[Script] Revisiting Steins;Gate 4 Years Later

Steins;Gate 0 is right on the horizon. At least, it was when I wrote this, it should’ve already started by the time you’re watching this video. Knowing it was coming soon, I decided to revisit the original series. The first Steins;Gate was an early favorite of mine but I hadn’t seen it in over 3 years. Like many shows I cared about back then, I was curious to see how I’d look upon it with my current tastes and sensibilities and 0’s arrival gave me a perfect excuse to rewatch the show.

Steins;Gate is no longer one of my favorite anime. The days where I was thinking about it constantly are long gone and on this rewatch that became clearer than ever. That said, I still greatly appreciated the show and it gave me great insight into how my taste has shifted over the years. In some ways, I find that outcome more beneficial than if I had just fallen in love with the show all over again. Steins;Gate serves as a bit of a marking point for various periods of my anime fandom and that makes it so worthwhile to look into.

Generally, when you revisit a past favorite and end up with different feelings, it’s due to a shift in tastes. It’s hard to believe anyone’s tastes would stay stagnant across multiple years after all. This was what happened to me with Death Note, which went from one of my first anime and an early favorite to a show which is easily in the bottom 10 of my completed list. However, while I have moved away a bit from that sort of juvenile darkness-focused series, my taste has mostly broadened over time and I certainly haven’t come to dislike shows along the lines of Steins;Gate. If anything, my actual taste in genres has shifted a remarkably low amount over the last 4 years. K-On! was already a favorite of mine when I first watched this show, after all. No, Steins;Gate does not demonstrate the kind of show I’ve grown out of, but the ways in which my actual process of watching anime has shifted.

I’m still a big fan of sci-fi, of thrillers, of romance, and of character drama, all of those being things that Steins;Gate nails pretty well. I’ve seen better shows since I first watched it, so the series doesn’t blow my mind in the same way it did the first two times I saw it but there was still a lot here to like. What really stood out to me when watching it was not how my tastes had changed but how much more attentive I was when watching anime, how much more I notice in any given series and the various ways in which my perspective differs now.

When I first watched Steins;Gate, the atmosphere just washed over me. The first cour was slow, sure, but it was gripping and clearly set up a wonderful mood that the show would later follow up on. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, enjoying the characters that the series was quickly having me come to love. And once Mayuri died, wow. I couldn’t put down the show, to the point that I was willing to watch episodes on my phone that day while I was with my parents on a shopping trip.

And that wasn’t less true now. I was a bit less gripped, considering I’d already seen the events twice, but I still loved the characterization and the mood the show was developing. The difference was in how I perceived these things. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m more detached from anime than I used to be. Just a month-and-a-half or so ago, I cried something like 30 times when watching Mawaru Penguindrum again. I’m still a very emotional anime watcher. What’s changed is that, in addition to the part of my brain which is reacting to the events on a gut level, there’s another part of me which is analyzing the show and trying to understand how it’s making me react in the way it is. I wouldn’t say this wasn’t present at all 4 years ago, but I’ve definitely become more critical over the years, not in the sense that I’m more negative but in the sense that I’m more interested in picking apart why something does or does not work.

To give a brief example, when I watch episode 1 of the show now, I have a greater understanding of why the directing techniques used manage to evoke such a particular mood. The relative lack of music, the common use of dutch angles, all of this contributes to a very off-kilter attitude. This is pretty basic stuff and I would have recognized it if it were pointed out to me in the past. The change is in noticing all this stuff in the process of watching it. It’s an interesting experience because in some ways it does diminish the visceral reaction to the show but in other ways, it gives me more to appreciate in regards to its construction.

In general, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a much more analytical and production-focused anime fan in the past few years. As I watched and read more analysis I just grew better at spotting things and that shift was only sped up by my becoming a writer on anime myself. It’s amazing to think back and realize that I used to not know the names of more than 5 directors, that I used to be unaware of the most basic facts regarding anime production. Now, when I revisit shows I watched years ago, I notice things I literally couldn’t have back then. I’m no genius in regards to animation but I have a much greater appreciation for it these days. In the past a good cut was just a part of the animation, while now it’s something I notice and pay attention to. When I revisit a show like K-On!, I don’t really get this, as my experience is still quite similar to how I initially perceived the show and my amount of love for it has only increased over time. For a work like Steins;Gate, something I spent countless hours thinking about, this shift makes it really clear how I’ve changed as an anime fan. Combine that with my now much greater knowledge of anime culture and I understood the show more, even if I didn’t like it nearly as much as I used to.

Of course, changes in my perception of anime are hardly the only thing I came away with from this watch of Steins;Gate. I got a lot more out of this rewatch than that. For one thing, it was simply nice to revisit an old favorite of mine. I don’t want to get too hung up on the differences in how I saw the show because I was just happy to come back to it in general. I still cared about these characters, even if many other characters have since taken the forefront in my mental space and simply reliving a show which was important to me at one point was hardly a bad experience. And so, I’d like to talk about what I actually thought about the show this time.

The first thing that stood out to me was that the character writing was not quite as good as I remembered it being. Now, I don’t know that it’s actually any worse. I suspect that I’ve simply watched more shows where the characterization was more my speed in the time between my rewatches. I can hardly blame the show for not having what stands out to me as 10/10 writing anymore when I’ve watched shows like Shirobako and Penguindrum that simply can’t be touched in that department for me. That said, there were a few specific characters that I really had issues with.

The first, and most obvious, is Ruka. Ruka’s writing is an absolute mess, something I understood even back when I first watched it but which strikes me even more clearly knowing what I now know about gender and trans issues. Ruka is canonically intended to be a gay boy who’s interested in Okabe and thus wants to be a girl because of that. I would already be pretty skeptical of a character arc along those lines — after all, it lines up with the classic and harmful idea that being trans is just being so gay that you want to be a different gender — but the show doesn’t even do a good job of selling that. Instead, Ruka comes across entirely as a trans girl and her desire to be a girl don’t seem particularly tied to her interest in Okabe. I could forgive the fact that the show makes her return to her old body — after all, everyone is forced to lose what they most cared about. I wouldn’t love it but I could forgive it. But the way she’s written just makes it impossible for me to read her as a guy in any way which clearly is not the desired effect. When you add moments like Okabe grabbing her crotch being played for comedy, I don’t know what phrase I can use to describe this other than insensitive. It hardly ruined the show — after all, I’ve seen much worse before. But there was surely a way to do this which would’ve been both more enjoyable to watch and less of a confusing mess for all involved.

I kind of already felt that way about Ruka before this rewatch though. What really changed was how I felt about Kurisu. I still loved her of course — the show’s romance is pretty compelling and she’s a very fun character who’s easy to like. I don’t think the writing surrounding her was inconsistent or anything. No, I simply thought it was a bit too light. That is to say that while I loved her, I don’t think she got quite enough focus. And that really surprised me. She’s the main heroine after all and I remembered her getting almost as much of the spotlight as Okabe himself. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. The her that exists in my mind is a character with much more going on. Again, that’s not to say that she’s boring here but it is a bit sad. I have a whole video defending the idea that your idea of a character matters more than the version that explicitly exists in the text and I still believe that to be true but that doesn’t diminish my disappointment at seeing Kurisu not get as much time as I believe she deserves. I’ve heard 0 adds to her characterization in certain ways and if that’s the case then I’m extremely excited to see it.

I don’t want to attack the show too hard for the character writing though, because by and large it’s still quite good. Okabe is still perhaps my favorite depiction of a chuuni character and the way he straddles between his over-the-top persona and his serious self, especially as his constant time travel makes him more and more depressed, is just as great as it ever was. Mayuri is still adorable while feeling fairly real. I suspect she’ll get even more characterization in 0 but as she is I already love her. And Suzuha is amazing, not just because she’s voiced by Yukarin and pretty damn hot but because she in some ways feels like the most fleshed out female character in the cast. Particularly outstanding is how the various versions of her feel different and yet the same. I don’t know the justification for her presence in 0 but I’m excited to see her again.

And of course, when the show nails a scene, it’s just as amazing as I remember it. The ED playing as Okabe realizes Akiba is no longer a paradise for otaku, that first death of Mayuri’s, the reading of Suzuha’s letter as her failure dawns upon Okabe, the kiss between Okabe and Kurisu, the moment when future Okabe reveals the plans to reach Steins;Gate as Skyclad Observer plays, all of these moments are absolutely perfect and didn’t let me down in the slightest. The direction, writing, and sound design all combined to make the key moments hit just as hard as they needed to, something I might appreciate on an even greater level now.

Steins;Gate is no longer an absolute favorite of mine. The shows I consider 10s are very personal to me and hit me on a very specific level that this show no longer does. But it’s still a great anime that’s worth watching and I wouldn’t be shocked if I revisited it once again in the future. I’m extremely happy that 0 got me to look back at this show and am now more ready than ever to see what this new series has to offer me. It would be hard for almost any show I first watched over 4 years ago to be as good as it was back then, if only because I’ve seen so many more anime in general now. But to be able to revisit a show and still care about it is something I take great pleasure in. I can only hope time has been as kind to some of my other old favorites.

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