‘Steins;Gate’throws time travel for a loop
By Adam Tatelman, Staff Writer
To the outside world, Okabe Rintarou is a mild-mannered scientist working at the Future Gadget Laboratory in Akihabara, Japan. But inside he is HOUOUIN KYOUMA, a grandstanding self-proclaimed mad scientist who accidentally invents a way to send text messages into the past. After witnessing a murder, Okabe texts his lab buddy Daru in the past, before the murder even happened. What follows is a spiralling, slow-motion spiderweb of unintended consequences permeating past, future, and parallel reality. Welcome to Steins;Gate.
Generally, stories about temporal ethics and the devastating mental strain brought on by reckless historical tampering are hard to write well. They accommodate unpredictable twists and second-viewing subtleties, but they’re easy to botch due to their inherent narrative complexity. Steins;Gate works in the long run because it takes the time to lay out its theoretical logic early on, interspersed with the character backstory info dumps.
Unfortunately, this front-loading makes everything between the first and ninth episodes move very slowly. The rhythm is tranquil, in a numbing sort of way, following a pattern of meet supporting character, run experiment, then have a big reveal. It plays out like a slice of life series at first, a sort of domestic sci-fi sitcom with cosplay geeks and gender-bent shrine maidens. Just trust that everything on-screen has a purpose. Once all the pieces are in place, the rest of the show is like watching dominoes fall—the wait is agony, but the payoff is incredibly satisfying.
Over time, the supporting cast grew on me—even the irritating, idiosyncratic ones, like Okabe’s surrogate sister Mayuri. The aggressive sexual-tension-in-denial between Okabe and his hotheaded lab rival Makise Kurisu is especially fun to watch, considering it plays out multiple different ways over the course of the show. So do all of the cast members’ interactions, since Okabe regularly alters the past via text and only he can remember the details from one timeline to another. No one is who you think they are.
The animation is less dynamic than a typical action anime, mostly because Steins;Gate is a psychological thriller. That means a lot of sitting, standing, walking, and talking. You’ll feel it when the characters get a move on, but the rest of the show feels static by comparison. This effect is lessened somewhat by the music, with its ambient electric guitars and sharp piano that accentuate but never intrude.
I can confidently say that Steins;Gate has the best dub I’ve seen/heard so far. I attribute this to White Fox Studios’ choice to cast J. Michael Tatum both as the script adapter and Okabe himself. This eliminates the middleman between the actor and writer, making adaptation easier and dialogue clearer. Tatum’s performance as Okabe overshadows the rest of the cast. It’s not that the others aren’t good—it’s just that Okabe’s pretentious overacting is more memorable.
Steins;Gate asks a lot of hard questions and it’s not afraid to ask them in a complex way. I consider it one of the best anime released in the past five years.