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.

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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.

Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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Owari no Seraph – 05

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This week, on Owari no Seraph:

  • We get a verbatim repeat of the vampire war speech for some reason;
  • Mika wanders around and scares some children;
  • Guren clashes with the higher-ranked Hiiragi family members in an army;
  • Yuu, Shinoa, and Shihou are allowed to interrupt class with their endless bickering;
  • Guren nearly kills said class with his cursed gear, and lets everyone left standing join him in the weapons repository to choose their own gear.

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In other words, not a lot happens. I understand the desire to keep the mood light while at school, but Guren’s childish behavior at the army meeting, and the extended antics in the classroom this week, were both a bridge too far. I get it: Guren’s a “bad boy” like Yuu with a chip on his shoulder, and the bureaucracy is a super hassle and all, but what does acting like a petulant punk get you?

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This episode also underlines Yuu’s refusal to grow the hell up. Even after coming to a kind of understanding, if not forming an official friendship, with Kimizuki, and yet here they are, still resenting one anothers’ existance so much they feel the need to disrupt whatever is going on to engage in name-calling and brawling. It’s wearing thin, as is Shinoa’s constant high-and-mighty attitude and mocking/teasing of Yuu (even though he deserves it).

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Even if you forgive all this immaturity, bickering, and horseplay, all of which takes up much of the episode, it’s still retreading things I already thought were established, such as the fact Yuu, Kimizuki and Yoichi were all valid candidates for cursed gear.

Yuu’s “0” in Japanese spellcraft because he can barely read or write Japanese because he spend his childhood as livestock hardly seems fair, but then the test results end up completely meaningless when Guren busts in and simply unleashes the demon power on everyone.

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Not one other student in the class, besides the main characters we knew would move on, pass the test, rendering them just as pointless as the class itself. It would be nice if one or two new characters we hadn’t met yet would have passed; at least there would have been a reason for the test then.

Everyone also singles out Yoichi, whom they think is too soft to accept a demon. After Yoichi saved his life two episodes ago, Yuu tries to throw him under the bus. Dude, he already decided to come along, and it’s clear he’s tougher than he looks. Why all the discouragement?

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And just when something interesting is about to happen—Yuu draws a cursed blade and prepares to face the demon—the episode ends. Much of this episode felt like half-hearted filler, which aimed to add texture to relationships and politics, but piling on all this over-the-top dysfunction with no real meat only served to make everyone more irritating, not endearing. War is coming, and selfish personal quests for vengeance aren’t going to help humanity.

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Owari no Seraph – 04

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Mika screwed up, in part because he put everything on his shoulders. His plan to free his family, which was more than fine going along with it, ended up killing them all except for Yuu. Mika himself would have bled out, were it not for the intervention of Krul Tepes, Loli Vampire Queen, offering him, nay, forcing upon him, her blood.

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Now he’s a vampire, and the pain and guilt could stay with him for centuries, potentially twisting him into a wretch. Yet he still carries out his duties alone, eliciting resentment form his vamp peers but gratitude from a single girl he saved from a monster, who gladly offers her blood to him as thanks. Once his escape plan failed he had no choice in becoming a vampire (Tepes wouldn’t let him die), but he can choose what kind of vampire to be. It’s a choice that’s perhaps lost on someone so racked with guilt.

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From checking in on Vampire Mikaela the episode segues to Yuu and Yoichi transferring to the Moon Demon class, where he makes the most ridiculous overbaked shonen speech possible about not being there to make friends and declaring he’ll get the best gear. His seat happens to be positioned right in front of that of Kimizuki Shiho, the dude who picked a fight with him earlier to test his ability.

And so we have our two arrogant, hotheaded rivals who both have something to learn from one another and will become tentative pals by the end of the episode through greater understanding of where they’re coming from. If this sounds somewhat rote, it’s because it is; nothing out of the blue here.

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Like Yuu, Shiho lusts for power…all of the power, though not for revenge, but to save his sister, who is dying from the Apocalypse virus. But Guren warns him, with demonic visual aids, no less, that Shiho can’t go anywhere near cursed gear as long as that lust for power drives him. Like Yuu, Guren needs him to make friends and learn to rely on the strength of others. Going it alone won’t end well for anyone.

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Shinoa fixes it so at their first major evaluation, Yuu and Shiho are paired up. Predictably, they try rushing in opposite directions despite the fact they’re handcuffed to each other. Seriously is their mutual lust for ultimate power so strong, it affects their basic understanding of the physical limitations of handcuffs?

Apparently, but they don’t get to demonstrate just how badly they fight together, because word comes Shiho’s sister has taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly understanding why Shiho is so gung ho about beating him, Yuu insists, with prejudice, that they go to the hospital. Being with his family is more important than the evaluation.

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Shiho relents and goes, and doesn’t regret it. His sister pulls through, but the doctors warn regular medical equipment will only keep her alive so long. The military has tech that might be able to cure her, but the military, like society, is transactional: if Shiho wants that tech, he’ll have to distinguish himself in the Moon Demon Squad.

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Yuu, jerk that he is, still won’t back down on claiming the best demon gear the army has to offer, but he won’t stop Shiho from taking the second-best, now that he understands what Shiho is fighting for. Both guys failed the evaluaiton, but while Shiho feels defeated, Yuu tells him it’s no time to give up. He’s going to do everything he can to avenge his family, regardless of evaluation scores or moon squads. He expects Shiho to do no less to save his sister.

Mind you, I’m not sure the lesson about teamwork has quite stuck, since both seem dug into their own separate aspirational trenches, but the seeds of a alliance or possible friendship were certainly sown.

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That’s good, because Yuu and Shiho can ill afford to stay ineligible for handling cursed gear. They need to get into good fighting shape soon, because Tepes has formally declared war on the humans who would organize into armies to oppose them. A rancher wouldn’t let thier cows join a union barring slaughter, now would they?

As for Mika, he’s determined to “rescue” Yuu, and while I’m not sure what that entails, if he’s planning on loading everything back on his shoulders once again, he hasn’t learned much. As repugnant as Ferid is, he could be a valuable ally against Tepes, the mutual thorn in their side.

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Owari no Seraph – 03

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Episode three opens with Yui receiving a love letter from a cute girl. Falling for a not unattractive young lad who saved you from being drained by an escaped vampire prisoner is not an unreasonable thing for this girl to do, but as strong and brave as he is, she still doesn’t know him, and he’s too busy with his quest for vengeance to notice or deal with romance.

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While this girl sees him as a hero, Shinoa continues to look down at him as a novice, as well as a frustrated virgin. She points out the Demon Army isn’t just about killing vamps, but also creating an environment suitable for human procreation. The virus killed 9/10ths of them, after all, so the remaining tenth “needs to make babies”, to quote Commander Adama.

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Shinoa doesn’t doubt Yui’s physical strength or his courage, but warns him he shouldn’t move to fast with his training. Only those with cursed gear can fight vampires, and the demons within them will consume, rather than contract with, those with “weak hearts.” Shinoa believes Yui’s unyielding thirst for vengeance makes his heart weak. Not a bad conclusion, but incomplete, as we see.

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When one of their classmates wanders into a forbidden dungeon below the school, where demons roam ready to take the souls of the weak, Yui, Shinoa and Yoichi head down there. Shiona reveals it’s really a training ground for the VEU, and the whole school is a human experiment for recruiting VEU members, who are naturally drawn to said dungeon.

So while there are bullies and love letters and cut euniforms, the school isn’t just a regular school after all. Shinoa even mocks Yui for potentially thinking “such a peaceful place” as the school appears on the surfact could ever exist in such a messed up world.

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If Shinoa was hoping to intimidate Yui with all this show-and-tell, she failed, and if she didn’t want him to do anything rash, she shouldn’t have let him in the dungeon at all. Then again, when Yui goes through the forbidden door, she doesn’t stop him, suggesting she’s letting him make his own choices. Once there she insists he not touch he demon gear his classmate is holding, lest he become consumed by a demon. Again, Yui ignores her warnings and grabs the ax with a nifty little move.

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Then all of a sudden he’s gone back in time with Mika and his family. Shinoa didn’t say how the demon would consume him, but creating a very real illusion of his past is a good way to start. But where both Shinoa and the demon underestimate Yui is in not in their calculation of his desire for revenge—which is high—but the fact such a desire is a weakness.

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Yui knows his desire is wrong, so it can’t hurt him as badly. He also knows it’s something Mika wouldn’t want, so as soon as Mika and the other kids are acting totally out of character, Yui knows he’s in an illusion and breaks free.Doing so impresses Shinoa once again, who again seems put out that he proved her wrong yet again.

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Yui’s heart isn’t as weak as she thought, but will see what happens if and when he learns Mikaela not only wasn’t killed, but became the very thing Yui wants to wipe off the face of the earth. We finally get a good look at Vampire Mika, who doesn’t seem particularly friendly with Ferid. More likely, he’s done what he’s done all this time to survive. He always put others before himself, so I’d like to think a few years of being a vampire hasn’t bleached out that inherent goodness.

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Owari no Seraph – 02

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As the credits rolled and SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Yosh’s excellent ending theme “scaPEGoat” played (the OP was also dope), four words blazed through my mind: “Are You Not Entertained?!” I certainly was.

This ambitious, thrilling episode had a complete and compelling arc and aced all the fundamentals, giving it the feeling of a rich, self-contained short film when combined with the premiere.That premiere was key in setting the brutal tone of the human/vampire conflict while creating solid kinship and sympathy with young Yuu and buying into his motivations for wanting to live a life of revenge. This episode would not have been nearly as emotionally resonant without it.

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Owari also surprised me quite a bit with its deftness with bait-and-switches. Last week’s cold close created an It’s On Like Donkey Kong vibe, but Private Hyakuya Yuuichirou proves to be a rough fit in the demon army, where soldiers are expected to put their personal feelings or vendettas aside and obey orders. Yuu breaks the rules, and so he’s punished…by being sent to school.

This sudden addition of the school drama allows the show to let its hair down a little after a stodgy start and finds a pretty strong comic voice in the process. Yuu isn’t just banished to school, but there’s a soldier posing as a classmate whose tasked with supervising his progress in making a friend. If he keeps breaking rules, his suspension from the army will only be extended.

That soldier/classmate is Hiiragi Shinoa, deftly voiced by Hayami Saori, whose standout performance blends military formality and authority with feminine grace and sly humor. Her character design and eyes in particular somewhat remind me of Steins;Gate‘s: clean, attractive, and stylish.

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Yuu’s punishment makes sense. Yes, he’s scarred by past traumas, but if he wants a future fighting vampires, he needs to learn how to engage people and work in a team, which means forming bonds. That’s not going to be easy for someone who lost his whole damn family, and you could say the show’s being tough on him, but I think Yuu has just the right amount of arrogant, rebellious dickishness to allay that concern for me.

And just because humanity’s population has literally been decimated (not entirely wiped out as Yuu thought; but then he grew up absorbing vamp-prop), high school is still high school, so there are bullies and weenies and he decides he won’t let the former have their way with the latter…which is when Shinoa helpfully warns him his suspension will be extended if he harms a civilian. This guy can’t win!

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The exploded soda as a lingering presence of Yuu’s defiance is a really nice touch.

But in another glorious case of the good kind of bait-and-switch, the would-be victim of bullying, Saotome Yoichi, turned out not to be a weenie after all, nor was he being bullied: he wanted the non-bully to put in a good word for him with the demon army. Yoichi tried to enlist and failed the exam, but he wants to keep trying so he can avenge his sister, who died to protect him, as we witness in a grim micro-flashback that made my heart sink.

This externalizes Yuu’s own desire for revenge, but in this case, he justifies his own desire as backed up by his strength and ability. On the other hand, he still thinks Yoichi is a whiny little weakling who’d only get killed, and in any case, his sister probably wouldn’t want him avenging her. The discussion is put on hold when a bomb goes off and the city P.A. alerts everyone of an escaped vampire test subject.

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Seeing this as a perfect opportunity to prove he belongs in the extermination unit, Yuu runs to school to seek out the vampire, stopping her from feeding on a student. The non-bully is there too, but in this moment of crisis, he’s paralyzed, and admits he lied about wanting to enlist.

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Here, the show shows off its readily apparent action combat chops, as well as the inherent trickiness of fighting a vamp with a regular katana when her wounds and severed limbs quickly grow back, and any bystanders are like phoenix down for her. Yuu needs help, and he gets it when Yoichi tackles the vamp minx. When Yuu asks why, Yoichi calls him a friend. Yuu then holds the vamp back and they go out the window, Spring Break-style.

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Yuu is able to get the vamp to land on his sword, but it’s still just a sword. Enter the anti-vampire spell-dosed sword of Lt. Col. Ichinose Guren, commander of the Vampire Extermination Unit, Shinoa’s superior, and the man who rescued Yuu four years ago. When he pulls out that sword, the vamp dissolves into a cloud of gore and ash.

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Ichinose thinks Yuu looks every bit the helpless little kid he saved back then, but he can’t deny the fact he held his own with that vamp pretty well, and also minimized causalties. He also can’t go back on his promise to lift Yuu’s suspension if he makes a friend, both because Shinoa won’t let him, and because Yoichi is so happy his friend Yuu is okay he pounces on him like a cat, knocking his head on the pavement.

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In the episode’s beginnings, Yuu remarks how every time he closes his eyes he sees the faces of his family before they’re murdered by vampires. So while he’s out cold after a life-changing day, there they are. Only this time, they express their relief Yuu was able to live and fight for something other than revenge. Just as Mikaela put his life on the line for Yuu, and Yoichi’s sister for him, Yoichi and Yuu protected each other.

From now on, he won’t be living just to avenge his family, but to protect the two friends he’s made today, all the other friends he’s sure to make in the Vampire Extermination Squad (which he and Yoichi are assigned to, joining Shinoa), and to protect a humanity in resurrection. This looks like the start of something great…especially if we take the hints that Mikaela didn’t die, and is now a vampire.

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Owari no Seraph – 01 (First Impressions)

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Owari no Seraph’s opening episode was a swift, merciless Saturday afternoon gut punch. It was all about getting things done. I mean, the entire population of earth over thirteen years old simply keels over in the first minute. No messing around!

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As for the little ones who are left, well…my heart’s not made of stone; it’s hard not to sympathize with their plight as they cower in their home and are taken captive by scary red-eyed vampires in robes. The power differential is simply staggering.

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The episode jumps forward four years to when Yuuichirou and his “family” of fellow orphans, including Mikaela and Akane who are his age, live a dreadful underground existence as living blood bags to be periodically squeezed for the vamps’ use. But everyone adapted and made the best of a shitty situation. Yuuichirou is always talking of fighting back one day, and while it’s all talk, the smaller kids believe him, and that hope sustains them.

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It turns out to be Mikaela who actually does something, acquiring a pistol and a map from a vampire noble and suggesting they book it out of there. Nobody here on RABUJOI cared enough for Rolling Girls to watch it all the way through, but that certainly wasn’t because of Wit Studio’s animation, which was very crisp and zany and pretty.

Wit shows RG was no fluke with another gorgeous presentation, only this time the big backgrounds are filled out with lush detail of the subterranean city. Sawano Hiroyuki (Kill la Kill, Aldnoah.Zero, etc.) contributes another soaring score that lends gravitas to the proceedings.

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Unsurprisingly, the kids end up caught by the very noble who liked the taste of Mikaela’s blood so much he kept him around. So far at least, this is not one of those shows with grey areas in the affiliations, as Ferid is pretty much pure evil and likes the look of despair and hopelessness in the kids’ eyes. As they try to run for it, he kills them one by one with lightning speed.

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All of them except Yuuichirou. Mikaela is able to distract Ferid long enough for his brother to get a clean headshot off, but as Ferid had just put his hand through Mikaela, all Yuuichirou can do now is RUN, alone, out into the unknown world. Ideally, twelve-year-olds shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of trauma, but kids are all that’s left of humanity, and those kids have been dealt a tough hand.

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Upon emerging from the caverns, Yuuichirou finds three adult humans in uniform who have been waiting for him, following some kind of “prophesy.” How long have they been out their waiting? Did they take shifts? No matter, they were here when they were supposed to be, and the kid emerged on schedule.

Now they intend to use him to defeat vampires, something Yuuichirou, who may be in shock but is still lucid enough to express his interest in helping them. After all, he pretty much has every reason in the world to want to dedicate the rest of his life to exacting revenge.

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We jump forward another four years, and we see Yuuichirou more grown up and in a very slick-looking suit, patrolling what looks like the ruins of Tokyo. It’s a wordless, music-less scene made all the more powerful by its use of silence and the white noise of the wind, a silence that continues into the credits.

Presumably we’ll watch Yuuichiro’s life as a budding professional punisher of vampires in the episodes to come, but it was a good idea to begin with a prologue that shows us just how much torment he, and probably everyone else who managed to escape the vamps, went through. After all that darkness, I won’t begrudge them their righteous vengeance. Even so, less one-dimensional vamps would make for more compelling foes.

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Steins Gate – 11

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Suzuha’s feeble attempt to distract Mr. Braun results in Okarin getting punched, but all is not lost: Okarin discovers the lifter the phone microwave is using: the 42″ CRT in the store. And while Kurisu is still against sending physical objects to the past (they’ll only turn into goo), she thinks she’s cracked a way to send people’s memories. 

It involves her showing the other lab members an issue of SCIENCY magazine (and boy how I wish a magazine with such an amazing name existed) with her damn picture on the cover, and explaining how a kind of “time leap” (not travel) could be accomplished by translating nerve pulse signals to electrical signals. Lest we forget, Kurisu is very, very smart.

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But I also appreciated how Mayushii doesn’t simply fail to immediately understand the concept because she’s dumb or slow. She’s more hung up on the why than the how. Sure, scientists will ‘climb mountains’ simply because the mountains are there; but Mayushii has a very different, very Mayushii take on it: that if she sent her memory of the conversation she’s having with Okarin back to herself, only she would remember that memory. And to her, that’s scary and sad; it speaks to her fear of Okarin ‘leaving’ her.

During their errands, Okarin and Mayushii run into Moeka again, but she too seems put off by the lab’s newest goal, and they part ways. They also encounter a still midriff-baring Suzuha, who has brought Mr. Braun’s adorable little daughter to apologize on her dad’s behalf. And then Suzuha mentions in passing that Kurisu is working for SERN. Whaaaaa?

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When he gets the jump on Kurisu lurking on @channel, he dismisses, or at least sets aside the accusation—how could such an open book be trusted with espionage?—but I’m not as quick to shrug Suzuha’s words off. Suzuha seems to know more than any other lab member what’s going on, or possibly what will go on. Maybe she meant to say Kurisu will work for SERN, or worked for them in a previous world line?

Never mind all that, though…it’s time for another Intimate Okarin+Kurisu Talk in the Dark®; in which Kurisu lays bare her the reason for her hesitation in building the time leap machine. That heated phone call was with her estranged father, a fellow scientist, who has come to hate her, not just because she surpassed him before puberty, but because he’s certain she pities him for it.

She fears the time leap technology will only drive him further insane, even though her scientist instincts will probably press on anyway. She’s looking for validation and support, and Okarin eventually provides it, agreeing to accompany her in an attempt to reconcile with her dad.

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It can’t be said enough: these two are the best part of this show, and considering all the other excellent stuff going on around them, that’s saying something. But theirs is a topsy-turvy romance, so as soon as they’re out of the moonlight and under the fluorescent lights of the lab, they’re once again bickering like an old married couple. And hey, I sympathized with Okarin: it sure looked like “Makise” was the brand name of the pudding, rather than a hand-written label.

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Perhaps eager to stay close to Okarin, Mayushii arrives fully-loaded for a cosplay-making sleepover, and I’m sure she’s disheartened by the fact Okarin and Kurisu are so invested in their lover’s quarrel she has to say “maybe I should go” before they realize they’re being rude—cruel, even—and stop.

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Speaking of cruel, this show can certainly be that, and fucking sneaky to boot, as Kurisu allows Okarin to stick around that night if he goes shopping for them. While he’s gone they exchange a couple of sweet texts, but the next one is from that anonymous foe, saying “he knows too much” and attaching a picture of bloody doll’s head (or what dearly hope is just a doll).

In any case, Okarin suddenly gets the devastating feeling that something terrible is afoot in the lab, drops his groceries and runs there, in a thrilling sequence employing a different art style that all but certainly portends the very doom he fears…if we hadn’t already seen Kurisu and Mayushii safe and sound, preparing for a bath.

Don’t get be wrong; the sequence still works, in that at one moment while he’s in the dark and silent lab, it feels almost 50/50 something bad has happened. The show is simply too good at exploiting conventions and painting a picture of dread, even if it’s all in Okarin’s head.

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Except…it isn’t. This was a false alarm, but the text wasn’t. Real alarm is indicated, a fact driven home when Daru shows up unexpectedly to find that while he’s hacked into SERN’s severs, it could be a two-way street, and SERN could be looking at them. Kurisu can’t even stay mad about Okarin barging in on her and Mayushii naked, because Okarin is still so damned freaked out. It would do him good to let his friends know about these ominous messages; their ignorance of them doesn’t make them any safer.

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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.

Steins Gate – 07

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‘Cursed with success’…that is where we find Okabe Rintarou at this stage in the game. He wanted to open “Steins Gate”…well, now he has. The question becomes, what to do with this new-found ‘power to change the past’…and how he handles the humongous burden of responsibility that comes with it. Oh, and how to deal with a new lab member who texts him a constant stream of questions with the odd request snuck in.

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Naturally, Okarin decides to use the Phone Microwave try to win the lottery! Not the 200 million-yen jackpot, but the 700K one two tiers down; less conspicuous. But what I like about this is that it’s not just about money. It’s far easier to send lottery numbers to the past to prove the system works than attempting to send, say, instructions for achieving world peace. There’s a much bigger margin of error with something complex like that.

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Mayushii and Kurisu object, but can’t think of a more practical means of testing the phone, so they go with that. During the expeiment, the same hesitation that led to Okarin requesting a lower-tier lottery takes grip, and he wonders if this is really okay after all. Just because one can do something doesn’t meant he must, right?

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In the end, he sends the text…and something happens, something only he is aware of: he finds himself in a time when the experiment they just tried never occurred. This is the first time since the stabbing incident that time has moved to such a dramatic extent. This is no longer the exclusive realm of gel-banas.

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It’s confirmed that this is a brand-new timeline (or world line) when Ruka arrives to report that the lotto ticket Okarin told him to buy was off by just one number. A glance at the coffee table shows a Dr. Pepper, when previously Kurisu said it was sold out and bought veggie juice instead. Yes, a character’s beverage preference factored into his assessment of the timeline changing.

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Far from jubilant or pumped up over another momentous victory, Okarin seems lost and disoriented, and probably due in no small part to the fact that only he remembers the previous timeline, when he sent the lotto numbers back. Just like before with Kurisu being stabbed, he’s all alone in possessing that knowledge.

Suzuha notices he’s not quite right, and even takes the extraordinary step of closely examining his eyes for ‘chips’ or other evidence of brainwashing, finding nothing. If he’s looking for some stability and answers, she suggests he contact John Titor.

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Okarin does just that, but not before shutting down all experiments until further notice and dismissing the lab staff; only Kurisu stays, perhaps worried about Okarin. In the dark the two sit; Kurisu skimming a magazine, Okarin sending a detailed text to Titor and eagerly awating a response. He gets one from Titor, but not before he gets a string of messages from nearly everyone else.

From Ruka’s apology to Daru calling about leaving his wallet in the lab (big mistake!) to a loving chat with Mayushii (curiously nothing from Moeka in that time), it’s almost a showcase of the bonds he’s forged thus far, along with Kurisu being right there in the room with him. Bonds that could crumble or cease to exist if he fiddles too much with the past.

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Titor’s message does little to allay Okarin’s anxiety. His talk of Okarin’s apparent ‘power’ to maintain his memories across world lines and the ‘freedom’ that lies beyond Divergence 1% causes Okarin to slam his phone down in incredulity, half-unwilling to listen to any more (ironic, considering the weird crap he always spews. But then again, he and everyone know that’s nonsense. In this case, he’s not sure.)

The kicker: Titor wants Okarin to become ‘the messiah’ and change the future. He should have added at the end: “No pressure, dog.”

At this point I can see Okarin going in one of two possible directions. He could either press forward, having faith in his abilities and leaning on his friends, or retreat from the whole enterprise, inviting SERN or others to futz with the future in his stead. Neither path is without risk, but I’m hoping he takes the former. Better the devil I know.

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Steins Gate – 06

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At this point, Suzu is about as close as you can get to being an FGL member without being one, which might be tricky what with her apparent incompatibility with Kurisu. But as she overhears from the lab’s open window, much of the “round table” is spent figuring out what to name the time-travelling email.

References to other time travel-related media fly, from Back to the Future to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, before Kurisu settles the matter with the short but memorable “D-Mail.”

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With the phenomenon thus named, they proceed experimentation, operating under Okarin’s prediction that if the microwave is opened at a specific window of time the D-mails point to, the text and banana will be sent back. And sure enough, it works, depositing the d-mail in pieces to five days ago, and depositing a gel-bana back on the bunch.

It’s the latest among increasingly common examples of one of the simplest answers being the correct one. That it was wrought by Okarin, who prefers to “feel” science rather than show his work, adds credence to his indispensability as the one lab member with the faith—or will—to come to such conclusions.

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But as he and Daru hit the store to resupply their food stores, Okarin notices cups of green gelatin, shaking him from his high of victory ordinary life he’s always embellished with the baroque trappings of chuunibyou suddenly isn’t ordinary anymore. Shit is real, and it’s dangerous.

I for one appreciate S;G for maintaining that while Okarin has gotten by through various means outside of his control, he still doesn’t have any control. He may well be in over his head, and he knows it.

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What he doesn’t quite know is who Kiryuu Moeka is and why she insists on texting him so persistently. I love how she even tries to communicate with him in person through texts, and is crestfallen to learn his cell phone isn’t on him (but of course it isn’t enough for him to say, ‘it’s not on me’, he has to mention ‘it’s being used for a history-making experiment’. I also like how Moeka pretends Daru isn’t there, which is the proper response to someone looking you up and down.

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While Daru was leering at Moeka and Okarin was wigging out over green jello, prodigal perverted genius girl Kurisu was continuing the experiments, which leads Tennouji to complain about the intense vibrations. Okarin appeases him for the time being, but Kurisu already has the jist of the D-mail process, including the fact that one second on the microwave timer equals one hour back in time. Her work here makes me glad someone in the lab has the diligence and the attention span to…do the work.

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Okarin celebrates the occasion with another grand declaration that is in no way shape for form accurate (they weren’t the first to develop time machine, and they didn’t ‘develop’ it so much as ‘stumble upon it’). But it seems again like the general putting on a brave face in order to maintain morale.

The fear and doubt he’s hiding manifests in a bizarre dream that is equal parts disturbing and cryptically informative. A voice from the event horizon of a black hole urges him to look forward, not back, and ‘reach the end.’

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He awakes to a one-sided text conversation by Moeka on his phone that is still in progress, right up to the point he’s able to open his door after she sends a text saying she’s about to knock, but before she actually knocks, requesting to see the 5100.

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Her explanation that texting is easier for her than talking seems to hold water, as her texts are a lot more expressive. This idea of such an expressive personality hiding behind a stoic, taciturn mask, yet asserting itself digitally, is highly intriguing. Moeka is the type who believes the proper combo of emoji will be enough to convince Okarin to lend her the 5100.

It’s also a lot of fun to watch Daru, Mayushii and Kurisu arrive at the lab one by one and immediately start talking about their top-secret time machine. It’s not particularly irresponsible behavior on the part of the three, just an overabundance of casualness that comes from a group gelling (no pun intended) nicely in a short time.

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But that also means Okarin has to bring Moeka into the fold as Member #005. I like the choice, sudden that it is, but one of these days, someone is going to hear too much who isn’t so harmless. And that’s assuming Moeka is harmless.

Kurisu has brought scientific discipline to the operation which is key, but someone will eventually have to be thinking about security, beyond recruiting anyone within earshot. I just hope they don’t think about it too late.

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Steins Gate – 05

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So…what’s that little thing in your hand, Suzuha? As if she’d just sit there and tell us. This isn’t Recon in G, no siree. S;G isn’t just a show with a clever, intricate strategy for presenting its story. It’s also keen to influence our own strategy for watching it, keeping things light and breezy for the most part but ensuring the occasional “Suzuha Battle Stance” pops up, to get the gears in our head turning; to keep us on our toes.

S;G wants us entertained, but it also wants us alert and thinking. And for a tense few seconds, as the camera closes in on what sure looks like Suzuha’s killing intent, I thought the show was about to blow everything up.

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Hey, get that off the floor…it was just washed!

 

What if Tennouji hadn’t snapped the part-timer out of it? Maybe nothing; maybe something I shudder to think about. But anything seems possible now, so I am now on my guard: assigning increased worry about anyone venturing beyond the walls of the lab henceforth.

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When Okarin and Kurisu return with the PC, Daru speaks of an Okarin as if it was some kind of mythological creature that can do things “only an Okarin can do”, which is why they love him. Kurisu can’t help but blurt out “I don’t admire him, though.”

Not only is Daru aptly describing Okarin’s significant but not immediately apparent value, but Kurisu is unable to stop herself from answering a question no one asked, thus betraying her growing affection for the guy.

Daru also helpfully points out the yuri possibilities now that there are two female lab members, while Mayushii’s claim of being a ‘hostage’ almost leads Kurisu to call the cops. It’s not just that Okarin’s value isn’t immediately apparent: it takes a lot of digging and enduring to find it. It takes time.

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Suzuha has far less trouble peacefully conversing with Okarin; not surprising considering it sure seems like she’s there to be his friend and confidant. Her dead friend who knew about the 5100; the fact that she instinctively reacted to Kurisu as if she were an imminent threat (and reacts to a helicopter the same way); her hint that Kurisu doesn’t know anything…yet; her warning Okarin to be wary of her; they’re all more tiny gears and sprockets being set into place, within some elaborate timepiece.

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It actually feels like a pretty momentous occasion when Kurisu dons a spare lab coat. For one thing, she herself can’t help but comment how wearing such coats ‘always calms her down’. It’s an opening for Okarin to espouse his own affinity for them, even going so far as to call Kurisu “perfect”, which is, context aside, one of the nicest things he’s ever said to her.

But the coat is also a symbol that she’s being drawn closer and closer into the Future Gadget Lab. I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever Kurisu did in one world line or another that Suzuha is aware of, it all started with Okarin encouraging Kurisu to join their crusade.

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That’s ultimately Okarin’s not-so-secret ability thus far: his ‘gravity’, as in his ‘gravitational pull’: Mayushii; Daru; Feyris; Suzuha; Moeka…they’ve all been drawn into the orbit of Planet Kyouma. He may suck at debating physics, or playing Rai-Net Battler; he may even be just a man-child playing at science; confident the lab coat and some BS are all the qualifications necessary.

But he and only he has made all of these people join him willingly, and together they can accomplish great, or terrible, or terribly great things. He…just…really has to watch it with the yelling at women for calling him by the wrong name. There’s no need for that.

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Most of all, I just like how clear the show makes its characters’ roles. Okarin and Kurisu brought the 5100, and now it’s up to Daru to make it sing; all the others can do is wait and kill time in the interim, playing games and confessing their mutual love for the bold flavor of Dr. Pepper.

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When Daru is done, SERN’s dark secrets are revealed. Kurisu is shocked enough that they achieved a degree of time travel, setting aside the fact that all fourteen human test subjects ended up in another time, turned into the same green jelly as the microwave bananas.

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As for why they’re green jelly, she explains in concise layman’s terms what’s going on: the subjects are being send through a very tight hole. Like trying to fit a large sponge through a small hole in one’s hands, the contents gush out.

It’s an explanation Daru finds really erotic (which…it kind of is, dirty mind or not), but it’s also an apt way to describe how I see Steins;Gate story so far: something dense and saturated being eased through the television screen, gradually so far, but with no indication of when the flow will increase; only suspicions.

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Faced with the chilling discovery of not one but fourteen terrible, covered-up deaths as the result of a top-secret time travel experiment, Kurisu can understand Okarin leaving the lab to get some air. She joins him to ask what their next move should be, but I definitely detected genuine concern for him in the visit.

So it’s a shock to both her and me when we hear that trademark demented laugh of his rise up from the solemn silence, along with the pronouncement that they, the Future Gadget Club, will beat SERN to viable time travel and ‘change the world’s ruling structure.’ It’s the same Okarin Mad Scientist bluster we know and love…but this time, it feels more than anything else like he’s putting up a brave front.

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