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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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–“
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.