For a long, long time, Steins;Gate has far and away been my favorite anime. Up until recently, I had never revisited the show on a second viewing, but obviously remembered it very fondly. While I am more aware of its flaws having watched it again, I am also confident in the strength of the relationship between the two main characters: Rintarou Okabe and Kurisu Makise. When two characters are able to interact well and at a believable level, the rest of the show comes together more and other characters are able to come into the limelight because the foundation is so strong.
At its heart, Steins;Gate is a romance show. In general, anime is plagued by generic plotlines and characters. Okabe and Kurisu stand in stark contrast to this by playing off each other very well with incredible banter and subdued feelings. In other shows, there can be a build-up when it comes to the introduction of the main female lead. This is especially apparent in harem shows. Steins;Gate does have harem elements in it, especially considering the source material is a visual novel. However in Steins;Gate, both Kurisu and Okabe are introduced in the first episode. In fact, the initial introduction between the two is ultimately the entire crux of the story. It is important for the show that the two characters are introduced right away because it gives itself enough time to explore the relationship. With only twenty-four episodes and other plotlines to consider, Steins;Gate does itself a huge service by having Okabe interact with Kurisu at the beginning. The way in which he reacts to her stabbing gives the viewer the impression she is important. The time travel element to the show is set off by this reaction. The show combines the romance and time travel elements together through a simple text and you may not even realize the two elements are being put together so well until much later. In this way, the show doesn’t beat you over the head with its thematic elements, and because it resides underneath the surface, the romance between Okabe and Kurisu becomes this ever evolving mechanism in of itself that not only drives the story forward, but grabs hold of your emotions as well.
What needs to be highlighted is the way in which the romance develops. Yes, it is important that enough time be given to the two main characters, but there are small interactions sprinkled throughout that build up, and have a satisfying conclusion as the show concludes. At almost every point in the story, Okabe is dealing with a problem that is either connected to Kurisu or only tangentially so. The problems range from the severe implications of changing the past to something simpler such as the anger of the landlord. In the beginning, Steins;Gate adopts a problem of the week type set-up contained within each individual episode. Okabe is navigating the implications of the D-mails he and his friends send to the past and early on, each one involves a different member of the overall cast. Kurisu is present along the way. Okabe consults with Kurisu often. She is his sounding board. This dynamic is also present in most real life relationships. It is difficult to notice that the relationship evolves organically through every small exchange. While the show may only take place over the course of three weeks, that time frame is much longer for Okabe. In fact, it develops through many different iterations of the same person. Interestingly enough, events usually occur the same way every time Okabe travels to the past. While one may argue that this is the result of fate playing a role in the story, it can also be argued that it is a result of how the two perceive and respond to each other. Okabe enacts the persona of a fictional character and never calls Kurisu by her real name. She comes to expect these staples, and they give all iterations of her, a frame of reference. This evolution reaches its climax near the end in a very poignant episode where the two characters spend the entire time talking with one another and reaching the painstaking decision that Kurisu must die in order to save another.
It can be easy to overlook all the interactions between the two because they don’t amount to much as they are happening. However in episode twenty-two, Okabe throws away the persona he has been using to cover his insecurities and puts his heart on the line when he finally confesses his feelings to Kurisu. He admits to her that he is in love and asks her about her feelings regarding their relationship. She tells him to close his eyes, and as his heart is laid bare, she leans up for a kiss. For me, this single moment is the highlight of the show because it is the culmination of their relationship. It is the realization that this is truly a love story, in an incredibly believable way. Real relationships take time and patience. They spend a lot of time with one another, and Okabe relies on no other person over the course of the show more than he does with Kurisu. He affectionately calls her his assistant and she playfully refutes this assertion. However, this nickname is endearing because it is indicative of how he truly feels, even if Okabe is not aware of it himself. When you look at the small moments as self-contained stories, they don’t feel important. When you look at the small moments as pieces of a bigger puzzle that lead up to the kiss you can understand their significance. As they tease each other and work together to comprehend something bigger than either of them, they bond. Kurisu eventually opens up to Okabe about her family struggles and that is arguably the first time she is vulnerable. He is unable to do that in return until the moments leading up to their embrace. To Okabe, his second identity is too important. He needs it to function and interact with other people. He is never quite able to let it go with Mayuri, the little sister figure in the show. With his lover, the person that matters the most, he lets it go, and as a result their relationship reaches a very satisfying climax and shows just how strong the two leads are when they are able to interact in meaningful ways.
Steins;Gate is arguably one of the greatest time travel stories ever told, which means a lot considering its medium. Despite that, the romance story that is intertwined with the scientific side is the true gem to be found. Kurisu and Okabe interact in many different ways throughout the course of the show. They build a foundation and comradery with one another that climaxes with a vulnerable kiss between the two. The relationship is the focus of the show and Okabe’s care towards the other characters is more believable as an extension of his feelings for Kurisu. Steins;Gate was released six years ago at a different time in my life. It resonated with me then as a captivating story involving time travel. Now, it resonates with me as an engaging story between two close friends that become lovers because yet again I am at a different point in my life. No matter your circumstances, any person can find something to appreciate in Steins;Gate. It is a show that will stand the test of time, no pun intended.