Let’s be completely honest with each other here. STEINS;GATE really isn’t a great anime. This is just my personal opinion, of course, but I think the show has too many problems to be considered spectacular. In keeping with our theme of honesty here, I’ll admit there were moments STEINS;GATE sucked me in with its chaotic events. These moments, however, were few and far between; and they certainly don’t make up for the number of problems present. To be clear, my goal in writing this article isn’t to antagonize this series and demonize it’s fans. I fully understand why people support this series, but we’re all anime fans here right? We should be able to express our viewpoints about popular shows even if they’re negative. To this extent, I’ll be talking about everything I think makes STEINS;GATE overrated.
Minor spoilers for STEINS;GATE follow.
STEINS;GATE is an adaptation of a visual novel of the same name. It follows Rintaro Okabe, a self-proclaimed “mad scientist” who runs a makeshift laboratory in his apartment with his childhood friends, Mayuri and Daru. One day, Okabe and Mayuri attend a conference about time travel. Okabe bumps into neuroscientist Kurisu Makise along the way, who claims to have just met him. Dismissing this odd notion, Okabe presses on. Briefly, after their encounter, Okabe hears a scream and discovers Kurisu’s dead body. He sends an email to Daru about the event, then experiences a weird sensation. When he comes to, Okabe notices his town has changed and that Kurisu is somehow still alive. Furthermore, Okabe discovers that Daru received the email minutes before he sent it. The lab members deduce that they somehow manipulated time and set out to expand on their newfound discovery.
The companies 5bp and Nitroplus released STEINS;GATE (the visual novel) in 2009, and it did surprisingly well for a game of its genre. In my experience, people typically shy away from visual novels because they feel that it’s more like a book than a game. Despite this, STEINS;GATE sold 16,434 copies in its first week after being released. By 2015, the series sold over 1 million copies, and 100,000 copies of the sequel game STEINS;GATE 0. The game’s reception became so popular that manga artist Yomi Sarachi adapted it into a manga in 2009, which had mixed reviews. The animation studio White Fox then created the anime adaptation in 2011, which received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Aside from critics, most anime fans loved the anime, so, disliking it is a controversial opinion. However, I think there are many things wrong with it that need to be talked about.
Slow and Steady Doesn’t Win the Race
Regardless of whether you love or hate STEINS;GATE, this is one thing everyone should agree on. The first half of the show moves at a snail’s pace. The first three episodes are jarring and make the series very difficult to get into. I understand that some time is necessary to set up the complex concept of time travel, but pilot episodes should be exciting. At the very least, there should be something that makes this series compelling or different from others right off the bat (see ELFEN LIED’s pilot). The most interesting thing that happens in the first episode of STEINS;GATE is Okabe’s discovery of Kurisu’s dead body. While this is intriguing, it’s nothing special for a show in the thriller genre. Additionally, plenty of anime, namely MONSTER, begin the same way and are much less confusing.
STEINS;GATE changes gears midway through the series. The storyline picks up and some interesting ideas and concepts are expanded upon. However, the last 12 episodes, in particular, seemed rushed. It felt as though STEINS;GATE dug itself into an early hole with its slow pace then scrambled to squeeze everything in before the series finale. There’s no denying that patience is key here, but many people won’t enjoy watching past those rudimentary beginning episodes.
Weak Supporting Cast
This is my biggest gripe with STEINS;GATE. Aside from Okabe and Kurisu, every single supporting character feels forgettable. More than this, each supporting character does little more than fulfill a trope or get on your nerves somehow. Mayuri is a super sweet character. She wears her heart on her sleeve and seems like she unconditionally loves everything in the world. She’s a character worth adoring, but her signature catchphrase “tuturu!” drove me absolutely crazy throughout the series. Putting this aside, she doesn’t have anything to take her character to the next level. Her background story shows she became friends with Okabe because she suffered from depression as a child after her grandmother passed away. Okabe helped shoulder her burden and the two formed a deep bond. It’s not a bad backstory, but it paints Okabe as a “white knight” who merely saved Mayuri from herself.
Arguably the worst character in the show is Daru, who fulfills the “nerd” stereotype to the max. He is overweight, socially inept, and is obsessed with women (particularly animated ones). However, he’s a technology savant, which allows him to contribute to a lot of the plot. I find it funny when characters poke fun at harmless stereotypes like these so, initially, I really liked Daru. As the series progressed though, his antics grew stale and became flat-out uncomfortable. There are several times in the show where he and Okabe go well out of their way to make sexual innuendos in front of Kurisu. After a while it didn’t matter how important he was to the story, he was just annoying.
From what I understand, the visual novel develops each character better. Unfortunately, the anime fails to make most of the supporting cast likable or memorable.
Kurisu and Okabe’s Romance Felt Forced
I usually don’t like to single out romances as a focal point in a series. However, Okabe and Kurisu’s relationship becomes important in the final episodes and is a plot point early on in STEINS;GATE 0. Their romantic relationship begins forming in episode 11 when Kurisu confides a personal secret in Okabe. She says that her own father loathes her for accomplishing more as a scientist than he ever has in science. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the heartfelt moment. It was something extremely difficult for Kurisu to say and was a moment of levity during a stressful time in their lives. Unfortunately, this is the only genuine moment the two share. They spend the rest of the series butting heads and arguing over trivial things. Overall, it just felt like an infantile way to convey a romance that ends up being important in the series.
Given that their relationship is so important I would have liked to see Kurisu and Okabe’s romance developed more in the anime. I can’t help but feel another bonding scene or two, in addition to the aforementioned one, would have really driven this romance home. Instead, Okabe randomly comes to terms with his feelings two episodes before the series ends, and Kurisu somehow reciprocates his feelings despite being teased by him throughout most of the series. STEINS;GATE 0 is only three episodes in, so maybe it will fix this problem somehow. Unfortunately, though, I think the damage has already been done.
Random Harem Moments Ruin a Great Storyline
I hate fan service/harem moments in anime, but I can understand them if it contributes to a greater point. For example, Kaname Chidori from FULL METAL PANIC! is a victim of fan service quite often. But, this contrasts well with her love interest Sousuke Sagara. He is very serious and dense in matters that don’t involve being a soldier. As a balance, Kaname is exaggerated in things like sexuality to highlight elements that aren’t associated with Sousuke’s mundane personality. Even this view might be reaching too far, but it still at least explains the seemingly random harem moments present in this action series.
My issue isn’t so much about fan service. STEINS;GATE isn’t the first anime to incorporate sexuality, and it certainly won’t be the last. My issue is how obviously out-of-place this sexual element feels. STEINS;GATE devotes itself to scientific principles, which makes it a little different from other anime. It uses chaos theory and the butterfly effect to build an emotionally engaging storyline that really makes people ruminate over the dangers of playing God. Since these principles aren’t exactly common knowledge, STEINS;GATE spends a lot of time explaining these concepts through formulas, equations, and moral discussions. The same characters (notably Kurisu and Okabe) that discuss these scientific principles in-depth also talk about their respective virginities and whether it is okay to eat bananas while looking happy. The contrast between sexuality and science doesn’t feel natural here and, in my opinion, hurts the show’s core scientific themes.
Change my Mind, STEINS;GATE 0!
Many series don’t get the opportunity to correct their mistakes from the past. However, STEINS;GATE 0 has the potential to do exactly that. This sequel series is already three episodes in and seems like a promising show so far.
The biggest thing on my wishlist is for STEINS;GATE 0 to adapt as much material from its visual novel as possible. The original STEINS;GATE anime left out important details from the visual novel that could have made the series better. If STEINS;GATE 0 can avoid this mistake and stay true to its original source, the one everyone fell in love with, then the anime should undoubtedly be a success. If that’s the case, then STEINS;GATE 0 might succeed in changing my mind about the series!
Featured Image Courtesy of Crunchyroll