Slight spoilers ahead – please be forewarned if you haven’t had the chance to acquaint yourself with Steins; Gate.
I stumbled across Steins; Gate on a whim. It was sitting in a corner of Netflix, looking a little forlorn and abandoned. It is the year of 2021, 10 years after Steins; Gate was released, 11 years since the summer of the Prologue of the Beginning and the End.
Truth be told, I was not looking for it. I was not even looking for any anime in particular. Subconsciously, I just wanted something edgy, exciting. Anything to kick me out of the slumber that I felt, have been feeling, in regard to my choice of entertainment in general. (My heart isn’t ready for the last season of Attack on Titan yet, but it will be soon.)
Truth also be told, when I looked at the thumbnail of Steins; Gate, I realised I couldn’t remember a single thing about it save the main characters’ names. Okabe Rintarou, Makise Kurisu, Shiina Mayuri. And the others. I knew it was a time travelling science fiction show, but that was it.
Okay, maybe it would be good to rewatch this at this point. I thought. I could hardly remember the plot at all, and it would almost be brand new. I couldn’t even remember whether it had a happy or a sad ending.
And thus I was transported back to Akihabara, August 2010.
The Prologue of the Beginning and the End
A good series is like a good book. Everything you revisit it, something new jumps out at you.
For a series that is based on time travelling, it is perhaps predictable that the entirety of the events of the story takes place over a span of what two weeks, in chronological order. The reason why time travel is such an interesting sub-genre of science fiction is because the science in relation to it has not been fully developed or excavated. Many scientific theories remain as hypotheses. And so pseudo-science comes in to fill up the lacuna. Couple that with a little imagination, good grip on pacing, and the exploitation of the paradoxes and human conflict that comes with it, and voila! you have a psychological thriller in the making.
Human conflict is the central core of a good thriller, and this is where Steins; Gate shines at its best. We see our main character’s obsession with experimentation and greed of knowledge lead him to make choices that literally changes the lives of the people around him forever. When the realisation hits him, the damage is done. But what he knows cannot be un-known to him, and that is the crux of his despair as he tries to undo the damage, altering the lives of everybody whom he cares and he loves. His ability to retain his memories is both a blessing and a curse; doomed to remember the lives he had fundamentally altered with his bare hands, with all these made the more excruciating because of the memories made with the people he cares about all zipped away the moment he decides to alter the world line yet again. On top of all of this, his ability to traverse world lines invites the burden of being the potential saviour of the world and only person [/start spoiler] with the power to prevent World War III [/end spoiler].
Steins; Gate starts out slow, almost deliberately. We see plenty of dialogue between the characters, carving out their personalities with the banter between them. The goofy, insider jokes and the Japanese NEET or otaku-centric references – specifically to anime festivals, maid cafes and other moe clichés, and the setting of Akihabara, make its target audience completely at ease and familiar with this eccentric bunch.
Not surprisingly, this has the effect of making the drama pack a huge punch to our guts when the bomb drops onto our characters. Like a hamster on a mill, Okabe races against time, with time, and through time trying to save the life of his precious childhood friend. Each other person’s life that he has forcibly changed weighs against him, heavy in his guilt as he knows the sacrifices they made, even if they no longer remember the same after he alters the world line. In the new role he has found himself in and through his struggles, he finds his light in the form of Makise Kurisu, who has not had the benefit of having the same time travelling abilities, but whose intelligence enables her to catch on quickly and deduce solutions for the harried, disconcerted Okabe who is on the edge of being hysterical in his repeated failures to save his friend.
The Human Conflict of the Time Travel Paradox
True love is about sacrifice, and this weighs heavily in this story. Okabe sacrifices his sanity by living through his precious friend’s death repeatedly, Kurisu tries to sacrifice her life to give Okabe what he wanted – a living Mayuri, Faris sacrifices her family so that her prince, Okabe could achieve what he wanted, and Rukako sacrifices his wish to be a girl, Suzuha sacrifices her life in another world to give effect to her mission of saving the world. Arguably, what this series is really depicting is not really just about romantic love but about the emotional bonds between people that thrive beyond romantic love. As it is established in the series, while Okabe and Kurisu are in love with one another, their choices remain beyond the love between them – both of them still chose to do what they felt was the right thing, albeit this is motivated by wanting each other to be happy and not to regret the choice they are making.
Imaginative Pseudo-Science at its best
If there is one thing I think that makes Steins; Gate stand out as an intricate story is how closely it tries to follow the real-life concepts which it is based on. It never failed to astonish me, throughout the series, how real these concepts are, from CERN (SERN) to the LHC (large hadron collider), the black hole, John Titor, and the butterfly effect. Watching the series is like a lesson on the science of time travel itself, and objectively and for the most part of it, the pseudo-science of the series interweaves with the plot development in a manner which stands up to scrutiny (at least from the perspective of my simple mind). Steins; Gate exemplifies one of the core characteristics of good anime: the ability to follow the rules which it has established. It has arguably gone further to achieve the objective of expanding how the story can develop within the limitations of those rules, and that’s where its creativity lies. It is imaginative pseudo-science in the backdrop and emotional conflict in the foreground, the latter which propels character development and evokes sympathy and empathy as to Okabe’s less-than-enviable plight.
A Series Worth Rewatching?
Steins; Gate is a story that yields more when you revisit it. Looking back, my first visit to the Steins; Gate universe may not have created any lasting impression for me because there is too much to unpack and I probably did not bother researching on the concepts that form the foundation of the story. I was also probably too caught up with the fact that I preferred Mayuri over Kurisu – but rewatching the series from a clean slate of mind enabled me to look more objectively at Kurisu as a character of intricacies, and admittedly I would have to say that Kurisu and Okabe make more of a better match of equals than Okabe and Mayuri ever would be. In prioritising plot development and Okabe’s emotional conflict, Steins; Gate also had to sacrifice Mayuri’s character development, which did not help in the popularity of her character vis-à-vis the intelligent and tsundere (read: extremely lovable) Kurisu. I hope that Steins; Gate 0 (which I am still watching at the time of this post) would help to flesh out the side characters more including Mayuri and which gives me enough ammunition to update this post.
Thank you for reading to the end, and I apologise for being away for so long (too much things have happened in the past 5 years, which is a story for another day). To all new visitors, hope you have enjoyed this post; to all my old visitors, hope you have been well, welcome back and feel free to drop me a comment / message below. Hope to catch up with you guys, and cheers ^^