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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Steins;Gate

Facts:

Tangled, twisty time-travel drama with comedic elements. 24 Episodes. Released in 2011. Formerly a visual novel, then a manga, then this anime. Available on Hulu and Amazon DVD.

Bottom Line:

Steins;Gate is hands down the best time travel story ever told-- there is no better time travel anime, book, movie, or god-damned power ballad. More that being a must for Sci-Fi fans, though, Steins;Gate is one of my top five favorite anime of all time, and fairly high up that list as well (I may actually post that list on the sidebar at some point). Brilliantly characterized, riotously funny, Steins;Gate is simultaneously a magnificently twisty time travel story in which each episode contains a startling new revelation without ever once tiring the viewer or pressing on suspension of disbelief while at the same time being an intimate character drama that finds time to explore eight interesting, engaging, relatable, and enjoyable characters.



"Hey, Mister... I am Mad Scientist. It's so cool. Sunuvabitch."

First off, I fall pretty hard on the subbed side of the subbed vs dubbed debate, but while I would typically tell you to go with your preferences, the fact is that a good deal of the charm of this show is Okarin's madness, and even if only for the one scene from which I take the above quote (though actually for the whole show), you should really be watching the subs unless the HUGELY distract from your enjoyment. But that's just my opinion.

What makes this show brilliant, so vastly above so many other shows, is the charming characters, and even among a brilliant cast none outshines Okarin, aka Okabe Rintaro, aka Hoowin Kyoma (sp?), aka the Mad Scientist. Okarin begins the show plagued by genuine schizophrenic delusions of grandeur and persecution. He believes himself to be a brilliant scientist pursued by the Evil Organization CERN (Yes, that CERN) who out to kill him, and that he is part of some manner of organized resistance movement looking for the titular Steins;Gate. It isn't long, however, before his mad delusions begin to map onto reality-- he really is a genius scientist, and people really do start to hunt for him when he invents a time machine. Further, while he is clearly in the grip of these mad delusions, he also seems to possess at least the awareness that his friends do not share his beliefs, and is capable of employing them for comedic effect, leaving it ambiguous as to how mad he really is (certainly not completely, and certainly at least a little bit).

Wibbly-Wobbly Timey-Wimey

This is a show that really gets time travel and the associated impacts of Chaos Theory and expounds a fairly solid version of the Many Worlds theory of quantum dynamics. To say as little as possible (because spoilers would fill many pages and because you don't want them anyway), Time Travel shenanigans occur fairly obviously in the first episode, and yet time travel does not get invented until the third, at which point you realize that you are on a pretty wild ride. 

The story is roughly structured with seven or so time travel experiments, each changing the past in subtle or non-subtle ways and a number of them representing personal desires of the constantly growing list of lab members. This means that each experiment is in its own way revealing of the characters and each acts as a character study. After too much time travelling, someone steps on the butterfly (metaphorically) and all the changes have to get fixed, leading to another series of character focused episodes, each of which is slightly more tragic and impactful than the previous round.

Then, as if shit wasn't weird enough, shit gets weirder once everything seems to have settled down and the team goes on a pretty dramatic ride. Seriously, if you get to the end of episode 20 and are unable to watch the last four episodes all at once right then, stop, because there is no way in hell you will be able to stop half way through. The bonus 25th episode is sort of an epilogue, though, so you really don't have to worry about it too much.


Always Uplifting:

This is a happy show. There are parts of this show that will make you cry, that will make you genuinely sad for the little cartoon characters, and yet, thanks to the indefatigable spirit of Okarin, Mayuri's loving spirit, Kurisu's journey through love and science, the brilliant and hilarious interactions with the supporting lab members, and Daru's reservedly skeptical observation as he sits on his computer cracking jokes it never gets depressing, even when it is really sad.

And it does get really sad. I have made note of how funny the show is, and both the situations and dialogue are unrivaled, but this is first and foremost a character drama. Every character is deeply rooted in the world with their own struggles and dreams and as the timelines shift the characters change in plausible and revealing ways.

In my previous review I called Texhnolyze a story without heroes. To a large extent, this is a story without villains. There are some people stuck in bad situations making unfortunate decisions, but there is no evil mastermind out to ruin everything, just good but flawed people trying to live as best they can. The closest the story gets is a part in the middle where there is a shadowy threat, but even there it does not dwell on the threat as represented by individual people but rather as a consequence of the timeline (bit vague yes, but this is really a story you don't want spoiled).

Housekeeping Note:

I said I would be watching, then reviewing, but astute readers will notice that there was no beginning post for this. I actually saw Steins;Gate about a month ago, but because it is so very memorable I feel confident in doing this review even at a bit of a distance. My own personal evidence for this is that I remembered the names of all eight lab members without looking them up, and shit sometimes I forget the names of my cats, so obviously something stuck with me.

Final Note:

This review is shorter than the previous one, principally because while there is so much that can be said about it, you really don't want me to spoil the plot. Of course, you will undoubtedly be watching it a second and third time, and you will enjoy being able to spot the subtle changes in the world with each time shift and possibly charting out each timeline. But you will enjoy it principally for the characters, and principally for the dialogue, and principally for the plot.

Steins;Gate is a show that not only does nothing wrong, it does everything so superlatively well that any individual element of it in any lesser anime would immediately elevate that anime to the top of its genre. Buy the DVD because you will definitely be watching it more than once, and you will want to lend it out to friends when they ask why you have been cooped up in your room watching anime. This is hands down among the top five anime I have ever seen, and indeed one of the top five stories of all the books, movies, and TV shows I have consumed in my life.

If you liked this show, the only thing I can think of that is similar is Baccano! though on the surface the only thing the two share is the quality of excellence. If you think you could just watch Kurisu and Okarin bicker all day and be happy, Spice and Wolf is a concentrated version of that charm, though with absolutely none of the action.

Purely from how much I enjoyed it, I give Steins;Gate 10/10.

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