The scientific method is a practical approach towards learning about the world. It starts with observation of the world around the scientist, allowing him or her to take in information and create hypotheses or theories. The scientist then conducts experiments to see if certain conditions create results that support or refute his or her predictions. The experimenter then interprets the data, which leads to conclusions that serve to either strengthen the hypothesis, or to create a new one altogether. And the cycle begins anew.
In a way, plots in fiction are a lot like the method. Plot beats consist of events that a character experiences, reacts to, and makes choices based on interpretation of those events, which lead to new ones and new reactions. Steins;Gate is a science-fiction anime series whose plot embraces the scientific process as part of its plot progression, and does so in a very interesting and effective way.
Its main character, mad scientist Rintaro Okabe, while informal in his training and lacking in his scientific credentials, naturally adheres to the process of observation, especially when it comes to the central driving plot device in the story, time travel.
For a science-fiction show, it’s difficult to accept the softness of the science itself, but the underlying principles are still there, making for a very academic approach to its visual novel medium. As a visual novel, the player is bound to experience one of several potential endings, and through the process of trial and error via multiple save points and reloads, the player can eventually reach the satisified result.
In a very neat way, the plot of Steins;Gate lends to this concept very well due to the ability of Okabe to travel in time. As such, it’s very intriguing to see the way Okabe reacts to his errors and his willingness to continue the process, since within the reality of Okabe’s world; the results are very grim, leading to intriguing developments throughout the story when the time travel starts to kick in.
Fate, therefore, becomes Okabe main antagonist, as it serves as the barrier that he must overcome in order to save his friends. Due to the nature of time travel, the viewer only gets to see the full extent of character development from the time traveler himself, since the other characters are constantly reliving the same periods of time over and over, and as such, don’t get the opportunity to develop much if at all. That said, as static personalities, the rest of the large cast of Steins;Gate is full of unforgettable individuals, brought to life by a wonderful voice acting lineup, and have their own individual spotlight moments throughout the series that help drive the plot.
Daru Hashida, Okabe’s right-hand man, is a stereotypical internet nerd and otaku, voiced by Tomokazu Seki (Nodame Cantabile, Escaflowne). He’s overweight, perverted, yet genuinely likeable and is the most reliable member of Okabe’s lab team.
Mayuri Shiina, the cute mascot character of the Lab is voiced by Kana Hanazawa (Durarara!, Bakemonogatari) is Okabe’s childhood friend, and despite knowing next to nothing about science and technology, is the center of Okabe’s time traveling schemes when the situation goes awry.
She refers to Okabe as Okarin, and a gut-shreddingly cute catchphrase, “Tuturuu!” It contrasts rather effectively with her development due to the grave consequences of the lab team’s exploits, though the repetitive results of Okabe’s time travel eventually wears down the shock of the plot twist.
Rumiho Akiha is addressed by Daru and the others as Feyris-tan, and works at a maid cafe with Mayuri. Voiced by Haruko Momoi (Seto no Hanayome, Tales of the Abyss), Rumiho is the personnification of moe culture, and is the central character to one of the plot points revealing the significant effects of time travel on Akiba, the main setting of the story.
Moeka Kiryuu is the anti-social member of the lab, to the point where she only communicates with Okabe through text messages under the screen name Shining Finger. She is involved with plot events later on in the story, but due to her lack of screen time early on, as well as her inability to communicate, her spotlight time is used rather inefficiently, and becomes a burden to the overall plot when it starts to drag on after the time travelling begins. She’s voiced by Saori Goto (Sky Girls, Taisho Baseball Girls).
Ruka Urushibara is played by Yuu Kobayashi (Maria Holic, Sora no Woto), and as a shrine maiden, is the most beautiful and elegant female character in the cast. She acts very formally, and admires Okabe deeply. She’s an unforgettable girl who, despite her brief appearances, has an important role in the plot. But she’s actually a guy.
Suzuha Amane is the mysterious girl working at the electronics shop downstairs from Okabe’s “lab.” Voiced by Yukari Tamura (Katanagatari, Nanoha), she’s the appointed “Part Time Soldier” member of Okabe’s group, and keeps a close, protective eye on Okabe and the others. Not much is known about her, but when she reveals her intentions, her true character is brought out, and she becomes the strongest female character in the cast, and my personal favourite. She’s a positive influence on her manager’s daughter, as well as a character to admire by all female fans.
Last and most importantly, Okabe’s romantic interest in Steins;Gate is Kurisu Makise, voiced by Asami Imai (The iDOLM@STER, Shukufuku no Campanella) in a breakout performance that solidifies her as a fan favourite of the show, and a potential mainstay in the seiyuu side of the anime industry. Kurisu, affectionately addressed by Okabe as Christiiiiina, za zombie, hentai-tensai-shojou (perverted genius girl), and many other monikers, is the trigger that initially sets the story in motion, including the development of the time machine microwave.
She is highly intelligent, independent, ambitious, and yet highly feminine and tsundere towards Okabe. Her romantic development with Okabe is stunted by the usage of time travel, and the relationship grows increasingly one-sided from Okabe’s perspective, but there’s enough emotion buried deep inside her that the romance between them is real, and transcends time itself.
Even if the cast were half the size, I must emphasize the impact of the characters on the plot, since they’re the driving force of the show’s quality, since the story is limited by time travel mechanics. Before the time travel begins, there’s not much plot that occurs, and main cast is left to develop without incident. Regardless, there’s a character for nearly everyone, and the show’s greatest asset pulls through in end with a highly satisfactory conclusion that emphasizes their relationship with each other rather than the plot itself.
In a way, the time travel and its implications take a back seat to the characters. Even if there was a case that Okabe’s actions would result in the end of the world, it would mean nothing to him, because his lab members are his family, and they’re who he chooses to believe in. At the end, he eventually has to make a choice to save either one lab member or the other, but in his mad scientist way, he takes a third option.
This turnaround, despite all the turmoil that resulted from the effects of his time travel, is highly inspiring, and is the result of fantastic plot sequencing at the end of the story. Effective use of “belly in the whale” moments lead to a very strong finish, which renders the pointless meandering at the beginning sections, as well as the sometimes painful trial-and-error middle sections, moot. Steins;Gate greatly benefits from its strong finish in the same way that Ano Hana was greatly harmed by its weak finish.
The aesthetic presentation of the show is done very well on top of the story and its characters. The art style, as I’ve heard, greatly differs than that of the visual novel, but White Fox takes a very straightforward approach in their designs, and creates an open Akiba with pleasing characters, but doesn’t adhere to the source material as much as it did with Katanagatari. Either way, it does the job and doesn’t get in the way of the experience.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is something rather special. The future gadget lab OST, included with one of the Blu-Ray volume releases, contains track after track of wildly varying and individualistic compositions by Abo Takeshi. Themes range from quirky to serious, to stylistically electronic, and are often mixed together all at once. It’s a pleasant listening experience, and blended seamlessly into the episodes. It just makes me wonder why it didn’t appear more often until later episodes.
Steins;Gate combines a quirky scientific method approach to its plot with fantastic characters, resulting in a highly enjoyable series that stands out among its peers this year. I can only think of probably Madoka as the closest competing series, but I greatly prefer the former for entertainment purposes, over the latter and its intricate plot and multi-layered concepts and moods.
Science is the driving force for humanity to reach its future. It’s up to us humans to make the choice as to whether we are to accept progress. For Rintaro Okabe, his choice is that of Steins;Gate. And wow, what a choice it is.
Rating: 8.5/10 (8/10 on MAL, Very Good)