I recently made a marathon watching of the anime series Steins;Gate. It had been in my backlog of the (few) anime series in my too-watch list for quite a while now. It’s a time travel series, after all, and there’s nothing that will pique my interest more than time travel (although even the allure of that wasn’t enough to get to me to watch Project Almanac, which by most accounts was a brain dead attempt at such heady material.) I learned that I apparently have considerably less tolerance for the more anime-aspects of most anime. For instance I was pretty convinced that the “loveable” character was, in fact, mentally handicapped. However her more idiotic aspects were probably just endearing to the average Japanese audience member. Similarly, I found the characters to not be believable for their ages. At 19, one of them had gone to college (or failed out?) and another was some neuroscience (and also physics?) genius delivering lectures at 19 (maybe even 18.) I don’t know, I would have been able to buy into these characters were they a little older. Although if they were older, some of their eccentricities would be even less tolerable.
Also, the idea of every girl in the lineup of characters (and the majority of the characters are girls) jonesing for the protagonist was also painfully anime. It all made sense when I learned the series was based on a visual novel focused on romancing the girls.
I just came for the time travel! Also the blending of the fictional scenario with the “reality” of the John Titor urban legend, which I thought was a very cool idea. Although this leads to the show’s more jarring aspects, shifting from cartoon zaniness to grimdark end of the world horror without a moment’s notice.
However, it reminded me of a trope that I’ve really grown to find deeply Romantic in time travel fiction: the last members of a lost timeline.
Throughout the series, the main character of Okabe keeps altering the past (sometimes recent, sometimes not) and occasionally gets caught in loops of a day or so. During these, he gets to know his friends in different ways. However each time he’s forced to reset things, only he can remember the bonds he’s formed. He really mourns the loss of some of the timelines he’s forced to abandon and it’s his burden to be the only one who will remember they existed.
In Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card there’s a great moment where the trio of characters who have gone back in time to alter the interactions between Columbus and the natives of the New World meet with each other briefly. They drink a toast the doomed world they came from and which they’re trying to prevent by altering history.
Finally, in Replay by Ken Grimwood a man and woman are reliving their lives (multiple times, always ending with a horrific heart attack at certain age.) After a couple of replays they meet and enjoy a lifetime together. However they learn that each time they relive their lives, it’s for fewer years each time. As they approach the end of their times together, the woman lives the rest of a lifetime as an artist. One of her pieces is an installation consisting of video footage of places she and the man had been to in previous lives. To anyone else in the that timeline, they were just random images, but to him it was a montage of their times together that never existed.
It’s a unique storytelling trick that can really only occur in time travel stories, one that’s beautifully poignant. Although I supposed episodes of Star Trek such as The Next Generation’s The Inner Light or Deep Space Nine’s Hard Time are similar concepts, where the characters are deeply affected by implanted (false) memories. The distinction exists of theirs being personal realities verses the objectively real ones in the fictional time travel stories.