One of the most intriguing aspects of science fiction till date is the astounding number of potentially possible theories regarding time travel. With concepts ranging from multi-universes, parallel worlds and timelines, it is not hard to generate your typical time travelling story. But sometimes you come across a gem like Steins;Gate and you have to acknowledge – those anime writers are the future of storytelling (as if Akira, and Spirited Away wasn’t enough).
I’m going to frame this as much as I can without giving away spoilers. For those with a weak grasp of science fiction concepts, Steins;Gate deals with parallel timelines – say you cut your finger, then there’s another timeline will exist simultaneously from that point on where you did not cut your finger thus creating infinite timelines which you cannot experience because your conscious self does not shift. Now that’s out of the way, let’s begin this review.
Believe it or not, it’s a very simple love story told from the eyes of a scientist with your typical, clichéd anime message – protect your friends no matter what! The protagonist and his gang (we can almost call it a harem, I guess) chance upon an incredible secret when experimenting with a microwave oven and a cell phone. Somehow, they can send a text to the past! Now if that sent text could have altered the course of the timeline, then the protagonist is the only one whose consciousness jumps to the altered timeline that split from the original. He slowly realizes that he’s drifting farther and farther from his original reality and in his desperation to return, he sets in motion a chain of events that he cannot return from. He must perfect his time travelling on the job with time running out with a secret government agency pursuing his invention so that he can protect his friends from a terrible fate.
The series starts with the audience’s frame of mind reflected on screen. By this, I mean there are large portions of dialogue that you won’t understand, and will sound gibberish, and most of it is, but it exists to give you the feeling of not knowing what’s going on. You follow the mindset of the protagonist, a young, aspiring scientist with a motif that is borderline insanity and incessantly paranoid. We have to grasp what he says from replies by his colleagues that he calls “lab members” of his self-nomenclated, “Future Gadget Lab”. To any outsider, such as their irate landlord and his quirky assistant downstairs, it appears to be a group of adolescent teenagers hanging out and having fun. Each interaction is shown from the side of the listener and the coherence of the dialogue slowly changes as we begin to understand the protagonist’s agenda and what he’s about. Modern day animation gives this very short series the life that it needed.
The series progresses very quickly and it’s one of the few rare anime that does not have any fluff scenes to fill the time. Yes, even the gibberish musings of a possible lunatic at the start has a purpose so I’d advise to hang on to every word! Heart wrenching emotions at its best, this 25-episode anime fails to conclude the series properly, leaving the uncertainty to our imagination, and this is also in tune with the lead character. The 25th episode was actually released as an OVA with a movie that followed much later due to fan requests. Both these storylines had a single purpose, to give some kind of closure to the romance that was also left open ended at the end of episode 24. Steins;Gate is a series worthy of science fiction’s hall of fame and is sure to leave piles of chewed out fingernails behind.