Magia Record – 21 (S2 Fin) – Nor the Battle to the Strong

At first, Yachiyo and Iroha believe they failed to Connect with Tsuruno, but they end up basically inside her head, which takes the form of a theater where Iroha watches the past unfold, including the day Yachiyo and Tsuruno’s friend and comrade Meru became a witch. Because Tsuruno was working at her family’s restaurant, she blamed herself, and resolved to become not just stronger, but the strongest.

But she wasn’t strong. Against the Witches and Uwasa, no magical girl, is strong, really. It’s why they have to band together…though the Wings of Magius took it a bit too far into cult territory. As this episode demonstrates, small but close-knit groups can get it done. Thanks to Felicia, Sana, Mifuyu and Momoko, Yachiyo and Iroha are able to free Tsuruno.

Similarly, thanks to Kyouyko and Akemi, Madoka and Sayaka are able to free Mami. Like Tsuruno, she had been forced into believing she had to be strong enough for everyone even though in reality she wasn’t, leaving her exposed to Uwasa corruption…or something. I’m just glad Tsuruno and Mami are back…though the fact they were freed so easily somewhat blunts all of the built-up stakes.

It wouldn’t be a finale without Iroha Connecting with Madoka, and the two pink magical girls end up unleashing an attack so powerful, it disperses all of the assembled witches at the hotel/amusement park. With no witches their to lure it, Walpurgisnacht changes course for Mitakihara, somewhere Akemi pointedly doesn’t want Madoka to go because she knows it may well be the end of her.

But the OG gang soon says their goodbyes and heads to Mitakihara, leaving the Magia Record gang fully reunited. Tsuruno is a bit out of it but sure looks like she’ll make a full recovery, while all the bad blood between Yachiyo and Mifuyu seems to have dispersed along with the witches, which is good to see.

Less good to see is what becomes of poor Kuroe just as she exits the hotel and sees Iroha and the others celebrating their victory. Kuroe’s Doppel rises out of her shadow and stops her, saying she doesn’t belong with them. This must be at least a little meta, as Kuroe is an anime-only character.

Still, it seems almost cruel at this point for the show to torment Kuroe just as she seemed poised to deepen her bond with Iroha, and perhaps the other girls through Iroha. Her doppel clearly has other plans, though if Iroha & Co. could save Tsuruno, maybe they can save Kuroe too.

The only thing left to do is for Iroha to do what she came to Hotel Faint Hope to do: speak to Touka and Nemu. Touka, for her part, is recalcitrant and doesn’t even seem to recognize Iroha. She’s about to attack her when Nemu stops her. Nemu then reveals that she’s been keeping the truth about everything that’s happened so far from both of them. That said, she seems ready to come clean…in her way.

So ends the middle part of the three-cour Magia Record. This part had a nice focus and rhythm to it along with many satisfying badass magical girl moments, but still managed to end with me scratching my head, like the first cour. Not the worst thing, mind you; as long as the final third of the series helps alleviate that cranial itch with at least some solid answers.

Magia Record – 20 – Giving Their Best

In what are not their first rumblings of disagreement by any stretch, considering their very different personalities, Nemu voices her concern that she and Touka are hurting Magical Girls when they were supposed to be saving them. Touka, who has clearly drunk on power for a while now, says the only way they can do that is by becoming “gods.” If Nemu is going to stop her friend, the window is closing as that storm nears.

The bulk of those Magical Girls Touka is fine sacrificing are locked in battle with their respective friends-turned-opponents: Madoka’s crew dodging Mami’s impossible number of old-timey rifles while Yachiyo’s crew going toe-to-toe with the evil Tsuruno Aqua, who combines devastating attacks with creepy amusement park P.A. announcements.

Thanks to Sana and Felicia providing some cover, the two crews are able to withdraw for a spell, as it’s clear talking with Mami and Tsuruno is useless. When they’re in a safe place to regroup, Mifuyu contacts them via charmed origami, giving them a map of Chelation Land and the location of Touka and Nemu as well as Embryo Eye.

Mifuyu even does them one better and has the origami stream her meeting with Mitama, in which she attempts to get her to break her neutrality. Thanks to Momoko, the two learn that Mitama has been neutral all this time because she’s too weak to fight on her own; too full of shadows and despair. Were she ever dropped into a battle she’d become a witch immediately, but Momoko gives her a hug and assures her that she’ll help her carry those burdens.

Thankfully we check in on poor Kuroe, who is still being chased by Magius girls and is all alone except for her needy Doppel, who wants very dearly to help her out…no doubt at the cost of sanity and control. With only one episode left, it remains to be seen if Kuroe will reunite with Iroha and Connect with her and Yachiyo, as they do in the OP…or meet her ultimate fate in this cour.

Once Mitama tells them the best way to save their friends is to attempt to Connect with them (and Iroha & Co. tell Madoka and CO. what “Connecting” even is) The two groups head back out into the chaotic battlefield to attempt to do just that to Mami and Tsuruno. We’ve got big bold boss music as the projectiles and bodies fly.

But once the dust settles, Tsuruno falls from a great height, her human body is mangled, and the Uwasa she fused with seemingly takes over full control. If the Tsuruno Iroha and Yachiyo love is dead, her body is still being made to move like a marionnette by the Uwasa within.

Combined with the fact Madoka & Co. make little progress with Mami, and the eighth and final installment of Magia Record’s second cour will be a very busy and impactful affair. As penultimate episodes go, this was solid, but not groundbreaking. Hopefully the best Magia madness will be saved for last.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Magia Record – 19 – Not a Bad Fate

While Kuroe struggles with trying to keep her Doppel under control so she can get back to Iroha, Yachiyo encounters Madoka, Sayaka, and Akemi…and it’s just an extremely cool game-recognize-game moment.

This is what good fanservice looks like: pleasing the crowd without compromising the story. And the story is that Iroha and Yachiyo are going to need every independent thinking magical girl on their side if they’re going to stop Touka and Nemu from scorching the world.

After being shaken out of her state of despair and fatalism by Sana and Felicia (who themselves regret letting Magius lead them by the nose for so long), Mifuyu chooses friends and bonds both living, frayed, and dead over loyalty to Magius, and pleads with Touka to terminate the operation before too much damage is done.

But that’s the thing: Touka is determined to involve everyone in the world, as she’s convinced humanity has only advanced to its present state of development on the backs of suffering and dying magical girls. Nemu then siccs the reprogramed, aqua version of Tsuruno on Mifuyu.

Down in the bowels of the hotel she meets Alina, who seems to be neutral now. She’s not interested in “partying” with a bunch of sheep, but also not quite willing to help out Mifuyu more than the minimum, which is to toss her a grief seed.

As they all have people they want to save and know their best chance is to work together, Yachiyo, Madoka, Sayaka and Akemi pile into a pickup truck headed to the absolute bedlam that is the hotel fused with an amusement park. Couintless witches are battling the Magius witches, creating chaos and discord.

But as Yachiyo is busy driving the truck, the O.G. girls show what a well-oiled machine they are, dispatching all comers. When Madoka and Sayaka are sent flying, Akemi stops time and saves them. No doubt that ability, so crucial in the films, will play a pivotal role in the final battles to come.

As for Iroha, who is already inside the gates, she’s not content to wait for Kuroe or for Yachiyo to break through the gates from the outside; she’s going to smash them from the inside. When borrowing Kyouko’s white Magius robe doesn’t work and gets her surrounded, Kyouko saves her out once again.

Rather than retreat, Iroha asks Kyouko to Connect with her, resulting in the fusing of her crossbow and Kyouko’s spear into the perfect gate-smashing weapon. Teamwork inside the gates and out not only makes the dream work, but keeps Iroha’s and everyone else’s wishes alive. The moment when Iroha and Yachiyo embrace, finally reunited again, is definitely the most heartwarming moment of the episode.

That moment is immediately followed up by another one of the coolest and most satisfying: when Iroha and Madoka come face to face. The closest analog I can think of is in Avengers: Infinity War when Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy, making the crossover official. Madoka, Sayaka, Akemi, and Kyouko are no longer token cameos, but pivotal players in this newly-merged, exciting, and purposeful Madoka universe.

The good girls are amassing fast, and when Kuroe (who is hopefully okay), Sana, Felicia, Mifuyu, and maybe even Alina join their ranks, tit’s looking like they have a fighting chance, even against two very challenging sub-bosses in the Re-programmed Mami and Tsuruno. That’s not to say it will be easy, or devoid of sacrifice.

But as Madoka said in the back of the truck, if anyone can turn this situation with Embryo Eye and Walpurgisnacht around, it’s magical girls. So she’s glad she’s a magical girl, and her friends old and brand-new concur. It’s time to get to work!

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 06 – Grace Under Fire

Vivy once again saves Kakitani along with a handful of Toak operatives, but Kakitani is once again ungrateful and Matsumoto determines it will be hard to conceal the fact that the AIs of Metal Float killed a fair number of humans, all thanks to Dr. Saeki’s apparent “shutdown” program caused all of the AIs to rampage, like antibodies fighting off an infection.

Saeki’s personal stake is put into context as we learn he was once a patient at the facility where he’d eventually work. As a child, it fell to the nursing AI Grace, descendant and Sister of Diva, to tell him his parents abandoned him, and to comfort him.

When he returned as a researcher, he fell in love and proposed to Grace, and they became the first official human-AI couple, with Grace considering marriage to be a logical step in her attempt to better understand humans as part of her mission to save and protect human lives.

When Vivy confronts him, he reveals his true plan, which at first he believed aligned with her and Matsumoto’s goals: like them he intended to shut down Metal Float, but he also intended to retrieve the data comprising the “soul” of the real Grace, who had been forcefully appointed the island’s control AI, and her mission rewritten.

Saeki tries to prove to Vivy that the Grace he knew and loved is still imprisoned in the core, singing Diva’s song (and incidentally, the opening theme) on a loop as a kind of distress call. But both she and Matsumoto hear the “singing” for what it is, nothing more than “tone data”. The Grace Saeki had hoped to download into his replica Grace no longer exists.

After Vivy makes clear to Saeki that in her current form she is not Diva, but Vivy, “an AI who will destroy AIs to change the destructive future”, he siccs his Grace replacement on her, but she’s able to easily defeat her thanks to her combat program. Matsumoto then determines the best place to look for the Grace core is the island’s main tower.

He proceeds to hack the production facility to quickly manufacture dozens of Matsumoto cubes, which coalesce into a kind of flying mecha Vivy uses to fight her way through the waves of defense AIs to reach the tower. Trippy Tron-y baroque neon spectacle set to the theme song ensues, to the point it’s hard to tell what’s going on at times, but it’s definitely cool-looking.

Vivy’s final obstacle is M205, who attempts one last surprise to detonate in her proximity in order to neutralize her, but Matsumoto mecha shields her from the explosion. While her face is damaged, Vivy enters Combat Mode and puts her arm through Grace’s chest. The island shuts down, making the operation a success. But it’s also framed as a death of honor and mercy, freeing Grace from a mission she never wanted.

But this success has immediate consequences. Despite Vivy’s hope and desire that Saeki be able to find happiness elsewhere in the wake of the loss of his love, Saeki instead chooses suicide by putting a bullet in his head, thus joining his lost love. As a result, in this instance, Diva failed in her mission to make people happy with her singing.

With one hand drenched in Saeki’s red human blood and the other in Grace’s blue AI blood, Vivy has a bit of an existential crisis. While Grace accepted the mission rewrite and assumed her new role as control AI of Metal Float, Diva/Vivy has maintained all along that her mission has not changed.

But one cannot deny that she’s suffered quite a bit of mission creep, and the resulting complications in her new dual role as savior of humanity is having a deleterious effect on her sense of being, and possibly her very sanity. We’ll see how this carries over into her next operation, whenever in the future that might be. But I imagine her condition will continue to worsen before it improves.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 07 – Vla Vla Vland

Vlad Love goes from the “cultural festival play” episode to the “let’s make a movie” episode, with Maki as the director and Mai, Mitsugu and Katsuno starring (Katsuno also fronts the more than $4K budget). Maki’s vision is a promotional video for the Blood Donation Club that is also a homage to French New Wave director Nicolas Truffant.

Needless to say, chaos reigns. Maki has the lingo and bearing of a film director down, and she also knows her cinematic history and can rear-project a driving scene with the best of ’em, but the shoot itself is an unqualified disaster from start to finish as Chihiro insists they film the whole thing in five days. Those days are marked by title cards reminiscent of The Shining. Also, Kaoru’s cat runs away, and the backup cat doesn’t give a shit about milk.

While Maki seems to have recurring dreams about being a little girl surrounded by everyone staring and judging at her (probably a reference to something), in the end those dreams are justified, as the final product is a mess. Unlike the first Star Wars, even editing couldn’t save Meet Mai, but Maki isn’t even there for the premiere—she’s scarfing down a bento on the Shinkansen.

The episode was hurt by having to follow up the best one yet, as well as being the second straight involving a production with a demanding director. Mitsugu and Mai barely say or do anything, and there are so many jokes and asides there’s no room for anything else—including much of a reason to care! Still, as always, Vlad Love looks great, even when it’s little more than empty calories.

Appare-Ranman! – 05 – Jockeying for Position

Kosame gathers up a sleeping Appare and Hototo for the pre-race banquet, where they are immediately turned away for not abiding by the dress code—something Xialian is doing thanks to her classy new dress. The code suddenly becomes more flexible when Thousand Three member TJ arrives in an outfit even more outlandish than Appare’s, carrying a turntable boombox playing anachronistic music.

Thanks to TJ the others gain entry (once Kosame puts on a necktie), and we soon learn that when it comes to fashion, Thousand Three members are extremely extra, judging by the arrival of the ruthless Gil and his lieutenant Chase. Hototo only came in order to ask Dylan about a snake tattoo. Dylan tells him it’s worn by Gil’s henchmen, but suggests that if he wants revenge (and not to die), he’ll have to be patient.

There are introductions of the B.I.G. BOSS car companies, the race cars, and their drivers (Kosame’s name is mispronounced and they’re given number 0), and then the pre-race lottery for pole position begins. TJ breaks up the ceremony by shooting the raffle box and declaring pole position for himself, which leads Dylan to challenge him. That sparks a very weird pistol duel, complete with unlimited ammo and acrobatic bullet-dodging moves.

The other drivers hash it out with duels ranging from kicking  to cucumber slicing. It’s all a little nutty and arbitrary, and it’s a miracle not one person was shot or even wounded by all the stray gunfire (though if the show takes such liberties with tech and fashion, it tracks that it doesn’t have a problem taking them with normal human ability and gun lethality as well).

That brings us to the next day and the start of the race, which we first saw in the first episode back in April. After five episodes of setup, the race has finally begun, and Appare has a steam-powered car in a race that favors gasoline-powered cars. No matter; he declares the car will never be finished because it will always be evolving, including during the race.

With Hototo as a guide and Kosame as…er, captain, they’ll no doubt take routes and make moves other racers are either too afraid or too sane—or both—to attempt. But even as the racers speed off into the wild, there are conspiratorial elements committed to turning the race into a “tragedy”.

Goblin Slayer – 10 – No Need to Rush

After another big battle, the Goblin Slayer and his party has earned another rest, while elsewhere, the Suzumiya Haruhi-looking Hero slays the Demon Lord with her two comrades. As usual, Goblin Slayer convalesces at the dairy farm, something for which Cow Girl is very happy and relieved.

The day before she left for the city he was mean to her, but out of jealousy, not hatred. Now, as he rests and patrols the farm, he notes that he’s forgotten the taste of his favorite stew his sister use to make for him, because it’s been so long since he’s tasted it.

The two head into town for deliveries and guild and other business. GS is uncharacteristically unarmored and his pale face are exposed for all to see, though most don’t recognize him, but simply note his physique and pastiness.

After getting his repaired armor back, GS suits up and visits some fellow adventurers who are teaching some bright-eyed youths the ropes. I couldn’t help but remember the priestess’ ill-fated party. Later, the Guild Girl remarks that even when adventurers or heroes retire, they are still alive until death, so it’s good to stay busy and pass their trade onto the next generation.

Cow Girl also finally meets GS’ party, and along with the Guild Girl they all go out for a meal, where Cow Girl, Guild Girl, and Priestess all agree GS needs to take it easier if he’s going to last till retirement age.

As his party stays in town and the Dwarf and Elf start a drinking game (a lot of Legolas and Gimli in these two) GS and Cow Girl return to the farm for the night. Cow Girl joins GS under the two full moons, and when asked he tells her he’s thinking about the future, no doubt since it came up in town.

Cow Girl hopes that GS has a future beyond slaying goblins, since everyone has their limits. But few know those limits are until they’re reached, and even fewer know what should come after that.

GS’s meticulous patrols and inspections of the farm have always been seen as overkill, with the Cow Girl’s uncle even saying he doesn’t need to do it so regularly. But I saw that as a major flag, and at episode’s end, my fears are confirmed: a mess of goblin prints at the farm’s periphery.

I imagine the GS’ future quests are on hold until those goblins are taken care of. I can’t imagine him leaving Cow Girl and her uncle alone after finding those footprints. Perhaps his friends will help him root them out.

Goblin Slayer – 09 – Mirror, Mirror, Off the Wall, Save Us from the Rocks that Fall

The giant eyeball monster was protecting a magic mirror that serves as a gate to the goblin realm. With goblins streaming to their location from every direction (but the mirror that is) Goblin Slayer comes up with a plan to deal with them.

First, the way in is barricaded to slow them down. Then Dwarf and Elf help GS attack the goblins who come as the Lizardman and Priestess dismount the mirror from the wall and point it upward. They all huddle beneath it and the Dwarf brings the entire roof of the structure down.

The resulting damage flattens all of the remaining goblins, while the rubble falls harmlessly through the mirror gate. All in all, a neat little victory, but when he reports back to the Sword Maiden, GS deduces that she knew all about what was going on down there.

She confirms that the white alligator was her familiar and that the goblins beneath the city were allowed to roam not just because she feared being seen as weak or overreacting, but to demonstrate to the people how the goblins were a serious threat, owing to her own personal torment by their grubby hands.

The Sword Maiden carries trauma the GS will never be able to save her from, but he’s always been a highly practical man, and so he bids her farewell with the promise that if she needs more goblins slain for her, he will come when summoned. Until then, he’s headed back home to make ice cream.

You heard right: the man once known only for slaying goblins intends to do something other than slay dragons. Perhaps like those anime school clubs that do more than one thing, a name change is in order: Ice Cream-Making Goblin Slayer? Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue…

Goblin Slayer – 08 – Good as New, but Still Scared to Death

Goblin Slayer is Resurrected by a miracle that requires him to share a bed with a virgin—in this case, the Priestess. While he’s out, he remembers his harsh but fair master who taught him how to slay goblins, breaking him down then putting him back together into someone who won’t freeze and do nothing, but act when action is needed…even if it kills you.

Or, in GS’ case, almost kills him. The miracle works, and we get our first look at a maskless, armor-less Slayer, although his eyes remain obscure both in flashback and present. The Sword Maiden pays him a visit (I imagine it’s her bed he and Priestess are in), but she couldn’t be the virgin the miracle needed, thanks to the Goblins.

She confides in him how even though she defeated the Demon Lord, she remains scared to death, and in need of people to help her overcome that fear. We’ll learn that that constant fear is something GS shares.

Dwarf, Elf, and Lizard reunite with GS and Priestess and they go into town for their first meal since GS went down; a meal they promised to have together. GS and Priestess then split off and head to the shops. Priestess could easily replace her damaged chainmail, but for her its sentimental value vis-a-vis GS outweighs the difficulty of repairing it. GS also acquires new weapons, since he lost them all in the ruins.

They share a sunset by the sea with a new invention called “ice creme” and after being chided earlier for being so taciturn with the Priestess, he actually opens up about that fear he once had to just take one step forward, lest the ground swallow him up. He’s still “scared to death” just like the Sword Maiden, and not amount of noble feats will change that.

What changed was what they do with that fear, and how they keep living in spite of it. In both cases, neither would still be alive were it not for a little help from their friends. Back at the farm the cow girl assures her father that despite having been gone a long time, the GS will be back.

Resurrection apparently doesn’t require much recovery time, since GS is back in action in the ruins with the rest of the party, after acquiring a mystery burlap sack from the Black Mage. Their next big foe is not a goblin, but a “creature of Chaos”: a giant eyeball with tendrils coming out of it, each tipped with more eyeballs. Whenever something enters the room where it resides it blasts it with a stone-melting energy beam.

GS knows he can’t just rush in and stab or blugeon the thing to death, so he formulates a game plan that requires the cooperation and coordination of everyone in the party. The Elf rushes in to distract the Eyeball, allowing the Dwarf to slip in and hit it with some sleep-inducing fire wine. Once GS empties the burlap sack—full of ultra-fine flour—into the room, creating a huge cloud of the stuff, the Elf shoots an arrow into the side of the eye, and then everyone retreats from the room, behind the Priestess’ Protection.

The Lizard sends a Dragontooth Warrior in, which the Eye instinctively targets and fires its beam—igniting the flour like coal dust in a mine. The resulting explosion kills the creature, without the GS using fire, water, or poison. That leaves the adventurers standing before the thing it seemed to be guarding: some kind of magic mirror.

I was a bit surprised so little time was spent without GS in the picture—the Priestess wasn’t even awake during that time—but considering the name of the show perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Not to mention this is a world of fantasy and magic in which death isn’t always irreversible. It was also good to learn a bit more about our boy, and for him to actually open up to the Priestess, who has certainly earned the right to know more, having saved him and all.

Steins;Gate 0 – 23 (Fin) – Fortune Favors the Foolish

With Amadeus deleted from history, Rintarou ends up in a slightly different present, in which Leskinen never succeeded in fully brainwashing Kagari. Moeka subdues Leskinen when he pulls a gun on Rintarou, and the two head up to the roof just as Mayuri is successfully stopping Kagari and Suzuha from killing each other, by badassedly positioning her head between their handguns. Mayuri and Suzu are able to board the time machine safely after receiving the blessing of a Rintarou who’d just arrived in that time.

All the times the time machine was wiped out by a missile from a helicopter gunship, it was only seconds away from disappearing into the spacetime either, so a few extra seconds is all Mayuri and Suzu needed to get away safely, and they do, in an extremely thrilling scene that pays off all of the failure and heartache of previous attempts.

Better still, Hououin Kyouma is able to lustily gloat to Leskinen, Stratfor, DURPA and the Russians for having foiled their plans to acquire the time machine. In the timeline where Mayuri and Daru await the return of Rintarou and Suzu, two time machines briefly appear on the rooftop at once, and Mayuri gets a call from…the other Mayuri, convincing her not to let Okarin give up when he returns in the depths of despair.

Mayuri and Suzu aren’t able to stay in that timeline long lest they cause a paradox, and with the time machine all but out of fuel, they soon lose the ability to choose their next destination. But both of them seem to take their descent into temporal oblivion quite well, all things considered.

Back on the rooftop, Suzu and a defeated, blood-stained Rintarou return, and he gives his little speech about everything being hopeless and deciding he’s going to give up. Then Mayuri remembers the words of the other Mayuri, recalls when Kyouma was “born” (when he hugged her to comfort her at the cemetery) slaps Rintarou, her Hikoboshi, and convinces him not to give up.

Soonafter Rintarou receives a video D-Mail from the Rintarou in the future, and we switch to his point of view, as we watch his grainy recording unfold where and when it occurred. After sending the message, Rintarou’s next operation, Operation Altair, consists of him “deceiving the world”, as well as himself, by travelling back to another point in spacetime in the first version of the time machine to be built by Daru & Co.

Deceiving himself and the world, it turns out, is the only way to reach the Stein’s Gate. He thanks his noble, trusty Lab Members, receives a hug from Maho, and sets off to locate and rescue Mayuri and Suzu, who were lost in time but can be found thanks to something called a “Kerr black hole tracer”, the nature and operation of which are not specified (which is probably for the best).

Suffice it to say, in his experimental but still brand-new and fully-gassed time machine, and with the Kerr thingy, Rintarou successfully locates Mayuri and Suzuha, who by their perspective had just arrived themselves in the year 18,000 B.C. in a dark and stormy wasteland.

They seem ready to accept their fate with grace, but the bright light of Mayuri’s Hikoboshi appears, and from that light, Okabe Rintarou—AKA Okarin, AKA Hououin Kyouma—emerges triumphant; perhaps his most badass moment yet.

And that, folks, is where Steins;Gate 0 ends things. We don’t get to see Steins Gate, or learn whether Rintarou is right that it does exist. All we know is that they’re in a good position to reach a world line in which both Mayuri and Kurisu can live.

It took a lot of gumption, guile, teamwork, sacrifice, trauma, math…and downright foolishness, but the gang is headed in the right direction. It’s a positive, hopeful ending; an ending full of promise and excitement for what may come next for all of these kind, brave fools—even if we may not get to see it.

Steins;Gate 0 – 22 – Another Logical Sacrifice

Thankfully, the latest setback does not shatter Hououin Kyouma just as soon as he makes his triumphant return; more importantly it does not rob Rintarou of his will to keep trying. It only forces him to jump back two days into the past and come up with a new plan. But first, they must determine what exactly is causing the convergence; it may not be the time machine itself.

Rintarou works it out with Daru and Maho. They know how to foil both Leskinen/Stratfor and DURPA, which leaves the Russians. When Nakabachi defected to Russia, they made the connection between his research and Kurisu’s. Thus, in order to prevent WWIII from occuring, they have to prevent that connection from being made.

The only way to do that is to eliminate Amadeus and all of the associated data. Without Kurisu’s memories, brain patterns, and research in digital form, Russia will never be able to complete the time machine, the war will be averted, and both Kurisu and Mayuri should be saved.

So the path to Steins;Gate requires yet another Kurisu-related sacrifice. As Amakurisu states more than once, she’s “just a program”, but it’s still unsurprisingly difficult for Rintarou and Maho to even consider deleting “her,” so similar she is to Kurisu, and yet also an individual personality in her own right.

Amakurisu has Maho send her to Rintarou’s phone, and the two enjoy a stroll together, that lasts through the night into the morning, with Rintarou showing her the city she doesn’t know and judges to be beautiful and worth saving.

Unlike her dead human self, Amakurisu live in a world where only things with a purpose exist (much like The Matrix). Her purpose is to cease existing so a better world can be unlocked. Like Kurisu, she’s ready and willing to assume that cost…but also like Kurisu, there’s a hint of sadness behind her reassuring smile.

Thanks to Daru’s improvement of D-Mail, the D-RINE (like the real-world LINE), Daru can send a save message only to himself telling him to break into VCU’s server and destroy the Amadeus AI data. Maho sends the necessary key and patch as an attachment, the Phone Microwave is fired up, and Amakurisu says her goodbyes.

When the sparks stop we end up with the divergence number of 1.123581—the Beta World Line, tantalizingly close to the 1.048596 of Steins Gate, yet not quite there. We’ll see how well Rintarou & Co. fare in the finale, which I suspect might run double-length (since there’s no episode 24).

Steins;Gate 0 – 21 – Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Lab Members

Thanks to Maho’s improvements, the time leap machine can send Rintarou back 336 hours instead of 48. It’s truly a case of Salieri surpassing Mozart. But he’ll still need to make three thousand such jumps to return to 2011 in order to foil Leskinen, Stratfor, and Durpa and get Mayuri and Suzuha safely off in the time machine on the roof.

That’s a lot of jumps, but Rintarou is committed. Nobody in 2036 particularly likes how things turned out (Rukako has bought it, and soon all of them will), so they’re all for him changing the world if he can. The first jump goes well, but it and many many more after it will require that Rintarou wake up after a long coma.

He gets better and better at convincing Amadeus that he’s indeed from the future, and each time, his friends send him on his way. He even gets to see Lil’ Suzuha! Eventually, he reaches the time where two weeks earlier he’ll no longer have Valkyrie HQ to rely on to time leap.

It’s the day he’s captured, tortured, and allegedly killed. However, things go differently this time, as Amakurisu suggests he uninstall her program and ditch all other tech the enemy is using to track him, while all of his friends act as decoys.

The Leskinen of that time knows he’s lost this round, while the Daru of that time and everyone else sees Rintarou off as he…well, he kinda runs all the way back to 2011. Not sure how that happened, actually, but I’m assuming he didn’t actually run back in time, but managed to escape the enemy and find another means of time leaping.

In any case, when he returns, he’s indistinguishable from the Rintarou of that time, so Maho and Daru think nothing of him showing up in the lab. However, he demands that one of them punch him for being such a whiny little bitch for so long, and Daru does just that.

Daru had no way of knowing what his right hook (or whatever; not a boxing expert) would lead to…the Awakening of Hououin Kyouma from a deep slumber. It took twenty and a half episodes, but we finally get to hear that ridiculous mad scientist laugh. It’s a sight for sore ears.

Not ten seconds after awakening, he’s giving Maho a nickname (“loli girl”) and a weird alternate name (“Safina”). He also dubs her Lab Member 009 and calls an all-hands meeting of the other members, who are just as happy as Daru that their Fearless Leader Kyouma is back.

Maho eventually gets it too: this “Kyouma” fellow has charisma, and rather than dragging everyone and the mood down, he’s galvanizing it. And yet, the same old Rintarou dwells within him, it’s just that he’s done running and cowering, and whining. It’s time for ACTION.

After meeting with the lab members, Kyouma talks with Ferdinand Braun downstairs and makes a number of arrangements roughly a half-hour before Akiba became a war zone in the other timelines. This time, the woman in black with the helmet isn’t Kagari, it’s Moeka, who is on Kyouma’s side in this World Line. Talk about an awesome reveal.

Yep, it sure looks like Hououin Kyouma was the missing variable in the formula to foil Leskinen’s plans and ensure Operation Arclight went off without a hitch. It’s a triumphant, righteous moment. It doesn’t last long.

Even though Mayuri and Suzuha get in the time machine and set off far earlier than previous times, that damned attack helicopter still peeks out from behind a building, launches its missile, and destroys the machine in front of Kyouma and Moeka.

Apparently, not enough conditions were met to avoid the convergence. Clearly it’s not enough to neutralize Kagari and Leskinen; something has to be done about the helicopter. I feel bad for Rintarou having to start all over again right after his grand awakening, but no one ever said changing the world was easy or pleasant.

Steins;Gate 0 – 20 – The Darkest Timeline

Something went terribly wrong during Rintarou’s second attempt. As a result, he wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future where Akiba is in ruins, roving soldiers will shoot you as soon as look at you, and that gorgeous blue sky Steins;Gate is known for is nowhere to be seen. Worse still, Rintarou has never looked weaker or more haggard; not exactly the person you expect to be able to do anything about this situation.

Fortunately for him, he still has friends in this timeline. For someone like Suzuha, who grew up in this shit, she seems right at home. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to a skinny Daru, not to mention Feyris and Rukako going commando (and by that I mean actually becoming commandos, not going without underwear). It’s your prototypical Dark Future, where everyone’s just trying to survive.

It’s tragic, then, that Rukako meets his end just as Rintarou wakes up, dying in Rintarou’s arms serving as a proverbial glass of cold water in the face. Losing Kurisu, Kagari, Mayuri, and now Rukako, Rintarou knows he can’t just sit around satisfied he’s still alive.

His body may be 2036, but his mind is 2011, and so he’s still got enough hope left in that head to make yet another go at finding the Steins Gate. Daru and Maho have managed to keep the Time Leap Machine in working order; he tells them to get it ready. Frankly, I can’t blame the guy: I wouldn’t want to spend one minute longer than I had to in such a drab hell.

Any future would be better than this one…unless of course he manages to find one that’s even worse, where rather than still having some his beloved friends around, he’s completely alone, and without the means to ever time leap again. I’m hoping he can score some kind of a win with his next attempt.