Time is the greatest, most deadly of all plagues in the universe. It’s the one force that will doom the rich and the poor, the young and the old alike. It marches ceaselessly forward, and plays host to a never-ending cycle of war, peace, and revolution. It cannot be resisted or fought, nor can it changed. Those who try, will only find themselves as mere footnotes in history. But, what if one could affect the past? What if, in some way, one could undo the embarrassments of the past or affect one’s own fortunes? How would the world change and, more important, would one recognize it when he returns?
Rintaro Okabe is a self-professed mad scientist with grand ambitions, and a distinct lack of common sense. Okabe prefers to refer to himself as “Houin Kyouma,” and lives under the delusion that a nameless shadow organization aims to infiltrate his laboratory and thwart his schemes for global domination. Of course, Okabe would be a more threatening figure in the world, if he weren’t some poor college student living in a crummy Akiba apartment, which doubles as his laboratory. Still, he soldiers on and continues his attempt to create the next historical breakthrough with super hacker Daru, and the cheerfully willing prisoner Mayuri.
Okabe’s delusional ravings begin to come to life one day, when he and Daru accidentally create a working time machine from a microwave. While the machine only allows for sixteen characters to be sent back in time via text message, Okabe quickly finds that this is enough to drastically alter the past and the present alike. He stands alone with his knowledge, though: Okabe is the sole member of the laboratory that is able to remember the past, and therefore the only one who can bring the world back to its original form. Such a task is easier said than done, though: as such a discovery cannot remain under wraps for long, and Okabe finds himself receiving more attention than he ever imagined, from new lab members and sinister forces alike.
Steins;Gate brings Akihabara to life as a world of intrigue, populated by colorful outcasts from society. Everybody has their quirks, be it Okabe’s talking to himself on the phone, Daru’s creepy lewdness, or Makise Kurisu’s strange knowledge of image board memes. They’re quirky and geeky, but the chemistry they share is infectious. It’s difficult to not find something endearing in each cast member. Their interactions together help to provide much-needed levity as the plot progresses.
The show’s greatest asset is its tightly woven narrative, which delves into the consequences of tampering with history. Okabe serves more as a conduit for the viewer, as the world begins to shift and warp around him. Light-hearted meetings with lab members quickly turn into nightmarish scrambles, as the truth becomes a mere fantasy, and people around Okabe can only gawk in horror as he tries to make sense of the changed world. As the group grows closer to the truth, the surreal sensation is quickly compounded with dread as it becomes clear that there is real danger in the path they’re pursuing.
The series boasts a visual style that favors muted hues and flat colors. Landscapes are presented in greys and browns, with splashes of color when needed. Small details, like a note dangling from a desk, or the text of a street sign are given enough emphasis to stand out against the rest of the background. The muted motif carries over to the characters, who are drawn with a clean, simple style. If anything, they represent a rejection of the moe culture that Akihabara itself seems to foster. The character of Faris, who sports a vivid pink twin-drill hairdo and oversized red eyes, stands out as the sole exception to this, and seems to stand against the uniform visual style that the rest of the show maintains. Her unusual appearance is somewhat off-putting, and serves as a visual reminder that not everything is right in this strange version of Akihabara.
At the half-way point, Steins;Gate is shaping up to be a truly refreshing experience. The charming cast and surreal narrative work together to create an engaging series that latches onto the viewer and simply refuses to let go. While it is still early to deliver a final judgment on the series, it is undeniable that Steins;Gate has the potential to be a true must-watch for fans of all stripes.