Steins;Gate Might Be The Best Anime I Have Ever Seen

This coming weekend, Japan will see the release of the new Steins;Gate movie, Steins;Gate: The Burden of Déjà Vu. So in preparation for this film — and because of the numerous recommendations I received when reviewing the pseudo-sequel Robotics;Notes — I sat down and watched the visual novel-based 2011 anime this last week.

And not only was it one of the best time travel stories I have ever experienced (right up there with Chrono Trigger and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward), it might also be the single best anime I have ever seen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers.

Good — Solid Rules

The hardest thing about writing a good time travel story is defining the rules of your universe (or multiverse, as the case may be), how your time travel affects your universe, and what limits your time machine has. Without this solid set of rules, it is more than a little easy to confuse the average viewer and annoy the overcritical among us (in which group I myself am included) who are quick to point out how the elements of the story do not make sense.

In Steins;Gate, however, all of the rules are well defined — down to how many letters can be sent in an email to the past as well as the extent to which time travel (quantum leaping if you will) is possible.

But perhaps the most interesting concept of Steins;Gate is the idea that there are unchangeable core realities (which switching between is nearly impossible). Preventing the rise of anime culture in Akihabara or sending yourself the winning lotto numbers is possible, but key moments in the timeline — like the death of certain individuals or society's eventual turn into a dystopia — are not.

Good — A Tight Plot

When I started watching Steins;Gate, I worried that, like the first half of Robotics;Notes, the story would feel thematically schizophrenic as it tried to tie together all the game’s romance plots into one single story. Instead, each character-specific plot in Steins;Gate was given an episode in the first half and an episode in the second half of the series to resolve itself — which worked well within the time loop narrative.

Good — A Time Loop Story Done Right

The problem with time loop stories is that they can be boring and repetitive — (see Haruhi’s “Endless 8” for an example of such). The trick is to make each time loop different yet recognisable enough to keep it interesting. In Steins;Gate, the latter half of the story deals with one such time loop. The same events are always happening in the background, giving the viewer subtle clues about how close it is until the end of the loop. [Skip the following paragraph to avoid major spoilers.]

The story also shows in great depth the effects of such a time loop upon the average human — especially one with such a grizzly conclusion. Okabe, the main character, sees the death of a friend countless times. It both breaks his heart and hardens his soul as he experiences this torture countless times. And if it weren't for the support of those around him, it's clear he would have eventually succumbed to either sorrow or apathy.

Good — A True, Believable Love Triangle

While many anime (and popular works in general) have love triangles, few of them actually seem equilateral. Many times it is obvious from the start what the resolution of the love story will be and often one of the members in the love triangle feels more like a third wheel than a real romantic threat.

Steins;Gate succeeds with its love triangle in part because of the characters involved. All three, Mayuri, Kurisu, and Okabe, are interesting and well developed characters with unique personalities. And when the love triangle comes to a head, it really feels like Okabe could go either way — or simply be destroyed by being forced to make such a choice — adding even more to an already dramatic story.

Mixed — The Ending

[This section is nothing but major spoilers regarding the ending. So skip to “Random Thoughts” if you want to avoid them.] When it all comes down to it, Steins;Gate is the story of a man forced to make an impossible choice. He not only must chose between the two women he loves but also must chose which one of them lives while the other dies. The result is pure, well written drama as he tries to find a way around choosing — hunting for a loophole to let them both live. In the end, though, he fails and at last chooses, ending the life of one of the women he loves. The result is a beautiful piece of tragic storytelling, guaranteed to rock even the most jaded hearts with the powerful emotion it evokes.

Of course, this is more than a little undercut by the final ending where, after he chooses and she thus dies, he is given a loophole to save the woman he sacrificed to fate. Don't get me wrong, if any character in fiction deserves a happy ending, it is Okabe. However, by trying to have both its tragic ending and its happy ending, the former loses more than a little of its emotional power.

Random Thoughts — An Alternate Interpretation

Is Steins;Gate really the story of a man who accidentally invents time travel or is it instead the story of a paranoid schizophrenic who has a psychotic break?

Okabe has more than a few schizophrenic symptoms: He talks to imaginary people on his cell phone and constantly rants about a secret organisation that only he can defeat. Before the start of the story, he has no family support and exactly two friends — one of which seems largely unable to understand the world around her.

Perhaps instead of a time travel story, Okabe experienced a psychotic break upon discovering Kurisu's body in the first episode. Thus his mind escaped into a world of his own creation where not only was the girl not dead, but also was his friend and confidant. Then slowly but surely, he built this fantasy into a paradise world in his mind where he is fighting a secret organisation bent on world domination — as per his former delusions — alongside an ever-growing cast of friends and allies. [Skip the following paragraph to avoid major spoilers.]

Then, one night Mayuri died in the real world, shattering the dream. From that point on, he became driven to restore his fantasy world to the utopia it had been, only for the real world to bleed through — ending with Mayuri’s death over and over.

Final Thoughts

I’m not speaking in hyperbole when I say that Steins;Gate might be the best anime I have ever seen. It is well constructed and emotionally resonant. Moreover, it is pretty much the perfect time travel story with the concepts it explores and the world it builds. I recommend this anime to absolutely anyone who is even remotely interested after reading this review. You won’t be disappointed.

Steins;Gate aired on Tokyo MX in 2011 in Japan. It can be watched for free at Chrunchyroll and Funimation (although you may need to be on a VPN). Stay tuned for the review of Steins;Gate: The Burden of Déjà Vu movie early next week.


Comments

    I may have to re watch it. Had watched the first episode awhile ago and it did not grab me at all, not even a little bit.

      Ouch..Now i know how all the Evangelion fans feel when i say i didnt like it.

      Yeah, it'll do that. The first handful of episodes didn't really do it for me. However, it truly is brilliant, and is absolutely a worthwhile way to spend your time to push through the slow opening and get into the meat of this show.

        Will have another crack at it then.

    Steins;Gate was alright. The visual novel was better, of course, but even then, I wouldn't say it was anything amazing. It started off well, but it slowly got worse and worse, though I liked the ending.

    It's not the best, but it's smarter than SAO, (astronomically).

    I do not rate anime like 'best ever' but I can say that Steins Gate, Miria Nikkie and Durarara!!! Are definitly up in my top 5.

    i loved this, best anime ive seen, the VN was better but still an amazing series

    People looking for Steins;Gate here in Australia can again look to Madman Entertainment. As the local distributor, they have released the whole thing free on their website for streaming.

    I think if the "final thoughts" were true, it would severely weaken the anime. It is much more interesting as a time travel anime than as a schizophrenic main character anime.

      Thanks for the info!

    I'm sorry, but having zero's last reward described as about time travel is pretty annoying given I only started playing it today. I guess it is a couple of months old, but it's not like the author couldn't say 12 monkeys, primer, or one of the thousand other great time travel stories that didn't come out this year.

      If you haven't checked it out, play the prequel - 999: 9 hours, 9 persons, 9doors. It makes Virtue's Last Reward a much richer experience.

    Because I love anything time travel, I also agree with the statement in the title of this article, as Steins;Gate is also the best time travel anime series that I've ever did see! :)

    The series does start a bit slow in my opinion though. It introduces the cast of characters and kind of makes you care about each of them and their situation (why they would use time travel) first. Where the series really got me was when it hit right in the middle and it wasn't about saving the world or anything dramatic but just about saving the one you love and care most about. I think I must have watched 5 or 6 episodes in a row, telling myself I should really stop and go to bed!

    Also, when I first watched the anime, Okabe reminds me too much of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' Flint. Maybe that was just me.

    agreed in it being one of my all time favourite animes ever.

    smart, funny, and slightly creepy, all together make a great mix of a very well planned anime.

    DO DO RUUU~

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOGXX3CK_AY

    I watched the anime after reading this article. I AM SAH HAPPEH :D
    I can understand how you feel about the 'second ending' where all of a sudden we have to save kurisu after just making a hard decision to leave her, But I can't ignore how happy I was to see her respond right at the end of it all " I told you I'm not christina and I'm not your assistant"
    BIGGEST D'AWWWW MOMENT GUIZ!

    i hope someone gets to see this, ive just finished watching steins; gate and it absolutely had a huge impact on me. I´ve been trying to find a forum with recent activity but they are all dead or talking only about the movie. Anyways, if this doesnt belong here which is probably true at least tell me where can i look for.

    I began looking for the manga today and found out there is the main story plus 4-5 side stories What i undestand so far is that Steins; Gate main story is already finished. so no season 2 or whatever, but the movie is out in japan and we´ll be getting it subbed somewhere in this year.
    As for the side stories, all of them appear to be ongoing but no new chapters have been released 3-4 of them since the last year. Are they really still ongoing?
    Lastly, i wanted to know your opinion about the side stories, reading them in a certain order or something.

    I really hope someones gets to see this.

    Ty in advance

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