Charlotte – 10

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After all the shock and intrigue of last week’s masterpiece, this week started off a bit slow and rigid, with Shunsuke telling Yuu and Nao the story of what happened after his time leap.

He returned to a time a couple of years before the three of them are captured, tracks down his trusty friends Kumagami (or “Pooh”), Shichino, Medoki, Maedomori, and helps them expand a syndicate of ability wielders. However, something always ends up going wrong, everyone is captured or killed, and Shun has to time leap and start all over.

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The re-re-re-built syndicate starts to become more wealthy and secure thanks to gambling winnings, but Shun learns that he loses a bit of his vision every time he leaps, and when he goes blind, he won’t be able to leap at all.

So he makes his last leap count, by working to set up a school to educate and protect ability wielders until they lose those abilities, including his brother and sister. To further protect them while working behind the scenes, his friends help him erase all memory of him from Yuu and Ayumi.

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That brings us back to the present, where Shun announces the next mission is to save Ayumi. He may not be able to time leap anymore, but if Yuu uses his true power, “Loot” (or “Plunder”) to steal Shun’s power, than he can time leap and save Ayumi. And that’s exactly what he does.

Being back in a time when his sister is alive—something he took for granted the last time around—is ample motivation to save her this time, and he moves forward with confidence and a solid plan to save her not only from “Collapse”, but from Konishi the knife-wielder as well.

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Yuu also finds an understanding ally in the Nao of the past, who has been through a lot less things with Yuu at this point. Still, she believes his story about time leaping without complaint, and also accepts his thanks for her saving him when Ayumi died before. It doesn’t matter that she won’t actually have to save him from himself in this timeline if he saves Ayumi, because the fact she did in the previous one is the only reason he’s still alive, free, and there, in a position to save her. Yuu understands this, and makes sure Nao knows how grateful he is.

As for the Ayumi-saving caper itself, he steals her Collapse ability without a hitch, while he, Nao, Yusarin and Joujirou all go undercover at Ayumi’s school for a coordinated attack. Yusa and Jou are immediately indisposed and taken out of the equation due to their respective fame and suspiciousness, but then again, they both serve as good diversions for the bulk of the students, giving Yuu and Nao room to work.

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And work the plan does: Konishi stalks Ayumi once more with her click-click-clicky knife, but Yuu is there to stand between the two. He breaks all the windows behind Konishi, and an invisible Nao kicks the knife away and snips away Konishi’s bangs. Konishi retreats, her warning received loud and clear.

With Ayumi safe and by Yuu’s side, he encounters Pooh and Medoki on the streets, who offer to take him to his brother. I was certain there would be some kind of mistake, Steins;Gate-style, that would prevent Yuu from saving Ayumi once more, but everything went off without a hitch.

It was almost too easy and quick a resolution, but it was still a very satisfying episode that covered a lot of ground and still found time for little moments of comedy. Now, with Ayumi apparently safe, there’s still plenty of time for Yuu, Shun, and the resistance to accomplish even more for the cause.

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Steins Gate – 24 (Fin)

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Look at the void in this frame…it’s not really a void, but infinite possibility

I traveled more than three years into the past to watch Steins;Gate, eager to find out if it really was as great ad many had led on. I had no idea what I was getting into, but because I was told to expect greatness, it gave the show a greater burden to overcome than simply pulling something off the shelf and watching it with absolutely no knowledge of its standing in anime history.

I guess what I’m blathering about is that despite knowing so little and expecting so much, I entered Steins;Gate extremely confident it would meet and exceed any expectations I may have harbored. It also felt like an old friend, like something I had watched before and forgotten, as hard as that is to believe (the forgetting part, that is).

For all I know, in another universe, I have seen it, along with many other shows I’ve never watched in this one. And because memories can transcend the boundaries between universes (because I said so, okay?) I knew I was in good hands; that there’d be no way this show would disappoint. Maybe I have Watching Steiner; who knows. All I know is, I have a new favorite anime.

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A show so earnest and confident and masterful in its layering and weaving of stories wasn’t going to mess up it’s ending. More to the point, it knew after twenty-three episodes, many of them putting us in the emotional spin cycle, that its audience would want a “Good Ending” after the “Bad Ending” of Okabe having to sacrifice Kurisu, and the “Worse Ending” of Okabe killing Kurisu.

It’s also great to see Okabe in high spirits again, even if he is partially putting up a brave front. Everyone’s stoked that the Okarin they know and love is back yukking it up and spouting nonsense. His high tide lifts all boats. And when Mayushii manages to get Okabe to admit he and Kurisu love each other, she gives him her full support in saving her no matter what.

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The fact that Mayushii, like Feyris, is able to remember bits and pieces of other timelines, gives both Okabe and me optimism that if Kurisu is saved, she’ll remember the three weeks she spent with Okarin and the rest of the Future Gadget Lab. It’s not so much Reading Steiner as love crossing the boundaries of world lines, and the stronger the love, the more they can recall. Why else would Kurisu have believed Okabe so quickly so often while he was trying to save Mayushii?

Armed with the Cyalume Saber (powered by stuff that looks like fake blood) a stun gun (to knock out Kurisu and lay in said fake blood) and most importantly, the knowledge of who’s going to be where and when, Okabe goes back with Suzu. He buys the Metal Upa so when Mayushii buys one, it’s not metal and doesn’t end up on Nakabachi. Kinda awesome a 100-yen toy is the key to preventing a temporal arms race and Third World War, but that’s the infinite possibility of time for ya.

I want to point out, the music throughout this episode is fantastic. I has the perfect balance of urgency, occasion, an impending end (one way or another), and ambient casualness, making for a stirring “final dungeon” soundtrack.

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Meanwhile, in his exuberance to get on with the mission, Okabe neglected to check if the liquid in the Saber was still liquid. If he’d discovered it had dried up before going back in time, he’d have had time to procure some fake blood from a nearby store (it IS Akiba). Alas, he only finds out he has no fake blood when he’s about to use it. Just as a little metal toy can lead to the decimation the human population, a little slip-up like this can place his last chance to save Kurisu in jeopardy.

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No matter: I knew as soon as I saw that dried-up liquid, before he looked at his own hand, that the mission was still alive; he’d simply have to use real blood; his own. When he interrupts the pleasant father-daughter discussion, this time he has a cool head and even uses his usual theatricality to throw Nakabachi off.

Okabe is front and center, with Kurisu in a much better position in the room to avoid knife charges. Nakabachi has no choice but to pay attention to him and only him. Greatest of all about Okabe’s entrance is that this isn’t Chuunibyou or delusional behavior on display: Okabe really has come to save Kurisu and rearrange the world order.

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He’s also a true hero, who literally takes a knife to the gut to complete his mission. Whatever questionable stuff one can accuse him of doing to get to where he is now, this act absolves him of most if not all of it. Getting stabbed fucking sucks. I’m not speaking from experience, mind you, but even in animated form it’s obvious that it does. And S;G’s sound effects make that even more clear.

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Nakabachi gets Okabe pretty good, but Okabe is able to stay concious long enough to scare the shit of of Nakabachi, forcing him to flee, and then zapping Kurisu with the stun gun. You can see the fates conspiring with Okabe in the depths of Nakabachi’s eyes, willing him to GTFO. Nakabachi is no mastermind villain, just another variable that has to be manipulated at the right time and place, like a Metal Upa.

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Okabe arranges Kurisu face down in his own blood, creating a scene identical to the one he himself saw those same three weeks ago. This scene overwrites the one in which he accidentally stabbed Kurisu, so the horrifying death scene Past Okabe and we witness/witnessed in the very first episode was really the other Okabe’s art project. We know that because we witness it again with Okabe, just before Suzu hauls helps him back into the time machine. MISSION COMPLETE…and it feels so good.

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So what is the Steins Gate World Line like? Well, it’s everything you’d expect from jumping through every hoop, choosing the right dialogue for each character, and collecting every hidden secret crystal: the previously stated “Good Ending.” In it, Okabe recovers from his wound and proceeds to give every Lab Member he’d appointed in the previous world lines a pin, making their membership official in this one.

It’s a beautiful little gesture that reminds us that before it became all about saving people he loved from being killed off by time, and even during those times, this was a show about a bunch of strange, unique, interesting people coming together to collectively do great things. Okabe needed every single Lab Member to accomplish what he did, and his warmth and charisma and crazy ideas, made that coming together happen.

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He, and we, are finally rewarded by not only getting Kurisu back, but having them meet by chance on the (very!) busy streets of Akiba, home to the Culture of Cute as it should be. And not only do they meet; Kurisu remembers him, because they share a bond only Mayushii’s can compare to, one in which two people who love each other deeply don’t forget that love just because the world line has changed.

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There’s a lovely understated elegance to Okabe and Kurisu’s pre-curtain reunion. No big dramatic music calculated to rend the heart just so; no sudden change in the world’s palette; just two people suddenly realizing they just crossed paths with the one they love, and affirming it with a few simple, in-character words as the sound of the bustling city around them fades. Kurisu being alive may have been enough for Okabe, but not me. Her being alive and back in his life is a far better outcome.

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P.S. Whew…now that was a good show, wasn’t it? But I know; these 24 episodes aren’t all there is. I’ll get to episode 25 soon enough, along with the film. Looking forward to both. Thanks for reading!

Steins Gate – 22

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In preparation to what I suspected was going to be a rough episode for me, I entered into what’s known around the office as my “Induced Pessimism Mode”, a kind of emotional shield formed by expecting the very worst out of the story to come. A means of maintaining a healthy emotional distance from the material I’m to review.

How can I put this? That…umm…that didn’t…didin’t work. My IP-field was no match for the roller coaster that was this episode…which may have just cemented this show’s position as my all-time favorite anime, with two episodes, an OVA, and a film to go.

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I’ll reserve judgment until some time passes and I’m a little more removed from the show, but what I can say with certainty is that it is rare for me to be as moved by an episode of television as I was with this, but the entire show was brilliantly building up to it. A part of me would be content with this as the show’s finale; not just because it will be so very hard to top these 23 minutes and 39 seconds, but because I’m not certain how much more wrenching and rending my gut and heart can take, respectively.

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I thought Okabe would fight. I though he wouldn’t accept that one woman he loves would have to die so another could live. I thought he’d run around Akiba and find something or someone who would help him find a third way. And while I had an inkling Kurisu would be more accepting of the situation, I also expected her to come up with some kind of scientific loophole Okabe couldn’t have thought of.

None of that happens. Kurisu lies on the roof of the building where she’s stabbed in the Beta World line several floors below. Then it rains, she and Okabe retreat to a stairwell where she repairs his lab coat in the dark with pink thread and trade barbs about each others’ skinniness. She fixes the coat because it’s something she can fix.

She also tells him she remembers bits and pieces from his other time leaps, in which she watched him suffer and try again and again in vain to save Mayuri. Such memories not only make her amazed that someone would go so far for someone else, a quality she clearly admires in Okabe, but it also makes her feel guilty that she is the last remaining obstacle to realizing that goal.

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Okabe does race back to the lab, to time leap back as far as he can go; to gain a fresh set of days to formulate a plan…but Kurisu, having chased after him, stays his hand. No more running. There’s an Alpha line and a Beta line, there’s only one way to save Mayuri, as opposed to no way to save her. She thanks Okabe for trying, but won’t let him destroy himself watching Mayuri die anymore. Okabe accepts defeat, apologizes, and gathers Kurisu in a hug.

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Kurisu then tries to comfort him, and herself, with theories that the Kurisu of twenty days ago might have found unscientific, naive, and even ridiculous, but she sells them fully here and now. If she can remember bits and pieces from other world lines, she posits, maybe all of the minds of the Kurisus from those lines are connected to form a whole that is beyond time.

Beliefs, desires, and love could transcend the boundaries of the fourth dimension. She may die in one world line, but she’d remain alive in countless others, all contributing to that whole. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?” she asks twice, knowing it’s little consolation.

Then Okabe takes her by surprise by finally confessing he’s in love with her, and will never forget her.

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I’m not sure what’s more adorably fantastic: that Kurisu’s reply is to make Okabe close his eyes while she gets on tiptoe to kiss him, or the marvelously nerdy explanation for it, delivered in a trembling, flustered voice:

“I-I didn’t want to do that, okay? But experiences such as your first kiss are stored in the hippocampus with your strong memories, which are harder to forget. Thus–“

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You know what, I do know what’s more adorably fantastic: when Okabe confesses that wasn’t his first kiss, that it left a weak impression, and that they have to kiss again to make a stronger one. Kurisu has no problem with that logic, nor do I. Who’d have thought when these two first met that they’d be capable of such unabashed romantic words and gestures?

The entire lab scene sets a new high watermark of excellence. What’s also amazing is just how fast it all happens, and how Kurisu notes how fast it is, referencing Einstein’s theory of relativity to the situation, since now, when she and Okabe want nothing more than for time to stop entirely does it feel like it’s moving faster than ever.

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The setting changes from the warm, dark, cocoon-like lab where they made their love for each other clear to the bleak, blinding outside of the train station where they say goodbye, which again happens unconventionally, with Kurisu lobbing a Dr. Pepper nowhere near Okabe, mouthing “Sayonara” while he’s turned to pick it up, then vanishing. No long tearful goodbye, but a quick rip of the band-aid. But it’s a goodbye knowing that Dr. Pepper is the drink of the chosen ones…and Kurisu chose him.

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As Okabe glances at the pink stitching on his coat, the pain clear and harsh in his face, Kurisu stands on the train platform where she’ll be borne back to America, but is really there to be taken away from the world line where Okabe lives; at least this Okabe.

Her parting wish is that in everything he experiences and desires and loves in the Beta World Line he’s headed to, if he remembers her one in a hundred times, she’ll be happy, “beyond the 1% barrier.” It’s another gorgeous sentiment from an unusually poetic Kurisu this week, but it can’t dull the utter emotional devastation I’m going through as I watch.

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Okabe fights back tears as he delivers a rousing, selfless speech to Mayuri and Daru,  thanking everyone who helped him get this far and expressing his gratitude to those he sacrificed before hitting the button that will change the world. Just a heartbeat after hitting the key, Kurisu bursts back into the lab and says “I’m also in…” before the shift occurs, sending him past the 1% barrier, in a world where there was never a Lab Member 004, and where there are no pink stitches on his coat.

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Puffing up his chest and playing the role of Hououin Kyouma once more, he claims victory before his remaining lab members. The “Battle of Ragnarok”—or more precisely, “The Battle to Save Mayuri” is over, and he has conquered time itself, foiled SERN’s schemes, and reset the world’s power structure, with all the unhinged passion of a sweat-drenched preacher man.

Mayuri then calmly talks him down, aware of everything that he did and everything he gave up for her sake, and tells him “he can cry for himself.” He then looks forward, to a life without the IBN; without the Phone Microwave; without Hououin Kyouma. And “it’s all for the best…right Kurisu?”

For the first time, the ending music is different, and it sounds very much like a reproach to his question; a dark, stirring piece of music with the gravitas of a final dungeon.

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Okabe spoke of “complete victory” in turning the page on all the pain and sacrifice of those twenty days. But then the end credits suddenly fizzle out, and it’s pretty clear that nothing is complete after all. Rather, it is the choice of Steins Gate that here, in the Beta World Line, Okabe fight at least one more battle, for far higher stakes in the grand scheme of things than two girls’ lives. This new destiny is brought to his attention by Amane Suzuha, freshly arrived from 2036, calling Okabe on her father Daru’s phone to beseech him to stop World War III. Damn.

This is Steins;Gate throwing down the gauntlet. Having delivered a phenomenal episode that wouldn’t have made a bad finale at all, the fact is there are two more episodes to go (and an OVA…and a film). As blown away as I was to this point, Steins;Gate isn’t done with me, and it’s not content to rest on the laurels it has already earned.

And you know what? I have every confidence in the world that it will deliver. I’m ready to go a couple more rounds.

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Steins Gate – 21

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To have leaped back through time so much and sacrificed the wishes of so many others, it now falls upon Okabe Rintarou to decide who will die: Mayushii or Kurisu. Okarin has to go down in the annals of anime as being possessed of some of the most unenviable positions imaginable.

But he’s not convinced there isn’t a third path to take, one that can save both of them. So he cancels the CERN database cracking plan and…tries to think of something.

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Worn down considerably by his ordeals thus far (and the repeated traumatic witnessing their gory consequences), this new conundrum causes Okrain to revert to his state of hiding hard truths from the others simply because they’re hard to say. He won’t tell Kurisu why they have to find another way, and he won’t respond to her entreaties for more information, so that she can help him.

He’s repeating bad habits; going it alone never bore any fruit, it only caused him considerable emotional damage. It’s probably for the best S;G doesn’t explore any physical consequences of repeated time-leaping; the psychological effects are more than adequate.

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Okarin accompanies Mayushii to Comiket, but he’s so preoccupied with coming up with a way to save her before she dies at 8:00 PM, he doesn’t hang out with her at all, causing her to wonder why he came with her at all. For a time, I entertained the possibility that she wouldn’t be killed at the usual time; that perhaps disrupting FB had more far-reaching changes in the timeline.

Alas, while walking home, Mayushii’s watch stops again, a car races at them again, and even though Okarin moves her to safety, in a moment of madness tries to get hit himself, and Mayushii shoves him out of the way and gets hit anyway. Seeing her dying in his arms was no less heart-wrenching this time, but what got to us even more—and to Okarin as well—were her final words, expressing gratitude she could finally be useful to him.

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Okarin and I also share the refusal to believe that the only way Mayushii can be useful to him is by dying while saving his life. Surely she knows any world without her in it would be intolerable for him? Ignoring a note from Kurisu about wanting him to talk to her, Okarin goes back to the moment before Daru starts cracking, and this time his face betrays to Kurisu that something’s definitely up.

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She confronts him on the roof, curious where his hotshot mad scientist attitude went. For the first time, he admits, loudly, that it’s all bullshit, but that’s no revelation to Kurisu, who knew it was all bullshit five seconds after meeting him. But she still wants to hear what’s bothering him, as she always does, every time he goes back. When she grabs him from behind to keep him from tossing his phone off the roof; the closest they’ve ever come to embracing.

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So he tells her about the first d-mail, which sent them from the Alpha to the Beta World Line, and prevented her from being stabbed to death. And for the first time, after telling her what’s wrong, she has no answer. Their silence, perhaps the most devastating silence they’ve ever shared, lingers as the cicada song crescendoes, interrupted only by the buzzing of Okarin’s phone. Only then does Kurisu speak—but about nothing related to what he just said; simply to tell him to answer it.

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It’s Mayushii calling, after Daru told her Okarin was acting odd. She apologizes for being so busy at Comiket, wants him to tell her if she’s ever a burden, and to call her if there’s anything she can ever do for her. The call only serves to exacerbate Okarin’s anguish over the choice that faces him. But Kurisu, still with no words about her own predicament, but having heard Okarin’s side of the phone call, insists he go to Mayushii.

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I may be a rabid Christina shipper, and see Mayushii as more of a little sister figure, but that doesn’t mean I’d want Kurisu to have to step over that sister’s corpse to get Okarin. And damn it all if Mayushii’s extended monologue at her grandmother’s grave wasn’t one of the most moving things yet in a show that’s brimming with them, accompanied as it was by visuals of Okarin and Mayushii’s early days, when it was just them, in a far more spartan lab, simply hanging out, not even saying much to each other but simply enjoying each other’s company.

This scene only complicates things for me, because this is the monologue of someone who sees Okarin as something more profound than an adoptive big brother, and something more like a soul mate. The most chilling part of the monologue, however, is the fact that a part of Mayushii has remembered each and every time she has died in Okarin’s failed time leaps. She calls them “dreams” while admitting they seem real and she doesn’t like them one bit. Neither to we, dear.

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Even before she was killed by Moeka that first time, there’s been an otherworldly “knowingness” visible behind Mayushii’s gentle smiles and casual conversations. Now we know she doesn’t just suspect something’s amiss by Okarin’s recent behavior, but has clearly made the connection between that behavior and her dreams, in which he rescues her each time.

She may think that she’s being a burden to Okarin, but as a “mad scientist” and her “captor”, it’s his duty to look after his hostage, and he promises to tell her everything “when the time comes”—a somewhat cruel thing to say to someone who time has marked for death.

Okarin may not have found the solution to saving Mayushii without killing Kurisu (though finding out who killed her and why would be a start), but his time with both of them this week reinforces his determination to keep searching. Meanwhile, Kurisu visits the very place where Okarin found her stabbed to death, either starting just such an investigation, or contemplating making the decision Okarin won’t. Christina, I beg of you: Don’t get any strange ideas.

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Steins Gate – 20

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I’m glad Moeka and Okarin sort of make up here; where they left things in the previous episode left a very bad taste in my mouth. That was probably the point; after several smooth D-mail resets, Okarin came up against true resistance, and in his increasingly desperate state, he had to get rough. But there’s also a feeling that what’s done is done, even though this is a show were things are undone all the time.

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What brings these two back together is their mutual desire, nay, need, to see “FB” with their own eyes. This results in a sprawling stakeout, the very opposite of last week’s claustrophobic closed room. I like the way Okarin painstakingly records every detail of the IBN’s journey from the coin locker to a France-bound plane. I like even better that it’s Kurisu who convinces Okarin that this approach will be more fruitful than simply nicking the IBN from the locker. And I especially like that Mr. Braun is somehow involved.

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But while spending all this time following people, watching, waiting, and staying out of sight, Okarin is neglecting the present; the now, that he has with Mayushii. He’s not treasuring it because he’s on a mission to save her life, but who ever said that’s an achievable goal? What if the remaining days he has with Mayushii are all he has, and he’s squandering them by keeping her at arm’s length?

Mr. Braun makes a great observation to Mayushii and Kurisu: that Okarin’s an awfully lucky guy, what with his own room, friends like them, and the ability to “do whatever he wants.” There’s a tinge of envy in Braun’s remarks, but he’s also right: Okarin is lucky; and yet he’s been taking everything for granted and putting his entire life on hold for Mayushii’s sake.

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When Okarin, with Moeka and Kurisu in tow, goes to Braun’s house to confront him, everything comes to light: Braun is Ferdinand Braun, or “FB”, and tricked Moeka, AKA “M4”, into following his orders, as he has many others like her. He himself ended up in this business very much like Moeka did: he was desperate and at the end of his tether; his story about spending the night in a manhole and nearly being eaten by rats is bleaker than the show’s color palette.

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When he turns his gun on Moeka, it seems just as cold and mechanical a gesture as when Moeka turned her gun on Mayushii: in both cases, there was no force in their consciousness greater than the one compelling them to shoot. They’re doing it for their superiors (SERN), but they’re also doing it to save themselves, or in Braun’s case, his daughter.

The cut from Moeka falling to the ground and Nae hitting her alarm—which was responsible for the ringing we heard—was a simply masterful piece of editing.

As long as Braun had someone he cared about—something to lose—he would never be free. So he does the only other thing he feels he can do to change the situation: turn the gun on himself.

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While nothing since has quite been able to match the pure visceral WTF-ery of Moeka’s storming of the lab and killing of Mayushii, this scene, with its dual shootings, is certainly no slouch. It was also very overt about that dragonfly; is this S;G’s version of the butterfly in the effect of the same name?

By offing himself, Braun may have actually saved the life of Moeka he just took, as well as his own. That’s because he leaves his phone behind, which Okarin promptly uses to send a D-mail to Moeka of the past, telling her to stop searching for the IBN 5100.

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Because it was sent by FB, she follows the order without question. Braun is still alive, Nae isn’t an orphan, and the IBN is at Ruka’s shrine, where upon Okarin picks it up and hands it over to Daru. Finally, they’ll be able to delete SERN’s database and travel to the Beta world line where Okarin didn’t send his first D-mail.

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At this point, it’s clear Okarin’s single-mindedness has led to a kind of profound tunnel vision, because it’s only when Kurisu mentions what that D-mail was—the one about her getting stabbed—that Okarin realizes returning to that world line means Kurisu will die.

I’ll admit, I too hadn’t thought that far ahead either, until the Ruka episode, where a definite pattern of “eliminating love interests” I suspected would eventually lead to a final choice between Mayushii and Kurisu. One must die so the other must live; that’s the endgame facing Okarin.

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At the time, the Kurisu stabbing was an exceedingly random event that occurred to a total stranger we had little investment in besides the basic distress of witnessing a death. Now that random event looms enormous. It may even also explain why Mayushii has seemed so resigned to her fate all along; maybe she somehow knows its either her or Kurisu, and she’s not the kind of person who’d put her life before another.

For Okarin to get the IBN back at long last, only for him to suddenly realize  what he’ll lose if he uses it; Steins;Gate has cemented its place as the Mohammed Ali of anime: floating like a butterfly (or dragonfly), and stinging like a bee (or a weaponized hornet).

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Steins Gate – 19

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Kiryuu Moeka. Long hair. Glasses. Taciturn. A bit odd. Obsessed with the IBN 5100 and someone named “FB.” Shiina Mayuri’s killer. She’s been absent for seven episodes, but it feels like seven years. Yet her actions reverberated through each one of those seven each time Mayushii died again. It all started with her. Can it end with her? Okarin is hopeful.

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But there’s something else: Okabe Rintarou is not well. There’s no overt evidence that anything’s medically wrong with him, but all this time-leaping and all of the tragedy and heartache he’s had to endure, and all the times he’s had to explain himself, are clearly taking their toll. I don’t think he cracks one joke this entire episode. The time for jokes is past. He’s only keeping it marginally together thanks to his soulmate Kurisu, who promises him he’s not alone on these time-leaps; she’s there too.

And she is; each time, she believes him and helps him out. But when he goes to track down Moeka, he learns she committed suicide, the walls close in a little more. Hearing an inconsolable Kurisu dutifully call him up despite the fact Mayushii died right in front of her proves how dedicated she is. But Okarin has no time for tears or solace any more than jokes. To save Mayushii, he has to save Moeka.

One remarkable quality to the women in Okarin’s life is their staggering diversity of personality and circumstances. Each girl is utterly unique in every way, and thus far getting them to undo their D-mails has required equally unique words and actions. But Moeka proves to be Okarin’s toughest challenge yet.

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The commentariat may be able to assist in this, but I draw a blank when I survey the anime continuum for a character the like of Moeka—someone who has morphed from what seemed to be odd but harmless comic relief, to ruthless, leather-clad femme fatale, and now to the pathetic wretch she is now, yearning with every fiber of her remaining being for a text from her beloved “FB.” She looks every bit like someone who will commit suicide in four days. On the absolute edge.

But Okarin isn’t that much better off, when you think about it, and he has no sympathy or patience for the girl who murdered Mayushii in cold blood in the future. So when she won’t surrender the phone or respond to him in any way, she slugs her in the face and slams her against the wall, and steals her phone. Desperate times, etc.

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As she bangs on the door and screams incessantly to give her phone back, Okarin sends the d-mail…but it doesn’t work. My heart sunk, just as it did when he learned Moeka had committed suicide, because these are potential “game over” developments. So much has to go just right in order for Okarin to succeed, and the margin of error is essentially nil.

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Realizing Moeka must have sent a second d-mail right after her first, he goes back into the “arena” to ascertain the contents of that second d-mail. Unsurprisingly, Moeka is uncooperative. The two rush at each other and Okarin tackles her to the ground. Did I mention how uncharacteristic of Okarin this kind of behavior is? Rather, it would be, if he hadn’t been so damaged by all the events of his time-leaps thus far.

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Taking a firm “the ends he seeks justify the means” stance towards Moeka, he holds her down and even kisses her to keep her from screaming for help, and gets his tongue bitten. He offers to give her precious phone back if she tells him what was in the second d-mail, but she doesn’t want to betray FB, and the episode’s cryptic cold open is revealed as a preface for why she’s so damned loyal.

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Four years ago, on the roof of a building on a dark, cloudy night, a morose Moeka prepares to leap (not time leap, mind you…leap leap). But just when she’s about to, she gets her first text from FB, offering her a job and answering all of her questions favorably.

From that point on, it was as if Moeka’s life belonged to FB. By stopping her suicide and giving her a job, FB gave her a “place”, which is also what Okarin had given her in the lab, but his invite wasn’t nearly as impactful. Okarin proceeds to turn the screws on her, expressing his loathing for what a piece of shit she is until she’s no longer even resisting him, but simply crumpled on the floor crying. At this wretched sight, Okarin remembers himself and offers her an apology.

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Okarin finds the mail telling Moeka to retrieve the IBN from Ruka’s shrine, but when he tries to send a d-mail to undo it, again his d-mail fails, because the Moeka of the past didn’t believe it. After that long ordeal with Moeka I’d almost forgotten that he was to keep in contact with Kurisu; she was so worried about him, and relieved to tears when he calls her back (though she obviously doesn’t admit this).

The stopped sand in the hourglass also threw me off, because whenever that happened, Mayushii ended up dead not long afterwards. But Okarin realizes Moeka of the past will only listen to FB, so he decides to go look for him…or her. Heck, it could be a machine for all we know, since Moeka has never seen nor spoken to it.

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But he only has four days to find FB before Moeka dies too, something he belives is the will of the universe. As with Mayushii, and because of Mayushii, he vows to Moeka that he’ll do everything he can to prevent her from dying. As he starts to leave, Moeka looks at the welts Okarin’s hands left on her arms, the marks of someone pushed beyond the bounds of conventional morality by his grief and obsession she caused.

Knowing now that she killed Mayushii on FB’s orders, knowing she’d obey FB and do it again in a heartbeat, and believing that she’ll die in four days, Moeka has a moment of clarity and lucidity that saves Okarin the trouble of searching for someone he’ll never find: he tells him the location of the locker where she stashed the IBN. It felt like an act of contrition, but also of self-preservation.

As for Okarin, neither he nor I shall forget the dark places he had to go in Mayushii’s name. It goes without saying she’d never in a million world lines have approved of the methods he resorted to, especially in her name. But if, at this juncture, Okarin’s primary concern is Mayushii’s life, not her approval or her smile, he may prove to be as capable of anything as Moeka. Is Mayushii becoming his FB?

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Steins Gate – 18

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Is Steins;Gate a harem? If it is, it’s one of the best applications of the genre I’ve seen, doubly impressive considering it’s not just a harem, but a harem operating in tandem with and irreparably melded to its central time travel mystery. Each world line is like a path in a dating sim, allowing the show to explore each girl to their fullest potential, only to reset once Okarin cancels the girls’ d-mails.

One way of looking at the sequence thus far is that the divergence factor has strayed from its ideal of 1.0 because too many other potential romances are hanging out there for Okarin. With Suzuha, Feyris, and now Ruka, he is eliminating those potentials one by one, with only Moeka (who has fallen off the face of the earth) and Kurisu (who has looked more like his ideal mate from the start) remaining.

Before all this started, there was only one woman in his life: Mayushii; a situation he clearly took for granted (though they’re more siblings than lovers). Will the universe only deign to spare her if Okarin sheds himself of all the other women in his life who love him?

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I say one woman there, because even though he’s more traditionally feminine by a large margin than any of the others, Urushibara Ruka is a guy. He was a guy in Okarin’s original world line, and thus is “supposed” to be a guy. There’s no delicate way of telling the female Ruka this, but when he tells her Mayushii’s life is at stake, Ruka agrees to go back to being a guy.

In exchange, Okarin will be her boyfriend for one day…because she loves him; a confession that it turns out she can only make in this world line where she’s female.

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With no other choice, Okarin agrees to the date, despite reservations about going out with someone he’s always known to be a guy. But more to the point, Okarin has never been on a date, period. The word “date” is as foreign to him as “Large Hadron Collider” is to Snooki. For that matter, no one in the Future Gadget Lab has the slightest bit of romantic experience.

That’s because they’re all a bunch of weirdos, geeks; and nerds; so caught up in their particular passions and hobbies that they hardly have time to eat or sleep, let alone date. Kurisu can only go so far in her mocking of Okarin’s ignorance and virgin-status, because she is just as clueless and just as much a virgin…only an American one.

(Note that I don’t count Daru’s romantic “experience”, since it’s all 2D, and his present self hasn’t actually concieved Suzu yet.)

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But it’s not just that Okarin is scared of dates. Dating is just not something he’d ever feel the need to do, period. He’s perfectly capable of hanging out with and conversing with and having fun with Kurisu and Mayushii and Ruka, without the rigid structures of courtship getting in the way.

Kurisu, for her part, seems invested in making sure Okarin doesn’t make an ass of himself. Even when the “Dating for Idiots” book tells him to wear something “clean”, Kurisu understands that doesn’t mean a sterile lab coat (though that wouldn’t be odd at all in Akiba). She also knows how to tie a tie.

Watching her fuss over Okarin’s appearance is a joy to watch, because at the end of the day she knows Ruka, who will turn back into a guy, isn’t a threat to her own designs on Okarin, which we know her to harbor.

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She drags Daru along with her to tail Okarin and Ruka and offer advice when it looks like he’s in trouble, via texts (one could call them “L-mails”, where the “L” is for “love”), and I got the distinct feeling she was getting a special vicarious thrill out of it.

As for Okarin, well…having his encounter with Ruka suddenly be categorized as a date stiffens him and turns him into a boring, distant mess, ruining the nice vibes Ruka is putting out. Of course, Ruka’s hapless attempts at small talk also contribute to the awkwardness, but super-props to her seiyu Kobayashi Yuu both in these scenes and everywhere else. They’re trying.

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Things take a turn for the Steins;gate-ian when Ruka asks Okarin if he remembers how they met. Turns out Okarin protected Ruka from some guys with cameras who likely assumed she was a shrine maiden. It’s clear that Okarin was acting according to his own ideals and code, rather than protecting her for the sake of sticking to the script from some book.

After saving Ruka, he told him despite how he looks, he’s a guy. Now, hold on! This is the female Ruka bringing up this memory of when she told Okarin she was a guy. Ruka herself realizes the paradoxical slip-up, and can’t explain it. Okarin knows, though: it’s more of that temporal “leakage” or “Reading Steiner Lite” that also befell Feyris when she saw both versions of the cafe.

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In the end, Ruka thanks Okarin from the bottom of her heart for the date, hands him her mom’s pager number and flees, barely holding back tears. It isn’t until he returns home that Okarin realizes the date wasn’t complete until he went back as “Hououin Kyouma” to train Ruka with her sword. Both are a lot more comfortable this, and Kurisu, Daru, and Mayushii can only look on in an “attaboy” kind of way.

When that’s over, Ruka confesses that she really doesn’t want to go back to being a guy, because it means she’ll have to repress her feelings for him, and even if she didn’t, simply may not be able to love him in the same way. Okarin assures her that regardless of whether she’s a he or he’s a she, He is Kyouma and she is Ruka, and that will never change as long as they both live, so she needn’t worry.

(Ruka also confesses to having accidentally broken the IBN 5100 while cleaning the room where it was stored, a surprisingly mundane fate for the crucial machine/red herring.)

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When Okarin sends the d-mail, Ruka’s appearance hasn’t changed in the slightest; only his answer to Okarin’s question “Do you like me?” Ruka blushes, but says he “respects” him, and Okarin knows things are back to “normal.”

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Okarin returns to the lab to see his labmates having a quiet evening sewing, reading, and surfing. He doesn’t assume everything’s alright yet, because the divergence meter is still around 0.5. The only d-mails that remain in effect now (that I remember) include the one where Moeka warned herself not to buy a new phone, the lottery numbers to the past…and Kurisu’s stabbing.

That has me thinking that once all of the d-mails he’s ever sent were undone, Mayushii will in all likelihood be saved from a premature death…but at the cost of erasing his entire relationship with Kurisu to this point. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t meet for the first time again, and start over from scratch. A girl can dream.

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Steins Gate – 16

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Steins;Gate giveth, and Steins;Gate taketh away. In the business Okarin & Co. are in, nothing comes easily, and nothing is free. But no matter what it sets out to accomplish in any given episode, it doesn’t do anything half-assed. I was already looking forward to re-watching Steins;Gate to see Suzuha in a new light. This episode not only puts her in another new light, but Daru in one as well.

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And doggone it, it was looking pretty grim there, but then Mayushii channels Inspector Tsunemori (another Hana-Kana institution), and discovers the identity of Suzuha’s father, just like she set out to do. The way “Barrel” means “Taru” in Japanese; the fact that Okarin and Barrel started the resistance in the future; the fact that they both worked on a time machine in Akiba in 2010; and finally, the baroque “Future Gadget” designation assigned to the machine, a truly inspired clue. Only one person can fit all those criteria: Daru, AKA Hashida Itaru.

Detective Shiina is Natural Po-lice…but The Job will not save her. That’s up to Okarin!

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She could have gone a little further: the reason Daru is able to fix the machine so quickly is that he’s the one who designed it. Also, and I only noticed it after the fact, but Daru and Suzu have very similar hair and eye color. This is yet another shocking twist with ample evidence embedded in everything that had come before. Now, before Suzu leaves, she gets to say hello and goodbye to the father she never knew.

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That turns out to be a good thing, since Okarin learns from Daru (whom Suzu first told) that the time machine only goes backwards; once goes back to the 1970s, she can’t come back. That means whether she succeeds or fails in obtaining the IBN 5100, this truly is Goodbye. A few hours for everyone else will be 35 years for her. Then, at the agreed-upon time, it’s Mr. Braun, not her, at the door. Suzu died ten years ago.

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In her letter to Okarin, she laments that something went wrong with the machine, and she passed through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not remembering who she was or her vital duty. Her window to acquire the computer passed, the machine was no longer usable, and after 25 years, she succumbed to her regret and committed suicide.

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That’s basically the worst ending I could have imagined for Amane Suzuha: she got to see her dad before she left, but everything after that was a disaster. She blamed herself, for making an unnecessary detour to 2010 to see her father as a young man. Before the lightning storm that damaged the time machine, Okarin stopped her from leaving. Now that he knows what became of that, Okarin sends that him in the past another D-mail, telling him to let Suzuha go.

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Mayushii protests, but it’s for the best. I don’t see how Okarin had any other choice. Forget the mission or even saving Mayushii; there was no way he was going to let her go through those torturous decades, confused and alone, because he stopped her from going when she should have. In the timeline that results from that D-mail, Suzuha dies of an illness, not suicide, having taken Mr. Braun in after his house burnt down.

Between the lives the old Suzuha touched and what she left behind, from her beloved bike to Okarin’s Divergence Meter, her absence feels so palpable and long-lasted, even though we just saw her, young and full of confidence. If that really was goodbye for Suzuha, I must admit to being a little heartbroken.

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But the loss of Suzuha seems to have meant the regaining of Mayushii. The meter registers a slightly higher number (though still not 1.0), and the hour and minute of her death or murder by any and all means passes without incident. Okarin and I are both super-relieved to find her curled up on the lab couch, napping away. We still don’t know where the IBN is, but perhaps Okarin has one less thing to worry about…maybe? …Please?

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Steins Gate – 14

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As expected, Rintarou can’t stop Mayuri from getting killed. Either Moeka and her goons, or what he can only describe as ‘fate’ always gets her in the end. The show doesn’t get too gorey about the myriad ways Mayuri meets her end (though the sight of a Jelly Mayuri, half-stuck in the wall, possibly in the 18th century, is properly disturbing), but it gets the point across efficiently: Rintarou’s plan isn’t going to work. He’s missing a big piece of the puzzle.

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Not only that, but he simply can’t go on like this. I opined last week that even if using the time leap machine over and over had no major physical side effects, the trauma of watching Mayuri die over and over would eventually drive him mad. To his credit, he breaks the futile cycle of attempting to save Mayuri on his own before that happens.

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Or to be more precise, it’s Kurisu who breaks the cycle, by noticing something is not right with her friend and finally coaxing an explanation out of him, during which he even calls her by her real name.

I must add, this is Kurisu at her absolute best, and also the point at which she’s almost switched roles with Rintarou. Where before he was the wide-eyed dreamer, those time leaps have worn him down. Kurisu sees that, and decides to be the voice of hope and faith when she can tell he’s running low on both. She even strikes a baller chuuni pose that even gets him to crack a smile.

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When she smiles back and offers her hand. In a nifty bit of animation, Rintarou hesitates in taking it, but she gently tugs at his hand and guides it into her own. There’s so much in that simple gesture, which makes it all the more sad when she sets up the time leap machine and sends him back.

It’s sad because the awesome Kurisu she is now, who Rintarou calls “Kurisu” and proudly brags about her invention, will cease to be. Then again, this is nothing new; countless wonderful moments between these two have already vanished from time, both before and during Rintarou’s failed attempts to save Mayuri.

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When Rintarou is sent five hours back–to the time Mayuri finished her cosplay outfit around the same time Kurisu finished the machine–past Kurisu is a little harder to convince than future Kurisu told him she’d be. But when he repeats the keyphrase she gave him about “My Fork”, something very private and embarrassing, she’s on board too. Good. With Kurisu by his side, they’re much more likely to figure this out.

Also, “Screw you, future me” is one hell of a one-liner.

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Kurisu warns Rintarou that failing to build the time machine alone may not be what is causing Mayuri’s deaths. Suzuha joins them, actually backs up her “nemesis”, and sneaks them into the Radio Kaikan building where the satellite crashed.

A sprawling but surprisingly gripping infodump ensues, replete with visual aids like braided ropes (along with her own braids) and a divergence meter made from Nixie tubes she says Rintarou himself will build in the future (thus explaining those numbers we see whenever he leaps. I kept thinking about writing them down, but didn’t).

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I’m not a fan of infodumps, but I, like Rintarou, have thirsted for answers (some answers…not all) for so long I welcomed the explanations, even as I wondered who the hell this crazy-athletic, all-knowing girl really is. We learn that, too: SHE is ‘John Titor’, from the year 2036, and the crashed satellite is her time machine.

I was impressed with how swiftly the story has moved from Rintarou realizing his plan to save Mayuri on his own is a dead-end, to teaming up with Kurisu and growing a little closer, to Suzuha finally revealing who and what she is and introducing a new time machine that could expand their reach across the time continuum. Rintarou may be the one who saves the world, according to Titor, but he’s going to need a lot of help from his friends.

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Steins Gate – 13

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How to follow up a cliffhanger that belongs in the pantheon of cliffhangers (along with “Mr. Worf, Fire” and “Boomer Shoots Adama”)? The same way those were followed up: by dropping us right back into the same moment it left us; in this case, with Moeka shooting Mayuri in the head. Moeka is aiming at Rintarou when Suzuha bursts back into the lab and takes out all of the other gunmen.

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She left to go turn on the 42″ CRT downstairs, and then returns to buy Rintarou and Kurisu just enough time to activate the time leaping machine, during which Kurisu too is shot right in front of Rintarou. Right after Steins;Gate’s best ending to date, we get its best cold open. The adrenaline was pumping from start to finish, even though I was reasonably certain Rintarou would get away.

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He ends up in the memory of the cemetery where Mayuri is looking up at a grave, and we learn the significance of that memory. The grave is Mayuri’s grandmother’s, and she’d visit it every day. One day, Rintarou watched as she became bathed in Rembrandt Lighting he feared would lift her up and away, so he ran to her, embraced her, and told her she can’t go anywhere, because she’s his “hostage” now.

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The cemetery is only a temporary stop, however, as Rintarou wakes up just before 5:00 PM the same evening Mayuri gets killed. Without stopping to explain anything, he cancels the party and runs out to look for Mayuri.

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Of course, Kurisu, being a genius, figures out pretty quickly that Rintarou used the time leap machine, it worked, and now has memories of the, or rather a future. But he’s in too much of a hurry and can only promise to tell everyone everything later, even Mayuri herself; his curtness frightens her. Of course, considering he just watched her die, I can’t expect him to have acted any more calmly.

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It’s that emotional trauma he carries that makes him slip up, realizing too late the trains were stopped by a bomb threat, likely for this purpose. The Mad Scientist finally has The Organization after him, and always seems to be one step ahead. A chase, a take-down, and Rintarou and Mayuri separate. He tells her to run, and she does, right into an alley where a waiting car runs her over.

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Rintarou is close to home, so he’s able to use the time leap machine again, but at this point I’m starting to think about Waremete, a Fall 2014 show I watched but left the reviewing duties to Zane. Turns out the visual novel it’s based upon was released a year after Steins;Gate. 

Here, as in WareMete, a protagonist tries multiple times to save someone, but no matter how they change the events of the day that someone dies, the person always finds a way to die, as if the timeline is attempting to balance itself. That’s what seems to be happening here.

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I say that because the first two times Mayuri is killed, it’s due to SERN’s actions, but SERN couldn’t have made Nae run up to Mayuri, trip, and accidentally shove her onto the subway track. That’s not outside interference; that’s…something else. Breaking the pattern of Mayuri’s deaths isn’t as simple as isolating her. Maybe it’s the watch?

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And then, there’s the possibility that Mayuri simply can’t be saved, no matter how many times Rintarou is able to go back. Pair that with the fact the trauma of watching her die is cumulative, and it won’t be long before Rintarou is simply too emotionally broken to have the necessary wits about him, which is all the more reason to tell the others what’s going on.

It all comes back to the cemetery memory. Was Rintarou only reacting to the strange light, or was there really something to his fear Mayuri was about to disappear? When he embraced her, was he only delaying the inevitable? SERN and time seem to be conspiring against him, and he is in way over his head.

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S;G reviews are back!…but only once a week.

Steins Gate – 12

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Steins;Gate reaches its halfway mark with a disappointingly uneventful outing, as–oh, God, what am I saying? I’ll be serious, as Okabe Rintarou has started to become by necessity: this was an effing classic. It was the choice of Steins Gate that the wool be fully pulled from my eyes…and my heart be ripped out of my chest.

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For all its humble looks and composition, this thing is lit like a terrible world-upending weapon

 

Rintarou had already drastically cut down on his chuunibyou mad scientist silliness last week, when he was too damned shaken by the threatening text messages to be embarrassed about walking in on the girls in the bath.

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It’s a sudden change in his demeanor not lost on Kurisu. Even if Rintarou hasn’t told her anything, she knows. After fully explaining the completed Time Leap Machine, including the need for a living human subject—no more bananas—she turns to Rintarou for the Lab’s next move.

No maniacal laugh, no fake cell phone call: his decision is this: they’re backing out of this. They’ll announce their discovery and leave the rest to the ‘appropriate’ entities.

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It’s a tough call, and a very un-Hououin Kyouma call, but it’s the right call. Itaru agrees. On a grocery run, Kurisu sees Rintarou’s relief and admits to being a little disappointed, but she agrees too. Mayuri definitely agrees. Mayuri, whom they both agree has seen more than either one of them, and probably wanted them to stop a long time ago.

Things will be different, that’s for sure. The Future Gadget Lab accomplished something momentous. Kurisu fears her father’s reaction to her latest and greatest success; Rintarou assures her they’ll be able to visit him and work things out, because he takes care of his lab members. In this beautiful exchange, Kurisu refers to herself as his assistant, and he shoots back that she’s his dear companion. These two really were meant for each other.

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Rintarou’s decision calls for a party, and a party is what they have. Suzuha even comes along, and after some posturing and growling between her and Kurisu, Mayuri defuses the situation with her usual eloquence: “Mayushii…doesn’t like fighting…when we’re all together, I think it’d be more fun if we were all friends!”

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And so they are friends this night, as Kurisu helps Suzuha beat Rintarou at Rai-Net Battler, simply by knowing the kind of personality Rintarou has. When Rintarou skulks away in defeat, Kurisu has Mayuri go after him, telling her how both she and Rintarou believe she’s always had the clearest view of the lab.

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Mayushii approaches Rintarou on the roof armed with a lightsaber Cyalume Saber. They talk about how much fun everyone is having, and about all the things they’ll be able to buy once they go public with the discovery (Chairs! Utensils!).

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Then Mayushii brings up the Spring (it’s August at this point), when it was just the two of them, but Rintarou seemed really lonely to her, and how the club has grown so much that it’s okay now, even if she isn’t his ‘hostage’ anymore.

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As Mayuri is saying this last bit, he has a flash of his daydream from the cold open, which may well have been far more than a mere daydream: 70 million years in the future, he and Mayuri are alone in the middle of a wasteland, about to die. She tells him they’re the originals, but there are infinite other Rintarous and Mayuris in other world lines that will carry on their legacy even if they crumbled to dust then and there.

So…it’s okay. It’s all okay. Until it isn’t.

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Itaru dashes up to the roof (yes I used dash and Itaru in the same sentence): there’s a bomb threat; all trains in and out of Akiba are stopped. So the party becomes a sleepover now…Yay, right? Nay. When Itaru confirms he’s deep into SERN, Suzuha seems on the cusp of telling them to do something very important, but instead she bolts out of the lab without an explanation. That’s not good. There’s no way that’s a good sign.

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Then Rintarou notices sand has stopped flowing down an hourglass. Mayuri’s recently-wound pocketwatch stops. Something is extremely wrong.

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A group of masked gunmen in casualwear race up the stairs and bust into the lab. If they didn’t have the guns and masks, they’d look like ordinary people. Is this SERN? Was Rintarou too late in giving up the game?

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It’s a volatile situation, made even more surreal by the arrival of the apparent leader of the gunmen: Kiryuu Moeka, donning black leather from neck to toe, stylish as always, as Mayuri once remarked. “SERN will take the time machine”, she mutters softly. She’s taking Kurisu, Rintarou, and Itaru as well.

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As for Mayuri? She’s…”not needed.” Shining Finger puts her finger on the trigger, muttering “For FB…FB…FB…” and puts a bullet in Mayuri’s head. Just like that, the beating heart and warm, fuzzy soul of the lab, Rintarou’s dear childhood friend, is gone, and the fun and games are over.

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I expected something to happen in that standoff, but for the life of me I didn’t expect that. But why the hell didn’t I? It was all here, in previous episodes and all over this one: she was pulling out death flags like there was no tomorrow, because for her, there wouldn’t be.

And what’s so crushing about this is that in a twisted way, Moeka was right: Mayuri was no longer needed. As Mayuri said, “it’s okay”: now that he has friends, he’ll be alright, even if she isn’t by his side anymore. The close-ups of Mayuri in her last moments are painted with neither shock nor fear, but expectation; of inevitability. 

This is the closing of a chapter and a time of new and terrifying trials for Okabe Rintarou and the rest of the lab. But perhaps, with Kurisu by his side, he’ll be okay. But I just can’t see it yet. No one could ever see as clearly as Shiina Mayuri.

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P.S. With twelve episodes down, twelve to go, and Winter season starting to pick up steam, now is as good a time as any to exhale and take a break from the show. How long a break? I won’t be sure until Winter settles down and I have a better idea of which parts of the week are the slowest…but probably not long. In any case, I have yet to watch anything after this, so spoilers in the comments are strictly prohibited. Finally, it cannot be said enough, thanks for reading as I play catch-up with a classic—H.B.

Steins Gate – 10

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This episode gets off to a rather…ahem…inauspicious start, with Okarin, still convinced Ruka is a guy, does terrible things to her to prove that fact, only to cower in terror at the fact that yup, she is, in point of fact, a girl, then accept whatever off-camera punishment Kurisu arranges for him, because frankly, he’s lucky he gets to keep that hand.

In his defense, Okarin is understandably having increasing difficulty keeping track of all the changes, and while Akiba’s flavor has fundamentally changed, his relationships seem to be pretty much the same, so he must have assumed their genders stayed the same as well.

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It’s not surprising then, for Okarin to take up Suzuha’s offer of a bike ride, even if he’s to do the pedaling: some fresh air will do him good. But instead of clearing his head, it introduces a fresh dilemma which his D-mail technology may be able to solve: Suzuha’s absent father.

His mad scientist schtick is fooling no one: Okarin is a nice guywho will do everything in his power to help his friends, and Suzuha is one of them. So he makes her Member #008 and orders her to come to the lab and text her father not to leave. Sure, her dad may not have had a cell phone back when he left, but maybe he has a pager.

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Suzuha is touched by Okarin’s offer, but departs on her own, in a gorgeously-composed shot that just screams “Sayonara.”

Okarin musters the rest of the lab to arrange a party for Suzuha. He gets a troubling text from an unknown sender saying he’s being watched, with a photo of red jello attached (apparently aware of Okarin’s experience with green jello). But he can’t be troubled too long, since he has a feeling Suzuha won’t come back unless he follows her. Kurisu forbids him to do this, and sends him out to the stores with Mayushii.

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While on the way home, Mayushii reminisces about a time years ago when Okarin had a fever so bad she feared he’d die. She believes her prayers to the sky saved his life (though he gives Steins Gate credit). Is it just me, or are Okarin and Mayushii’s one-on-ones are getting more and more…wistful? It almost feels like she’s trying to remind Okarin how important he is to her, so he’d better not leave her behind.

But it’s more than that: Okarin’s behavior right after Feyris sent her D-mail reminded Mayushii of when he had the fever. Okarin takes that to mean that time he had the fever must have been when his “Reading Steiner” ability first awakened.

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Back in the lab, we get some lovely slice-of-lify dinner prep, with the implication that Kurisu isn’t the best cook despite her scientific genius. It’s fluffy, but it’s good fluff that reminds us how tight-knit a family the Future Gadget Lab has become.

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When futzing some of the lab’s other invented gadgets, the power goes out, which nets us a very intimate exchange between Okarin and Kurisu. It’s as if the darkness has given her cover to say things she wouldn’t say in the light. Again, the camerawork excels, as we get awesome closeups Okarin and Kurisu’s barely lit faces.

When the lights come on we see that for a lot of that time, their faces were merely inches apart, and those shots of them were from their own points of view. For all we know, Kurisu could have been leaning in for a kiss; really nice stuff. Okarin said his relationships have remained the same through all these world lines…but I’d argue that his relationship Kurisu is steadily growing.

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I also find Okarin’s rationale for continuing the D-mail experiments even in the face of all the risks: He’s a mad scientist, dammit, and he’s not going to let Ruka becoming a girl, Akiba ceasing to be an otaku haven, or even threatening red jello texts stop his march to destiny. But really, as I said, he wants to help his friends out, and more to the point, simply wants those friends around, and happy.

To that end, when Suzu is a no-show, he D-mails himself to keep tabs on her, and the next morning learns she attended the party after all. Even though she doesn’t know her dad’s phone number, she had a lot of fun. But what did this latest favor to a friend cost him? The beauty of S;G is that changes need not be immediately apparent; indeed, it’s more fun when they sneak up when least expected.

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Steins Gate – 09

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Holy crap…now he’s gone and done it.

This masterful episode, in which Okarin makes the ill-fated choice to allow Feyris to send a D-mail to the past, confirmed some of my floating theories, refuted others, and generally blew my mind. I had to stop myself from rewatching this episode immediately after watching it.

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No review of this episode is complete without thorough discussion of Okarin and Kurisu. To put it mildly, they were on their A-game here; to put it more elaborately, this was some of the most entertaining sustained interaction between two characters within a single episode of anime I have ever seen.

It all starts when Okarin happens to encounter Kurisu on the roof in the midst of an upsetting phone call. She retreats, but later tries to convince Okarin that she wasn’t really crying, even though her eyes are still red.

Yet she still sits beside him, as if to give him a chance to comfort her. He does, sort of, in a very Okarin way: first with the affirmation that she’s a ‘valued ally’, and if she wants talk he’ll listen…then pretend-talking on the phone about his kindness being some kind of ruse. We’ll give this round to Okarin.

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At the next round table, Kurisu and Okarin pretend their last encounter never happened as far as anyone else is concerned (and anyway Daru is distracted by Mayushii’s real school uniform, which he insists is a super-realistic school uniform cosplay).  Kurisu even has a nickname lined up for Okarin when he asks why physical time travel is impossible: “gel-Okarin”. Score a point for Kurisu.

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When Kurisu suggests the lab stick to more realistic goals, Okarin dismisses that stuff as “boring”. Kurisu, points out that science is 99.9% boring. It has to be that way; otherwise it’s 100% exciting, as in BOOM. Okarin reminds her he’s a MAD scientist, which she responds to by turning away and saying “Epic Fail”, which everyone has a strange reaction that puts her on the spot. Okarin goes in for the kill by repeatedly calling her “4channer” in the most obnoxious tone he can muster, thus gaining the upper hand.

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After that exchange, Mayushii gives Kuri…a look. I’m not sure if it’s a look of support, solidarity, pity, jealousy (she confided in Feyris earlier that she’s scared of Okarin “leaving her”), or some combination of those, but I really enjoyed this wordless exchange.

I was so focused on these two, in fact, that I wasn’t paying attention to what Okarin and Daru were discussing. Okarin talks about the IBN 5100 as if they had it…but it turns out they don’t have it; he and Kurisu never found it and carried it to the lab.

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It’s the clearest example yet of the butterfly effect, in which even minor changes to the past can cause major changes to the future. My tentative theory about the changes being cumulative is history, but I won’t miss it. The butterfly thing means higher stakes. There is no ‘minor stuff’ when it comes to changing the past.

Okarin quickly calls Ruka—who appears to be an actual girl now, judging from the uniform—who says the 5100 was donated to the shrine, but now it’s gone. Okarin goes over who else was involved in procuring the PC, and decides talking to Feyris is the next step.

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On the way there, Mayushii admires a metal upa figurine in the window of one of Akiba’s many collectible stores. Okarin, remembering how she got one from a gumball machine and promptly lost it, asks if she “still” wants one, but Mayushii doesn’t remember, because those events were many world line splits ago.

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He also hears a docile voice say “IBN 5100”, and spots Moeka across the street, and finally catches up to her in a dark alley. She seems more desperate than ever to find the 5100, but Okarin can’t help her now. More surprising to him, Mayushii knows Moeka now, as she’d visited the lab at some point, meaning the last D-mail restored relationships that were lost in the D-mail before it.

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Do sooner does Okarin’s enthusiasm begin to strain beneath the increasing weight and complexity of his plight than he arrives at Feyris’s urban palace high above Akiba, where the view of the “ants” below him provides some comfort. Feyris, whose real name is Akiha Rumiho, explains her monumental wealth to Okarin and Daru by revealing that her family is the “Akiha” in Akihabara, and that she claims to have been personally instrumental bringing the “culture of cute” to the district.

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Before she tells Okarin about the IBN, she requests that she be able to send a D-mail to the past. The timing is particularly bad, but Okarin grudgingly agrees, naming Rumiho Member #008.

However, in order to activate the phone microwave from there, Okarin must call Kurisu. He also quickly learns that she’ll keep hanging up on him unless he phrases his request in a manner to her liking. That we only hear and don’t see Kurisu during this exchange makes their performance—and her stunning come-from-behind victory—all the more fantastic.

I thought there was something fishy about Feyris’ replied to being asked what one thing she’d change from her past”. She said she doesn’t look back on her past, but clearly, in this case, she does.

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Flanked by the loyal and smitten Daru on one side and Feyris’ friend and co-worker Mayushii on the other, Okarin is forced into a very risky proposition: sending a D-mail without even knowing its contents.

Once it’s sent, Feyris’ dad arrives, and tells Okarin he never donated his 5100 to the shrine. But nothing can prepare him for the most dramatic change since Kurisu’s stabbing: the slow, devastating reveal that Akiba…isn’t Akiba anymore, as in, it’s no longer a vibrant center for otaku or culture and shopping. No comic stores, no maid cafes…nothing.

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Was this an unintended, unfortunate circumstance of Feyris’ secret D-mail…or did she intend for this to happen, perhaps secretly disillusioned with what Akiba had become? As they always seem to be with this show, the possibilities are endless. Good lord…how did people actually wait a week in between these episodes?

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Stray Observations:

  • I wonder who Kurisu was talking to…
  • So Ruka is a girl now…right? Wait…don’t answer that. I’ll find out.
  • Daru borrows Okarin’s “Steins Gate” line when referring to limited edition merch, upsetting him.
  • Moeka mentions an “FB” again.
  • Mayushii sees a cosplayer in everyone
  • “What a sad attempt to escape reality.” – Okarin’s highly hypocritical reaction to Daru covering his ears when Feyris’ real name is mentioned.
  • Feyris: “Do they not like each other?” Mayushii: “I think it’s the opposite.” Daru: “Agreed.” Well said, all.