Steins;Gate: science fiction tragedy at its finest. And somehow deriving from a visual novel, too. I introduce you to Rintaro Okabe, casual mad scientist studying the hypothetical intricacies of time travel. The intricacies of hypothetical time travel; he hasn't discovered it yet. But then he does. And he becomes our tragic hero, stuck between two tragic events which result in the deaths of those closest to him. Childhood best friend or newly-met romantic interest and fellow time travel scientist: which would you choose?
Steins;Gate is a sci fi. We have some magical near-future technologies by which the story and conflicts function. In this case, these inventions involve time travel. Both microwave-based technologies, we have the D-mail, an email or text message sent back in time, and we have also the ability to send one’s consciousness back in time to their past body.
There is also a generalized moral conflict which arises between the two tragic events. It’s not just about saving one of two individual lives. If Okabe does not save companion scientist Kurisu Makise, a series of events lead to her research falling into the wrong hands and eventually causing World War III. So, saving her becomes the “greater good” option. It’s also a divergence from the initial timeline in which she dies and longtime best friend Mayuri Shiina lives.
But this is a tragedy, and Okabe has offended the greater powers at work with his tragic flaw of knowledge. Incomplete knowledge, really. The tragedy was a product of his situation, which was brought about by pride, but it wasn’t the pride that was Okabe’s downfall. Okabe quickly overcame that and went about solving the mystery at hand, the mystery being the involvement of SERN and the futures which include Kurisu's and Mayuri’s deaths. But it’s his knowledge of time travel that offends the gods of Steins;Gate. And they punish him with a seemingly inescapable world bound by the science of fiction (science fiction).
As is appropriate for a time travel tragedy, time travel is all about convergence to the tragic event and the related Chaos Theory regarding each and every new world created. Steins;Gate shows us something called “attractor fields.” Effectively, it describes the phenomenon of a whole collection of timelines converging towards a single tragic event. After saving Kurisu’s life and dooming Mayuri’s, Okabe sends his consciousness back what must be a hundred different times in order to try and alter fate. But no matter how drastic of changes he makes, to the life of Mayuri and his other friends or to the surrounding district and world, Mayuri invariably dies. And, mind you, he caused some pretty drastic changes in the world around him between these timelines, but the greatest alteration he could ever make to the tragic event was to push it back a single day. The Butterfly Effect is present in Steins;Gate as Okabe changes tiny, unassuming events in people’s lives in just the way that they change lives, relationships, neighborhoods, and even gender (the original visual novel came out in 2009). The Butterfly Effect is very much an emphasized theme since the only mode of time travel for much of the story is to send a text message back in time: it’s small.
But, like in Orange, the mystery is eventually solved to the extent that Okabe is able to bypass his tragic flaw of knowledge and save both Mayuri and Kurisu. He does maintain the burden of this knowledge, though, which after witnessing a hundred dead Mayuris, is a tragedy in its own right. But it is suggested that Kurisu retains some knowledge of these alternate timelines and has not lost the experience of falling in love with Okabe time and time again. It’s romanticized, definitely, but it’s also just a regular, self-regulating story. It follows its own rules. It’s a happy ending.