Anime as a medium naturally lends itself to presenting worlds of science fiction. Among the greatest anime in the sci-fi genre are the classic Ghost in the Shell and the more recent favorite Steins;Gate. Both are well-loved as sci-fi stories, but which of these two greats is better?
Steins;Gate tells the story of Rintarou Okabe, a self-proclaimed mad scientist in modern times, who successfully manages to time travel into the past. The first season and main timeline of the anime start with a sense of danger when Rintarou sees a dead Kurisu Makise lying in a pool of her own blood. However, the horrific scene is soon put out of mind as the focus shifts to time travel. While the show starts off on a predictable and cliche path, midway through Rintarou suddenly gets a reality check that instills overwhelming dread and hopelessness that reaches viewers. Instantly, the cliches stop, and the story becomes a unique and thrilling experience.
The sequel Steins;Gate 0 is a continuation to one of the timelines in the first season and allows audiences the chance to view the 'path not taken.' This addition makes the series feel like a more complete experience, as viewers get to see both the 'red pill' and 'blue pill' in a sense.
What's great about Steins;Gate is that it uses every cliche to its advantage to deliver a well thought out storyline that's intricate and brilliant. It dances dangerously close to the red strings of fate without missing a beat while emphasizing the importance of consequences. Every single action, no matter how small, ultimately affects others, whether intended or not. From the moment the twist is revealed, viewers are in for a ride they can never forget.
Strengths: Ghost in the Shell
The protagonist of Ghost in the Shell is Motoko Kusanagi, who lives in a futuristic version of Japan with tremendous technological advancements. Though she is human, her brain is her only remaining organic part -- the rest of her body is cybernetic. She belongs to an elite government unit, tasked to investigate and uncover several difficult cases.
All the various anime versions deal with ideas regarding artificial intelligence and human consciousness. True to the central theme, each season or movie brings up the consistent question of what it means to be alive. Its first movie, released in 1995, was solely focused on the Puppet Master story arc and was extremely philosophically-oriented. The Stand Alone Complex TV series, however, was able to balance its philosophical side with action and politics in a longer, more well-rounded story.
Whether movie or series, all the GitS anime deliver thought-provoking questions that make audiences pause and contemplate life. With humanity aiming to transcend physical bodies, will succeeding make humans lose their humanity? Or is it solely the consciousness despite the 'shell' that makes one human?
Ghost in the Shell is complex, yet handles the concept of human transcendence well. Motoko was born human but has lived the majority of her life as a cyborg. As a child, she escaped death, but at the cost of her emotions. No longer feeling connected to her humanity, she questions her purpose and existence. Ghost in the Shell mixes beautiful animation with profound philosophy. Watching Motoko makes viewers see the disconnect that comes with merging humans and machines from a realistic side, the loss and acceptance of one's self.
While Steins;Gate is one of the most positively reviewed sci-fi anime, it has a major structural flaw that not all are willing to overlook. Many viewers drop the title due to how the first 12 episodes drag. That's equivalent to one season for most anime. Fans of the series will argue that it's great because of the build-up, but when many people express that they need to force themselves to power through the first half, it's clear why it's not getting a perfect score.
Weaknesses: Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell's most significant pro (its intellectual nature) is also its biggest con because its entire concept can completely go over someone's head. Specific topics come up without any backstory or explanation, so viewers who are new to the genre may not easily pick up the references or meanings. This is especially true for the 2004 movie, Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, which minimizes the action even further in favor of even more complicated story told heavily through literary allusions. Although interesting, these topics may only be appealing to people already invested in cyberpunk fiction.
Which is the better sci-fi anime?
Though both titles are masterpieces in their own right, Steins;Gate has a definite punch that puts it at an advantage over Ghost in the Shell. Once the former's plot picks up, the story only gets better and better, never losing steam until the end. In comparison, the latter is a more subdued ride that either baffles or touches the viewer. Not to say that the action scenes of Ghost in the Shell aren't exciting, but they're not the focal point of the story.
All in all, Steins;Gate wins because of its storyline. Ghost in the Shell will always be iconic, but Steins;Gate can cater to a larger number of viewers. Though it's also complicated, it's the type of series that non-anime fans can still appreciate.