Steins;Gate’s leading man Rintaro Okabe is a self-proclaimed mad scientist. He spends his days in his lab concocting all manner of crazy gizmos, which he plans to use in his world conquest schemes. In reality though Okabe’s gadgets are nothing more than ineffective toys and his laboratory is in fact a modest flat situated above the electronic store owned by his grumpy landlord. That said, as the old adage goes, persistence breeds success. After numerous failures Okabe appears to have hit pay dirt when he combines a microwave oven with a mobile phone to create a bona fide time machine. What a nifty device. I’d gladly pay for an iPhone if it could heat up pot noodles and transport me to the past.
Okabe’s creation isn’t perfect however. As tests on bananas have proven, sending organic matter back in time is impossible (given how the leap to the past turns the aforementioned fruit into gelatinous goo.) On the plus side it is possible to send short text messages back in time, although Okabe soon learns that manipulating time is a dangerous game. Attempts to tweak the course of history, such as sending yourself the upcoming winning lottery numbers, rarely yield the outcome you wanted and in fact often result in undesirable changes to past events. Worst of all Okabe’s discovery seems to have come to the attention of a clandestine organisation that over the course of the story will put Rintaro and his friends in peril.
Having watched this first DVD, which contains half of the show’s twenty four episodes, I have to say that Steins;Gate is shaping up to be one of my favourite animes to get a UK release this year. No surprise really given how I am a sucker for time travel stories especially clever ones that deal with plausible science. When one thinks of sci-fi in anime you normally picture giant robots and aliens, but Steins;Gate is far more grounded in reality, revolving around things like string theory, the Large Hadron Collider and the butterfly effect (thankfully that annoying Ashton Kutcher is nowhere to be found.) The series is in fact inspired by real world events surrounding John Titor, a message board user who back in the early 2000s claimed to be a time traveller from the future searching for a rare IBM computer needed to prevent a third world war.
Although the series is lacking in action it is never dull thanks to its combination of charming characters and a captivating story. Things start off a little slowly, but it doesn’t take long for the plot to pick up the pace, hooking in viewers who will be curious to see how Okabe’s time meddling alters the world. The changes he causes, via experimentation and at the behest of others, seem to have a negative impact on Okabe’s circle of friends with some of them vanishing from his life, others suffering an unforeseeable tragedy and one of them even having their gender altered. Whilst watching the series I had the underlying dread that the show’s comical tone was gradually shifting to something darker, but thankfully the likable cast ensure that things never get overly depressing.
The eccentric Okabe is always entertaining to watch thanks to his outbursts of maniacal laughter, habit of rambling to a non-existent contact on his mobile and a knack for bestowing inappropriate nicknames to all his colleagues. His mad scientist schtick doesn’t get annoying as when things get serious he has the common sense to drop the act, revealing his true nature of someone who deeply cares for his friends. The supporting cast are just as endearing and include Daru the stereotypical overweight computer whizz, Okabe’s ditzy childhood friend Mayuri, Moeka who shuns oral speech in favour of text messaging and Faris a cosplay maid who has a thing for kitty puns. My favourite character would however have to be Kurisu the science prodigy who reluctantly accepts to become Okabe’s assistant, as the opportunity to study a functional time machine is something she cannot pass by. Kurisu and Okabe are constantly butting heads, but their squabbles cannot disguise the romantic chemistry that gradually builds up between them.
Based on what I have seen thus far I can highly recommend Steins;Gate to anime fans everywhere. Much like Chaos;Head (which is set in the same universe) Steins;Gate is an anime adaptation of a visual novel. Thankfully Steins;Gate made the transition from video game to cartoon more successfully than Chaos;Head, which started strong only to then lose its way by the end. Steins;Gate manages to keep a lid on the time travel angle, preventing it from getting silly and it benefits from having a far stronger roster of characters than Chaos;Head ever did. This twelve-episode collection ends on a cliffhanger that had me chomping at the bit to see volume two, although even if it had ended on a happier note I still would have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment as the series is such a treat to watch.