Steins Gate – 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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