Steins Gate – 10

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This episode gets off to a rather…ahem…inauspicious start, with Okarin, still convinced Ruka is a guy, does terrible things to her to prove that fact, only to cower in terror at the fact that yup, she is, in point of fact, a girl, then accept whatever off-camera punishment Kurisu arranges for him, because frankly, he’s lucky he gets to keep that hand.

In his defense, Okarin is understandably having increasing difficulty keeping track of all the changes, and while Akiba’s flavor has fundamentally changed, his relationships seem to be pretty much the same, so he must have assumed their genders stayed the same as well.

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It’s not surprising then, for Okarin to take up Suzuha’s offer of a bike ride, even if he’s to do the pedaling: some fresh air will do him good. But instead of clearing his head, it introduces a fresh dilemma which his D-mail technology may be able to solve: Suzuha’s absent father.

His mad scientist schtick is fooling no one: Okarin is a nice guywho will do everything in his power to help his friends, and Suzuha is one of them. So he makes her Member #008 and orders her to come to the lab and text her father not to leave. Sure, her dad may not have had a cell phone back when he left, but maybe he has a pager.

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Suzuha is touched by Okarin’s offer, but departs on her own, in a gorgeously-composed shot that just screams “Sayonara.”

Okarin musters the rest of the lab to arrange a party for Suzuha. He gets a troubling text from an unknown sender saying he’s being watched, with a photo of red jello attached (apparently aware of Okarin’s experience with green jello). But he can’t be troubled too long, since he has a feeling Suzuha won’t come back unless he follows her. Kurisu forbids him to do this, and sends him out to the stores with Mayushii.

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While on the way home, Mayushii reminisces about a time years ago when Okarin had a fever so bad she feared he’d die. She believes her prayers to the sky saved his life (though he gives Steins Gate credit). Is it just me, or are Okarin and Mayushii’s one-on-ones are getting more and more…wistful? It almost feels like she’s trying to remind Okarin how important he is to her, so he’d better not leave her behind.

But it’s more than that: Okarin’s behavior right after Feyris sent her D-mail reminded Mayushii of when he had the fever. Okarin takes that to mean that time he had the fever must have been when his “Reading Steiner” ability first awakened.

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Back in the lab, we get some lovely slice-of-lify dinner prep, with the implication that Kurisu isn’t the best cook despite her scientific genius. It’s fluffy, but it’s good fluff that reminds us how tight-knit a family the Future Gadget Lab has become.

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When futzing some of the lab’s other invented gadgets, the power goes out, which nets us a very intimate exchange between Okarin and Kurisu. It’s as if the darkness has given her cover to say things she wouldn’t say in the light. Again, the camerawork excels, as we get awesome closeups Okarin and Kurisu’s barely lit faces.

When the lights come on we see that for a lot of that time, their faces were merely inches apart, and those shots of them were from their own points of view. For all we know, Kurisu could have been leaning in for a kiss; really nice stuff. Okarin said his relationships have remained the same through all these world lines…but I’d argue that his relationship Kurisu is steadily growing.

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I also find Okarin’s rationale for continuing the D-mail experiments even in the face of all the risks: He’s a mad scientist, dammit, and he’s not going to let Ruka becoming a girl, Akiba ceasing to be an otaku haven, or even threatening red jello texts stop his march to destiny. But really, as I said, he wants to help his friends out, and more to the point, simply wants those friends around, and happy.

To that end, when Suzu is a no-show, he D-mails himself to keep tabs on her, and the next morning learns she attended the party after all. Even though she doesn’t know her dad’s phone number, she had a lot of fun. But what did this latest favor to a friend cost him? The beauty of S;G is that changes need not be immediately apparent; indeed, it’s more fun when they sneak up when least expected.

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Steins Gate – 08

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As S;G is a slow-burn sci-fi mystery with an absolutely kick-ass cast and world-class dialogue, I’m quite content with only incremental changes to the status quo. Big changes too soon mean we risk losing the people we’ve come to know and love. But as the rabbit hole widens, it seems more and more likely that we’re working towards that kind of result. After all, the changes the D-mails have been cumulative…at least so far.

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While John Titor’s words about powers and messiahs unsettled Okarin, it’s still way too soon to start confronting something of that magnitude yet. He sticks with science, which is repeating a process over and over, observing and recording the changes, and forming a theories around that data. In other words, we’re still in trial-and-error mode.

To her credit, the Kurisu of this new world line Okarin finds himself in doesn’t doubt what he says about the D-mail already being sent. One thing that can often bog down time travel themed shows is when the time traveler has to continually explain and re-explain to others what is going on, without being dismissed as crazy.

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Kurisu may think Okarin is crazy anyway—among other things—but she trusts him in this, especially because there’s concrete proof. So they press on with the experiments, with Moeka enthusiastically volunteering to send a D-mail to herself, warning her not to buy the new phone she presently wishes she hadn’t bought. Just before they begin, Ruka stops by with a watermelon to apologize for screwing up the lotto numbers.

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Once the phone microwave is activated and the d-mail sent, Okarin ‘travels’ yet again, to a world line where Moeka is absent from the lab and no one’s ever heard of her.

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Okarin is initially worried she ceased to exist, but the change was far more minor: she’s still around and still knows him, she just never visited the lab and thus never became Member 005 or met the others.

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Kurisu picks up on his behavior quicker this time, suspecting another d-mail was sent and puts the pieces together. But she’s still incredulous about whether his power to retain memories across world lines “Reading Steiner”, is real. Okarin himself can’t be sure yet, nor can he take everything Titor says as the gospel. More experimentation is needed.

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Ruka does come by in this timeline, having actually come by before with the watermelon, but turned back home when he accidentally eavesdropped on Okarin’s outburst about Moeka being missing (accidental eavesdropping seems to be a common thing on this show).

Mayushii pounces on him and makes him try on cosplay outfits, but Ruka is eventually able to tell Okarin his real reason for coming: he wants to send a d-mail. Specifically, one that will make him a girl.

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Kurisu is confused by his request, because all this time she thought Ruka was a girl, and was the only lab member still in the dark. Her reaction to learning the truth is suitably priceless, with simple yet effective comic timing.

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Okarin isn’t opposed to sending a text to Ruka’s mother asking her to eat more vegetables (which some believe increases the chances of having a girl), and officially recruits him Member #006, but they run into an interesting technological hitch: Ruka was born in 1993, three years before cell phones took off in Japan, making a typical d-mail impossible.

The gang arrives at a very elegant and clever solution on the fly: paring down the message so it can be sent as a sequence of numbers to his mom’s pocket pager.

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The D-mail is sent, and the world line changes (a previous mail Daru sent to himself doesn’t cause this effect). For a moment, Okarin appears alone in the dark lab. Did Ruka’s D-mail end up negating all of Okarin’s relationships as well as the Future Gadget Lab itself? 

Then he turns around, and no, they’re all still there, just in different positions. Whew. Ruka is still wearing androgynous clothes, too, so he can’t discern whether his gender changed to female (and Kurisu scolds him for starting). But if he asks them, it’s a good bet they’ve still never met Moeka, and Daru still lost the Feyris cup, and Ruka still lost the lottery by one number.

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So far, the effects seem to be cumulative, though I may be grossly oversimplifying things. The bottom line is, D-mails sent for one specific purpose end up causing totally unpredictable side effects. Okarin can’t even immediately detect what changed, only that something must have changed.

If the timeline he’s familiar with is a sheet of ice he’s treading upon, the D-mails are creating small cracks. How many more will that sheet bear before it collapses under his weight? Or are D-mails just as likely to seal cracks as create them?

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Steins Gate – 07

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‘Cursed with success’…that is where we find Okabe Rintarou at this stage in the game. He wanted to open “Steins Gate”…well, now he has. The question becomes, what to do with this new-found ‘power to change the past’…and how he handles the humongous burden of responsibility that comes with it. Oh, and how to deal with a new lab member who texts him a constant stream of questions with the odd request snuck in.

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Naturally, Okarin decides to use the Phone Microwave try to win the lottery! Not the 200 million-yen jackpot, but the 700K one two tiers down; less conspicuous. But what I like about this is that it’s not just about money. It’s far easier to send lottery numbers to the past to prove the system works than attempting to send, say, instructions for achieving world peace. There’s a much bigger margin of error with something complex like that.

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Mayushii and Kurisu object, but can’t think of a more practical means of testing the phone, so they go with that. During the expeiment, the same hesitation that led to Okarin requesting a lower-tier lottery takes grip, and he wonders if this is really okay after all. Just because one can do something doesn’t meant he must, right?

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In the end, he sends the text…and something happens, something only he is aware of: he finds himself in a time when the experiment they just tried never occurred. This is the first time since the stabbing incident that time has moved to such a dramatic extent. This is no longer the exclusive realm of gel-banas.

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It’s confirmed that this is a brand-new timeline (or world line) when Ruka arrives to report that the lotto ticket Okarin told him to buy was off by just one number. A glance at the coffee table shows a Dr. Pepper, when previously Kurisu said it was sold out and bought veggie juice instead. Yes, a character’s beverage preference factored into his assessment of the timeline changing.

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Far from jubilant or pumped up over another momentous victory, Okarin seems lost and disoriented, and probably due in no small part to the fact that only he remembers the previous timeline, when he sent the lotto numbers back. Just like before with Kurisu being stabbed, he’s all alone in possessing that knowledge.

Suzuha notices he’s not quite right, and even takes the extraordinary step of closely examining his eyes for ‘chips’ or other evidence of brainwashing, finding nothing. If he’s looking for some stability and answers, she suggests he contact John Titor.

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Okarin does just that, but not before shutting down all experiments until further notice and dismissing the lab staff; only Kurisu stays, perhaps worried about Okarin. In the dark the two sit; Kurisu skimming a magazine, Okarin sending a detailed text to Titor and eagerly awating a response. He gets one from Titor, but not before he gets a string of messages from nearly everyone else.

From Ruka’s apology to Daru calling about leaving his wallet in the lab (big mistake!) to a loving chat with Mayushii (curiously nothing from Moeka in that time), it’s almost a showcase of the bonds he’s forged thus far, along with Kurisu being right there in the room with him. Bonds that could crumble or cease to exist if he fiddles too much with the past.

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Titor’s message does little to allay Okarin’s anxiety. His talk of Okarin’s apparent ‘power’ to maintain his memories across world lines and the ‘freedom’ that lies beyond Divergence 1% causes Okarin to slam his phone down in incredulity, half-unwilling to listen to any more (ironic, considering the weird crap he always spews. But then again, he and everyone know that’s nonsense. In this case, he’s not sure.)

The kicker: Titor wants Okarin to become ‘the messiah’ and change the future. He should have added at the end: “No pressure, dog.”

At this point I can see Okarin going in one of two possible directions. He could either press forward, having faith in his abilities and leaning on his friends, or retreat from the whole enterprise, inviting SERN or others to futz with the future in his stead. Neither path is without risk, but I’m hoping he takes the former. Better the devil I know.

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Ao no Exorcist 23

Ernst mixes the blood of Rin and Yukio to open the Gehenna gate, but the Messiah weapon proves ineffective. A swarm of demons bursts forth from the gate, along with Satan. A flashback chronicles how Rin and Yukio’s mother Yuri became mixed up with demons to the point that Satan joined with her and gave her twin sons. Her own father Ernst was going to burn her at the stake, but Satan intervened. Fujimoto and Pheles were sent out to kill her and her demon spawn, but Fujimoto can’t do it. Back in the present, Ernst is sucked into Gehenna, while Satan possesses Yukio.

Yukio displays baffling naivete, Ernst lets out an evil laugh as he describes his diobolical plan, and Rin screams in that horrible way he screams that’s worse than nails on a chalkboard. Not a good start for the penultimate episode. I was also worried when the flashback had a flashback – nothing kills the thrust and momentum of a story in the present like a tangent into the past that occupies most of the episode. The series would have us believe that this story had to be told in great detail, but I for one was fine with some of the past being unknown or muddled. Some mystique was lost.

Also, if being possessed by Satan turns Yukio into such a wild, raging maniac, why does that same satan so calmly and vividly tell Yukio the story of how he and Rin came to be? He’s Satan; the ultimate unreliable narrator. And while he’s busy telling this intricate tale, the other characters are sidelined, doing absolutely nothing. So now, we have a Satan-possessed Yukio, who’s screaming a lot, but at least his screams aren’t as awful and shrill as Rin’s, but of course he’s upset, so he’s screaming too. I would hope that next week’s finale has a minimum of screaming, but I’m not going to hold my breath.


Rating: 2.5