Jon Spencer, of Jon Spencer Reviews, came up with a great holiday activity this year, a little something called the Animexchange. It was very much like a Secret Santa only instead of exchanging gifts, we recommended an anime to watch, and then write a review of it after finishing it. In my case I was paired up with Jon, aka thequietweeb, and saw that he had watched and enjoyed Black Lagoon and Psycho Pass. So, I recommended a relatively unknown dark take on the cyborg girls with guns theme, Gunslinger Girl. In my case he recommended Steins;Gate the second of 5pb., Nitroplus, and Chiyomaru Studios Science Adventure trilogy. I will admit that people have been recommending Steins;Gate to me since I started doing anime science themed panels way back at Katsucon 8 years ago. Sadly, I will not be diving into the science of Steins;Gate as there really isn’t any science to be had, so now onto the review.
FYI- there will be spoilers
If I had to write a TLDR for Steins;Gate I think it would go something like this: take memes, time travel, Haruhi, Chunibyo, conspiracy theories, visual novel and realism, place them in a blender set on high, and run until you trip the circuit breaker. I mean I don’t know any other way to really describe it, it’s a nutty mix of stuff, but honestly it actually worked, and this is coming from a guy who is not a fan of Haruhi.
Plot and Themes
The entire plot of Steins;Gate involves a cast of decidedly quirky characters accidentally discovering time travel and the chaos that results from that discovery. This leads directly into what I think the main theme of Steins;Gate is, which is that time travel is bad, and that it is not something to be trifled with. Now with that out of the way, the show can be broken down into five parts.
- 1- What the hell is going on
This was probably the most interesting and infuriating part of the show, because you don’t know what is going on and I’m not a fan of chunnibuyo characters. However, one thing that I didn’t catch until much later is that the break screens flash a date and time. Those date and time stamps would clue you in on when events are happening, an important thing to have in a show about time travel. Either way it was engaging enough that I kept with it.
- 2- Time travel is real and we need to research it
It is in what I consider the second part of the show that Steins;Gate really begins to shine as it tries examine the concept of time travel scientifically. The method of time travel makes no sense, and in my opinion, it is using scientific terms for the cool factor and to fit into the conspiracy theory part of the plot. Now one thing Steins;Gate does get right and deserves praise for is that it sticks to its self-established rules set down in its universe, and does not just do what the plot requires. This is also where the fact that it is based on a visual novel begins to shine through as you spend an episode with different female characters, using time travel to solve a problem for each one. It does drag a bit here, but it’s not too bad and each of these characters is used to show a different aspect of changes that can come about through time travel.
- 3- We screwed up and need to fix it
Part three is the we screwed up and need to fix it section or aka realism ensues. Up until this point the show, despite hinting at dark elements, had by and large been fairly light hearted. In this section the darker conspiracy elements come into play, and the characters learn the dangers of time travel. In this way Steins;Gate does what Haruhi tried to do with the Endless 8, showing the toll time travel can take on a person. Only in this case I think Steins;Gate did a much better job, as instead of simply repeating whole episodes, it repeats an event but it happens differently each time in rapid succession as the main character tries to change things. The animation and dialogue go a long way to truly show what the lead male character is dealing with.
- 4- Fixing things only made things worse
Now our intrepid cast of characters is doing everything they can to undo the changes of their time travel experiments. It again drags a little here as the visual novel element comes out more as each of the secondary female characters gets their own little heartwarming episode with the main character. That said, the show kept my interest as we find out that it was all for naught as now things have become even worse, which left me thinking if the main character wasn’t crazy before, he sure is now.
- 5- Sometimes sacrifice is necessary to make the world a better place
After taking a decided turn to the grim dark, the show comes up with an out, but it is an out that does make sense in context so it doesn’t seem like a deus ex machina. Not to spoil anything, but as a guy who prefers happy endings, I was satisfied with it.
Rintaro Okabe is the main character and a complete chuunibuyo, who thinks he is a mad scientist, which isn’t completely off the mark considering he did invent time travel. While his chunni moments are grating at times, it’s not enough to turn me off the show. Now despite his chuuni moments he is actually a decent person, and not crazy despite everything he goes through over the course of the series.
Rintaro Okabe’s friend, Itaru Hashida, is the group’s resident hacker and technical genius, who assists in creating the time travel device. He is also a complete otaku who is not shy about his activities and is just as quirky as Rintaro.
Mayuri Shiina is Rintaro’s childhood friend, or at least they have known each other a long time. Despite being more adjusted than Rintaro and Itaru, she is a complete cloud cookoolander. I have read comments online wondering if she has some sort of unspecified condition, but given what is shown in the anime, I don’t think she does. I think her character was just written to be the loony girl of the bunch, who occasionally makes poignant comments from time to time.
The final main character is Kurisu Makise, who often plays the straight man to Rintaro and provides a voice of reason to the others along with emotional support. She is not without her own quirks; she is just better at hiding them most of the time. I also really liked her character design. I think they really nailed the cute disheveled nerd look with her.
Art and Animation
The character designs and background art are fairly decent and fit the modern aesthetic of the show. If there was a downside, it would be the number of scenes where characters stand or sit around and just talk. There is not a lot of movement, or action, but when it does happen, I have no complaints. That said the plot involves a lot of standing around and talking scenes, so I’m not sure how I would change that.
I can’t say the music really wowed me, but I do like the opening song and it is surprisingly tied into the plot in the way that other anime openings are not.
I’m not really one to rank anime, but if I had to I would say it’s a solid B. It doesn’t do anything poorly, but at the same time I don’t feel like it does anything exceptionally well either. I guess I just don’t understand the appeal of the show.
Now for some science
While time travel is impossible, as discussed in a previous post, I can at least discuss some of the terms thrown about by Steins;Gate. (FYI– I am not an astrophysicist or high energy particle physicist.)
Kerr Black Holes are rotating black holes that might, however unlikely, create wormholes. These wormholes could lead to other universes or in some cases allow an observer on the event horizon to travel back in time. (FYI- wormholes are purely theoretical at this point.) However, this mention of time travel comes with the caveat that it is a left over from how the mathematical equations play out, equations that are extremely difficult to solve. This creates something called cosmic censorship which in layman’s terms means that physics kind of breaks down in black holes so that even if you could see things on the event horizon, you would basically be stuck and wouldn’t be able to do anything with it. Or as I prefer to think of it, physics breaks down, preventing any time travel shenanigans. Alternatively, there is something called the black hole information paradox, which discusses what could happen when information enters a black hole.
- It gets stuck inside
- It gets sent to another universe
- It gets shot back out
- It gets destroyed
Micro black holes are a phenomenon first theorized by Steven Hawking in 1971, and while the theories stating their existence are sound, they have yet to be found anywhere in the universe. Steins;Gate plays on the theory that it might be possible to create them with the Large Hadron Collider. These theories did circulate quite a bit when the LHC first became active, but the general consensus is that none have been created, and no one is trying to make them. Essentially some theories state that energies higher than what the LHC can generate are needed to make them, while another says it’s possible to do it within the LHC maximum output if several other circumstances are met. Lastly, some theories say that even if a micro black hole were created, it would break down instantly. At the end of the day there was a real-world lawsuit trying to prevent the activation of the LHC, but it failed as the ruling followed the science.
World lines are not as Steins;Gate states different timelines along which different realities travel, but instead the path an object takes through spacetime.
And that’s everything I have on the science in Steins;Gate because astrophysics breaks my brain.