2011 was one of the best years for anime in a long while. You had the subversive Madoka Magica, the extremely consistent Fate/Zero, Ben-to (which was better than it had any right to be,) Un-Go (which was better than a lot of people gave it credit for), the spectacular Mawaru Penguindrum...that's not even counting Wandering Son, Level E or Bunny Drop, all shows that I have yet to see but are supposedly brilliant. There was even Ano Hana, if that was your sort of thing (and it was a lot of people's, believe me.) Even better was the sheer diversity of offerings on display—you had dark magical girl anime, growing-up anime, social commentary anime, penguin mystery anime... Then you had Steins;Gate, an adaptation of a popular visual novel which is starts out as quirky science-fiction slice of life before transforming into an intense time-travel thriller, and then again into something else entirely. Visual novel adaptations don't have a great track record, and considering how complicated the material is here, the production could have been botched in the same way Chaos;Head was all those years ago. It's a testament to studio White Fox, and to the fact that Steins;Gate is easily one of the best written genre shows in ages, that the series stands up as well as it does. Two things stand out about Steins;Gate as soon as you start watching it. The first is that it trusts you enough to puzzle out its mysteries. The second is that it understands Japanese otaku culture (screw that, nerd culture in general) better than just about any other work of fiction I can think of. The story's about time travel, yeah, but it also brings in CERN, John Titor and World War III, while at the same time representing stuff like maid cafes, dating sims, 4chan logic and a ton of other stuff without ever coming off as condescending. The cast of characters is uniformly likable, and the protagonist is probably one of the most fascinating in ages. And if the story is initially slow, episode 12 starts a nearly miraculous chain of episodes stretching all the way to episode 22, all of which are brilliant, harrowing stuff. The ending doesn't quite match the intensity of some of the early material, and the music can be a little bland (although some of it is great.) But as a work of grand entertainment, Steins;Gate is practically a home run. All together now. El. Psy. Congroo.
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