Just so you all know, I didn’t intend this series to feature so many anime characters. I wanted to talk about the characters from books I’d read, movies I’d seen, and television shows I’d watched.
I blame my vacation from work. Instead of reading more, I sat on my butt and watched anime. It was glorious. I do intend to go back to books soon, though.
Oh well. Let’s talk about Steins;Gate!
Steins;Gate is an excellent anime that shows you just how preposterous the notion of time travel is, right before throwing you headlong in a time travel murder-mystery-conspiracy-theory-race-against-time(LITERALLY)-love-story. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.
All the characters are pretty engaging, but the one I’d like to talk about is the Mad Scientist Himself, Rintaro Okabe aka Hooin Kyoma.
First off, a couple of things. He’s not actually a mad scientist, his secret lab is really just a loft he rents, he’s not actually holding that girl hostage, and his microwave is a time machine.
Initially, Okabe seems confusing. He’s University student who never goes to class, is prone to maniacal laughter and high doses of purple prose, claims to be a supervillain named Hooin Kyoma who’s intent on ruling the world, and is obsessed with stopping the Organization (the Organization is never defined). He doesn’t come off as believable, just some wacko you see walking down the street and preaching to himself.
He’s the kind of person you’d cross the street just to get away from, if you encountered him in real life. Being as how we’re watching him through a television screen, the disconnect causes something else. It makes him somewhat charming. His Hooin Kyoma personality is something he’s constructed for whatever reason, and it doesn’t take long to see that the man has some real social problems. Later in the series, when he’s asked why he created the lab, he claims, “It’s because I couldn’t invent friends.”
The wacko act, while strange and a bit offputting, actually stimulates some empathy for him. We see that he’s not really a supervillain, just a lonely guy looking to get along in the world in the only way he thinks he can.
This act is abruptly shaken when he comes across the body of Kirisu, whom he’d met only minutes before. He sends a text to one of his two friends about his find, and everything suddenly changes. He’s whisked into a world where the Kirisu is alive, and his text arrived one week prior to his sending it.
After some confusion, Okabe declares that he’s succesfully built a time machine. Kirisu joins the lab with his friends, Daru and Mayumi, and together the four begin a series of experiments to test the limits of their newfound power.
It’s a pretty fun series at this point. The gang slowly gains more members, and they send more and more text messages (or D-Mail, after the DeLorean) into the past. Though shocked by his advancements, Okabe rarely drops the Mad Scientist act, save for moments of surprising vulnerability like the one mentioned above. It’s clear he cares about all the people he associates with, and though he refers to them as assistants, you can tell he really views them as friends.
Then everything breaks down. One of his friends turns out to be an agent of SERN, a malevolent organization looking to develop their own time travel device in order to control the future. Agents of SERN break into the lab during a party, and kill Okabe’s best friend, Mayuri. Over the past few days, Okabe and Kirisu managed to develop a different kind of time travel device. This one is capable of sending memories to the past. You hop into a you from the past, fully aware of what happens in the future.
Okabe uses this device, watching as his friends are killed all around him, and is sent back mere hours. At this point, the Hooin Kyoma act drops away, completely. Desperate to save his friend, Okabe seeks her out, and does his best to escape from the SERN agents. However, a different accident occurs, and Mayuri dies anyway. And again, and again, and again.
Okabe leaps back in time, over and over, but is unable to save Mayuri. He does manage to obtain the help of Kirisu, but needs to waste time convincing her after every leap. Eventually, they posit the idea of undoing all the D-Mails they originally sent.
Here, the show gets dark. Okabe, obsessed with saving Mayuri, begins to crush the dreams of those he helped before. One girl never gets to meet her father, one girl loses her father, one girl loses her complete identity, and one loses her reason for living. It’s pretty heartbreaking, to watch these people have their happiness swept away. It takes its toll on Okabe as well. Every D-Mail he deletes only gives Mayuri another day. He even goes so far as to let her die to discover the precise time she dies to further calculate his chances on the next leap.
Keep in mind, though Okabe has been time traveling for weeks now, it’s only been the same few days. His friends never have any idea what’s going on, and only their dreams let them know they once had something they’ve now lost. Kirisu jokes around with him at one point, going as far as to say that a Mad Scientist wouldn’t give up so easily.
Okabe replies that he isn’t a Mad Scientist, that Hooin Kyoma is fiction, and that he’s just a powerless man who can’t save his friend no matter how hard he tries. He becomes cold, hard, exhausted, any maybe even a bit crazy.
Though, through it all, Okabe realizes that he’s fallen in love with Kurisu. She’s the only one who believes him time and again, and is the only one who can really help him figure out what to do. He’s experienced Kirisu for months, while Kirisu has only experienced him for weeks. It’s a strange juxtaposition.
Eventually, Okabe realizes that the only way to save Mayuri, and stop SERN, is to switch back to the original time line when Kirisu died.
It tears him up to choose between the two, but with Kirisu’s blessing he leaps one last time, only hours after confessing to her that he loves her.
In the new world, Okabe’s friends are distant, save for Daru and Mayuri. His love is dead as well.
Okabe has shed his entire Hooin Kyoma personality, and he seems broken. He’s no longer the lovable Okabe. He’s just a man who’s been through hell.
Then he gets a phone call about stopping World War III.
Turns out, in the new time line, in order for World War III to be averted, Kirisu has to live. So, Okabe goes back in time, but accidentally kills Kirisu himself.
Completely destroyed, he collapses on a roof amongst his friends, and says, “I’m done.” Then he gets a message from himself in future.
The future Okabe tells him that the terrible trials he went through served to give him strength, and that if he wants to save the woman he loves, he has to do it in a shady and cloak-and-dagger way. Just like a Mad Scientist would.
The future Okabe is a total reversal from the man we’ve been with. His mannerisms are identical to the man who started the series, and his charisma is infectous. Okabe is inspired, and dons the mantle of Hooin Kyoma once more in order to save Kirisu.
Rintaro Okabe is a man who didn’t know who he was. He played at being a super villain, because he didn’t have much else going for him. Yet, it’s this zany personality that, in the end, gives him the drive to succeed. That’s why we love him, because he needed to really be the Mad Scientist he always wanted to be. Steins;Gate is a story about self-acceptance, in that regard.