Steins;Gate 0 – 03 – Easy to Be Deluded

As Mayushii organizes a huge Christmas bash to cheer up Suzuha, Okabe is finding Amakurisu’s constant calls a nuisance. But she insists he keep his promises to her by showing her the lab. While her first impression is that it’s a dump, she admits she always yearned to share a room with people, with “forks and spoons and stuff.” She already feels so much like Kurisu, it’s almost as if Okabe’s Facetiming the real thing.

As Suzuha is visited by her benefactor Feyris to try to convince her to come to the party, all Suzu can think about is how to convince Okabe to accompany her to the Steins Gate.

At the Brain Institute, Leskinen is excited to see what comes of Okabe convering with Amakurisu, while Hiyajou is more weary, thinking of displacement behavior and knowing firsthand how easy it is to replace the Kurisu she lost with Amakurisu in her mind.  Leskinen has an answer for that as well: go out with Okabe for Christmas Eve.

The next day Leskinen and Hiyajou meet with Okabe, but before they do, Okabe and Amakurisu have a crucial conversation on her true nature as an “incomplete AI” due to the fact everything she sees and hears is logged, meaning she can never “forget” by anything resembling the same methods real humans forget, which is not so much about missing information as information that slowly changes over days, months…or decades.

Along those lines, Okabe and Hiyajou are at the mercy of their memories of Kurisu, which are constantly meshing with Amakurisu, to the point she feels more and more real.

Hiyajou looks the tiniest bit disappointed when Okabe says he has plans for the Eve (even if she likely wasn’t going to take Amakurisu or Leskinen’s advice and ask him out), but Okabe presents a third way: he invites them both to the party.

Everyone ends up turning up—even Suzu, whom Daru fooled and who nearly killed her mother when they all surprised her—and it’s a jolly good time, bringing back life and vitality to the lab. They even get in another “Hiyajou is kid-sized” gag when Nao asks her what grade she’s in, while Leskinen mistakes Ruka for a girl (though he’s dead sexy regardless).

Okabe’s participation in the party is interrupted by a call from Amakurisu, which he goes to the roof to answer. When he takes a while, Mayushii follows him up there, and after overhearing him talking with someone (whether she knows it’s Kurisu), heads back to the lab. Poor Mayushii, who had to tell her cosplay buddies that despite how close they are, Okabe likes someone else…without mentioning that someone else is dead, of course.

One thing Amakurisu will never forget is that Okabe called her Christina when they first met, and one of her three theories is spot on: it’s the name he used to call the real Kurisu (whom she calls “Original Me”). She didn’t think that theory was likely because of the way she knew she’d react, and says the exact same words she always said to him, and in the same way. He confesses he used to call Kurisu that because he was too embarrassed to use her real name.

The problem is, he’s talking to Amakurisu as if she were Kurisu. Escaping a Santa costume photo shoot, Hiyajou, who came to the roof to check on Okabe right after Mayushii, snatches his phone from him and turns off the app. The Amadeus app. Not a Facetime call with Makise Kurisu, whom she tells Okabe “isn’t here anymore.”

This upsets Okabe greatly, as if suddenly lifted from some kind of spell, and triggers a torrent of muddled memories from other world lines. Hiyajou may have thought Okabe was just another good friend of Kurisu’s who’d be all-too-easily deluded by Amadeus, but there’s a lot more going on than she knows or would quickly believe.

Like, say, the fact that Suzuha is from the future and her father is inventing a time machine.

Steins;Gate 0 – 02 – Okabe Chooses Not to Run While He Still Can

When Dr. Leskinen (through Hiyajou Maho) announces he’s about to demonstrate an AI developed from memories stored as data, and there’s a bit of a delay before the Amadeus program starts up, a skeptic stands up and deems such a venture “insanity,” calling into question the research of a 17-year-old like the late Makise Kurisu.

He’s quickly rebuffed, not by Leskinen or Hiyajou, but by Okabe, who won’t stand by silently and let such slander pass. All scientific advances are borne from a desire to make the impossible possible, after all. With his outburst he gains the attention and applause of Leskinen.

Then the Amadeus demonstration proceeds, with an AI version of Hiyajou using her memories from four days ago splashes across the screen, making discreet observations about the room around her and also forgetting certain information. It really is Hiyajou from four days in the past…sort of.

At the social event that follows the seminar, Okabe and Hiyajou both end up in an isolate corner together, neither very good at such functions…and they find an easy, casual chemistry together. Hiyajou is an adult, and thus able to overlook Okabe’s initial misunderstanding about her age due to her stature.

When she discusses some of the problems she and Leskinen are still having with Amadeus, Okabe is reminded of Kurisu’s lecture about Top-down memory search signals, impressing Hiyajou. He then admits he can converse about such things because he was a friend of Kurisu’s.

She was more of a kohai to Hiyajou, but when they discuss her at length she can’t help but tear up, as it’s clear she cherished her kohai deeply; Okabe doesn’t look far behind with the tears, but manages to maintain his composure.

Leskinen then cuts into the conversation, and when he learns Okabe was a friend of Kurisu, he suggests to Hiyajou that they should introduce him to another Amadeus AI program they’re working on…using the eight month-old memories and taking the form of none other than Makise Kurisu.

Okabe thought he’d never see or hear Kurisu ever again, but after seeing how closely Hiyajou’s version of Amadeus emulated her living counterpart, it’s a stunning proposition. Hiyajou warns that the closer he was to Kurisu, the crueler meeting her Amadeus version will be.

Still, Okabe can’t resist accepting the invitation to the Brain Science Institute, where Hiyajou is waiting outside for him and guides him inside, all the while continuing to warn him that he may be in for a thoroughly heartbreaking experience—especially if he knew her better than Hiyajou.

The venue in which Okabe is poised to meet the digital “ghost” of Kurisu couldn’t be more spartan: a drab room empty save for an unassuming PC station with a single shortcut on the desktop. Hiyajou clicks on the application and steps aside for Okabe to behold.

Okabe reacts how one expected him to, and how anyone who’d just seen a ghost of a loved one might react. Part shock and despair, but also part wonder and relief. Leskinen and Hiyajou really did make the impossible possible; at least what Okabe had concluded would be impossible.

However, this Kurisu of the Beta World Line of eight months ago does not remember Okabe. Considering Miyajou’s Amadeus counterpart couldn’t remember the pajamas she wore a week ago, perhaps that’s part of the human flaws inherent in the program? Then again, perhaps not; it’s likelier the Kurisu whose data they used simply hadn’t met him yet—to say nothing of falling in love.

Speaking of love, “Amakurisu” is sharp enough to sense the nice vibes coming off of Hiyajou and Okabe, and briefly takes Hiyajou aside to address that observation, much to Hiyajou’s chagrin. Her blushing at the party and here suggest she has at least a passing affinity for the former Mad Scientist, something Amakurisu picked up on almost immediately; a testament to the program’s sophistication.

Amakurisu’s response to Okabe’s first question put to her—about what she thinks about the possibility of constructing a time machine—is actually different from the answer he got from the real Kurisu. The late Kurisu dismissed such machines as impossible, but Amakurisu adds the caveat that her belief in their impossibility doesn’t mean they actually are impossible, just that the crucial discovery that would make them possible has yet to be found.

Were she willing to dismiss the possibility of such a discovery, she’d be scarcely better than the skeptic Okabe took down back at the seminar. Okabe wonders if the difference in views is a matter of the difference between world lines, but it could also be a product of Amadeus having learned through conversations with Leskinen and Hiyajou, thus making her a being distinct from the person whose memories form her foundation.

When Leskinen makes an appearance and greets Okabe in English, Okabe’s attempt to respond in English nets him criticism from Amakurisu, causing him to instinctively call her “Christina”, something he does a couple more times, confusing everyone around them but also piquing their curiosity.

Ultimately, Leskinen wants Okabe to be a “tester”, talking with Amadeus on a semi-regular basis so they can collect more data than if just he and Hiyajou continued chatting with her (plus they’re running out of things to talk about, so “fresh blood” is crucial to the program). To that end, they give him an app that not only allows him to contact Amakurisu, but allows her to call him whenever “she” likes.

And she does just that…calling him eight times; the last few attempts occurring while Okabe is on a walk with Mayushii, who is planning a Christmas party to cheer Suzuha up and thinks Okabe should attend so he and Suzuha can make up. Mayushii notices someone calling him repeatedly and steps aside to let him address it.

When Okabe finally answers her call, Amakurisu is not pleased, and Okabe can’t help but admit that she really is Makise Kurisu, all stubborn and moody and spunky and wonderful. Sure, it’s not really her, but it’s most definitely a version of her, and having lived the last few months with a grey cloud over his head, there’s surely overwhelming comfort in the “next best thing”.

I’m frankly bowled over by the amount of material just the first two episodes of Steins;Gate 0 has managed to cover, and how deeply involved and invested I already am in this very bittersweet story. Yahagi Sayuri does some really fine work as Hiyajou, and just hearing Imai Asami’s voice again nearly brought tears to my eyes. We’re off to a stirring start.

Steins;Gate 0 – 01 – In Which the Steins;Gate is Never Achieved (First Impressions)

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What if, at the end of episode 23 of Steins;Gate, Okabe, his coat still stained with Kurisu’s blood, didn’t get slapped by Mayushii, or told by Suzuha he had to fail once in order to unlock the video message on his phone, and thus never heard about Operation Skuld. In short, what if he never saved Kurisu? That’s where Steins;Gate 0 starts. It bypasses the happy ending of the 2011 anime.

Instead of slapping him, Mayushii gave Okabe a comforting hug, and from that point on there would be no more jumping between world lines, no more Hououin Kyouma, and no more Future Gadget Lab. Okabe goes back to college and settles into the life of a “full-fledged normal.” But in the distant future, on the same world line as the present day, WWIII is raging as Suzuha warned.

Familiar faces and places, but a far more somber mood

The same circle of friends remains, but Okabe sees less of them, partly due to college, and partly, perhaps, to avoid situations that will worsen his already fragile grip on sanity. Simply putting one foot in front of the other seems to be a challenge for him.

An encounter with Mayushii eventually leads to the whole gang getting back together at the lab, where Itaru is doing his usual thing, only with his daughter Suzuha around, nagging him to build the damn time machine already.

But there’s the distinct feeling things aren’t quite the same, they never will be, and it’s due in large part because Kurisu is gone, and because Okabe was the one who accidentally killed her, as if his hand were guided by that indelible fate.

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When going to the bathroom Okabe encounters Suzuha (who was hiding from her future-mother Yuka), and the two go to the roof. Suzuha hasn’t given up, and reiterates that if nothing is done, the world line they’re in will be destroyed by war and billions will die.

Her memory of that hellish future is still clear as day, judging by her horrified reaction to something one hears dozens of times every day in a peaceful city: an airplane cruising overhead.

Okabe hears her, but he doesn’t believe there’s anything more he can do. No matter how many world lines he drifts through, the overarching constant is that he only has the power to change or control so much, and the rest is in the “domain of god.” Whatever he does, the universe will self-correct. There may be no stopping WWIII from happening. Suzuha hopes he’ll reconsider.

Trying to live life in a forward direction, but his trauma is never far behind

But Okabe is on a new path, and saving the world (at least that way) isn’t a part of that path. Neither is visiting the lab as much as he once did. Mayushii notes that it felt good for everyone to be there, but that there are times that she feels so lonely there she could cry, even though Itaru is there (and when he wasn’t, she waited for Kyouma countless times).

Okabe knows a part of her must sense that Kurisu is the missing piece, but insists that she, he and Daru were the only ones ever in the lab. But that’s a lie.

While having drinks with other college students and professors, Okabe suddenly has a vision of Kurisu’s demise and runs outside, ready to hurl. Like Mayushii, he can feel her loss, and because he blames himself, it’s all the more visceral, constantly tugging at him.

“Legal Chibi FTW”, as Daru would probably say

And if he feels Makise Kurisu the person is permanently gone from his life, her legacy lives on in the scientific world, as he witnesses first hand attending the Akihabara Techno Forum lecture on the “AI Revolution” being given by the chief researcher of the Brain Science Institute of the college Kurisu used to attend.

There, he meets the very diminutive, but definitely 21-year-old, Hiyajo Maho, who not only also works at the BSI, but to his surprise, serves as the English-speaking chief’s interpreter for the largely Japanese audience. (Kiryuu Moeka is there too, someone Okabe no doubt wants nothing to do with).

As it turns out, the march of progress did not stop with Kurisu’s untimely death. Her scientific colleagues have used her ingenious theories on preserving memories as data to develop an artificial intelligence system unlike any other—an AI with human feelings and memories…with a heart. That system is called Amadeus…and its reveal scares the daylights out of Okabe.

Having gotten the happy ending I all but demanded back in its original run, this new Steins;Gate is a welcome opportunity to explore a darker path on Okabe & Co.’s journey. S;G didn’t let me down before, and I have no reason to fear it will let me down here either, so I’m ready to dive deeper in to what Suzuha calls “the worst world line imaginable,” quoting her dad, future-Daru.

Fate / Zero – 18

Per a reader’s suggestion, I am watching the next three F/Z episodes in the order of 18-19-17. We’ll see how this goes. At the end of episode 16, Saber wondered what the hell happened to make Emiya Kiritsugu the kind of person he’s become. Episode 18 begins to answer that very question by taking a trip back to Kiritsugu’s childhood on picturesque Arimago Island.

Things couldn’t start out any more idyllic, with “Kerry” (what everyone calls Kiritsugu) cliff-diving with his friends on an absolutely perfect day before being picked up by Shirley, a very pretty young local who is serving as his father’s assistant. Kerry’s father is mage, developing flowers that never wilt in hopes of someday applying the same principles to humans.

Throughout the episode’s first acts, the gorgeous tropical setting could never quite hide the fact that there was something very fishy about Kerry’s father taking up residence in a secluded property on a remote island for mysterious magical experimentation related to immortality. That’s a lot of red flags.

One night Shirley shows Kerry that her flower has wilted, and that she will never be able to be anything other than a glorified lab assistant. She believes Kerry has a bright future following in his dad’s footsteps, and they both agree that his dad is doing something that will be able to help humanity immensely.

Kerry also recoils from Shirley when she gets too close to him, as he’s of the age where boys typically deny their attraction to the opposite sex despite biological evidence to the contrary.

However, it’s clear Kerry likes Shirley very much, which makes it that much more heartbreaking when I realized that beautiful night they talked would be the last. The next day, Kerry’s dad asks if he went into his lab, then warns him to stay in the house for the day.

When Shirley doesn’t arrive at the usual time, he sneaks out to look for her, and finds an empty medicine bottle on the floor of her house. Shirley herself has set to work sucking the blood of the chickens in her yard, as whatever medicine she took turned her into some kind of vampire.

Kerry, unable to grant Shirley’s wish to kill her, seeks refuge in the church, but before long the entire island turns into a battlefield. The vampirism spreads quickly from Shirley to the other townsfolk, and Church Executors have to work overtime to kill them, while the Mages Association sets everything ablaze in order to protect their secrets.

Kerry ends up running through the middle of this hellscape (and as he’ll say to Saber years later, all war is hell) and almost gets himself killed, but he’s saved by a mysterious woman who is very handy with firearms, using them in an efficient manner that reminds me of Kiritsugu’s own style in the present.

She tells him everyone has turned into “dead apostles”, and she’s there to eliminate Kerry’s father…but Kerry gets to him first. When he asks his dad about his work and what it did to Shirley and the town, his father is, shall we say, not particularly contrite. Indeed, he seems to consider all of the horrible things that have happened a minor inconvenience, and is eager to escape the island get back to work.

Unable to muster any words in response to his father’s despicable attitude, Kerry stabs him in the gut with the dagger Father Simon gave Shirley to protect her from the evils he believed Kerry’s father to be messing with. He then takes a pistol and kills him, before the lilac-haired woman shows up.

By doing so, he did what had to be done, something he wasn’t able to do with Shirley, a misstep that ended up costing the entire town. As he escapes from the island with the woman, I imagine Kiritsugu—no longer “Kerry”—won’t be hesitating that much more from here on out.

Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 24 (Fin de 2nd Season)

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Asterisk War’s 24th episode wraps up the Liseltania/Assassin mini-arc, then sets up all of the new storylines and characters who will populate a likely third season. In that regard, it’s a combination of a wrap-up and stringing-along episode.

I decided to stick with AW for 24 episodes mostly because I dug the Rasmus Faber soundtrack, and I’ll admit that most of the less squeaky characters have grown on me.

Ayato remains as stubbornly dull as wallpaper paste, but he’s got a decent harem that’s gelled nicely, and there’s clearly more story to tell that will likely be of the same quality as the two cours that preceeded it, so continuing this series will ultimately come down to my schedule and what better shows, if any, air on the same day.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself! There wasn’t even a preview or announcement for a third cour at the end of this episode, so let’s focus on the second season finale. The wrap-up part turned out about as expected: Ayato wakes up, and the group works together to defeat Gustave and his imposing but ultimately not too challenging Hydra.

The battle scenes are appropriately over-the-top, if a bit too stylized for my taste, and call to mind an older, similar show that was usually a lot more balls-out with the combat, Chrome Shelled Regios. (I honestly couldn’t name many major non-cosmetic differences between Leyfon Alseif and Amagiri Ayato, by the way. ;)

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Suffice it to say, Leyf–I-I mean, Ayato does his thing with Ser=Veresta, Saya does her big gun thing, Julis does her Strega flower thing, Kirin does her slick samurai thing, and Claudia does her background political thing, as her Dad was the one who hired Gustave, something he did to protect his daughter but which she never the less is pretty disappointed about.

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Papa Enfield wanted to keep Claudia out of the Gryps Festa, but that ain’t gonna happen, which means instead of fighting in separate two-by-two battles, our core quintet will all be on the same side against teams from the other schools.

Ayato agrees to join them after finally learning what’s become of his sister (though why she has to be nude is never explained) and he’s approached by the latest kooky mad scientist, Hilda Jane Rowlands, who is introduced far too hastily.

Combined with Julis’ continued struggle in getting her best friend Ophelia back, whatever Dirk has planned with Ernesta on his side, all of Claudia’s stuff, and that idol lady who is sure to return, there’s no shortage of material for another cour; possibly two.

While I’m weary of committing to a third season of a show that never knocked by socks off in its second, I will at least give it a look when it airs, if for no other reason, than to hear what ol’ Rasmus cooks up for the OP/ED…

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Ushio to Tora – 23

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Hinowa and Nagare buy Ushio time to advance towards the Beast Spear, but Kuin comes out to meet him. Tora tags along, but totally not because of Ushio; he just wants to fight Kuin. With no spear, Ushio can only hit Kuin with rocks, but even when Kuin seems to get the better of Tora, Ushio doesn’t stop hitting him with rocks.

Tora finally gets fed up and exerts a little more energy into the fight, saving Ushio from getting stabbed, cracking Kuin’s faceplate, and continuing to duel with him, buying Ushio more time to advance. I guess seeing Ushio not acting like a defeated wimp made him want to preserve his future dinner, huh?

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Inside the very carefully-staged chamber where the spear is about to get dunked, Kirio puts Ushio on the ground, then listens as his mom Towako plays a dirge on her cello under a single narrow pillar of sunlight creeping through a hole in the roof. Theatrical much??? Anyway, when she’s done, Ushio can’t stop Towako from cutting the red cloth and sending the spear plunging into the molten metal.

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For a second there, it looks like the show just destroyed its protagonist’s one and only weapon, which would be quite a dire eventuality. But then, out of the shadows, Ushio’s dad tells the sect members, confused by Towako’s presence, that this whole thing was of Hakumen’s making. Towako is another one of his minions, who created and raised Kirio for the express purpose of destroying her master’s anathema—the Beast Spear.

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In hindsight, I should have known from the look of her eyes that Towako was somehow related to the final boss. To see her mother in this new monstrous form, telling him everything she’s ever done wasn’t for him, but for the destruction of the spear, is all a bit much young Kirio, who proceeds to go bye-bye. And for the first time, I actually sympathize with the little bastard. All this time I knew what he was—nothing but a tool—but he never did, while I didn’t know whose tool he was until now.

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Speaking of tools, Ushio is, at the end of the day, the Beast Spear’s tool as much as it is his. He needs the spear to defeat Hakumen, while it—or rather Kiryou within it—needs him to wield him, even if it means his soul getting torn to shreds. When Ushio calls the spear once more, it emerges triumphantly from the solidified metal and into his hands. For the first time, Towako frowns, and her attacks are shattered by a revitalized Ushio in Beast Mode.

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Sensing a stronger resistance to her plans, Towako summons her stone golem, who still has a weakened Hinowa and Nagare in its clutches. Towako tries to give Ushio the choice of giving up his own life to save the others (a false choice, since she’ll kill them anyway for sure) or let them die. The two of them start the incantation for a self-destruct spell, forcing Ushio’s hand. He takes out the golem before they blow themselves up.

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Her golem gone, Towako reverts to her “human” form and beseeches a still-in-shock Kirio to help his “mama” from the bad guys. Now, up to this point, Towako really has been Kirio’s mama, and by far the most important person in his life. So it’s not really a surprise that he’d fall for her treachery once more and turn his scythe on Ushio. But only once more.

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When Kirio sees his “mama” encircling the sect members in the blue flames of a Hakumen minion, even he can’t ignore his eyes, nor his ears as she gloats about everyone writhing in hell. He stabs her, asks her once more if she’s tricked him all along, then hears more of her lies for what they are before she bursts into flames and vanishes.

Now, Kirio is pretty pissed, despairs that it’s all over and blames Ushio and everyone else for killing his mama as he lashes out at them with his scythe. Ushio calms him down by crossing spears and giving him one hell of a slap to the face. Nothing is over. People suffered and died so they can live and complete their mission to destroy Hakumen. Annoying he may be, but Ushio’s going to need Kirio in the coming showdown.

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He’s going to need everyone, as Oyakume said they’ll all have to work together in order to achieve victory. The rift that Towako created in the Kouhamei sect with Kirio shows just how far Hakumen is willing to go to stop his enemies from getting to him, but now they’re united against him like never before. Kirio may need a little time to process all of this, but there’s not much time left.

Meanwhile, Ushio is done with losing and done with letting anyone else die for him. He almost lost himself when he lost the spear, but getting it back made the fire in his belly burn even brighter and stronger…and that’s more than enough to bring Tora back to his side, as that fire will make him that much tastier a meal when the time is right.

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Ushio to Tora – 22

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Sensitive as Ushio is, especially when it comes to mother figures, he remains emotionally drained and doubtful of his own strength in the wake of the loss of Oyakume. Logical arguments like it was her choice, and perhaps she was always meant only to live long enough to protect Ushio there and then against the minion of Hakumen, won’t dissuade him from his spiral of despair.

As for Tora, he gets sick of this attitude real fast, and tries to snap Ushio out of his funk by threatening to kill and eat him in his weakened state. Ushio listlessly fights back, causing Tora to conclude he’s far too weak to be worth eating, so he’s peace-ing out until he is.

Ushio and Tora may have become near-as-makes-no-difference friends, but Tora’s not the hand-holding, comforting kinda friend; he’ll split if things get whiny and boring. After all, Ushio’s weakness uncomfortably reminds Tora of just how strange an tenuous a relationship they have, which makes him question his own strength in terms of being a Big Bad Monster.

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Conveniently, Tora’s absence leaves Ushio open to a confrontation with Kirio and a group of ten Kouhamei monks who steal the Beast Spear, intending to destroy it in favor of Elzaar Scythes, the “superior” holy weapons.

Meanwhile, Kouhamei sect members who haven’t fallen in with Kirio—Nagare and Hinowa—both act to support Ushio. Tora hooks up with Nagare, who at the moment is more interesting than Ushio, while Hinowa’s loyalty to the high priest and late Oyakume won’t allow her to let Ushio or the Beast Spear be destroyed.

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Hinowa and Ushio get an education on the Inasa, a former sect member who raised Kirio. Driven by his fear for Hakumen, he grew so obsessed with developing weapons that he started to believe he could make one better than the Beast Spear, using a forbidden combo of sorcery and science that got him excommunicated. He took up residence in the “House of Whisperers,” which is where Nagare and Tora begin their search for Kirio and the Spear.

What we basically have, then, are two very common genre concepts—mad scientist and his haunted mansion—cloaked in an Ushio to Tora skin. Which is fine; again, we knew he’d have to contend with one more would-be successor (albeit one who wants to destroy, not wield the spear), it’s just that Ushio’s crisis of confidence feels like a rehash, and we’re with Tora when he says a weak Ushio is a boring one.

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Nagare and Hinowa, on the other hand, are their usual delightful selves, with the former offering Tora some interesting insights about his life, (seeking a life of excitement while stopping short of putting his own life on the line for others), while the latter is constantly scolding Ushio for his lack of manners and propriety, but not hesitating to help him, because she believes he’s the true wielder.

Then there’s Towako, a woman who comes out of nowhere to help Inasa advance his research and perfect Elzaar scythes. Another evil crazy-eyed character? Sure, why not?

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Towako seems like some kind of dark muse for Inasa, until she steals an infant and decides they’ll use it to create the “materia”, the ultimate artificial spiritual warrior who will wield the Elzaar Scythe, and along with Kuin take out Hakumen no Mono. They share the desired end with Kouhamei Sect, but it’s the means that are so, so wrong, to the point that even Inasa isn’t really fully on board with creating Kirio, though he’s not strong enough to step in and stop it.

Inasa ended up dying in that house, while Towako is still around somewhere, having raised and twisted Kirio into her instrument. But you know what? Despite learning that Kirio had a rough upbringing and probably suffered much at the hands of people who were, charitably, on the cusp of insanity, the bottom line is I still don’t much like Kirio.

Revealing him as a GMO Monster that can only act as programmed doesn’t make him any more sympathetic or compelling a character. He’s literally a tool, and an obstacle to Ushio, and whether he’s killed or joins the cause, I’d prefer if he was dealt with sooner rather than later.

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Steins Gate – 23

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Just moments, by Okabe’s reckoning, removed from consigning the love of his life to temporal oblivion for the sake of Mayushii, he gets a call from Suzuha, who has arrived in the undamaged time machine Future Daru and Okabe built, in cool resistance soldier get-up and her braids pinned up behind her ears, urging him to come with her on a mission to save the world from World War III. Okabe is extremely disinterested in any more time-meddling, nor does he give a hoot about the 5.7 billion people Suzuha says will die in the war.

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But two things get him to hop into that dicey space-capsule looking contraption with Suzu: the possibility that Kurisu can still be saved, and Mayushii, after showing a moment’s reluctance in her face, urging him to help this Kurisu friend of his, whoever she is.

And as I had always suspected, saving Kurisu means plucking an arrow all self-respecting time travel stories have in their quivers, and traveling back to the beginning of it all, in this case, Professor Nakabachi’s talk at the Radio Kaikan Building back on July 28, and stopping her from being stabbed.

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At first, this seems all too easy, at least practically speaking: as Suzu prepares the machine to jump back to the future, all Okabe has to do is keep an eye on the Kurisu of that time, while avoiding the July 28 Okabe, lest he create the kind of unsolvable paradox that rends the universe asunder. Frankly, Okabe’s main difficulty is bumping into Kurisu herself on a staircase, and being so relieved and in awe to see her breathing, the fact she has no idea who she is doesn’t even bother him that much.

Of course, things always end up more complicated and fucked up than initially indicated, as we learn along with Okabe that Nakabachi is Kurisu’s father. When she presents him with her latest theoretical paper on time machines, seeking his approval, he flat-out snatches it from her, intending to publish it under his own name. When she objects, a scuffle every bit as nasty as Okabe and Moeka’s ensues.

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I’m not entirely sure why the father-daughter meeting takes place in such a dark and isolated room (besides the fact that that’s where Okabe found her in the first episode); but Kurisu’s unconditional love for her father blinds her from his current state of weakness and volatility. “No daughter should be smarter than her father,” he says, trying to choke her to death.

Things take a turn for the tragically ironic when Okabe springs out of hiding to save Kurisu. Physically he’s a match for Nakabachi, but Kurisu isn’t able to get away, and in the confusion and darkness, Okabe ends up accidentally stabbing Kurisu in the gut with Nakabachi’s pocket knife, just as she wrenches free.

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Forget gut punches, this was a gut-stab to me as well, even though I knew something like this was coming, there was never going to be a way to emotionally steel myself for it, any more than I could for Kurisu’s sacrifice last week. “This is the perfect end for you,” says Nakabachi as he flees with Kurisu’s paper.

Well, it is an ending, as Kurisu dies in Okabe’s arms, sorry she got him involved.  But since this show is based on a visual novel and involves time travel, we also know it’s not the only ending, and it’s certainly not a perfect one. For that, Okabe has to save Mayushii without losing Kurisu.

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But as Okabe and Suzu return to August 21, the experience of watching Kurisu die has left him defeated; her blood is still all over his lab coat, still fresh despite traveling forward three-plus weeks. This small detail injects a measure of hope in me: unlike the pink thread, Kurisu’s previous way of “marking” him, the blood didn’t vanish. Sure enough, Suzu confesses to Okabe that in order to save Kurisu, he had to fail once.

The present is already changed by his actions: Nakabachi appears on one of AKiba’s many public TVs, announcing his defection to Russia with his Kurisu’s paper on time machines (and Mayushii’s metal upa that has her name on it…so that’s what happened to it!). The paper is the key that leads to WWIII, fought with devastating temporal weapons.

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But as I said, Okabe is physically and emotionally spent, and having failed once more, is ready to throw in the towel. That’s when he receives a ringing SLAP from Mayushii. He didn’t give up when he visited her grandmother’s grave with her, and helped her get better, and she won’t let him give up here.

Here, as in the beginning when she gave Okabe’s blessing to go with Suzu to the past, Mayushii proves her worth. Saving her meant sacrificing Kurisu, but saving Kurisu depends on Mayushii convincing Okabe to keep moving forward, which only she can do. And she does. Suzu directs them to Okabe’s phone, which he left in the present, which has a new video message.

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That grainy message is from the Okabe Rintarou of the Future, who helpfully lays all  the cards on the table. The two objectives remain: destroying the paper and saving Kurisu. But simply trying to save Kurisu and change the past will always end in failure (as it did with Mayushii before) due to “attractor field convergence.” More to the point, changing the past changes the three crucial weeks Okabe and Kurisu had together, which must not be lost.

A different approach is called for, one in which he deceives his past self into believing Kurisu is dead when she’s really alive, which will take him to a third world line that he’s called “Steins Gate”, which he and the present Okabe agree is a name chosen despite “no really meaning anything.”

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Future Okabe breaks down the parameters of “Operation Skuld”, named for one of the three norns in Norse mythology (whose name can also mean “debt” or “future” that decide the fates of people. The fact there are three ties in to the existence of three main world lines Okabe has had to weather in order to secure the fates of those he loves. As long as his past self sees Kurisu in that pool of blood, the past won’t change and Kurisu can live in the present that results.

The video ends with a Good Luck and an El Psy Congroo. The fact that his older self, in spite of all he’s been through is still able to channel Hououin Kyouma shakes our present Okabe out of his funk, finishing what Mayushii started. Thanks to her and his future self, he is able to take up the mantle of Kyouma once again, and even let out the first evil laugh we’ve heard from him in a good long while.

I never thought how good it would feel to hear it again. Optimism is back in the air, he’s a mad scientist again, and he’s feeling good about deceiving his past self and the world in order to save Kurisu.

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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.