Jun 3, 2016
24 of 24 episodes seen
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Woah Nelly. I am at last compelled to submit a review, and for the exalted Steins;Gate no less. I want to do so not because I was blown away by an intricate plot or an exciting portrayal of abstract temporal science or an examination of time travel from ethical or emotional standpoints. I feel like doing so because Steins;Gate is the most overrated anime I’ve encountered in some time. Which is not to say it’s unwatchable. However, I am disappointed, and I have my reasons. Let’s discuss.
My biggest issue with Steins;Gate is its cast of characters. The easiest route to see that a viewer
is invested is through emotion. This is especially true with a sci-fi story about time travel. They want to make you care about the characters. In that case they’re supposed to rope you in, make your stay enjoyable, and be your vehicle for caring about what happens next. Then that’s the ticket! Let’s experience a glimpse into the intriguing realm of time travel with a zany and eccentric mad scientist, his beautiful assistant and consummate foil, and his incorrigible lewd techie! Sign me up!
But not really. Let me answer all that by informing you that this series took me several years to watch. There were times I thought I wouldn’t finish. You quickly find that, indeed, the characters are inextricable from the plot. This made it difficult for me to enjoy said plot when I didn’t like those characters.
The main cast of Steins;Gate is largely comprised of socially inept assholes. That’s a rocky start. I would like to review them to fully illustrate how damaging this is.
Okabe: Our mad scientist and main protagonist. What a piece of work. He’s loud, insensitive, and his dramatic eloquence and strange behavior make his interactions with other characters cringe-worthy. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cringe. But these were not good cringes. This guy makes putting one’s foot in their mouth an Olympic sport. It’s like life is a point-and-click adventure and he wants to click the worst option every time just to see the NPCs’ reactions. Only they’re not NPCs. He just seems to treat people like his lackeys (much to Kurisu’s chagrin).
Okabe insists on assuming and expressing a fantastic persona. He’s awkward. He exhibits inappropriate behavior, such as loud speech, insensitive rhetoric, disruptiveness, and frequent failure to face people he’s speaking to. He has trouble expressing his emotions and is oblivious to social cues and all but the most blatant emotional expressions of others. He’s fixated on his identity as a genius and leader of his home laboratory in the upper level of an electronics store.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but these characteristics and observable behaviors all point to a mild form of autism.
Kurisu, a.k.a. Christina: Insufferable tsundere piece of trash. Utters such zingers as “It’s not like I care” while blushing and turning away, and “Were you worried about me?” Good lord.
Hashida, a.k.a. “Daru”: Fat computer whiz and resident otaku who can’t keep his sexual fantasies to himself. Pretty one-dimensional. Good job, guys.
Mayuri: Total sweetheart! The first character I really found myself caring about. Is always bright-eyed and encouraging and sensitive to others’ feelings and struggles. She is not beyond chastising Okabe for his bullshit. But wait…what sorcery is this? I usually hate the happy-go-lucky nice girl character. Let’s continue. I’m suspicious.
Suzuha: The only other character I found likable. Why? She’s not particularly interesting. It could be that I like her because she’s not a jerk. In that case I’m lowering my standards as I watch this show. Yikes.
Moeka: Oh god, let’s move onto something else.
The plot itself begins modestly when Okabe and his lab crew discover that a microwave they’ve modified can send text messages to the past. That sounds strange for such an acclaimed series, and may even be boring to some people. I think it’s a pretty cool idea. It’s so small, yet so huge. Imagine if that were discovered in real life (ignoring the fact that it would likely be abused to the detriment of mankind).
That’s bonkers! Starting off with a tip-of-the-iceberg scientific concept like that is a good call. But they just bask in it. They let it sit out and get stale. The first ten episodes of the series are spent with the characters being introduced and playing with this “phone wave.” Not only does the concept get dull, but couple that with how I view the characters, and it’s easy to understand why watching this series felt like a chore at first.
When experimenting with this concept, the lab members garner attention from people they know. They allow them to participate in order to learn what effects emerge in the present. While that’s a sensible way for the plot to progress, by the same token, the way some of the scenarios played out are so conveniently self-contained that the changes are hard to believe. Or to care about for that matter.
I believe that the writers try to address the rather slight nature of these changes by explaining it with the “divergence ratio.” This concept isn’t necessarily introduced for this purpose, but it’s probably the component that would explain it. Even then it doesn’t quite fit. After all, the writers did a half-hearted job of devising and explaining the workings of time and time travel in the Steins;Gate universe.
The show’s concept of time travel operates on a model of linear time that can splinter off into divergent “world-lines” of varying degrees of deviation from their parent lines. If you were to try and explain the clean nature of the changes to the world line by attributing them to low divergence ratios ascribed to the changes, the highly contained results of the changes we see are dubious. There’s probability involved due to the sheer number of variables, and the entropy inherent in those variables. Therefore the chances of the observable changes being so well-contained in the story’s context are infinitesimal.
This is my opinion though. These abstract concepts I’m criticizing simply may be how the writers wished to portray diverging timelines. And that would be just fine I guess, if a bit lazy. However, later events in the show adhere to the eternalist value that future events “already exist” and are “bound to happen.” Yet this holds the universe of Steins;Gate to a model of time as a dimension that cannot be linear by nature. Still the characters insist on illustrating time with this model of linear world-lines, while believing that they can change the future by changing the past. So which is it?
None of this is to mention that the coverage of time travel in this show conveniently ignores key elements, such as ontological paradoxes, thermodynamics, the Grandfather paradox, and compossibility. The more I think about it, the more holes I find in the presentation.
Whether or not you read that digression/mini-essay/rant about the implausibility of the show’s self-justifications, it all starts with the slog through the first 10 episodes and lasts to the end. The irritating sins of the first story arc culminate in a moment in which some sort of disaster caused two characters to fall into a position that can only be described as an attempt at ‘cute fan-service’ or romantic tension. They blush, their faces inches from each other’s.
I looked up to the ceiling for a minute in despair. “Spare me” was all I could think. Why is this series regarded as such a masterpiece if this is what I get? I casually lost my will to keep watching. That ended up being a hiatus that lasted several years until I continued to the end a few days ago. I was told time and time again by fans that it “gets good around episode 12.”
Look. If an anime is this highly rated, it should not take 11 episodes to “get good.” It should already be good. It should offer a strong introduction that flows well into the rest of the series. Instead what I got from this is 10 episodes that suck outright. If this series is as amazing as everyone says, 40% of it shouldn’t suck.
The series truly kicks off at episode 11. The plot at last moves along; things feel like they’re happening. These new developments present some substance and consequences. Nothing for ten episodes, then all this. It’s jarring stuff.
The lab members work on the next step in their technological advancements. We finally see Okabe show emotions like a normal person would. We watch him work himself to the bone out of caring for another person. In the middle of the series, we see the sprouts of character development. Easy there, speed demon. Because the stakes are finally raising there’s a sense of puzzlement under pressure. Okabe has moments where he catches a glimpse of light - an idea he has to try because it might be the first step in solving a conundrum. These moments can be exciting. This could be where Steins;Gate shines.
The excitement quickly exhausts itself. For all the abrupt progress it made, the story devolves into an onslaught of weird dancing all around and back and forth with little to no real consequences. Now it feels like time travel is an excuse to do so, but what that accomplishes is the undoing of any sense of tragedy or danger. It undermines any previous or impending consequences. It even ads an element of, dare I say, predictability (gasp!). Last time I checked, predictability is not something you want in a thriller.
This plot could have turned out great and it didn’t. I say that because I can tell the writers tried really hard. But I don’t give A’s for effort.
Now for some technical aspects of the show before I share my final thoughts.
Sound: I am conflicted on the sound. On one hand, the voice talent is fantastic. It’s one of this show’s strong suits. There are no points where a flat delivery or overacting “took me out of it.” What does take me out of it, on the other hand, is the music. It’s poor for the most part. As I recall it’s sparse. When it is present it’s noticeable in a bad way.
There is one distinct moment I remember where two characters are having a serious discussion about what’s going on around them. They’re getting emotional. Someone’s voice is wavering. But in the background is this cheesy piano song that does nothing but damage the impact of the scene. Music is supposed to ad atmosphere, but in this case the composition is ill-fitting. It may not even be a real piano. Maybe it is a real piano and that’s the fault of the recording engineer? Who knows? Shortly afterwards, badly synthesized violins join the arrangement. The whole thing is just unfortunate.
The opening song is good from what I remember, but nothing that stuck with me because they only show it a few times. I like one original song. It’s a dark and ominous orchestral piece that played during a preview of the next episode. I only remember that brief clip, though.
Animation: The animation is strong. The opening sequence is impressive in its design and effects. It’s a shame we only see it a handful of times. The art style is sharp, although the character designs left much to be desired. There are times when you see awkward facial shapes (colloquially known as QUALITY), but these are few and far between.
The cinematography ads to the experience. There are plenty of times where scenes are made more dramatic or interesting by frame composition. The camera will focus on a broken pocket-watch, a cicada, a police siren, etc. There are sequences such as one in which two characters scramble inside to get out of the rain; you see it as if you are perched in a hole in the roof, watching through rubble and steel beams as they run past. Very cool.
Conclusion: Not a masterpiece. Far from it. What could be an interesting plot and a somewhat refreshing portrayal of time travel is bogged down by a weak cast of characters, wonky pacing, overblown storyboard, farcical logic, and gratuitous romantic subplots. The ‘shenanigans’ between these characters are not ‘funny’ or ‘entertaining’. I rolled my eyes every ten seconds. You can’t begin the show as a character-driven machine, then turn up the heat on the plot when I’m bored and surrounded by douchebags and expect me to like that. And you certainly can’t call that masterpiece material. Ya just can’t.
I don’t absolutely hate Steins;Gate. It has some redeeming qualities. Hell, for all the griping I’ve done, I gave the show a 6 out of 10. That’s mostly because of the plot in the two later arcs. The plot can be enjoyable at times, if still choppy and guilty of deus ex machina. That’s Steins;Gate at its best. At its worst, it feels like The Big Bang Theory meets The Notebook. That’s incredibly frustrating.
I will admit that Steins;Gate is objectively above average. By the same token, it’s objectively not the masterpiece that fans make it out to be.
Thank you very much for reading my review. I didn’t want it to be this crazy long. Sorry about that.