Steins Gate – 12

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Steins;Gate reaches its halfway mark with a disappointingly uneventful outing, as–oh, God, what am I saying? I’ll be serious, as Okabe Rintarou has started to become by necessity: this was an effing classic. It was the choice of Steins Gate that the wool be fully pulled from my eyes…and my heart be ripped out of my chest.

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For all its humble looks and composition, this thing is lit like a terrible world-upending weapon

 

Rintarou had already drastically cut down on his chuunibyou mad scientist silliness last week, when he was too damned shaken by the threatening text messages to be embarrassed about walking in on the girls in the bath.

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It’s a sudden change in his demeanor not lost on Kurisu. Even if Rintarou hasn’t told her anything, she knows. After fully explaining the completed Time Leap Machine, including the need for a living human subject—no more bananas—she turns to Rintarou for the Lab’s next move.

No maniacal laugh, no fake cell phone call: his decision is this: they’re backing out of this. They’ll announce their discovery and leave the rest to the ‘appropriate’ entities.

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It’s a tough call, and a very un-Hououin Kyouma call, but it’s the right call. Itaru agrees. On a grocery run, Kurisu sees Rintarou’s relief and admits to being a little disappointed, but she agrees too. Mayuri definitely agrees. Mayuri, whom they both agree has seen more than either one of them, and probably wanted them to stop a long time ago.

Things will be different, that’s for sure. The Future Gadget Lab accomplished something momentous. Kurisu fears her father’s reaction to her latest and greatest success; Rintarou assures her they’ll be able to visit him and work things out, because he takes care of his lab members. In this beautiful exchange, Kurisu refers to herself as his assistant, and he shoots back that she’s his dear companion. These two really were meant for each other.

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Rintarou’s decision calls for a party, and a party is what they have. Suzuha even comes along, and after some posturing and growling between her and Kurisu, Mayuri defuses the situation with her usual eloquence: “Mayushii…doesn’t like fighting…when we’re all together, I think it’d be more fun if we were all friends!”

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And so they are friends this night, as Kurisu helps Suzuha beat Rintarou at Rai-Net Battler, simply by knowing the kind of personality Rintarou has. When Rintarou skulks away in defeat, Kurisu has Mayuri go after him, telling her how both she and Rintarou believe she’s always had the clearest view of the lab.

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Mayushii approaches Rintarou on the roof armed with a lightsaber Cyalume Saber. They talk about how much fun everyone is having, and about all the things they’ll be able to buy once they go public with the discovery (Chairs! Utensils!).

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Then Mayushii brings up the Spring (it’s August at this point), when it was just the two of them, but Rintarou seemed really lonely to her, and how the club has grown so much that it’s okay now, even if she isn’t his ‘hostage’ anymore.

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As Mayuri is saying this last bit, he has a flash of his daydream from the cold open, which may well have been far more than a mere daydream: 70 million years in the future, he and Mayuri are alone in the middle of a wasteland, about to die. She tells him they’re the originals, but there are infinite other Rintarous and Mayuris in other world lines that will carry on their legacy even if they crumbled to dust then and there.

So…it’s okay. It’s all okay. Until it isn’t.

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Itaru dashes up to the roof (yes I used dash and Itaru in the same sentence): there’s a bomb threat; all trains in and out of Akiba are stopped. So the party becomes a sleepover now…Yay, right? Nay. When Itaru confirms he’s deep into SERN, Suzuha seems on the cusp of telling them to do something very important, but instead she bolts out of the lab without an explanation. That’s not good. There’s no way that’s a good sign.

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Then Rintarou notices sand has stopped flowing down an hourglass. Mayuri’s recently-wound pocketwatch stops. Something is extremely wrong.

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A group of masked gunmen in casualwear race up the stairs and bust into the lab. If they didn’t have the guns and masks, they’d look like ordinary people. Is this SERN? Was Rintarou too late in giving up the game?

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It’s a volatile situation, made even more surreal by the arrival of the apparent leader of the gunmen: Kiryuu Moeka, donning black leather from neck to toe, stylish as always, as Mayuri once remarked. “SERN will take the time machine”, she mutters softly. She’s taking Kurisu, Rintarou, and Itaru as well.

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As for Mayuri? She’s…”not needed.” Shining Finger puts her finger on the trigger, muttering “For FB…FB…FB…” and puts a bullet in Mayuri’s head. Just like that, the beating heart and warm, fuzzy soul of the lab, Rintarou’s dear childhood friend, is gone, and the fun and games are over.

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I expected something to happen in that standoff, but for the life of me I didn’t expect that. But why the hell didn’t I? It was all here, in previous episodes and all over this one: she was pulling out death flags like there was no tomorrow, because for her, there wouldn’t be.

And what’s so crushing about this is that in a twisted way, Moeka was right: Mayuri was no longer needed. As Mayuri said, “it’s okay”: now that he has friends, he’ll be alright, even if she isn’t by his side anymore. The close-ups of Mayuri in her last moments are painted with neither shock nor fear, but expectation; of inevitability. 

This is the closing of a chapter and a time of new and terrifying trials for Okabe Rintarou and the rest of the lab. But perhaps, with Kurisu by his side, he’ll be okay. But I just can’t see it yet. No one could ever see as clearly as Shiina Mayuri.

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P.S. With twelve episodes down, twelve to go, and Winter season starting to pick up steam, now is as good a time as any to exhale and take a break from the show. How long a break? I won’t be sure until Winter settles down and I have a better idea of which parts of the week are the slowest…but probably not long. In any case, I have yet to watch anything after this, so spoilers in the comments are strictly prohibited. Finally, it cannot be said enough, thanks for reading as I play catch-up with a classic—H.B.

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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