When people (me included) write the book on anime in 2011, there’s no question that Steins;Gate is going to be acknowledged as one of the most important and most popular anime of the year. Through three quarters, S;G, Madoka Magica and AnoHana are probably the three most talked-about series of the year. In my mind this show is clearly deserving of that honor – it won’t end up as my number one series of the year but it will certainly rank in the top 10, and certainly ahead of Madoka Magica. It may also rank with Kanon 2006 as one of the greatest VN adaptations of all time.
The fact that I went into this series with almost no knowledge of the source material and was still able to enjoy it as thoroughly as I did speaks volumes about the fantastic job White Fox did with this adaptation. They realized going in that they were making an anime, not a game, and as simple as that sounds it’s something studios get wrong all the time. I won’t drone on about why adapting games and VNs is so difficult, but to have accomplished the task of pleasing the VN fans and thrilling a new group of viewers may be Steins;Gate’s greatest victory. There were remarkably few complaints from the gamers and the new viewers were hooked in almost immediately by the fascinating premise and great dialogue. White Fox took a twisting, convoluted series of routes and weaved them into a coherent, linear dialogue that was full of mystery but easy to follow. They did this in part by telling the audience just enough every week to feel like they were getting somewhere, while still keeping a few mysteries up their sleeve.
One of the things that pleased me almost immediately about this series was the dialogue. Whatever the source material, it was funny – really, genuinely funny and smart to boot. I commented way back when (before I even joined RC) that listening to Okabe and Kurisu banter was like listening to Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn go at it in one of the great screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. The meat of the credit goes to the writing staff, especially Hanada Jukki (Seitokai no Ichizon, Level E, natsume Yuujinchou, Sola, Kuragehime – what a track record!) But the cast deserves their share of the praise as well. Imai Asami, KanaHana, Tamura Yukari, Goto Saori – I’ve called all of them out for their strong work here over the last couple of months. But the center of the show was obviously Miyano Mamoru as Okabe, and he delivers one of the standout seiyuu performances of recent memory. To be blunt, I wasn’t a big fan of his before this series, but he’s found the role of a lifetime here. Okabe Rintarou is a perfect fit for Miyano’s grandiose, snarky delivery – but what really impressed me was the depth of emotion he was able to bring to Okabe’s darker moments. Miyano was great at hitting dialogue like “Hello, I am mad scientist – so coool! Sunovabitch.” out of the park, and he nailed the romantic banter with Imai Asami’s Kurisu. But he also went to some very dark places with Okabe and really showed us what was happening in the mind of this strange, egomaniacal, insecure and ultimately heroic 18 year-old. He’s my early favorite for male seiyuu performance of the year, along with Hirata Hiroaki’s Kabaragi Kotestsu.
So in the end, I would call Steins;Gate a success in every way these things can be measured. It was superb visually, pleased fans both old and new, drew strong ratings and sold a ton of DVDs and Blu-Rays. And the great thing is, all of it was deserved. It was a first-class production that delivered both as an entertainment and as something more, a series that was smart and filled with big ideas that both played fair with its audience and challenged them. I guess all that it was led to the announcement at the end of the episode that there would be a film adaptation of the story. Details are sketchy at this point, and the short clip certainly didn’t give anything away, but I have enough faith in White Fox to view this announcement with excitement rather than trepidation. As good a job as they did with the TV, I expect they’ll do just fine with the movie.