How Steins;Gate’s Premiere Elegantly Exudes Tension

How Steins;Gate’s Premiere Elegantly Exudes Tension

Hello & Welcome – To Replay Value Structurally Steins;Gate’s premiere is broken
into two halves that speak to their focus within its first episode. The first half is the thriller section, focused
on getting the audience invested in the plot with all of its foreshadowing, looming questions
and bizarre occurrences. The second half is the Lab Member section,
introducing the viewer to three of the four primary characters, their relationships, and
hinting at circumstances. It’s not that the thriller half doesn’t
help to introduce the characters, nor that the lab member half doesn’t forward the
plot – but if we were to break down the major takeaways from each, they’d fall under the
categories as I’ve labeled them. And conveniently they’re separated by Hacking
to the Gate, and follow a tension curve that has two peaks – at the end of each section. Strong cliffhangers like these are useful
not only helping to slowly descend into what serves to be a “low tension” second half
but also to really punctuate that half with its ending moment. At the end of the day though, structure is
just the bones on the story itself – and to really get into what makes the thriller section
work, we’re gonna have to flesh it out. One of the major elements in establishing
a tense sequence is in how you establish tone, and in that regard Steins;Gate’s lighting
and sound design do a fantastic job of setting the stage. We carry over the bleached white lighting
while outside from the opening minute, and add to it tons of crowd noise, music playing
to produce a very much alive, if not chaotic and slightly disorienting picture of Akihabara. That is all immediately thrown aside once
our characters enter the Radio Building – what with it being extremely quiet and the darker
corridors. It’s an impressive contrast on its own and
it’s best represented in this shot – as the light fulfills this gradient effect across
the screen where the whites are overexposed on the left, and the blacks are overexposed
on the right, leaving the visible space compressed even if the shots themselves weren’t framed
to do so. And that’s the major impact of these decisions
for the sequence – an eerie claustrophobic feeling that just can’t be shaken except
for moments inside the lecture room and once we’ve left the radio building. Given how much stuff that happens in this
half is seemingly random, and indeed the gruesome moment that this sequence is building up to
– that feeling of uncertainty and light anxiousness that’s produced by the plot itself is reflected
in its visual and audio composition. This sequence also has very clever visual
direction to inform us intuitively about our characters – primarily Okabe as we follow
him through the sequence. After the loud noise from the roof we see
this shot – the entire left side of the shot is pitch black so we’re instantly going
to look to the right – and as he crosses this visual barrier, it’s practically a threshold
moment, and once he’s gone we’re immediately brought back to Mayuri not only because of
her movement but because the light is there. Okabe’s inherent curiosity is something
not shared by Mayuri – and it’s also something that literally separates them as he runs off
leaving her behind. Despite that difference and separation though,
Okabe does genuinely care for her, as shown in the following scene with the Oopa – and
with Mayuri innocently but purposefully busting through the Hououin Kyouma name with just
a smile that forces one onto his face as well which speaks to their closeness. The time travel lecture visually shows Okabe’s
separation from the average attendee of the conference – already a small self selecting group – with him sitting in the far back
two rows away from anyone else, and it also suggests that the Professor isn’t exactly
a big name with tons of empty seats. But if there’s one thing I love about this
sequence, it’s the focus on the eyes. Nakabachi’s blue eyes on the right vs. Okabe’s
yellow on the left – and specifically how much anger you can tell are coming from the
Prof’s even without the verbal context. And Steins;Gate cues us in for a shift when
we’re shown Kurisu, whose eyes are closed. Okabe tries to hold as much distance as possible,
when she cuts to the left – he moves right which is a great shot inherently because of
the contrasting movement and it also leads to this great look at her blue eyes as she
turns to face him. Okabe continuously tries to build space despite
Kurisu’s continued forward pushes for answers, as with her approaching him to grab the phone
– at least until the final shot which uses the full frame to allow Okabe to lean in for
his confident final line before sprinting away and hiding. It’s a great duality of persona and reality
that’s on display in that exchange that is almost the perfect encapsulation of Okabe’s
character early on and gets reinforced in the second half which we’ll cover next time
– but all in all I love how the visual language of this section tells us about the characters
to empower the verbal exchanges or to entirely replace them. Sprinkled throughout the thriller section
are the seemingly random occurrences, which the show manages to make multi-purpose not
only on their faces but also in how it paces them out to make them relevant but also irrelevant. The three moments I’m referring to are the
rooftop shake, Kurisu stating they spoke before, and the video mail. It’s important to state that all of these
events don’t really need proper explanations even to function on their face purposes – introducing
two important elements for the end of the section and breaking the flow / adding to
the creepy tone. With the exception of the Kurisu instance,
these moments have very little time to be pondered – as we rush into talking with Mayuri
in both instances, which rightfully makes them feel like small plot points. With Kurisu, the video mail that follows it
– in that moment feels like such a bigger deal with the zoom and static overload that
Kurisu’s kinda put aside until the moment we’re about to get to. The pacing of these three foreshadowing events
is designed to introduce them, leave them as hanging questions, and move along ASAP
since the true contexts and explanations are so far down the line that dwelling on them
does the story no favors – rather the dual purpose of introducing characters and plot
elements on the face of the story is sufficient given how it assists in helping to make the
audience feel even a little bit more unsure of what’s happening. If Okabe doesn’t get it, how could we be
expected to. But at the heart of this sequence is what
all of this information and work was building up to – that silence now being filled by a
disconcerting track that comes in after a loud scream, the deliberate echoing footsteps,
the shaky first person shots to heighten the tension in the dark hallway. The vision of the dead Kurisu intercut with
her profile from earlier, the buzzing of the phone, the intensity of the red blood that
bleeds into other frames – all coming together to highlight the dread, and the slow rotation
into darkness before cutting to the white sky outside is a great contrast. The fact that the audio is still actually
building, specifically the violins and choir, doesn’t allow the audience to feel like
this was the climactic moment – and nothing about being outside is particularly settling
either, with the overwhelming number of people and sounds at play. The audience is almost trying to settle itself
like Okabe…but as that track comes to an end… As far as powerful imagery goes – Okabe standing
alone is pretty indicative of the journey he’s just unwittingly launched himself on. The sound is what sells this for me though
– the echoing footsteps, the lone pinging notes and the shimmering sound effects. It doesn’t feel real – that this should
be impossible and that this couldn’t possibly what’s actually happening. Fitting, given that there is so much beyond
Okabe and the viewer’s comprehension at this point in the story. The pan up from the phone not only regrounds
the audience but fortifies the connection between the message and this occurrence, and
the empty streets that Okabe runs through back to the radio building could not be further
from the opening section’s treatment of sound and crowds. The slow reintroduction of the world is conveyed
through the visuals – first with Mayuri – then with other people who appear frozen before
they begin moving again as the shots continue as though its rebooting – there’s a nice
addition in the English version which processes Okabe and Mayuri’s Voices to give them a
slight distortion to add to the sense of modification. But across both versions the sound design
of the sequence has changed – what used to be filled with crowd noise and fanfare or
emergency response noises, now there’s just a soft rumbling as though there’s a plane
off in the distance. But that rumbling is indicative of something
else entirely, as a double slow motion movement cues up the final shot in the sequence – as
we tilt and rotate up to see a similar looking machine whose rumbling grows even louder now,
embedded in the roof of the radio building. Leading, perfectly, to the first instance
of Hacking to the Gate. The thriller introduction in the first half
of Steins;Gate is carried primarily through it’s clever pacing and strong establishment
of tone – but what personally impresses me continuously is how the small character moments
go so far to make them interesting and memorable even before we’ve truly met any of them. We’ll have to save that – at least in the
case of these two – for the next video in Operation:Yggdrasil when we tackle the second
half of the episode, specifically taking a look at the writing to determine what makes
this moment one of my favorites. But until then – El Psy Kongroo.

36 Replies to “How Steins;Gate’s Premiere Elegantly Exudes Tension”

  1. Hey! If you didn't see the revised version of the first video (specifically for those of you who wanted some Japanese Dialogue Analysis) it's live here:

  2. You realize one day you're gonna have to make a video exclusive for the music in this show, right? At least the ones with lyrics.
    Meanwhile, my anticipation for future videos in this series is gonna drive me insane.

  3. One of my favorite visuals is how vibrant and saturated the blue of the sky is when Okabe looks up. The entire scene is so washed out and bleached with the exception of the sky it creates such a surreal contrast. Even other shots of the sky before and after in the continuity are way more desaturated so it's clearly meant for visual punctuation.

  4. Steins; Gate's first cour was done masterfully. Many praise it for the incredible 2nd cour and ending, all while claiming the first cour is boring and slow, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
    Thank you for this video! I'm glad you talked about its visual narrative as well, because it is such a crucial element of its success, along with voice acting, cinematography, and pacing.

  5. the people who cant get through the first half are probably action shounen only audiences, yes i am being an elitist rn but steins gate is such a masterpiece

  6. I loved how the first WL jump just adds to the disorientation we feel from that part. Sure we see it allot in the series and like Okabe we get used to it but that first time is so jarring it just draws you in even more to want to understand what the hell is going on.

  7. Hyouka was the one who brought me to anime and Steins;Gate is my favourite one. You made a series for both. Thank you.

  8. I love these Steins;Gate anylsis videos. As my all/time favorite anime it deserves all the praise and deep dives into every part of it. This anime is an absolute masterpiece. I can't wait for the next video in Project Yggdrasil. El Psy Congroo.

  9. Holy what the hell did you study to be able to get all of this visual details? I'd like to enjoy a show not only by how good it is narratively but also how the visuals connect to the characters and the story. You're awesome!

  10. seriously, all those visualizations, sounds, and the directing combination setup steins;gate perfectly bringing an exquisite experience.
    and this is also exactly what steins;gate 0 lacks by some amount, at least for me personally.

  11. the music for this show and vn are amazing, i can recognize so many soundtracks from this one show from 20011 lol, now in days i struggle to recall an OP from an anime i watched last season. This show is so good.

  12. I’m curious about how you graphed the tension in both parts. Is there an actual method to graphing tension/beats & their impact on the story? Or is the graph just a general idea of what the tension feels like?

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