Akihabara has always been the breeding ground for nerds and cosplayers, but if you wander past the maid cafes and electronics stores, you'll find the Future Gadget Laboratory, home to an eccentric trio of conspiracy theorists. Their leader, college student Rintarô Okabe, who also doubles as self-professed mad scientist Kyôma Hôôin, sees secret agents all around him. A lecture on time travel draws Rintarô to meet Kurisu Makise, a teenaged researcher who he later finds stabbed to death.
Upon returning to his lab with his space-case associate Mayuri and discussing things with resident hacker Hashida, Rintarô starts to notice oddities. While their machine, a microwave wired into their cell phones that turns bananas into green slime, is so much an accident that it's no longer that bizarre, Rintarô is shocked when he's told the lecture was cancelled long before he attended it. Even more shocking, Rintarô is speechless when he meets Kurisu as if she had never been killed in the first place.
There is no doubt that the first few episodes of Steins;Gate will make your head hurt, but the story is well-constructed in its chaos. Obviously, the show will tease the viewer with different twists in parallel timelines and risks of temporal collapse, but it's a fun ride so far with some of the comedic interplay between characters. Hard to say if this is a drama right now, but Steins;Gate has some promise.
Steins;Gate gets a lot of assistance from computer-aided animation, but the designs themselves are just decent. The show doesn't explore too much outside of Akihabara settings, but it's hard to really put a finger on how good the animation itself is, as there's much more attention to the story and its characters. Perhaps there's a little bit of residue from the visual novel with more focus on getting the characters to the final scene than to have them look outstanding getting there.
There are some screwballs in Steins;Gate—Mayuri and Hashida are perfect foils, their ditziness and otaku pride, respectively, making them oafish—but both amplify the likes of Rintarô, who is probably one of the more mentally-disorganized main characters in recent memory. Mamoru Miyano (Takuto, Star Driver) is able to discard his usual bravado to act with paranoia and staged confidence, making Rintarô "mad" without making him crazy.
The downside might be that the show could certainly be called a "harem" show—there's a magnetism that draws the Akihabara girls to Rintarô, and it's hard to guess just what their role is. There's even an effeminate shrine "maiden" in Episode 2 who seems to be in the show just to make a joke that "he's still a boy". Good character designs aside, it's hard to say why they're all there.
The music inserts are nice with some driving paranoid tracks for the opening theme, but not too thrilling. Takeshi Abo does a good job composing the songs for the video game and was kept for the anime. Again, we're talking more about the story as fuel for the show, so the music by itself wasn't recognized all that much.
Steins;Gate was first developed as a successful video game, so the anticipation that the show would follow its footsteps was there. White Fox isn't necessarily a veteran to animation, but it was wise to hire two directors—Takuya Satô (NieA_7) and Hiroshi Hamazaki (TEXHNOLYZE)—who have had work with more psychoanalytical shows. The show also has two manga titles running to beef up the show's credentials and fan base.
Steins;Gate was produced by the same two companies that united to form Chaos;Head, a similar visual novel that mixed conspiracy theory with Internet forums. If anything, while Chaos;Head delved into the subculture of Shibuya, Steins;Gate crawls around the nerdcore culture of Akihabara and lays out a story one may not expect from the district known more for its consumerism. We're getting soothing messages from the show that thinking about the possible time-travel twists won't hurt a bit, but it's hard to speculate just how this puzzle gets put together.
The anticipation of a temporal traffic jam gives Steins;Gate a good score in the starting gate, but there's no guarantee that the headache will be manageable.
(Steins;Gate is simulcast on Crunchyroll every Tuesday at 2:35 PM EDT.)