Akihabara, the series follows self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintarō Okabe (also known by his alias Kyōma Hōōin) and his friends/fellow "lab" members as they create a machine that can send text messages (dubbed D-mails) into the past out of a microwave. As they perform different experiments and slowly alter the timeline, they also discover that an organisation named SERN has not only been developing their own time travel method, but also has been watching them. With his unique "Reading Steiner" ability - which allows him to travel through alternate timelines while retaining his memories of the previous timeline, Rintarō has to stop SERN from not only creating a future where they rule the planet, but also from harming those closest to him. But as Rintarō plays through the same three weeks over and over, he realises that changing the future isn't quite as straightforward as simply changing events.

The Phone Microwave

But even with a stellar plot, a show can only go so far without the characters to push it along, and this is where I think Steins;Gate truly shines. The lab is filled with a variety of characters, each as lively as the last. Besides mad scientist Okabe there is also 18 year old genius Kurisu Makise, otaku and "super hacker" Itaru "Daru" Hashida and sweet, innocent cosplay aficionado Mayuri Shiina. While these make up the 'core' members of the lab, side characters like maid cafe celebrity Feiris NyanNyan, androgynous male Ruka and the mysterious Moeka and Suzuha prove just as important to the plot. In fact, these side characters build up the parallel realities that Okabe finds himself in, his D-Mails giving them their wildest dreams come true. But when time threatens the life of his oldest friend, he has to take these dreams away again. Its not just brilliant from a character building perspective, but also displays the unity of the Steins;Gate cast.

This is why lab coats are awesome.

Sometimes the story begins to stray into the more cliché aspects and tropes of science fiction time travelling, but always seems to manage to pull away from it when it comes to the important parts. As you would expect there's not only sci-fi references for you to spot (fun fact: the D in D-Mail stands for Delorean, as in "Back to the Future"), but also a few real life time travel mysterious/scientific facts, such as the story of John Titor and CERN. The first 11 or so episodes play quite heavy on the exposition, but at the same time are more about an eccentric group of friends making a DIY time machine than anything truly serious. Following that the show really moves into overdrive, playing upon the exposition and character relationships already built upon to turn it into a rather dark and psychological show about time-travelling and the dangers of it. You'll laugh at it, you'll gasp at its twists, and you'll almost certainly shed a tear at episode 12's shocking ending (and maybe a few times after that too).

Mayuri: Tuturu!

Huke's character designs are just as striking as they are in Black Rock Shooter, but that isn't to say that the rest of the art isn't just as good. The dark, sci-fi mystery/thriller element of the show is reflected nicely in the overall tones and backdrops, with most of colours muted (even the daytime scenes and Feiris' pink hair are a little dull looking) and the atmosphere rather shadowy.


If you can bear with the slightly slow opening to the series, Steins;Gate really is the gift that keeps on giving. With the tension nicely set and the somewhat complicated sci-fi exposition out of the way, it permits the series to move onto an thrill ride that is just as clever as it is entertaining. Its cast are brilliant, and when the credits roll on the last episode you'll be sad to see them go.

El. Psy. Congroo.

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