Steins Gate – 24 (Fin)

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Look at the void in this frame…it’s not really a void, but infinite possibility

I traveled more than three years into the past to watch Steins;Gate, eager to find out if it really was as great ad many had led on. I had no idea what I was getting into, but because I was told to expect greatness, it gave the show a greater burden to overcome than simply pulling something off the shelf and watching it with absolutely no knowledge of its standing in anime history.

I guess what I’m blathering about is that despite knowing so little and expecting so much, I entered Steins;Gate extremely confident it would meet and exceed any expectations I may have harbored. It also felt like an old friend, like something I had watched before and forgotten, as hard as that is to believe (the forgetting part, that is).

For all I know, in another universe, I have seen it, along with many other shows I’ve never watched in this one. And because memories can transcend the boundaries between universes (because I said so, okay?) I knew I was in good hands; that there’d be no way this show would disappoint. Maybe I have Watching Steiner; who knows. All I know is, I have a new favorite anime.

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A show so earnest and confident and masterful in its layering and weaving of stories wasn’t going to mess up it’s ending. More to the point, it knew after twenty-three episodes, many of them putting us in the emotional spin cycle, that its audience would want a “Good Ending” after the “Bad Ending” of Okabe having to sacrifice Kurisu, and the “Worse Ending” of Okabe killing Kurisu.

It’s also great to see Okabe in high spirits again, even if he is partially putting up a brave front. Everyone’s stoked that the Okarin they know and love is back yukking it up and spouting nonsense. His high tide lifts all boats. And when Mayushii manages to get Okabe to admit he and Kurisu love each other, she gives him her full support in saving her no matter what.

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The fact that Mayushii, like Feyris, is able to remember bits and pieces of other timelines, gives both Okabe and me optimism that if Kurisu is saved, she’ll remember the three weeks she spent with Okarin and the rest of the Future Gadget Lab. It’s not so much Reading Steiner as love crossing the boundaries of world lines, and the stronger the love, the more they can recall. Why else would Kurisu have believed Okabe so quickly so often while he was trying to save Mayushii?

Armed with the Cyalume Saber (powered by stuff that looks like fake blood) a stun gun (to knock out Kurisu and lay in said fake blood) and most importantly, the knowledge of who’s going to be where and when, Okabe goes back with Suzu. He buys the Metal Upa so when Mayushii buys one, it’s not metal and doesn’t end up on Nakabachi. Kinda awesome a 100-yen toy is the key to preventing a temporal arms race and Third World War, but that’s the infinite possibility of time for ya.

I want to point out, the music throughout this episode is fantastic. I has the perfect balance of urgency, occasion, an impending end (one way or another), and ambient casualness, making for a stirring “final dungeon” soundtrack.

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Meanwhile, in his exuberance to get on with the mission, Okabe neglected to check if the liquid in the Saber was still liquid. If he’d discovered it had dried up before going back in time, he’d have had time to procure some fake blood from a nearby store (it IS Akiba). Alas, he only finds out he has no fake blood when he’s about to use it. Just as a little metal toy can lead to the decimation the human population, a little slip-up like this can place his last chance to save Kurisu in jeopardy.

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No matter: I knew as soon as I saw that dried-up liquid, before he looked at his own hand, that the mission was still alive; he’d simply have to use real blood; his own. When he interrupts the pleasant father-daughter discussion, this time he has a cool head and even uses his usual theatricality to throw Nakabachi off.

Okabe is front and center, with Kurisu in a much better position in the room to avoid knife charges. Nakabachi has no choice but to pay attention to him and only him. Greatest of all about Okabe’s entrance is that this isn’t Chuunibyou or delusional behavior on display: Okabe really has come to save Kurisu and rearrange the world order.

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He’s also a true hero, who literally takes a knife to the gut to complete his mission. Whatever questionable stuff one can accuse him of doing to get to where he is now, this act absolves him of most if not all of it. Getting stabbed fucking sucks. I’m not speaking from experience, mind you, but even in animated form it’s obvious that it does. And S;G’s sound effects make that even more clear.

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Nakabachi gets Okabe pretty good, but Okabe is able to stay concious long enough to scare the shit of of Nakabachi, forcing him to flee, and then zapping Kurisu with the stun gun. You can see the fates conspiring with Okabe in the depths of Nakabachi’s eyes, willing him to GTFO. Nakabachi is no mastermind villain, just another variable that has to be manipulated at the right time and place, like a Metal Upa.

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Okabe arranges Kurisu face down in his own blood, creating a scene identical to the one he himself saw those same three weeks ago. This scene overwrites the one in which he accidentally stabbed Kurisu, so the horrifying death scene Past Okabe and we witness/witnessed in the very first episode was really the other Okabe’s art project. We know that because we witness it again with Okabe, just before Suzu hauls helps him back into the time machine. MISSION COMPLETE…and it feels so good.

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So what is the Steins Gate World Line like? Well, it’s everything you’d expect from jumping through every hoop, choosing the right dialogue for each character, and collecting every hidden secret crystal: the previously stated “Good Ending.” In it, Okabe recovers from his wound and proceeds to give every Lab Member he’d appointed in the previous world lines a pin, making their membership official in this one.

It’s a beautiful little gesture that reminds us that before it became all about saving people he loved from being killed off by time, and even during those times, this was a show about a bunch of strange, unique, interesting people coming together to collectively do great things. Okabe needed every single Lab Member to accomplish what he did, and his warmth and charisma and crazy ideas, made that coming together happen.

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He, and we, are finally rewarded by not only getting Kurisu back, but having them meet by chance on the (very!) busy streets of Akiba, home to the Culture of Cute as it should be. And not only do they meet; Kurisu remembers him, because they share a bond only Mayushii’s can compare to, one in which two people who love each other deeply don’t forget that love just because the world line has changed.

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There’s a lovely understated elegance to Okabe and Kurisu’s pre-curtain reunion. No big dramatic music calculated to rend the heart just so; no sudden change in the world’s palette; just two people suddenly realizing they just crossed paths with the one they love, and affirming it with a few simple, in-character words as the sound of the bustling city around them fades. Kurisu being alive may have been enough for Okabe, but not me. Her being alive and back in his life is a far better outcome.

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P.S. Whew…now that was a good show, wasn’t it? But I know; these 24 episodes aren’t all there is. I’ll get to episode 25 soon enough, along with the film. Looking forward to both. Thanks for reading!

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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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