|Steins;Gate Avoids Most, But Not All, Time-Travel Pitfalls|
Time travel is always a tricky mechanic to work with in fiction. It's something the audience is often willing to stretch suspension of belief to accept, but almost inevitably this creates issues in keeping the plot coherent throughout.
Steins;Gate focuses on Rintarou Okabe, who insists on being called by the pseudonym Kyouma Hououin, a self-proclaimed mad scientist with a penchant for making useless inventions and otherwise being amusingly arrogant around his friends -- or, as he likes to call them, "lab members." Okabe, visiting a press conference by a renowned scientist claiming to have discovered the secret behind time travel, inadvertently stumbles into a vast conspiracy and a time travel discovery all his own.
Steins;Gate manages to avoid most of the problems associated with time travel fiction, but enough of them creep into the picture to sour the taste at the end of the day.
Talking about those issues in too much depth would be in bad taste, but the series is intent on using time travel as the fix to any and all problems and this overuse is what causes the majority of the complications.
Thankfully, if one can grant the series levity on those issues, both major and minor, the cast helps to save the day. Okabe steals the show with a frantic and often hilarious display throughout the series, but is also quite capable of dramatic moments that make him one of the better lead characters in anime this year.
He's backed up by Kurisu Makise, whose rapport with Okabe forms an incredible tandem that could probably carry the series on its own. The rest of the cast turns in more stellar performances, both in moments of seriousness and lightheartedness.
There are plenty of both, turning in that rare series that executes on both drama and comedy. As the stress builds around Okabe and the situation he and his friends find themselves in, the comedy starts to echo the sense of desparation, lending all the more credence to the characters.
The production values are also quite engaging, with nice graphical effects, interesting character designs, a great musical score, and consistently good animation.
Still, the issues with the story lurk right underneath. Moments that stretch suspension of belief and, even worse, become painfully predictable in the second third of the story while doing so, keeps this from being a masterpiece.
Good is hardly a crime, but at those times Steins;Gate shows how much more it could have been. Time travel is a difficult plot device to deal with. Its overuse keeps Steins;Gate from its ultimate potential.