Steins Gate – 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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