Steins;Gate is based on a visual novel, which may explain some of the idiosyncrasies that I’ve noticed and which weirded me out while watching the show. Not all of them, mind, since some of them are probably there to keep you off your feet. A visual novel for those who don’t know is a video game which is basically a “choose your own adventure” but with less input/the choices usually being more social in nature – it is a novel told visually with some input from the user. It’s predominantly Japanese, and very often the games are romantic/erotic in nature.
In fact, one of the first things I noticed in the show, but at first I didn’t pay it much mind was that the main character was surrounded by women when the opening song ended, after a few episodes when I’ve realized this is a show about time-travel, alternate realities and conspiracies, this had become somewhat perplexing – why are so many characters of the cast women? Why is there basically one male surrounded by so many girls (the other male is a caricature for “unattractive”) in a non-romantic/romantic-comedy show?
(This is a Things I Like post, it’s not a review, but more a discussion of the show and of ideas that have risen in my mind as I’ve watched it. I will probably spoil major plot points in this post.)
The characters in the show are well-defined and have depth to them. The main character, Okabe Rintaro, the self-proclaimed “Mad Scientist Houhouin Kyoma” (please watch the video following this paragraph) is one of the more memorable characters in anime. He seems ridiculous, he is ridiculous, but I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the origin of the whole thing. Okabe and his friends go way back, and you can feel it when they interact. The other “main character” of the show, Makise Kurisu (“Christina”, as Okabe dubs her), serves as a great foil to Okabe’s craziness, and the relationship between them slowly develops as time goes by in the show – often the development is only on Okabe’s side, and the viewer’s side, as time loops back time and time again, with only Okabe retaining his experiences from previous time loops.
Makise ends up as Okabe’s love-interest, after an endless amount of time-loops, but when the show begins you’d put the love-interest chip down on Mayuri, Okabe’s childhood friend and the reason he “became” Houhouin Kyouma. Furthermore, Mayuri is the reason for the second-half of the show, as the changes in the time-continuum Okabe had introduced led to her death, so he goes on a grueling and soul-destroying quest to save her, only to have her die in front of him every 2-3 days, for months. Remember my opening paragraph? It really felt that the choice for Makise is a “Visual novel choice”, and that just as easily another path could be chosen. It almost feels like that on the show as well – as if someone moved to a different ‘route’ mid-show.
The other topic I’d like to touch upon in this article is that of Compressed second halves of anime shows, what I mean by that is that the opening episodes of the series are quite perplexing, with you not knowing what is happening, but things are moving along at a good clip, and when you reach the middle to second half of the show, the pacing changes completely. Things are more emotional, more time is spent to why things are happening and what people are feeling than the “plot” advancing along – there are less things happening in the outside world and more happening internally, or between different characters.
This is a common thing that happens in many shows around episode 15, for 26 episode shows. Thing Code Geass – until episode 8 a lot happens every episode, and then things slow down noticeably and rather than a conquest story it becomes a more intrigue and suspense story. This shift from external to internal is not surprising to me – the earlier episodes are the exposition, they set things in motion, they cover both how the situation used to be and what the current situation is. The “slow-down” is often the story they want to tell, which requires the earlier episodes to set it up, you also often need the earlier episodes to care for the story, or to care for the show – some of these shows reel you in with the first half and then you stay on the ride for the quite different second half. It is a form of bait-and-switch, indeed.
In movies you can think how anything but the last half-hour of the movie is often relatively slow, and then in the last half-hour everything comes to a boil, all that was built up up to that point. In books, in the first half of the book 200 pages might cover a month of activity, but the second half where everything comes to a boil? 200 pages for 4 hours or so.
In the case of Steins;Gate, it is especially noticeable, because like Haruhi Suzumiya‘s “Endless Eight“, things indeed do not move – you cover the same days, and most of the changes that occur are internal to Okabe, or retread material from earlier in the show, and undo it (the changes brought by the time-travel machine earlier).
Conclusion: Steins;Gate is one of the better time-travel stories, not because of the super-heavy focus on some scientific mumbo-jumbo, but because it explores the effects of time-travel – not much focus on society in this show, but on the small street-level of a group of people. The show receives 9/10 arguments between Kurisu and Okarin from me.
P.S. It’s interesting to think of this show after watching Tropes Vs. Women’ Damsel in Distress episode 2.