Since the advent of science and the evolution of theoretical conceptualism, people have dreamed of performing the greatest, most confusing feat known to man: travelling through time itself. Of course, this would require an inherent understanding of the universe and true knowledge of how time flows, if it flows at all. Despite the seeming impossibility of piercing the veil of time, some stalwart dreamers insist that it is more than a possibility, rather it is an inevitability that has by all reasoning already been achieved. Such is the nature of time travel. Though amidst the infinity of theories that surround this concept, I doubt any foresaw that the machine that would help shatter the bonds of time would be the humble microwave.
We begin our journey through time on an average day in the not so average life of Rintaro Okabe, though he prefers to go by his self appointed nom de guerre: Kyoma Hooin. Whilst at a lecture being given by his number one competitor in the race to build a working time machine, Kyoma’s life begins to slide deeper into the realms of insanity when a satellite crash lands on the roof of the building he is in. A scream from the distance leads him to stumble upon the scene of a murder, a traumatic event that rocks the mad scientist to his core. Perhaps more than even he realises, as it would seem that he is the only one who remembers the day that transpired. To top things off, the very person he saw lying dead not hours ago is alive and well. Refusing to believe that he is indeed a “mad” scientist, Kyoma leans dives head first into his research, defying all logic by coming to the only logical conclusion: time travel.
As the mysteries of time travel slowly unravel around our hapless genius, a gaggle of curious followers congregate around the experiments of the Future Gadget Laboratory. After a brief period of trial and error, it is revealed that it is in fact a humble microwave that serves as the key to the door of untold possibility. Through a combination of happenstance and vaguely grasped science, Kyoma acquires the tremendous ability to send texts into the past. Though originally content with achieving such a feat, science demands progress, and so our band of trailblazers begin to experiment with the most dangerous facet of time travel: changing the past. Though limited to a mere 36 bits of information, their texts (henceforth dubbed D-Mail) do indeed alter the past, though the degree to which they do so is unpredictable. Naturally, our intrepid scientists continue onwards and upwards, pushing the bonds of sensibility and chance…until they push too far.
As the time travel experiments spiral further and further out of control, Kyoma’s very sanity begins to bend under the strain. As the only one who remains aware of their effects on the past, he is forced each time to assess the world and determine just what has changed. After suffering through countless manipulations of time, Kyoma is slowly transformed into a tortured soul, lost within an unstable world. One of his own making. Forced to bear the terrible curse of knowledge, Kyoma’s boisterous personality is slowly chipped away, leaving behind a man who truly understands the power of consequences. With his closest friends unaware of Kyoma’s traumatic ordeal, the series slowly shifts focus until the supporting cast is rendered somewhat inconsequential. Though they indeed remain crucial to Kyoma’s very life, each alteration of time serves to “rewrite” them to a degree. Calling into question the very idea of individuality. After all, how can one truly know themselves when their very memories exist as the result of a text message?
Consistent with its existence as a more subdued series set in the “real” world, the characters of Steins;Gate a rendered rather realistically. Though the classic anime traits are present, there is a distinct lack of excessive flair. For reference, the most grandiose article of clothing present within the series is a plain white labcoat. Though the visuals represent characters, they are not the sole differentiating feature, allowing their personality to bloom unhindered. The subtlety of the character designs also allows a great deal of focus to be placed on facial expressions. Portrayed in a truly powerful manner, the looks that flash across a character’s face are but one facet of unequivocal importance that imbue a sense of humanity into the moments that shape the series.
As the series delves deeper into the harsh reality of bending time to one’s will, the visuals alter to reflect the darker tone. The first glimpse of corporeal time travel can only be described as horrific. The image that emerges from attempting to cross a singularity may sound ludicrous on paper, but the visualisation is nothing to laugh at. Simply put, gel is volumes more frightening than you’d expect it to be.
Without a doubt, Steins;Gate possesses a truly fantastic English dub. One of the most fast paced and manic ones I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing in fact. Rather than simply producing a translation of the Japanese dialogue, the writing staff poured effort into creating script that falls perfectly into the Western lexicon. Not only does this keep each piece of dialogue interesting, it endears the characters to an audience and culture beyond their original conception. Characters speak with such a bizarre combination of lingo that you wouldn’t be hard pressed to hear scientific jargon that inspires dictionary consultation, directly followed by pop culture references and “street” phrases. It’s truly a rich tapestry they weave. Naturally, this hastened manner of speaking is often imbued with copious amounts of sarcasm, used to belittle and embarrass those it is directed at. The discussions of the main cast can most aptly be described as scathing. However, as the plot adopts a decidedly more sombre tone in its later episodes, so too do the characters. Whether it be sadness, apathy, fury, disbelief, shock or any other emotion, the characters a played with an inherent believability that makes these moments truly touching to witness.
Due to the emphasis the series places on dialogue, music does not often factor into the equation of a scene. Instead, haunting silence is the go to choice for amplifying moments. That being said, music will occasionally fill the background, though not for any extended period of time.
Steins;Gate possesses quite a grand bonus side if you enjoy additional information. Episodes 1,12,19 and 24 all receive the audio commentary treatment, performed by various members of the cast and crew. Should you be uncertain regarding the physical set up of the series, a handy map of Akihabara is also includes, providing a brief overview of where each major locale, such as the Future Gadget Laboratory, is in relation to each other. Textless versions of each opening and ending theme, along with a trailer for the second half of the series serve to round off the extra features.
Steins;Gate is truly an experience unto itself. Rather than presenting a slow build up, you are thrown into the deep end right from the outset, forced to piece together the story in tandem with the characters themselves. What begins as an illogical, upbeat foray into the realms of theoretical science, slowly transforms into an unforgiving tale of consequence, trauma and an unrelenting desire to set things right. With a tremendous performance given by each member of the cast, this wonderfully written series will draw you completely into the bizarre, unfortunate, unbelievable circumstances that create a truly incomparable series. El Psy Congroo.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.