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.
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.
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.
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.
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.