Steins;Gate 1st Half
I haven’t seen many animes that come from visual novels. Most anime that is released is either adapted from manga, video games or light novels. The only series I can think of off the top of my head that I’ve watched that came from visual novels are the Higurashi and Umineko series, both by the same company. Steins;Gate, made the by the same companies that made Chaos;Head (which I have yet to see), is a visual novel dealing with time travel on a very minor scale. This quirky, slow paced series is now on my list for completely original animes, with very cleverly written characters and a story that kept me coming back episode after episode, just to try to figure out what the hell is going on.
Set in Akihabara, Steins;Gate follows self-proclaimed mad scientist Rintarō Okabe who heads up a “Future Gadget Laboratory” with his long time childhood friend Mayuri Shiina and hacker guru Itaru Hashida . During a conference, Okabe meets Kurisu Makise who explains they met 15 minutes ago, even though he doesn’t remember it. Soon after, he discovers her dead, followed by everyone disappearing. More strange events follow, such as a text message showing as being sent a week ago after it was just sent and the conference Okabe attended presumably being canceled even though he was there. This leads to the discovery that a microwave the group owns, which causes bananas to turn to gel, is in essence a time machine that is able to send text messages to the past.
Okabe, through experimentation, begins to gradually understand how his time machine works. As more and more people in his circle of acquaintances find out about the machine, more messages are sent back altering the past and present. Also, Okabe discovers he is able to retain his memory through the shifts, referring to the ability as “Reading Steiner.” Another group, named SERN, associated with the Large Hadron Collidor, have also been attempting time travel of their own and seem to have Okabe’s group on their radar.
One thing I’ve noticed with animes based of visual novels, which is present in Steins;Gate, is how well written the characters are. In this series, everyone has a very distinct and well thought out personality, and no character I feel is left out more than the others. Sure, Okabe and Makise are the leads, but every other character is developed as their own individual. Okabe is extremely quirky, as he often talks to himself on his cell phone as if he is talking to a secret organization, and Shiina always introduces herself with a little tune. If anything, the characters drive the story in Steins;Gate, unlike in most series where the plot just moves forward and the characters get dragged along and react.
The setting of the anime has its own personality as well. Most of Akihabara that is shown is shaded, as the tall building create shadows in the alleys that are most frequented by the characters. The sounds of the city and locales feel natural and add to the somber and realistic tone of the series. When things change in the city, due to the groups’ time meddling, you can almost feel the loss Okabe experiences because the area he lives in is so well presented and a constant, conscious part of the series.
I’ve only watched halfway through the series and I ended on a cliffhanger episode, which I regret doing, but there was no way for me to know there would be such a shocking turning point halfway through such a quietly presented series. I mentioned that the pacing is slow, but it makes Steins;Gate excellent. Not much happens in the first few episodes, and the story really doesn’t start to become clear until around episode four or five, but getting there felt fast. After the first episode finished, I asked myself, “That was it? That wasn’t 20 minutes!” In my desire, I quickly moved on to the next episode, then the next, and so on. When the series is done, you can look for my review of the 2nd half, because I assure you I will likely blow through it so fast it’ll feel like I just jumped forward in time.