Steins;Gate: the anime makes time travel its own strength
Steins;Gate timeline explained
Steins; Gate (see trailer here) is probably the best anime of the last 10 years dealing with time-travels. The anime makes its own fortune for the consistency it shows throughout the entire show: in a frictional world where time shift are possible, the fundamental physical laws established episode by episode are never betrayed. But to make it a reference point in that branch of science-fiction based anime a coherent sequence of event it’s only a necessary condition. Before the Steins;Gate timeline explained part, a quick setting of the anime!
Very persuasive musical backgrounds drive the audience in a balanced mixing of emotionally intense circumstances together with funny moments that allow to mantain the vivacity of the story-telling. The light heart moments which at fist instance may seemed “forced”, in the sense of not required by the plot, are therefore the narrative instruments to outline the characters’ personality.
The major strength of Steins; Gate relies on the complex plot with which time-travels stories are usually bound to. Going over and over the same (or only slightly different) events enables the interactions between characters to become stronger and stronger every time the loop is repeated.
I know that if you’re here it’s because Steins; Gate it’s a kind of mind blowing series of events and this article may clarify the facts seen in the TV anime series. El Psy Kongroo!
The main characters of Steins;Gate anime series
As you will appreciate during the anime series, each character in Steins;Gate has its own weakness. Each Steins;Gate character has to face everyday problems and anxieties.
- Okabe Rintaro: the self-proclaimed Mad Scientist. In truth, he switches in the shoes of Kyouma Hououin in order to escape his real feelings. It’s the mask that the anti-hero has to dress to convince himself and his comrades to pull throught. He’s the founder of the Future Gadget Lab. Despite his hilarious poses, he truly care about his friends and the members of the Lab.
- Mayuri Shiina: the character appears naive and sometimes childish at first appearance. Mayuri has difficulties in overcoming the grandmother’s death. She’s the Kyouma’s hostage for most time of the series till. She is charaterized by an immense sweet heart which allows her to catch vibrations a rational mind misses.
- Kurisu Makise: the genius who invented the time leap machine. The stereotype of the tsundere girl. Unable to interact at first instace due to her rationality, she progressively open towards Okabe and the other lab member. Her superior mind often limits her interaction with others, so she prefers mantaining a cold attitude.
- Itaru Hashida (Daru): he personifies the otaku. Very programmed-skilled, great hacker (super hacka!), a little bit pervert because of his no-relation with real girls of his age.
- Moeka Kiryu: absent-mind and quiet are the main characterisitcs of a stoic woman. Her lack of self-confidence prevent her to have a normal chat with the surrounding people. Her only way to communicated is by means of email which allow her to express her true personality.
- Luka Urushibara (Rukaku): hey he’s a dude! That internal contradiction makes him feel inappropriate in most of the contest. He’s a very reliable and sensitive person.
- Suzuha Amane: very strong girl who was used to survive in the difficult 2036. Quite closed character at the beginning, she hardly asks help to others.
- Faris NyanNyan (Rumiho Akira): despite her apparent simplicity, she is a very self-conscius girl who wants to prevent her friends from suffering. For this reason she usually hides her real intimate feelings behind her catchphrase “nya“.
The Mechanics of Time Travels in Steins; Gate.
Steins;Gate timeline can be altered in many ways.
In order to appreciate the effort to design a coherent story which makes the presence of multiple timelines the pivot of the entire plot, it’s necessary analyzing that different kind of time-travel are experienced by the memeber of the Future Gadget Laboratory:
- D-Mail: essencially they’re messages sent through the phonewave. When a D-Mail is sent, the timeline is reset. If we consider reality as a “system”, sending an D-Mail correspond to insert an external boundary condition at a certain point of time and space: reality has to adapt itself to this disturbance and therefore also past events are overwritten. In general, D-Mails cause a change in timelines’ divergence causing the shifting among different timelines. The magnitude of the disturbance, that means the information contained in the email sent into the past, determines the amount of drifiting: the more the information can modify a divergence point’s event, the more differences will be in the timeline outcome.
- Time leap machine: in this case the user (Okabe Rintaro) is able to transfer the actual memories to himself of the past. So, the user does not travel physically but he can fix the mistakes done thank to the experiences ones has done in the future. In Steins; Gate the limit of time-shift is set to 48 hours. Not respecting this limit may causes mental instability (because of the difficulty to match distant in time memories).
- Time machine travel: the users of this device are teleported into another time. In this case it it possible to time travel both the future and the past (in the same timeline). The battery level may influence how much time can be travelled (backward or forward in the timeline). In the anime series is told that when using the time machine travel, time paradoxes need to be avoided: that’s the reason why Okabe of the last episodes (who has just experienced the Mayuri’s death in alpha timeline) does not interfere with the Okabe of the past (who sees Kurisu’s death). In fact, the causality principle is one of the pillars of the entire story. To be accurate, only the time travel machine built in the beta-timeline is able to move in both direction in time, while the one realized in alpha-timeline can only travel backward.
How do timelines work? When is shifting from alpha timeline to beta (and reverse) possible?
First of all we have to introduce the so-called “attractor fields“. To make it easy to understand, each attractor field may be imagined composed by a bunch of timelines like a cable may contains multiples strings inside. But as cables do, also each attractor field is directed to a specific destination or in other words, to a specific reality. The timelines which fall within the same attractor field are headed to the same outcome.
In Steins; Gate the alpha-timeline lead to a world governed by SERN’s distopy and where Mayuri dies. Whereas, in beta-timeline, World War III breaks out in a reality in which Kurisu’s death cannot be prevented.
That’s the explanation why Okabe cannot save Mayuri despite the multiple time leaps he takes in the beta timeline: if he moves from a timeline where Mayuri dies to another one under the beta attractor field, he will always experience the death of Tuturu-girl. When he realizes that thing, he is headed to restore the condition in order to shift back to the alpha timeline.
The explanation of multiple timelines in Steins;Gate.
Then we come to the question, what’s the border between alpha and beta timelines? Here they come what are called the convergence (or divergence) points. Scientifically they’re similar to bifurcation points: in simple terms, they’re crucial events that deeply sign future actions. Changing the divergence point events determines a change in then attractor field. In fact the upon introduced “principle of causality” is never betrayed in the storyline: for example, when a D-mail is sent to fix the effect of a particular action, the D-mail contains the information to remove the cause of that action; but if the cause never happen, time needs to be rewritten to avoid a paradox.
At this point, it is useful to underline that a large (maybe infinity) timelines are possible because they can be seen as different potential realities. In this sense these multiverses are only mathematical solutions but only one is “active” at the same time in Steins; Gate. This mechanism explains why when sending a D-Mail, also character’s memory/mindset may be affected. The only one who can retain the memory of different timelines is Okabe Rintaro, who has the ability of Reading Steiner.
More about the Reading Steiner ability.
At a first level, the Reading Steiner can be described as the ability of preseriving memories gathered in other timelines. This is only the shallow definition of reading steiner since as we see during the anime series, most of the cast retain previous memories coming from the other timelines in the form of “dreams”. Those experiences exist on the mental level showing up as “real dreams” or “deja vu“. For this reason we can refer to them as “shadow memories” which almost all characters have. The big difference with Reading Steiner arise here: the skill makes the past memories vivid in the mind of the user. But that’s more. The Reading Steiner possessor it’s not subject to the overwrite of the memories when the timeline shifts and the past is rewritten. Because of this, Okarin needs confirmation from his comrades to be sure the timeline has changed.
Inside the Steins;Gate plot. The focal points explained.
In this article we’re not going over every single event of the series, but the pivot points of the plot are investigated to better understand the story. In order to follow the reasoning exposed here, a timeline map is reported at the end of the article. It’s the result of a massive work, so I hope you appreciate.
I want to carefully underline that to clarify your mind about the sequence of events we have to get rid of the concept of time as a linear entity. In the Steins; Gate world, time twists on itself: what happens in the first episode Prologue of the Beginning and the End is the outcome of Okabe who has already get through the facts of episodes 1-22. That’s why in the first episode Makise Kurisu says she saw Okabe just 15 minutes earlier: she met the Okabe who has already experienced the time travel discover and the faced the alpha-timeline events.
The genius comes from the perspective from which the story is told. From this standpoint, difficulties arise. In fact, we have to point out that at least two Okabe Rintaro appear in the story of Steins; Gate. The one (Okabe V2) who eventually is able to open the Steins; Gate timeline and the one (Okabe V1) who makes up the plan in the beta timeline to find the solution for Steins; Gate (and then sends the video to Okabe V2). The question is: which is the Okabe of 1-22 episodes? The answer is that both of them (Okabe V1 and V2) experience the events we see from ep. 1 to 22. The two Okabe differentiate from episode 23 where Okabe V2 lives the episode 23 we saw in Steins; Gate while Okabe V1 undergoes the events of episode 23β. The life of the second is followed by Steins; Gate 0 (SG0) which came out in 2018: thank to the mistake done by Okabe V1 in SG0, Okabe V2 receives the solution video to open Steins; Gate timeline.
Trying to sum up:
- The story probaly starts in the β-timeline. Okabe, unware of the Phonewave machine sends his message to Daru which will be revealed to be the first D-Mail. This event causes the Mad Scientist to shift to the α-timeline. Here we need a clarification. Since Rintaro meets Suzuha coming from 2036, it’s necessary the α-timeline to have been experienced till that year (2036) at least one time. That means that what we see in the anime serie in at least the second iteration in the alpha timeline otherwise nobody would have known about SERN’s distopy and built the time travel machine to come back to 2010.
- Despite that consideration, the story proceeds quite straighforward with the discovery of D-Mail fuctioning with Okabe who lets his friend to use the Phonewave. The use of D-Mails causes the timeline to shift as we see from the timeline map.
- Okabe Rintaro realizes the concept of β-attractor: timelines under its influences converges to Mayuri’s death. the only solution is to restore the condition before the first D-Mail was sent. In fact, the D-Mail system was intercepted by SERN and used to track the discovery of the time machine that lead to a future where SERN controls the time to satisfy its own willing.
- Okabe has to face the tough reality of losing Kurisu in order to save Mayuri and prevent SERN’s distopy in the future. Erasing the traces of the first D-Mail, he switches back to α-timeline.
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The prerequisites to open the Steins; Gate from the Okabe V2 (SG).
Episode 23 is the kernel of Steins; Gate. Here, we describe what happens there and not on the 23β which belongs to SG0. The conditions that require to be cleared by the prospective of Okabe V2 (the one we see in Steins; Gate in ep. 23-24) are:
- Okabe has to make the first attempt and murder Kurisu. Both Okabe V1 and V2 needs to get through that suffering experience since the demarcation between their two path as not yet established. This requirement is more fundamental: Okabe need to stab Kurisu to prevent a time paradox from occurring otherwise past would be reset and also him would have never experienced episodes 1-23 events. In fact, Kurisu’s death is the cause for Okabe V1 to continue living β-timeline (story told in Steins; Gate 0). If Okabe hadn’t killed Kurisu, Okabe V1 would have never existed and Okabe V2 wouldn’t have received the video message. We return back later on this point.
- Okabe has to prevent the metal oopa to activate the airport detector in order to destroy time machine papers Dr. Nakabachi has brought with him. For this reason, in the second attempt, Mayushi only gets a plastic oopa.
- On his second attempt, Okabe needs to preserve the appearance of the past: his mission is saving Kurisu without changing the impression of himself of the past. Preserving the past is important to prevent a time paradox and thus a unknown divergence of the timeline.
In reality the all condition to open the Steins; Gate are more than the one listed, but the other belongs to the Okabe of Steins; Gate 0 and are not investigated here spoiling the series. However, all these condition bring to a timeline where both Mayuri and Kurisu are alive and the time travel machine has never been discovered.
The causality principle: the importance of witnessing an event in Steins;Gate timeline.
The entire plot of Steins; Gate is founded on the principle of causality: every effect requires a cause at its root. When the cause is removed, the effect becames a paradox and then reality adjusts to another timeline to adapt to the changes introduced. Causality explains D-Mails working principle and why Okabe can’t simply save Kurisu in his first attempt: himself would become a paradox: in simple terms ep.1 would have never happened. If we saw episodes from 2 to 23 is because Okabe has already killed Kurisu one time in ep.1. You may ask why Okabe isn’t aware of the Kurisu’s death because of his Reading Steiner ability. That’s the tricky point: Reading Steiner ability enables when a change is made in the past: but as we know from episode 23-24 Okabe does not trigger Reading Steiner because, deceiving himself, he does not change the past!
On a phylosophical level, that reality established because someone made experience of that. Becoming an observer of reality in some ways justifies its existence. For extension, observing events also determines the placement of certain “divergence point”. Quick example, if Okabe has experienced his death in 2025 he can take advantage of this fact bacause he knows he can’t die till 2025 otherwise a paradox is created. To another point of view, witnessing at Kurisu’s death is the way to force himself face all the (future) events of the alpha and beta timelines.
Why the video sent by Okabe V1 is not visible at first by Okabe when he receives it?
Here we go. Causality again. At the time Okabe receive the video-message from the future (2025), that future does not exist yet. A conditon must be cleared: Makise must be killed. Only after that event Okabe V1 chooses to remain in β-timeline and at the end thinking up the Skuld plan! So only the 21st of August 2010 the video becomes availabe and “exists”. Hey, I warned you to abandon the concept of time as a linear string!
Why Suzuha vanishes after Okabe V2 succeds in the 2nd attempt?
That Suzuha comes from the β-timeline. Her disappearance is the proof that timeline has moved to Steins; Gate, a timeline different from β-timeline in which she is never born (that Suzuha has never born, in Steins; Gate another version of Suzuha will born).
Okabe and Suzuha travel in ep. 23 is probably a divergence point.
To confirm that hypothesis is the fact that the departure is never skipped in both SG and SG0. Moreover, Okabe has to return with his clothes spotted with blood. At this point we underline that also in his 2nd attempt he has his apron stained (in that situation of its own blood): but for Mayuri and Daru isn’t the second attempt because the second travel isn’t made after the previous time on physical time (i.e. the first time travel starts at 18:00 and they’re back at 18:01, Okabe ad Suzuha leave for the second attempt near 18:31 but they return at 18:01 not at 18:32 so in Daru and Mayuri perspective, the attempt they witness is only one).
Steins; Gate (Anime TV series)