Saturday, January 14, 2012

Steins;Gate - It's beautiful


Whilst reading all my usual blogs which review anime series (one of which is here), I realised everyone (including the readers) was consistently lamenting about the anime season which just ended in Japan - the Fall 2011 season. There were enough voices that got me curious. The message was consistent, over and over again, across 16 blogs (yes, I read that many). They were certain that the Fall season in 2011 had been the Absolute Best in a seriously long time, ever since a severely long drought of good anime series descended upon us.

So, I was determined to find out what the hype was. Well, because I'd stopped watching anime almost altogether because of said drought. In fact, when Mom came to stay with me, I decided that it was just for the best. I thought I wasn't actually missing much, probably. I would think about it from time to time, wondering how the anime season was going, but perhaps I felt weird not watching anime due to routine really.

And when Mom went home, I didn't feel the need to jump back onto the bandwagon immediately. I probably thought I got used to not watching anime, and even wondered whether I had grown out of it for good! But after some time, and out of boredom one day, I started reading all 16 blogs again. So yes, like I mentioned, Fall 2011 seemed to have hit a very rare jackpot because they presented varied series in different genres by all these directors and studios, and 90% of them were good. Like, seriously pow-wow good.

I started to read specific reviews of each title, mainly because I didn't feel like watching everything which Fall 2011 had to offer. Winter 2012 is still ongoing, and I have a few in mind. Just trying to catch up to a series is very time-consuming, so I have to make educated selections. After some investigations, I decided to settle on Steins;Gate.

I don't really know what to say about it. 

I feel as if I'm letting the series down if I don't navigate this right and find the appropriate words to describe it. It is that unique and groundbreaking that I am honoured to have watched it. I really want to find the writers and thank them for bringing something so intense into this world. I am full of gratitude to White Fox - the studio which adapted the game into this anime. Most adaptations are so rubbish that you become disillusioned eventually. The voice actors & actresses have really left their mark in this work. I think most people dismiss anime as silly or nonsensical entertainment, but sometimes, I pity them because they are simply missing out, and that's too bad for them.

I really want to say to everyone, "Go watch Steins;Gate! Nao!" I'll even force everyone if I have to. But somehow, a part of me don't really want to. I'm in that position where I have found something so good, so powerful and so magnificent that I can't afford anyone who doesn't really understand anime to watch it and not geddit. That would be a tragedy. I'm afraid that people won't see this series the way it should be seen and appreciated. It's not because it's full of anime lingo or that the story is so obscure that only 1 out of 5 will understand it. No, it's totally understandable by anyone, even non-anime fans. I just feel like I want to protect it, but yet I really want to share something this good. It's... it's about life, about mistakes, about pain, about choices, about decisions which will have grave consequences, about suffering, about love, about sacrifices, about selfishness.

It's about what happens when you play God.

I did my homework and read up on every bit of non-spoilers that I could find, in order to make up my mind about watching Steins;Gate or not. I knew I had to push through the first few episodes, which wouldn't make sense and the pacing would be slow. So, I tolerated. And the payoff was so worth it that I kinda feel... guilty for being able to watch something so gripping. The immediate thought I had after the final episode was, "Will I be able to watch any other anime series like this again?" And then I had to laugh because so many readers' comments for the finale said the exact same thing! Poor us. We savour the moment when we find something so invaluable, and yet it is accompanied by a tormenting thought that we may not get something so good again. Well, not for a very long time at least. I hope I'm wrong.

So, what's Steins;Gate?


Steins;Gate is about time travel. Yes, you have your usual culprits - time paradox, time leap, butterfly effect, alternative worlds, timelines etc. And unlike most time travel / sci-fi genre, this one isn't complicated. That's a nice touch already. You have the main character who self-proclaims to be a crazy scientist, and secondary characters who may appear to be the 'run-of-the-mill' ones, i.e. stereotypical. Well, I say that because if you'd watched anime as long as I have, you kinda know the formula to most series. Always hero with girl, or heroine with guy, or the tsunderes, the yanderes, the bespectacled sidekicks, the villains, the psychos... well, the same applies to movies and TV series yeah? So, I watched the first few episodes and thought, "Yep, I know them. Whatever".

But then, the pace really kicks in and I don't even realise it. It just does. It catches up to you like that. The main characters manage to invent a time machine, and initially, everything seems fine. Friends around them catch wind of the situation, and submit their requests to change something about their pasts. Strictly speaking, if we simply substituted that one change, then perhaps we can hypothesize that it wouldn't cause significant effects really. Anyway, without giving away too much of Steins;Gate, several of these requests which seemed quite harmless turned out to be very, very wrong.

It is when things go so awry that you realise the terrible consequences you have inflicted upon innocent people, who will most definitely be affected in ways you can never expect. We cannot anticipate the future, and even if you have changed one little thing in the past, it unleashes that well-documented Butterfly Effect. This happens because you cannot dictate what people will do and you cannot predict what people's choices are. Innocently thinking that everything remains exactly the same except for that one change you'd made is not going to work. I knew the story would focus on the consequences, but the real cherry topping of this series really derived from the characters who were embroiled into this. Can we really change what we have done? Can we then undo what we changed? Are we prepared to say sorry for a grievous damage we will cause to someone else because of a change? Will you forgive yourself even? Ultimately, can we cheat Fate? Layers and layers of human emotions, joy and grief. Absolutely moving.

The voice acting for all the characters have been spot-on. Yes, they have been funny and engaging, and you just have to laugh at Miyano Mamoru's take on our mad scientist, Okabe-san. Miyano has been one of my favourite voice actors for a while now, after all, who can forget how he animated Lighto-san in Death Note? But hearing him as Okabe has made me respect him. Many guys who usually prefer female voice actresses (of course) were totally surprised and impressed. They'd sat up and taken notice of him for the depth of the work he was capable of. Okabe's anguish, torture, hilarity, being plain crazy... Miyano has perfectly nailed each aspect, bringing him to life and making us connect with this 2D character. Making me cry, damnit. And of course, our veteran seiyuu-sama, Seki Tomokazu. He'd voiced all these major male characters, and then he voices the sidekick Daru, our 'supa haka' in this series. I didn't even know it was him until the credits rolled up! That was... brilliant beyond words.

The highlight is the level of maturity in the characters. Usually, you see one or two of them quite neglected. Not in this one. You see them struggling with hideous issues which are emotionally draining and morally challenging. What if you were made to choose between a lesser or a greater evil, neither being appealing anyway? What if you had to pick one who lives and one who dies, both of whom you love? What if you need to sacrifice everyone else's happiness in order to save a life? Everything in this anime series is not unnecessary. Things in the earlier episodes get picked up and explained in the latter ones, so that's really fulfilling and fun in its own way. It is time travel after all, so everything has its purpose for being there. There were a lot of theories floating around in discussions following the initial episodes, and I suppose my regret is not being able to participate in realtime when the series was being broadcasted. Sigh.

Right now, I still feel thunderstruck after watching Steins;Gate. In a way, I am glad that I got to see all 24 episodes without having to wait for a new one though. Fans were made to wait when the series was still running, and they were absolutely writhing for the next one each week, haha. I have absolutely no regrets watching such an intelligent series, which was well-executed with the perfect voice cast and filled with such emotional maturity. It was still peppered with some comedic anime-ish moments, but basically, I teared up at Okabe's efforts in time-looping endlessly to save someone, the torturous crossroads he was in, the frightening consequences of his power which basically gave him so much responsibility that it could crush his compassionate soul (with great power comes great responsibility, anyone?).

I'm so glad he is such a good boy, Okabe-san, and I feel so much pity for him because he'd seen so much sacrifice and felt so much anguish that his price is to shoulder everyone's pains and burdens, probably. Of course, since he can retain ALL his memories from every timeline he'd jumped or created. Imagine the loneliness. It's amazing to see the power of love, of forgiveness, of self-sacrifice, of wanting to be accepted, of wanting to be alive, to know that you are never alone, to know that you have friends who stand by you and give you a helping hand. I'd never connected with characters on this level which made me really feel what they felt, so I am glad to have had the chance to. I want that beautiful love he had - that mature, not over-the-top, sacrificial love that came from 2 people who truly understood each other, and because of that, decided to put their selfish desires aside. To have that level of understanding and love... in order to let the other go. To say goodbye. To make the right decision. No silly whiny stuff, although the buildup to their love was absolutely hilarious. That was how it captivated all of us. Their characters were so well-developed that we felt the effect more. Truly something of a masterpiece, and I have to say, these Japanese have done it again. Stop making me weep, seriously.

Well, I enjoyed the finale and I'm sorry it has ended (some time ago). It certainly has been a joyride even though I needed tissues and I laughed too loudly as well. Now I'm feeling sad and empty after bidding farewell to Steins;Gate, but not to worry, its movie is on its way! In the meantime, I shall explore some other series in Fall 2011. Because if it brought titles like Steins;Gate and Fate/Zero, my expectation of it is now ridiculously high.

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