The theories of time travel have been pondered at great length in philosophy and fiction since man was able to put pen to papyrus. The ability to go back in time and correct the mistakes of the past or to project oneself into the future to witness events yet to occur, while fascinating, has been pretty much quashed as a theory as our understanding of the properties of space-time have progressed. Although the TARDIS, Dr Brown’s Delorean, or the Time Traveller’s machine have the ability to carry a passenger through the fabric of space and time, the reality is somewhat more grounded. Time travel, other than in the normal linear sense as we live our day to day lives, does not exist. At least as far as we know.
In theory, if time travel really did exist, and someone did go back and change the past in such a way that the future would be changed significantly, then our memories of the old timeline wouldn’t exist anymore. This is the theory of time travel which occurs in Steins;Gate. This theory is referred to as the theory of divergent timelines, which is similar to the common themes of parallel universes in both science fiction and anime where any major decision can cause the universe to fork so that there exists a reality where you did, and another where you didn’t, make a particular decision, with differing consequences.
But what if you could kick the time and space continuum and the pan-dimensional state of the parallel universes swiftly in the testes, and defy all odds by retaining your memories between each change in the timeline? Surely that would give you the ability to change time and space at your will and affect the outcome of future decisions? This power can not only be abused, but also leads to great responsibility. If you knew, for instance, that you had the power to prevent a dystopian future from happening, would you? Or would you be happy giving yourself lottery numbers and ensuring that gender swapped friends were born with the right chromosome instead?
As if you haven’t guessed from the rather long and laborious introduction, Steins;Gate is a story of time travel, taken from the point of view of a rather peculiar individual and the remarkable people who stick with him. Okabe Rintaro, aka Hououin Kyouma: Mad Scientist and member 001 of the Future Gadget Laboratory, has a dilemma. After an object lands on the roof of the Radio building (which houses an extremely good doujinishi shop called K-books by the way!) and he witnesses the death of a pretty American scientist called Makise Kurisu, Okabe sends his friend Daru, also a member of the Future Gadget Lab, an email telling him about what he saw. Daru, hacker extraordinaire, doesn’t exactly receive the email. Instead, the email was received five days previously, as Daru’s phone was attached to Future Gadget No. 8: the Phone Microwave! Inadvertently, Okabe had managed to send an email back in time...
Anything that can be done once, by accident, can be done again. It merely takes a process of experimentation and the application of the scientific method to determine which factors caused this event to occur, and then replicate them. This is where Makise Kurisu comes in handy. As a world renowned physicist she and Okabe work together, to discover the true potential of this “time machine”.
However, if time travel was really this simple, could someone else have invented time travel in a lab somewhere before, and just kept it hidden? Could an organisation with an enormous scientific budget and the most complicated electromechanical device have discovered time travel for their own nefarious uses? What is it about this student “mad scientist” and his bedsit laboratory which makes him so special? There is truth in the saying that it’s the company one keeps that makes the person. First off is Mayuri. She is a sweet and simple individual who has been Okabe’s companion since they were small, and although her role is now one of “hostage” she is Okabe’s rock, his stable place in a world which, by his own determination, is out to get him. Thanks to the discovery of Future Gadget No. 8, the world now is actually out to get him! There is a lot more to Mayuri than just her saccharine exterior coated with the sublime ringing introduction of “Tutturu!” every now and then. She is still the only person who understands Okabe, and she is the only one who can rein him in. Losing her would be like losing everything which binds his universes and timelines together.
The others in Okabe’s life - Mr Brown, a bear of a man who is fixated with the wonders of the cathode ray tube; Suzuha, the part time employee of Mr Brown who almost seems to be from another world altogether; Ruka, the beautiful trap; Rumiho Akiha (Feyris NyanNyan), the daughter of the rich family who own the land upon which Akihabara sits and a part time cat girl maid; and Daru, the 2D fixated otaku hacker genius who is actually the true intelligence behind the Future Gadget Lab, when he isn’t making Mayuri or Kurisu say dirty things…
Now, without spoiling anything, it’s safe to say that the experimentation process to discover the functionality of the time machine isn’t without its consequences. Even though the changes being made to the past through the time-displaced e-mails (or D-mails as they come to be known) are minor, the cumulative impact of the changes and these impacts on the world at large, mean that with each D-mail, the divergence away from Okabe’s original timeline increases. It’s also funny that Okabe is also the only person who can see these changes.
I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that Steins;Gate is probably one of the better time travel stories which exists. The number of fan shout-outs within the series are plentiful with references made to current and past anime series, western science fiction and Doctor Who (of course). I personally think, although I am likely to be wrong, that Mr Brown is actually named after Dr. Emmet Brown from Back to the Future. But who knows.
At the very least, Steins;Gate has been produced for the fans. It is sublime in its writing and is both thrilling, dramatic and laugh out loud funny from the very first episode to the final gripping second at the end of this first box set. It is addictive and lends itself perfectly to a marathon session and you won’t believe that it was made by the same people responsible for Chaos;Head, although there are some similarities which predominantly come from the structure of the series. Steins;Gate, like Chaos;Head, is a singular story arc. This first half of the series covers the character introductions, lays the foundations for the universe and sets the scene for the larger arc whereby Okabe needs to use his abilities to see beyond the divergent timelines and create the perfect future.
Having first seen Steins;Gate on the slightly defunct Anime on Demand several years ago, I was introduced to the characters in the native Japanese dub. It was excellent. Now, thanks to some quite skilful casting, I think we have an example of where the English will surpass the original material. Firstly, the English speaking Mayuri can do a cuter “Tutturu” and I defy anyone to say otherwise. Okabe doesn’t sound like as much of a paranoid schizophrenic. Kurisu now fits her voice properly and Daru just sounds like the perverted swine that he is. That said, Suzuha and Rumiho are a bit flat. As for the writing... well, I am not sure if the Doctor Who references were in the original dub or if they were added to suit the Western audience, but I appreciated them nethertheless. I noted that actually quite a fair few of the anime references (the Familiar of Zero ones I noticed in particular) were missing from the English dub. I am not convinced that they added that much, but I’ll leave that decision up to you. Either way, for listeners of both sources alike, there is a quality product available.
I will briefly touch on the music, which like other Nitro Plus creations, Kanako Ito is responsible for. The opening theme tune is quite catchy and rather good to dance to (FYI, if you do get a chance, go see Kanako Ito live, she is a heck of a performer). I may or may not have danced a couple of times while reviewing this.. ahem. The opening animation itself is actually a bit of a spoiler in itself. Although it looks to be a semi-random mish-mash, watch it carefully. Once you have seen the second half of the series, the message in the opening animation will become clearer. Or, at least it did for me.
2013 has so far been one of the best years I have seen for anime in the UK. We have had a plethora of high quality releases on both Blu-Ray and on DVD, and Steins;Gate adds yet another notch onto this bedpost of series that we at UK Anime want to spend quality time with. My only advice, other than buy this now in its shiny High Definition form, is to perhaps wait for the second half to be made available before you undertake a marathon. This is purely for the incredible heartache and frustration which awaits you in the closing moments of the first box. It’s brutal... utterly crippling. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!