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Tokyo Transmission: Final Cut – Steins; Gate

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Greeting folks, as I once again return unto this site of critique, ready to dive into this Transmission for your viewing pleasure! I have spend this past week hiding from prying eyes to get this document delivered to the site, as I entrust it to your capable hands! Let’s dive right into it and decode the rest of this Transmission from Tokyo, just remember to watch your back, The Organization has agents everywhere! El, Psy, Congroo!

Season Synopsis

steinsgate_images001Steins;Gate (シュタインズ・ゲート Shutainzu Gēto)
Genre: Comedy, Sci-Fi, Seinen, Thriller

Soon after the events of episode one, Okabe has realized something is wrong with the world, at least the one he remembers. After some digging, and with the help of the reluctantly curious Kurisu Makise, Okabe comes to realise that the Future Gadget Laboratory has turned their microwave into a device that can send text messages back in time, and with a text message of enough impact, can change the events of the past. Lucky or rather, unlucky for our mad scientist, he has the ability to remember changes in the timeline, which is why he can remember the world as it was before changes have occurred. This ability, christened “Reading Steiner”, puts Okabe into a role of dangerous power as they begin to see just how far they can bend reality to their whims. Further digging reveals that Okabe is not traveling through time itself, but changing world lines to a different timeline. Much like alternate dimensions, a new world line is created for every change to the time line, and by altering the past enough, Okabe jumps into the new world line without the full knowledge of just what changes he’s made.

Okabe and friends soon learn that SERN (a parody of CERN) has long been experimenting with the goal of achieving time travel, and have already succeeded in sending living humans to the past, only for them to arrive as green decomposing mush. After contact with the self-proclaimed time traveler, John Titor, Okabe is set on a search for an old computer model, the IBM 5100, in order to uncover the rest of SERN’s research and uncover the secrets of time travel due to it’s unique decoding ability. As the lab continues to experiment with D-Mail, they briefly manage to get the PC in question, before altering the world lines too far, and erase the computer from their possession. Members of the lab begin using D-Mail for their personal requests and before too long, Okabe realizes they have altered Akihabara and the life he knows, almost beyond the point of recognition.

SERN doesn’t take long to hunt down Okabe and his friends, and soon they face a very real secret organization bent on monopolizing time control for themselves in order to enforce their control over the world. As everything reaches it’s dark culmination, Kurisu invents a method to send memories back in time instead of text messages, and as SERN reaches their doorstep in a fatal confrontation, Okabe must relive the past forty-eight hours over and over as he desperately tries to fix the damage caused to the timeline, and in doing so, reach the only world line where he can achieve a “perfect ending”. The world line of Steins Gate.

Review

steinsgate_images010Steins; Gate starts off slowly, like a rollercoaster reaching the top of its peak before the climax. That’s not to say it’s boring however, as every episode ends making you want more, hungry to see what comes next. After accidently creating a time machine from a microwave, later named D-Mail, Rintaro Okabe, or the self-proclaimed mad scientist Hooin Kyoma, begins a journey of time travel, world jumping and the consequences of doing so as he breaks one of the fundamental rules the world of science fiction has been screaming for years. Never mess with time. If there was a message behind Steins; Gate, it would probably be that time is an unforgiving cruel mistress, as we watch Okabe begin to unravel through constant failures that slowly tear away at his mind against the inevitability of time.

Steins; Gate is really a story of two halves, the first is almost a slice of life story as we get to know and love all the interesting characters of Steins; Gate as they lounge around the Future Gadget Laboratory arguing over theories and squabbling over silly arguments. The story can feel a little slow to advance at times, but the time we spent with the characters feels important later on as the show kicks into second gear. After a fatal confrontation with a real secret organization opposed to Kyoma’s fake ramblings, Okabe desperately jumps through time and world lines alike, trying to repair the damage of their previous meddling with the D-Mails and truly becomes nail biting tale of intrigue, twists and turns.

steinsgate_images011Steins; Gate does an effective job of putting the viewer in the shoes of Okabe, as the two both start losing track of the causality of the D-Mails. Jumping world lines means that Okabe never knows what actually changed in the past, just an idea of what started the spreading ripples of that butterfly effect. This uncertainty makes it all the more shocking when the true damage of their tampering with time hits Okabe full force when he realizes they’ve already gone too far. While clearly a lot of the science is somewhat made up, there is enough real science mixed in with the nonsense to feel perfectly plausible when you’re lost in the show. It’s not afraid to explore its own science without boring the audience, and it certainly feels like you’re on an adventure with people who are smart enough to pull this off, albeit with a lot of circumstantial luck, but brazen enough to tamper with time itself.

Steins; Gate doesn’t shy away from exploring the human side of this science fiction adventure as well, as it explores the connecting relationships between many of the characters throughout the show, even some of the minor cast. This is explored the most between Okabe, his best friend Mayuri, and his developing romance with the closeted Kurisu. It was actually pretty refreshing for a male lead character to be so close with a female best friend, and for them to have no romantic attachments to each other. The relationship between the two starts to take centre stage in the second half as it explores why Okabe created the persona of Hooin Kyoma in the first place, and the themes of letting go and accepting change while Okabe fights a losing battle against both. I dislike spoiling too much, even in a review of a season, but the ending is quite clever in its execution as things eventually come full circle and after everything Okabe has been through, I couldn’t help but smile as he kind of just sticks a middle finger right into times eye.

The World

steinsgate_images012I mentioned the shared universe of the “5pb Science Adventure Series” before, but even more interesting was the shared link to our own universe. Steins; Gate starts as an adventure with a man pretending to be a mad scientist on the run from a secret organization, but when real dangerous forces start to come into his world, the show conveys a real sense of the paranoia that begins to creep into Okabe’s mind. What makes the thriller elements of the story work even better, is that most of them exist in reality, and while of course fiction, have enough solid ground to help maintain a healthy suspension of disbelief.

Elements such as SERN (being a parody of CERN), John Titor, IBM 5100’s and the Large Hadron Collider experiments have a real foothold in our world. Do you remember back in 2010 when half the world was joking about CERN destroying the world with a black hole, while the other half were legitimately bricking themselves? Yeah the CERN that fired up the Large Hadron Collider way back when, is the same organization that is the primary antagonist of Steins; Gate. Just as John Titor was a popular internet meme in 2000, when a man claiming to be from the year 2036 showed up on internet forums talking about time travel. Steins; Gate effectively blurs the line between this dark reality with our own, and tells a gripping tale, all the more for the seeds of doubt it can plant in our own minds.

steinsgate_images013I said before that Steins; Gate is told in two parts, but technically it’s more like three, or even four. The show draws to a close with credits and all before continuing into an epilogue that further explores the “perfect ending” of Steins; Gate I mentioned before. I think this is largely due to the original source, the visual novel. Multiple endings and failures can be had in the game, with the anime ending on the true ending of course, but there is also an epilogue to the epilogue, one last episode that puts a little more closure on the events on the show. There is even an alternate end which results in a dark turn for the characters, one which is actually going to be explored further in a new anime called Steins; Gate 0. This, along with many other multiple explorations of possible world lines in other forms of media given Steins; Gate an diverse and confusing extended universe, there is also a movie following the anime for those more attached to staying on one particular world line, but hey, for those interested, there is certainly more to dive into.

Characters

steinsgate_images014The cast of Steins; Gate focuses largely on the eight members of the Future Gadget Laboratory, in order being Rintaro Okabe (J, Michael Tatum), Mayuri Shiina (Jackie Ross), Itaru Hashida (Tyson Rinehart), Kurisu Makise (Trina Nishimura), Moeka Kiryu (Jessica Cavanagh), Ruka Urushibara (Lindsay Seidel), Faris NyanNyan (Jad Saxton) and Suzuha Amane (Cherami Leigh). Each character has their own reasons for wanting to use the D-Mail system to alter time, and inadvertently end up joined Okabe and the rest along the way. Some characters get much less screen time over all than the others, but each are enjoyable in their own merits, even one of the more dislikeable characters eventually grew on me as their personal story took shape. I’ve said before that Steins; Gate can almost feel like a slice of life anime, especially earlier on, and this isn’t a bad criticism. All of the characters take their time coming to life as you spend time getting to know the cast while many of them get to know each other. Okabe and Kurisu end up taking the most attention as they grew closer and closer through the events of the show until the two characters begin to accept their feelings for each other. Watching the extrovertly armored personality of Okabe clash with the introverted shell of Kurisu is enjoyable in its own right, as both characters are equally awkward, yet mask it in opposite ways, often resulting in much fighting.

steinsgate_images015The only real other character of note who isn’t a lab member is the landlord Mr Braun, real name Yuugo Tennouji (Christopher R. Sabat), and his daughter Nae (Brina Palencai) (who as a side note, actually appears as a character in the later series Robotics; Notes). These two aren’t truly central characters in the show, as I believe they may have had slightly more relevance in the visual novel, but Mr Braun in particular serves as more than simply a grumpy landlord as the show progresses, and while Nae rarely makes much of an appearance, she actually takes the story in some far darker directions outside of the anime’s story, which would have been interesting to see.

Some of the characters pull in their own interesting stories as they each abuse time for their own gain, often without telling Okabe exactly what it is they’ve done, leaving him reeling in this new world line with even less clue as what has changed in the past. This often results in touching on their own personal themes such as identity, acceptance and past regrets which tied into the story as a whole, at least on a character level. While I won’t go into these too much as it could be its own article, Okabe himself is a very interesting character to analysis when you start looking into why he pretends to be Hooin Kyoma and his reasons for living this lie as an exaggerated mad scientist who follows this romanticized vision of what scientists are and do, when deep down this mask is worn to fool not only others but himself.

Art and Voice

steinsgate_images016I don’t have much more to add in terms of the art and animation, as it stayed fairly consistence throughout the anime from what I said last week. Again it looks pretty good, and does hold up nicely for being a few years old at this point, but it does have a good split between more detailed artwork in closer shots, and farther out scenes that cut down on detail where it’s not need. I never found this an issue, and it never looks bad, but all in all it does everything it needs to.

Voice work continues to be great all round as it’s evident from the cast alone that they did well casting experienced talent for each role. I touched on it briefly before but I have watched this series in its dubbed version, as personally I enjoyed it more. Is this because I speak English myself? Probably partly, but I felt some characters were handled better in English which is odd to say, Itaru especially felt like a bit of a dopey caricature in the original Japanese compared to Tyson Rinehart’s work. Regardless each version is voiced well, but I did take preference to the cast of the dub. As a last side note, Steins; Gate technically does have an ending credits sequence which is only shown like…two or three times? It’s rather odd honestly, and felt a little thrown in as it’s just some music over an hourglass spinning for a while. I get that it’s meant to be more of a moment of reflection rather than a real closing animation, but all the same it felt strange when it just popped up once or twice.

Did I like it?

steinsgate_images017Steins; Gate is a great anime, I’ll come right out and say it. It manages to blend perfectly elements of comedy, suspense, heavy science fiction and romance into a story about time travel and world line jumping, in a reality that holds enough…well… reality, to effectively feel like it’s actually our world, if only slightly blurred. Perhaps it speaks of what I’ve been watching lately, but it also felt very…real? The characters felt like people you could see existing and interacting, I think most of us know an Itaru in real life to some degree. Not to mention the use of real events and places helps draw in this illusion of the encroaching paranoia Okabe starts to feel when shit hits the fan. I highly recommend Steins; Gate, and if you don’t mind the slower beginning of the story, you’ll find yourself experiencing something truly great.

End Transmission

Thanks again for reading through these ramblings of mine, Steins; Gate was a great watch, it’s shame the other shows of the series didn’t quite live up. As much as I said I loved shared universe’s, it’s a shame when only one of the stories within them seem worth the time. Regardless what did you guys think of the 5pb Science Adventure Series, or did anyone only explore it due to Steins; Gate as well? Let me know how you felt about it as a whole below. I’ll be around the site once again, or on my Twitch channel Drenik74, but at the time of posting this I’ll probably be getting ready to fly to Melbourne.

See you next time.