As my journey into everything related to YU-NO came to a close, I knew that my world had been opened to the Visual Novel format. While I had only take a tiptoe into the genre before, having experienced Doki Doki Literature Club, Love3 Loved Cubed. and read the Fate route of Fate/Stay Night, I was absolutely blown away by just how good YU-NO was, and I wanted to keep that going. Having heard that Steins;Gate, a series that was directly influenced by YU-NO was quite a popular show, I promptly cranked out the wallet and threw money at my Nintendo Switch.
The problem was that, I couldn’t get into it.
I realized about two hours in, that the reason I dug the YU-NO visual novel so much, was that I had previously watched the anime and had a general idea of what happened, who people were, and could reference that against the much slower, simpler style of a visual novel, along with seeing the differences and cuts the anime made. Diving right into the visual novel of Steins;Gate robbed me off that, and I just couldn’t get as invested as I thought I would. So I decided that I would temporary shelve the visual novel and dive into the anime first. I’ve now done that, so join me after the cut as I dive into the first half of the anime adaptation of Steins;Gate.
After watching the first half of the series, I am glad to see that while Steins;Gate absolutely is inspirited by the story of its forebear. It is also a story that isn’t content with just copying another piece of work, something that is much more common in this age of Isekai. While the big picture is very much a direct continuation of the themes of YU-NO (parallel worlds, time traveling, changing events), the way these tools are used in the story and the setting and characters are thankfully very different. And it is here that I found Steins;Gate is able to hit it’s strides.
Like ReZero before it, Steins;Gate operates on the principle of having it’s first half be a slow and methodical build up of tension, focusing on developing the characters and their relationships, before pulling the rug out from under them. While I’ve read some complaints that Steins;Gate spends too much time on this, and that the first half can be relatively boring, I had to strongly disagree, because these first dozen or so episodes did exactly what they are suppose to do: endear me to the cast. Coupled with some excellent foreshadowing of future events through character’s motive, actions and even dialogue.
The everyday, almost slice of life antics of Rintaro and his friends, from the cutely antiquated gamer Daru, the adorable Mayuri, and the sassy, scientific, but kind Kurisu are absolutely wonderful to see. Each of these characters has their own quirk that sets them apart, but no more so than Rintaro, who feels like the Japanese version of Rick from Rick and Morty: a deluded self appointed ‘mad scientist” whose insane ego hides either some deeper personal problems, or a kind sensitive side he doesn’t want people to know. I mean, you can just watched this infamous scene from the show, and just replace Rick and Morty with Rintaro and Kurisu.
Seeing him butt heads against Kurisu, a legit scientific genius who (thankfully) hasn’t completely destroyed her personality had me smiling and laughing for every episode. There is just a level of good humor, friendship and mutual respect (or annoyance) that Kurisu and Rintaro share, and their banter reminded me of the best of characters like Shirou and Rin from Unlimited Blade Works, Takuya with Eriko and Mio from YU-NO, and Sakuta and Mai from Bunny Girl Senpai. I’ve always loved those kind of portrayals in anime, and Steins;Gate absolutely delivers on this front. It also thankfully doesn’t abandon the rest of the cast, and characters like Mayuri, Luka, and Faris all have their moments to stand out, and their reasons from wanting to use the time machine range from the mundane, to the deeply personal. The show is so far clearly setting up the idea that these wishes are going to be a problem, even when they are made with genuine positive intent.
The atmosphere of the first half of the series is also excellently done. I’ve been to Akihabara myself, and even though it was only for a short time, I found that Steins;Gate does a good job in showing off the infamous district. The art style, it’s use of a glaze and hazy style over the characters helped give off a sense of calm tranquility, almost a naivety that plays into the overall plot of the first half. I really enjoyed the increasing level of uneasiness that Rintaro feels as he and his companions dive deeper and deeper into the realm of time travel, unaware that forces from the outside are closing in. When the ‘plot’ of the story finally kicks into gear in episode 12 and 13, it feels absolutely rewarding after having been with the character for so long.
Steins;Gate was something I knew I was going to enjoy, and so far, the first half of the anime hasn’t let me down. It’s been a joy each day to come back to these characters and just immerse myself in their conversations, experiments and the crisis and chaos that is to come. I’m absolutely on board with this series and I can’t wait to see how my thoughts change as the real story gets started in the second half, and then as we dive into the visual novel.