One of the most talked about anime of the year ended this past week, in case there’s a small portion of you who didn’t pay attention. No, it isn’t Usagi Drop or No. 6, especially since they both really weren’t talked about much beyond being called cute and gay respectively. With its dark, relatively limited pallet, quirky characters, and time travel plot, this anime has gained the attention of many of those following the past two anime seasons. That anime is, if the title is as much an indication as I intended, Steins;Gate.
What started as a strange, oddly slice of life-like scifi series centering on a college student “Mad Scientisto” named Okabe Rintarou and his crew of eccentric friends and associates quickly took a turn for the dramatic with the introduction of a means to send thoughts to the past, which caught the eye of evil research organization SERN. Since that point, Steins;Gate really grabbed the aniblogosphere and proceeded to hold on for dear life. And by that, I mean it was really fucking awesome, leading up to a suspenseful, surprisingly satisfying finale.
Based off a visual novel of the same name, Steins;Gate has a rather intrinsic, yet layered plot that provides a beguiling narrative supported by a surprisingly strong cast of characters. Helming the varied cast is none other than Okabe himself, one of the best characters to grace anime in a long time. An eccentric at heart who at first does crazy stuff just because he assumes it’s what mad scientists do, as the events of the succeeding episodes unfold, he’s pulled further and further into a psychosis that begins to actually take form against his will. Hell, I could (and probably will at some point) write a post detailing how I think his mental decay is one of the best displays of character development of the season.
Helping Okabe in his mad scientisto exploits is the tsundere, closeted 2channeler Kurisu, Mayuri, the prerequisite ditzy moeblob and Daru, the quintessential otaku. There is also Okabe’s landlord Mr. Braun, shrine maiden Ruka, and unbelievably shy tall girl Moeka. As the events of the episodes unfold and Okabe tests his time travel inventions more and more, the timeline is altered to such an extent that he inadvertently gets himself into trouble with various shady organizations who want in on his secrets.
As it goes for the best of two cour series, developments are unveiled slowly and deliberately over time, allowing for maximum understanding and immersion in the setting while appreciation for the characters grows in direct proportion. The first half is entirely dedicated to subtle changes in the plot, driving things forward at a slow enough pace for the audience to take in the character interactions and the way their surroundings impact them. I wouldn’t call it masterful, but the setup is good, even if it focuses too much on inconsequential side characters and concepts at times.
At around the halfway point, Mayuri is killed off repeatedly (And often hilariously), and Okabe ‘time leaps’ back to the past again and again in an effort to save her. However, despite his efforts it seems that she’s preordained to die at a certain time unless the timeline is reverted to before Okabe started messing with it. While these episodes are good enough that you don’t really notice it, a few could’ve been omitted without losing the impact, and the requisite nods to the other arcs on the visual novel are somewhat sloppy. Thankfully it gets back on track for a very strong finish, where Steins;Gate solidifies itself as one of the best series of the year by far.
The animation, while nothing exemplary, gets the job done well enough, and I have very few problems with it aside from oddly placed bloom in the cities and a general pervading darkness throughout that makes screencaps somewhat annoying.
If you’re looking for something to pass the time, you could do far worse. Hell, I’d go as far to say that this is the best visual novel adaptation of the year, and one of the best ever. The plot works out well for the most part without focusing on unnecessary side arcs, and it feels less like an advertisement for the VN than it does an excellent enough standalone plot. Definitely recommended for any of those with discriminating taste who can stomach occasionally trite relationships and a silly plot. So now it’s time to wrap up this final review with a section on the finale. If you don’t want to know what happens at the end, don’t read below the next image. If you already know, feel free and tell me what you enjoyed/didn’t like.
I actually enjoyed how this ended, even if it felt somewhat phoned in at the end with Okabe being forced to let Kurisu’s prick-like father stab him to gather enough blood to complete the illusion that Kurisu’s dead. Hell, it opened on one of the most chill-inducing notes, Okabe’s mad scientisto speech fading into the cool opening synths of the OP. Even something as cheesy as making every main character a lab member actually contributed to the power of the ending, rather than weighing it down with emotional pandering. Even the disturbed Moeka got a happy ending working in the shop below Okabe’s lab, something that I was very happy to see.
If it doesn’t seem like I have any complaints for this, it’s because I don’t. While the rest of the show focused on the occasional pointless side plot for the sake of pleasing fans of the VN, the ending was very streamlined while still resolving everything. And in a show as surprisingly enjoyable as Steins;Gate, that’s what matters.