For those out of the loop, “Steins;Gate” is a 2011 anime based on a visual novel (which I haven’t played). It is a time travel story about Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist who accidentally (seriously) creates a time machine with his friend Daru, a genius hacker as well as a fat pervert, and Mayuri, his ditzy and innocent childhood best friend. After he meets a young, headstrong scientist named Kurisu Makise and works out that a text sent back in time saved her life, they work together in an attempt to create the world’s first time machine.
“Steins;Gate” as a show was extremely well-received critically (more than I had guessed originally), with some going as far as to call it one of the greatest anime of all time. The show starts off as a fairly lighthearted comedy and then halfway or so through suddenly whiplashes into an intense and incredibly suspenseful thriller. The time travel conceit is intelligently utilized and the pace and storyline are addicting but what really shines about “Steins;Gate” are the finely realized characters.
Rintaro Okabe is one of the great protagonists in anime history, and each of the “big three” are unique, instantly memorable, and easy to get invested in. Small things that look like quirks early in the show’s run are revealed to be symptoms of much deeper connections between characters, and at times the show manages to be remarkably moving. The side characters get a surprising amount of development as well, and a plotline involving a relatively minor character ends up turning into one of the most gut-wrenchingly sad arcs of the show.
As for what I thought of it…
It was excellent…until the ending, and I mean the last episode. I don’t want to spoil it, but essentially the show cheats in order to force the ending it wants, contradicting some of its own themes in the process and muddling the previously airtight time travel logic up to that point. The episode and subsequent OVA were undoubtedly crowd pleasers, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing when it forces you to betray your story.
So I left “Steins;Gate” with a solid 7 of 10 rating – excellent, but not on the masterpiece level of shows such as “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, “Death Note”, or “Cowboy Bebop”. Still highly recommended.
And then I learned about “Steins;Gate 0”, the sequel series, set in an alternate timeline where Okarin gave up time travel.
I don’t want to spoil either show because a lot of your enjoyment will be affected if you know what’s coming next, and because SG0 really only works if you’ve seen the original “Steins;Gate” this will have to be vague.
I was hesitant about SG0 when I heard about it. It is airing right now, 16 episodes into the 23 episode series, and because the original wrapped itself up so definitively I thought it was going to be a cheap attempt to try and cash in on its popularity.
I was so wrong. Amazingly, SG0 is just as good as the original series at its peak. It is darker, maybe even MUCH darker, than the original SG, yet never slips into total despair. The version of Okarin who stars in SG0 is haunted by his failure to keep all of his loved one safe and saddled with severe trauma from the events of the first series. He soldiers his way through life wracked with guilt and constantly afraid that some mistake of his will cause his loved ones more pain. He has abandoned his formerly grandiose and pompous attitude and embraced a dejected sort of realism.
In this timeline, WWIII is all but inevitable, and Okarin knows that *he* is the one who failed to prevent it. Okarin is, in every sense of the word, a broken man.
But not all hope is lost. While Okarin deals with constantly present reminders of his past Daru and his future daughter (yeah that’s a thing) are busy secretly rebuilding the original time machine from the first series. They cling to the hope that one day Okarin will overcome his guilt and trauma and return to time travel in order to prevent the swiftly approaching tragedy in their future. Except they don’t have long to wait. The time machine Daru’s daughter is using only has enough fuel for a one year jump. And for some reason people who should not yet exist continue showing up in their lives…
Like I said, I need to be vague. My point here is that SG0 is amazing, and I mean that in a very specific way. It is not just a great series in its own right, it not only works as a sequel in every way, it is more than that. It is a sequel that retroactively builds and improves upon the original work. Right now SG0 is directly addressing the very issues I had with the conclusion of the original series, and not only addressing it from a logical perspective but also from a thematic perspective. It uses the ending of the first series to springboard discussions about the morality of time travel and how to overcome chaos theory when attempting to change the past.
In short, it is doing more than addressing its own franchise’s flaws. It is turning them into strengths.
So: Is SG0 one of the greatest sequels EVER?
Actually, I don’t know yet. It isn’t finished. And as “Darling in the Franxx” fans know, things can change in a hurry.
But I can promise you this: If it keeps this level of quality up, it will be.
Very, very highly recommended, BUT with the caveat that it will be totally lost on you if you haven’t seen the original first. Don’t worry – it’s just as good.