I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hououin Kyouma (or going by his real name, Okabe Rintarou) be my favorite character this season, even after just one episode. He possesses the personality that’s infectious in an anime, a character you can’t take your eyes off of when he’s on the screen. His uncanny actions around friend and stranger, his rather sharp intelligence, and his compassion provide a multi-dimensional lead for Steins;Gate, perfect for a time-traveling themed science fiction anime.
The first episode of Steins;Gate establishes itself with a profound mystery affecting a rather eccentric and likeable cast of characters. The story begins with childhood friends Kyouma and Mayuri upon the rooftop of a radio hall where they planned to attend a time-machine presentation by a local researcher. After some enigmatic dialogue, a satellite crashing into the building, and some time spent keeping Mayuri entertained (everyday activities I presume), we witness Kyouma’s intelligence and courage when he calls out the plagiarism of the researcher’s theory. In the middle of the confrontation, Kyouma is pulled out of the room by a red-haired girl. It turns out she is none other than Makise Kurisu, a genius who published an article in the journal Science. She questions Kyouma about what he was trying to tell her just fifteen minutes ago, but Kyouma, seeing through her charade but not past his own, deducts that she’s from the secret organization set out against Kyouma. After updating no one on his cell phone about his predicament, he races away to safety and sanity. Upon meeting up with Mayuri, who in the meantime lost a rare collectable, a loud scream was heard from above. Instructing Mayuri to wait outside, Kyouma ascends to investigate the source of the disturbance only to find himself before the slain body of Kurisu. Visibly shaken from the incident, he returns to meet Mayuri outside. While leaving the strange building, Kyouma sends a text message to Itaru, another member of Kyouma’s lab group, about the stabbing of Kurisu only to find himself in a suddenly vacant Akihabara. After wandering aimlessly, Kyouma meets up with Mayuri and queries her about the vanishing people but she doesn’t know and probably figures he’s playing around in his ‘game’ as a mad scientist again.
After the opening sequence, the episode sets itself in the research lab with Kyouma, Mayuri, and super hacker, Itaru, all present. After spending a few minutes listening to them talk, seeing how they act together and learning about their relationships and personalities, the news of the falling satellite is shown on the news prompting Kyouma to question the news’ accuracy. Itaru responds that he must be wrong since he never went to the radio hall since the presentation was canceled. After a TV and Dr. Pepper scene, the trio of researchers decides to try their experimental microwave time-machine again on a bunch of bananas only to yield the same unsatisfying result: a slimy, green mass of formerly edible fruit. Finished with their trial, Kyouma and Itaru head out to a lecture at their university when Kyouma decides to check Itaru’s cell phone to see when he received his text message from earlier in the episode. The history shows it was received in three separate messages from a week ago. Kyouma pulls up his cell phone to check his history. It isn’t there. Cue the ominous and eerie music as he realizes his message was sent to the past. And the elevator doors open. Kyouma turns to see, standing there, alive and well, Kurisu. As she slowly turns toward the elevator, the screen cuts to black and the music ceases. And no dialogue to spoil the silence either, just letting everything that happened settle in our brains as it prepares to sink in while watching the ending sequence.
Steins;Gate certainly was fun. Everything from the oddball characters, to the detailed storytelling, to the witty comedy, the overall darkness of the settings, and the intrigue of mystery establishes Steins;Gate as an entertaining and though-provoking anime. And most of that is thanks to the dynamic lead in Kyouma. Even though it’s the first episode, you can really tell Kyouma is the driving force for the story, the comedy, and the mystery. The series virtually revolves around him, so it’s pleasant to see such a precise and unique character leading the way. That’s not to say the other characters aren’t great either. Mayuri pairs well with Kyouma, playing along with his little ‘mad scientist’ role playing and interacting with him in order to provide some serious time, too. She is a ditzy airhead, which honestly has been overdone in anime, but I feel she’s kind of playing around with Kyouma in his ‘game’ and is rather more than the simpleton she appears to be. Itaru, the resident otaku, actually played the straightman in many of the jokes while he was on screen, which is real surprising since most otaku in anime are either the joke itself or simply spout out otaku-centric lines at predetermined intervals like someone was pulling the string on a talking doll. But this otaku is different. He actually interacted with his friends and provided some actual communication essential to the story. And he can actually talk to girls without being up ero-ero or otaku lines either (although I may have to revise this statement when I see how he interacts with Faris Nyannyan, the catgirl maid at his favorite cosplay café). Sure, he asked Mayuri to recite the banana line near the end of the episode but that’s more for comedy-sake rather than him wanting to record that as fapping material. The seiyuu did excellent jobs with each character, enhancing their personalities and breathing lives into these characters. These voice actors are one of the strengths in this anime, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the other characters interact with each other.
Another highlight of the series was the use of varying shots in the anime. By shots, I’m talking about how everything appears on the screen. You can either have a shot that has the whole body in frame or just the face or whatever the focus of the shot wanted to be. Additionally, the angle of the shot is important, too. Varying shots provides variety that the mind can grapple with to keep the audience entertained. That’s why watching a parent’s camcorder video of their child’s basketball game (one shot, panning back and forth) is always more boring than what you see on television (dozens of cameras placed in different locations around the arena to provide a variety of shots.) But this isn’t real life and doing various shots can be difficult in anime due to perspective. Doing shots from different angles is easier in real life since you just place the camera wherever. In anime, everything needs to be drawn from a strange, unfamiliar perspective, so everything from body form to kinetics needs to be revamped. Still, Steins;Gate provided a diverse range of shots in the first episode. Some of my favorite shots were when Kyouma checked his cell phone after Mayuri lost her metal Oopa, Kyouma resting against the wall after ‘escaping’ Kurisu, Kyouma’s speech to the Alpacaman monitor, and the entire scene when Kyouma and Itaru were in the elevator at the end. Rewatch them and consider how much more interesting these perspectives are than if they were shown straight on from waist up. Or not, because you probably have better things to do.
One question I have that will soon be answered is if every episode will center on Kyouma. Certainly, Kyouma is the main character in the anime and most of the story will revolve around him and his attempts to use time-travel to solve his problems, but I wonder if we’ll ever spend an episode through the eyes of one of the other seven characters to see what’s going on with them. These episodes through the eyes and minds of the other characters will come later since they might spoil some of the mystery and intrigue that was build up in the first episode, but I’m wondering if we’ll get them at all or not. Personally, I’d love to see how other people are dealing with these issues and what they’re doing to solve them or if they have issues outside this circle of friends. Not only would it be a great way to develop these characters but it may provide some time where they interact with different combinations of characters rather than always with Kyouma in the bunch. But I guess only time will tell if we get these alternative-focus episodes or not.