Steins;Gate and the art of telling a good time travel story

Someone once sarcastically said that all good stories start at the end.

Steins;Gate is a great show with great development, loving relationships, and weird fanservice.

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Now that we got the end out of the way how about we take a look at the beginning and the middle, although just like any good time travel story, good luck figuring out which is which.

[Spoilers Abound for Steins;Gate]

Steins;Gate was not my first anime, far from it, I grew up watching Yu Yu Hakusho, Naruto, Inuyasha, and others on Cartoon Network. However, as I got older I stopped watching animated shows and moved on to other shows. Eventually though I got a yearning for those shows of old, so I found a website that had all of Naruto and I watched it nonstop. Eventually though I caught up so I decided to look around for more “grown up” shows. Near the top of a lot of those lists was a little science fiction time travel anime called Steins;Gate. As a lover of all things science fiction and time travel I decided that that would be the first one I would give a go.

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I’m not going to lie, from the start, Steins;Gate confused me. It has a very weird introduction that had me feeling lost and confused, not helped by the protagonists habit of using nonsense words and stories. This will not be a problem if you watch the show a second time, like I hinted at through the opening, Steins;Gate as a time travel show is one that starts at the end or ends at the beginning however you would like to see it. So on any subsequent viewings (which I highly recommend at least watching the first episode over again) a viewer who paid attention and has a decent memory will have a full understanding of what is going on and it all makes perfect sense.

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What follows is basically the typical set-up for a romance anime with a large amount of women showing up in our protagonists life. What really sets this show apart from other romance to me is that it isn’t all about the romance. These women are not written outwards from Okabe(the male protagonist), they are written independently, at least mostly, with their own needs and desires. Ninety percent of the time I end up talking about a piece of media, whether it is a movie, TV show, or video game, I will end up talking about character. That is because to me the foundation of a good story is in the characters that reside in them. For something to be truly great the characters in that story need to be more than caricatures. That is something that Steins;Gate absolutely nails, despite having types for all the characters that could fit in preconceived notions, there is still enough individuality within each character to believe in them as people and understand the choices they make.

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The time travel in Steins;Gate isn’t perfect and that’s because it is nearly impossible to have perfect time travel logic. Especially in a show that dabbles in it so frequently and in so many different ways. Avengers did a pretty good job with it, but it was short, and still left many confused. Primer it could be argued does a really good job with it’s travel logic, which could probably be largely traced to director Shane Carruth and his attention to detail (Make more movies Carruth damn it). However, that movie requires a flow chart and hours of time after the movie to get a full understanding of what is going on. Steins;Gate with its simplicity in the time travel and its incorporation of real life figures and companies keeps things simple and easy to understand. That isn’t to say it doesn’t dip into techno jargon here or there, whether real or nonsense, but it largely keeps everything simple and approachable for a wide variety of audiences.

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What I will say in a more negative way is that despite being theoretically a great show to introduce people to anime, it falters along the way. The sexually focused dialogue and other similar things in this show can get very uncomfortable at times, at least to me. Now I do still use this show to introduce people to anime, at least ones that are science fiction fans, as at its core it is still a great time travel story with a nice romance element, but I wish these moments were less frequent. For a show with solidly developed female characters it would have been nice to see the male auxiliary characters like Mr. Braun and Itaru get some more in depth character development beyond their dominant traits as well. Men in anime are just as often as women dropped down to simple caricatures or sometimes just husks of nothingness for the audience to surrogate themselves into so it would have been nice to see these two get actual character depth.

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Now that I have written some negatives I would like to finish with a positive or two. First up, time to talk about Okabe’s relationships with Mayuri and Makise. These two relationships are very different at heart, but they are a huge part of what makes Steins;Gate so great, so first off looking at Mayuri. Throughout the first half of the show, Okabe has largely been a joke, parading around spouting off his silly nonsense and rarely acting fully serious. There were occasional moments of more serious behavior, but it isn’t until his heart is ripped out that we really see him grow. Mayuri is taken from Okabe over and over and there is nothing that he can do about it. He is ready to give up on life, but he won’t give up on her, he cares too much. This is the most humanity we have seen from Okabe so far and if it doesn’t break your heart then I question if you have one. For a long time Mayuri was the only one that Okabe had, the only one who would put up with him and stay by his side, and yet he can’t save her when she needs him the most.

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This also leads to a huge portion of Okabe’s relationship with Makise growing as he continues to get to know her in infinite time loops and she is always there to help. It always seemed slightly obvious that Makise and Okabe would end up falling in love, but it takes time, even if it is more time for him than it is for her. She is there for him when he needs help the most, saving him from the pit he was spiraling into and eventually helping him save Mayuri. Okabe isn’t alone anymore, it is something that is difficult for him, something he has trouble dealing with as his entire life he pushed people away with the way he acted. Yet, despite his antics, she is there for him and helps him and cares about him like very few have.

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I don’t want this to be thought of as a review. Other, better writers, on this website have already done a review better than I ever could. That is why with every piece I write I try to frame it through my eyes instead of looking at something objectively. Like I said at the top, is a great show with great development, loving relationships, and weird fanservice. Now that we are finishing at the beginning, I can add on to the ending and say that it is so much more than just that. It is an argument for never growing up, an entreaty to not give up on your dreams, an earnest request to find good friends and stick with them. Most of all, it is an opportunity to spend some of your time with the Future Gadget Laboratory and embark on a journey with them.

(Note: I have not seen the movie or the follow up series Steins;Gate 0)

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