Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu

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I approached the Steins;Gate movie with an unusual amount of glee and anticipation, and doggone it, the movie was just as good as the TV show. Far from superfluous as one can get, it actually ended up tying up a few loose ends from the show, serving as a second season of sorts, compressed into 90 minutes (or four TV episodes’ worth).

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A year has passed since Rintarou achieved the Steins Gate World Line (SGWL), and Kurisu finally returns to Tokyo, ostensibly for lectures, but actually to visit the lab, and Rintarou in particular.

While there’s initial tension and combat between the two as neither seem all that comfortable being overt about their feelings for one another around the others, but after Kurisu drinks a beer or two her facade comes down and she just wants Rintarou to hold her. (Also, Rintarou gives her “my fork and my spoon” as a gift)

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Everything is happy and lovely, were it not for the proverbial chickens coming to roost in the form of side-effects from all of Rintarou’s time travel starting to become a bigger and bigger problem. Things in the SGWL are causing flashbacks that are giving him a vertigo and threaten to break his mind’s grip on which world line is the real one.

As this is going on, a shadowy figure, who is, of course, Suzu, follows Kurisu to her hotel room and gives her three words that make no sense to this Kurisu, but will mean everything soon enough. You have to leave it to Suzu; she always seems to pop by from the future to steer people in the right direction.

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Leave it to a cruel and torturous universe to give Rintarou everything he ever asked for in a world line: no WWIII down the road; both Mayushii and Kurisu alive and well, only to make it so he can’t live in that world. I assumed his flashes of other lines would get worse and worse, but I was frankly shocked to see him literally vanish into thin air just as he was putting on the lab coat Kurisu repaired.

Yet even when Kurisu and the others realize Rintarou is missing from their world line, and build the time leap machine to go back to the rooftop barbecue, he’s still fluctuating, and Suzu explains that it’s because the SGWL is very close to another line, one only a tiny fraction of a percent different from it. The only difference between it is that Okabe can only exist in one.

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Kurisu wants to fix things, but Rintarou doesn’t. As he said, he has the world the way he wants it. If he can’t live in it, so be it. Better for there to be peace and for the girls he loves to be alive than to risk altering the world line and causing more damage just to save him.

Despite the fact Kurisu really doesn’t Rintarou to vanish or to forget about him, that’s exactly what Rintarou asks of her, in a heartbreaking scene at the train station before dawn.

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But he might just be sabotaging his own cause by kissing her, because forgetting Rintarou proves extremely difficult due to all the titular deja vu, which was earlier identified as a form of Reading Steiner. Kurisu tries to get on with her life, but every time she thinks she’s forgotten him, some detail in her life reminds her of him anew. She even changes her mind and runs to the lab as fast as she can, but before she can say anything to Rintarou, he vanishes again.

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Suzu’s still there, not just with wisdom form the future but from Kurisu’s future self, who inevitably invents the time machine. The same stubbornness that has made Kurisu so endearing for so long is also the stubbornness of sticking to her promise to Rintarou not to alter the world lines for his sake.

Suzu tells Kurisu that if she’s able to imprint a powerful memory in Rintarou within the SGWL, his mind will be able to keep him in that world line, so he won’t vanish in 2011. In other words, if Kurisu is honest with herself and doesn’t give up on him, she can save him.

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Kurisu takes Suzu up on her offer to take her back in time (in the time machine she herself built in the future) and chooses a particular day in 2005 she knows to be significant in Rintarou’s life. But when she tries to get his attention, she slips and falls in the road, and as he runs out and gets hit by a truck.

This setback spooks Kurisu, who literally shudders to think not only how much worse Rintarou’s fate could become if she keeps meddling, but also just how much death and suffering Rintarou went through for her and Mayuri’s sake. She’s just not sure she can go through all that.

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But then, every other interaction with every other lab member seals it: nobody who knew Rintarou will ever entirely forget him, even as the world and their lives go on without him, Kurisu doesn’t want to live in that kind of world. All the lab members end up seperately recalling snippets about Okarin and Hououin Kyouma, culminating in Kurisu donning a lab coat and roleplaying as Kyouma himself in a masterfully adorable performance.

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Reassured that bringing Rintarou back is the right thing to do, she returns to 2005, remembering what he said when they first kissed when he had to say goodbye to her: that it wasn’t his first. Kurisu remedies that by meeting with the younger Rintarou, who is on his way to see Mayuri at the graveyard (which is when he declares her his hostage). Kurisu tells him the story of the Mad Scientist Hououin Kyouma, and then steals his first kiss. It’s another momentous scene firmly grounded in the continuity of the show that for lack of a better term causes all the feels.

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It also does the trick, as Kurisu is able to reunite with Rintarou, who was sitting alone in an empty Akiba. Empty as in it looks like no one in the SGWL ever existed where he is, just as he never existed there until Kurisu fixed things. This results in another happy ending, which we always seem to get in Steins;Gate, which would seem indulgent if those endings—including this one—weren’t so gosh-darn earned. They’re not created by conceits, but by logical conclusions to the story; Kurisu figuring out what she needs to do, pushing past the difficulties, and doing it.

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And if Kurisu’s final smirk doesn’t melt your heart like artisanal butter in a skillet, you might not have any. Heart…not butter.

This movie did the improbable by intensifying my already unreasonable fanaticism with Steins;Gate. S;G has it all: baller writing; hard-hitting drama, laugh-out-loud comedy, breathtaking twists, not-totally-ridiculous science, world-class voice-acting, unique design, ethereal soundtrack and immersive atmosphere. The movie makes me that much more excited about a future sequel in the works. Whatever risk that move entails, no show is worthier of the benefit of the doubt than this one.

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Steins Gate – 22

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In preparation to what I suspected was going to be a rough episode for me, I entered into what’s known around the office as my “Induced Pessimism Mode”, a kind of emotional shield formed by expecting the very worst out of the story to come. A means of maintaining a healthy emotional distance from the material I’m to review.

How can I put this? That…umm…that didn’t…didin’t work. My IP-field was no match for the roller coaster that was this episode…which may have just cemented this show’s position as my all-time favorite anime, with two episodes, an OVA, and a film to go.

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I’ll reserve judgment until some time passes and I’m a little more removed from the show, but what I can say with certainty is that it is rare for me to be as moved by an episode of television as I was with this, but the entire show was brilliantly building up to it. A part of me would be content with this as the show’s finale; not just because it will be so very hard to top these 23 minutes and 39 seconds, but because I’m not certain how much more wrenching and rending my gut and heart can take, respectively.

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I thought Okabe would fight. I though he wouldn’t accept that one woman he loves would have to die so another could live. I thought he’d run around Akiba and find something or someone who would help him find a third way. And while I had an inkling Kurisu would be more accepting of the situation, I also expected her to come up with some kind of scientific loophole Okabe couldn’t have thought of.

None of that happens. Kurisu lies on the roof of the building where she’s stabbed in the Beta World line several floors below. Then it rains, she and Okabe retreat to a stairwell where she repairs his lab coat in the dark with pink thread and trade barbs about each others’ skinniness. She fixes the coat because it’s something she can fix.

She also tells him she remembers bits and pieces from his other time leaps, in which she watched him suffer and try again and again in vain to save Mayuri. Such memories not only make her amazed that someone would go so far for someone else, a quality she clearly admires in Okabe, but it also makes her feel guilty that she is the last remaining obstacle to realizing that goal.

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Okabe does race back to the lab, to time leap back as far as he can go; to gain a fresh set of days to formulate a plan…but Kurisu, having chased after him, stays his hand. No more running. There’s an Alpha line and a Beta line, there’s only one way to save Mayuri, as opposed to no way to save her. She thanks Okabe for trying, but won’t let him destroy himself watching Mayuri die anymore. Okabe accepts defeat, apologizes, and gathers Kurisu in a hug.

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Kurisu then tries to comfort him, and herself, with theories that the Kurisu of twenty days ago might have found unscientific, naive, and even ridiculous, but she sells them fully here and now. If she can remember bits and pieces from other world lines, she posits, maybe all of the minds of the Kurisus from those lines are connected to form a whole that is beyond time.

Beliefs, desires, and love could transcend the boundaries of the fourth dimension. She may die in one world line, but she’d remain alive in countless others, all contributing to that whole. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?” she asks twice, knowing it’s little consolation.

Then Okabe takes her by surprise by finally confessing he’s in love with her, and will never forget her.

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I’m not sure what’s more adorably fantastic: that Kurisu’s reply is to make Okabe close his eyes while she gets on tiptoe to kiss him, or the marvelously nerdy explanation for it, delivered in a trembling, flustered voice:

“I-I didn’t want to do that, okay? But experiences such as your first kiss are stored in the hippocampus with your strong memories, which are harder to forget. Thus–“

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You know what, I do know what’s more adorably fantastic: when Okabe confesses that wasn’t his first kiss, that it left a weak impression, and that they have to kiss again to make a stronger one. Kurisu has no problem with that logic, nor do I. Who’d have thought when these two first met that they’d be capable of such unabashed romantic words and gestures?

The entire lab scene sets a new high watermark of excellence. What’s also amazing is just how fast it all happens, and how Kurisu notes how fast it is, referencing Einstein’s theory of relativity to the situation, since now, when she and Okabe want nothing more than for time to stop entirely does it feel like it’s moving faster than ever.

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The setting changes from the warm, dark, cocoon-like lab where they made their love for each other clear to the bleak, blinding outside of the train station where they say goodbye, which again happens unconventionally, with Kurisu lobbing a Dr. Pepper nowhere near Okabe, mouthing “Sayonara” while he’s turned to pick it up, then vanishing. No long tearful goodbye, but a quick rip of the band-aid. But it’s a goodbye knowing that Dr. Pepper is the drink of the chosen ones…and Kurisu chose him.

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As Okabe glances at the pink stitching on his coat, the pain clear and harsh in his face, Kurisu stands on the train platform where she’ll be borne back to America, but is really there to be taken away from the world line where Okabe lives; at least this Okabe.

Her parting wish is that in everything he experiences and desires and loves in the Beta World Line he’s headed to, if he remembers her one in a hundred times, she’ll be happy, “beyond the 1% barrier.” It’s another gorgeous sentiment from an unusually poetic Kurisu this week, but it can’t dull the utter emotional devastation I’m going through as I watch.

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Okabe fights back tears as he delivers a rousing, selfless speech to Mayuri and Daru,  thanking everyone who helped him get this far and expressing his gratitude to those he sacrificed before hitting the button that will change the world. Just a heartbeat after hitting the key, Kurisu bursts back into the lab and says “I’m also in…” before the shift occurs, sending him past the 1% barrier, in a world where there was never a Lab Member 004, and where there are no pink stitches on his coat.

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Puffing up his chest and playing the role of Hououin Kyouma once more, he claims victory before his remaining lab members. The “Battle of Ragnarok”—or more precisely, “The Battle to Save Mayuri” is over, and he has conquered time itself, foiled SERN’s schemes, and reset the world’s power structure, with all the unhinged passion of a sweat-drenched preacher man.

Mayuri then calmly talks him down, aware of everything that he did and everything he gave up for her sake, and tells him “he can cry for himself.” He then looks forward, to a life without the IBN; without the Phone Microwave; without Hououin Kyouma. And “it’s all for the best…right Kurisu?”

For the first time, the ending music is different, and it sounds very much like a reproach to his question; a dark, stirring piece of music with the gravitas of a final dungeon.

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Okabe spoke of “complete victory” in turning the page on all the pain and sacrifice of those twenty days. But then the end credits suddenly fizzle out, and it’s pretty clear that nothing is complete after all. Rather, it is the choice of Steins Gate that here, in the Beta World Line, Okabe fight at least one more battle, for far higher stakes in the grand scheme of things than two girls’ lives. This new destiny is brought to his attention by Amane Suzuha, freshly arrived from 2036, calling Okabe on her father Daru’s phone to beseech him to stop World War III. Damn.

This is Steins;Gate throwing down the gauntlet. Having delivered a phenomenal episode that wouldn’t have made a bad finale at all, the fact is there are two more episodes to go (and an OVA…and a film). As blown away as I was to this point, Steins;Gate isn’t done with me, and it’s not content to rest on the laurels it has already earned.

And you know what? I have every confidence in the world that it will deliver. I’m ready to go a couple more rounds.

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Steins Gate – 21

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To have leaped back through time so much and sacrificed the wishes of so many others, it now falls upon Okabe Rintarou to decide who will die: Mayushii or Kurisu. Okarin has to go down in the annals of anime as being possessed of some of the most unenviable positions imaginable.

But he’s not convinced there isn’t a third path to take, one that can save both of them. So he cancels the CERN database cracking plan and…tries to think of something.

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Worn down considerably by his ordeals thus far (and the repeated traumatic witnessing their gory consequences), this new conundrum causes Okrain to revert to his state of hiding hard truths from the others simply because they’re hard to say. He won’t tell Kurisu why they have to find another way, and he won’t respond to her entreaties for more information, so that she can help him.

He’s repeating bad habits; going it alone never bore any fruit, it only caused him considerable emotional damage. It’s probably for the best S;G doesn’t explore any physical consequences of repeated time-leaping; the psychological effects are more than adequate.

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Okarin accompanies Mayushii to Comiket, but he’s so preoccupied with coming up with a way to save her before she dies at 8:00 PM, he doesn’t hang out with her at all, causing her to wonder why he came with her at all. For a time, I entertained the possibility that she wouldn’t be killed at the usual time; that perhaps disrupting FB had more far-reaching changes in the timeline.

Alas, while walking home, Mayushii’s watch stops again, a car races at them again, and even though Okarin moves her to safety, in a moment of madness tries to get hit himself, and Mayushii shoves him out of the way and gets hit anyway. Seeing her dying in his arms was no less heart-wrenching this time, but what got to us even more—and to Okarin as well—were her final words, expressing gratitude she could finally be useful to him.

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Okarin and I also share the refusal to believe that the only way Mayushii can be useful to him is by dying while saving his life. Surely she knows any world without her in it would be intolerable for him? Ignoring a note from Kurisu about wanting him to talk to her, Okarin goes back to the moment before Daru starts cracking, and this time his face betrays to Kurisu that something’s definitely up.

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She confronts him on the roof, curious where his hotshot mad scientist attitude went. For the first time, he admits, loudly, that it’s all bullshit, but that’s no revelation to Kurisu, who knew it was all bullshit five seconds after meeting him. But she still wants to hear what’s bothering him, as she always does, every time he goes back. When she grabs him from behind to keep him from tossing his phone off the roof; the closest they’ve ever come to embracing.

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So he tells her about the first d-mail, which sent them from the Alpha to the Beta World Line, and prevented her from being stabbed to death. And for the first time, after telling her what’s wrong, she has no answer. Their silence, perhaps the most devastating silence they’ve ever shared, lingers as the cicada song crescendoes, interrupted only by the buzzing of Okarin’s phone. Only then does Kurisu speak—but about nothing related to what he just said; simply to tell him to answer it.

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It’s Mayushii calling, after Daru told her Okarin was acting odd. She apologizes for being so busy at Comiket, wants him to tell her if she’s ever a burden, and to call her if there’s anything she can ever do for her. The call only serves to exacerbate Okarin’s anguish over the choice that faces him. But Kurisu, still with no words about her own predicament, but having heard Okarin’s side of the phone call, insists he go to Mayushii.

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I may be a rabid Christina shipper, and see Mayushii as more of a little sister figure, but that doesn’t mean I’d want Kurisu to have to step over that sister’s corpse to get Okarin. And damn it all if Mayushii’s extended monologue at her grandmother’s grave wasn’t one of the most moving things yet in a show that’s brimming with them, accompanied as it was by visuals of Okarin and Mayushii’s early days, when it was just them, in a far more spartan lab, simply hanging out, not even saying much to each other but simply enjoying each other’s company.

This scene only complicates things for me, because this is the monologue of someone who sees Okarin as something more profound than an adoptive big brother, and something more like a soul mate. The most chilling part of the monologue, however, is the fact that a part of Mayushii has remembered each and every time she has died in Okarin’s failed time leaps. She calls them “dreams” while admitting they seem real and she doesn’t like them one bit. Neither to we, dear.

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Even before she was killed by Moeka that first time, there’s been an otherworldly “knowingness” visible behind Mayushii’s gentle smiles and casual conversations. Now we know she doesn’t just suspect something’s amiss by Okarin’s recent behavior, but has clearly made the connection between that behavior and her dreams, in which he rescues her each time.

She may think that she’s being a burden to Okarin, but as a “mad scientist” and her “captor”, it’s his duty to look after his hostage, and he promises to tell her everything “when the time comes”—a somewhat cruel thing to say to someone who time has marked for death.

Okarin may not have found the solution to saving Mayushii without killing Kurisu (though finding out who killed her and why would be a start), but his time with both of them this week reinforces his determination to keep searching. Meanwhile, Kurisu visits the very place where Okarin found her stabbed to death, either starting just such an investigation, or contemplating making the decision Okarin won’t. Christina, I beg of you: Don’t get any strange ideas.

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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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Steins Gate – 18

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Is Steins;Gate a harem? If it is, it’s one of the best applications of the genre I’ve seen, doubly impressive considering it’s not just a harem, but a harem operating in tandem with and irreparably melded to its central time travel mystery. Each world line is like a path in a dating sim, allowing the show to explore each girl to their fullest potential, only to reset once Okarin cancels the girls’ d-mails.

One way of looking at the sequence thus far is that the divergence factor has strayed from its ideal of 1.0 because too many other potential romances are hanging out there for Okarin. With Suzuha, Feyris, and now Ruka, he is eliminating those potentials one by one, with only Moeka (who has fallen off the face of the earth) and Kurisu (who has looked more like his ideal mate from the start) remaining.

Before all this started, there was only one woman in his life: Mayushii; a situation he clearly took for granted (though they’re more siblings than lovers). Will the universe only deign to spare her if Okarin sheds himself of all the other women in his life who love him?

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I say one woman there, because even though he’s more traditionally feminine by a large margin than any of the others, Urushibara Ruka is a guy. He was a guy in Okarin’s original world line, and thus is “supposed” to be a guy. There’s no delicate way of telling the female Ruka this, but when he tells her Mayushii’s life is at stake, Ruka agrees to go back to being a guy.

In exchange, Okarin will be her boyfriend for one day…because she loves him; a confession that it turns out she can only make in this world line where she’s female.

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With no other choice, Okarin agrees to the date, despite reservations about going out with someone he’s always known to be a guy. But more to the point, Okarin has never been on a date, period. The word “date” is as foreign to him as “Large Hadron Collider” is to Snooki. For that matter, no one in the Future Gadget Lab has the slightest bit of romantic experience.

That’s because they’re all a bunch of weirdos, geeks; and nerds; so caught up in their particular passions and hobbies that they hardly have time to eat or sleep, let alone date. Kurisu can only go so far in her mocking of Okarin’s ignorance and virgin-status, because she is just as clueless and just as much a virgin…only an American one.

(Note that I don’t count Daru’s romantic “experience”, since it’s all 2D, and his present self hasn’t actually concieved Suzu yet.)

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But it’s not just that Okarin is scared of dates. Dating is just not something he’d ever feel the need to do, period. He’s perfectly capable of hanging out with and conversing with and having fun with Kurisu and Mayushii and Ruka, without the rigid structures of courtship getting in the way.

Kurisu, for her part, seems invested in making sure Okarin doesn’t make an ass of himself. Even when the “Dating for Idiots” book tells him to wear something “clean”, Kurisu understands that doesn’t mean a sterile lab coat (though that wouldn’t be odd at all in Akiba). She also knows how to tie a tie.

Watching her fuss over Okarin’s appearance is a joy to watch, because at the end of the day she knows Ruka, who will turn back into a guy, isn’t a threat to her own designs on Okarin, which we know her to harbor.

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She drags Daru along with her to tail Okarin and Ruka and offer advice when it looks like he’s in trouble, via texts (one could call them “L-mails”, where the “L” is for “love”), and I got the distinct feeling she was getting a special vicarious thrill out of it.

As for Okarin, well…having his encounter with Ruka suddenly be categorized as a date stiffens him and turns him into a boring, distant mess, ruining the nice vibes Ruka is putting out. Of course, Ruka’s hapless attempts at small talk also contribute to the awkwardness, but super-props to her seiyu Kobayashi Yuu both in these scenes and everywhere else. They’re trying.

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Things take a turn for the Steins;gate-ian when Ruka asks Okarin if he remembers how they met. Turns out Okarin protected Ruka from some guys with cameras who likely assumed she was a shrine maiden. It’s clear that Okarin was acting according to his own ideals and code, rather than protecting her for the sake of sticking to the script from some book.

After saving Ruka, he told him despite how he looks, he’s a guy. Now, hold on! This is the female Ruka bringing up this memory of when she told Okarin she was a guy. Ruka herself realizes the paradoxical slip-up, and can’t explain it. Okarin knows, though: it’s more of that temporal “leakage” or “Reading Steiner Lite” that also befell Feyris when she saw both versions of the cafe.

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In the end, Ruka thanks Okarin from the bottom of her heart for the date, hands him her mom’s pager number and flees, barely holding back tears. It isn’t until he returns home that Okarin realizes the date wasn’t complete until he went back as “Hououin Kyouma” to train Ruka with her sword. Both are a lot more comfortable this, and Kurisu, Daru, and Mayushii can only look on in an “attaboy” kind of way.

When that’s over, Ruka confesses that she really doesn’t want to go back to being a guy, because it means she’ll have to repress her feelings for him, and even if she didn’t, simply may not be able to love him in the same way. Okarin assures her that regardless of whether she’s a he or he’s a she, He is Kyouma and she is Ruka, and that will never change as long as they both live, so she needn’t worry.

(Ruka also confesses to having accidentally broken the IBN 5100 while cleaning the room where it was stored, a surprisingly mundane fate for the crucial machine/red herring.)

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When Okarin sends the d-mail, Ruka’s appearance hasn’t changed in the slightest; only his answer to Okarin’s question “Do you like me?” Ruka blushes, but says he “respects” him, and Okarin knows things are back to “normal.”

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Okarin returns to the lab to see his labmates having a quiet evening sewing, reading, and surfing. He doesn’t assume everything’s alright yet, because the divergence meter is still around 0.5. The only d-mails that remain in effect now (that I remember) include the one where Moeka warned herself not to buy a new phone, the lottery numbers to the past…and Kurisu’s stabbing.

That has me thinking that once all of the d-mails he’s ever sent were undone, Mayushii will in all likelihood be saved from a premature death…but at the cost of erasing his entire relationship with Kurisu to this point. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t meet for the first time again, and start over from scratch. A girl can dream.

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Steins Gate – 16

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Steins;Gate giveth, and Steins;Gate taketh away. In the business Okarin & Co. are in, nothing comes easily, and nothing is free. But no matter what it sets out to accomplish in any given episode, it doesn’t do anything half-assed. I was already looking forward to re-watching Steins;Gate to see Suzuha in a new light. This episode not only puts her in another new light, but Daru in one as well.

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And doggone it, it was looking pretty grim there, but then Mayushii channels Inspector Tsunemori (another Hana-Kana institution), and discovers the identity of Suzuha’s father, just like she set out to do. The way “Barrel” means “Taru” in Japanese; the fact that Okarin and Barrel started the resistance in the future; the fact that they both worked on a time machine in Akiba in 2010; and finally, the baroque “Future Gadget” designation assigned to the machine, a truly inspired clue. Only one person can fit all those criteria: Daru, AKA Hashida Itaru.

Detective Shiina is Natural Po-lice…but The Job will not save her. That’s up to Okarin!

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She could have gone a little further: the reason Daru is able to fix the machine so quickly is that he’s the one who designed it. Also, and I only noticed it after the fact, but Daru and Suzu have very similar hair and eye color. This is yet another shocking twist with ample evidence embedded in everything that had come before. Now, before Suzu leaves, she gets to say hello and goodbye to the father she never knew.

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That turns out to be a good thing, since Okarin learns from Daru (whom Suzu first told) that the time machine only goes backwards; once goes back to the 1970s, she can’t come back. That means whether she succeeds or fails in obtaining the IBN 5100, this truly is Goodbye. A few hours for everyone else will be 35 years for her. Then, at the agreed-upon time, it’s Mr. Braun, not her, at the door. Suzu died ten years ago.

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In her letter to Okarin, she laments that something went wrong with the machine, and she passed through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not remembering who she was or her vital duty. Her window to acquire the computer passed, the machine was no longer usable, and after 25 years, she succumbed to her regret and committed suicide.

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That’s basically the worst ending I could have imagined for Amane Suzuha: she got to see her dad before she left, but everything after that was a disaster. She blamed herself, for making an unnecessary detour to 2010 to see her father as a young man. Before the lightning storm that damaged the time machine, Okarin stopped her from leaving. Now that he knows what became of that, Okarin sends that him in the past another D-mail, telling him to let Suzuha go.

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Mayushii protests, but it’s for the best. I don’t see how Okarin had any other choice. Forget the mission or even saving Mayushii; there was no way he was going to let her go through those torturous decades, confused and alone, because he stopped her from going when she should have. In the timeline that results from that D-mail, Suzuha dies of an illness, not suicide, having taken Mr. Braun in after his house burnt down.

Between the lives the old Suzuha touched and what she left behind, from her beloved bike to Okarin’s Divergence Meter, her absence feels so palpable and long-lasted, even though we just saw her, young and full of confidence. If that really was goodbye for Suzuha, I must admit to being a little heartbroken.

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But the loss of Suzuha seems to have meant the regaining of Mayushii. The meter registers a slightly higher number (though still not 1.0), and the hour and minute of her death or murder by any and all means passes without incident. Okarin and I are both super-relieved to find her curled up on the lab couch, napping away. We still don’t know where the IBN is, but perhaps Okarin has one less thing to worry about…maybe? …Please?

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Steins Gate – 15

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I kinda expected Rintarou, Kurisu and Suzuha to immediately hop in the time machine and start saving the world, but it appears I was too hasty. Instead, we learn slivers of life in 2036 under SERN’s brutal authoritarian regime. Suzuha’s father, whom she’s never even met, bequeathed the machine to her, with the implication that she should carry on his legacy.

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All of the @chan posts by John Titor were actually written by Suzuha, and read by both Kurisu and Rintarou under their own aliases…though in a nice bit of S;G humor inserted in an otherwise serious situation, Kurisu and Suzuha know full well Rintarou’s handle was Hououin Kyouma without him having to say it.

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Kurisu also finally learns the reason Suzuha’s always stared daggers at her: as the future inventor of the time machine, Kurisu is the one who creates the practical possibility of time travel, which opens the flood gates for SERN and eventualy leads to dystopia. (A disquieting fact she also lays down: both Okarin and Kurisu are dead in the year 2036.)

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Of course, it’s not really fair for Suzuha to blame present Kurisu for this, and this is a fact even Suzuha gradually comes to realize as she interacts with her more. Here and now, they’re both lab members and allies. So when it turns out Suzuha’s time machine is broken, Rintarou and Kurisu offer a helping hand.

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This week also marks the return of Alive Mayushii. Seriously…we don’t have to go through watching her die horribly or anything, which is great. But even in this current timeline, the time for her demise quickly approaches.

Rintarou (aw, hell, let’s call him Okarin again for now, shall we?), Kurisu and Suzuha come up with a plan, but when they run into Mayushii and Daru on the street, he has to somewhat brusquely cancel her well-meaning attempt to jump-start the party in spite of his prior warnings.

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Mayushii’s extended, almost knowing wave goodbye, along with Okarin’s half-hearted agreement that they’ll see each other tomorrow—is drenched in anguish. Will this work? It must.

When he slaps on those headphones, he’s doing it to save ‘the world’, his world being Mayushii. And this time he executes a double time leap: jumping back to the time the machine was first completed so he can jump even further back, to August 11.

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This time, Okarin doesn’t try to fix everything himself. This time, there’s a plan: Explain everything to the others (not Moeka LOL) and have Daru fix the time machine so Suzuha can go back to 1975 to grab the IBN 5100 (needed to hack into SERN) and delete the message telling SERN the time machine has been invented in Akiba in 2010, thus changing the future, creating the beta world line, and most likely saving Mayushii.

Simple. What could possibly go wrong?

Mind you, Okarin doesn’t tell them everything; when Daru asks why it’s so important he fix the machine in two days, Okarin doesn’t mention the hell he’s been through, but it’s probably best if Daru doesn’t have the pressure of knowing Mayushii will die horribly if he fails.

Oh yeah, Mayushii’s there too…and as is her wont, she brings up something no one else has: What about Suzuha meeting her dad? Even if she knows she’ll die if they don’t get this plan implemented, Mayushii won’t allow Suzuha’s wish to fall by the wayside. So as the others work, Mayushii takes it upon herself to find Suzu’s dad.

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This gesture eventually moves Suzu to tears, though only Daru sees them, as he asks her a second time to bring him back a rare anime cel from the 70’s. It’s good to have Daru back in the game. It just feels right to have the whole lab working towards a goal, and Daru and Suzuha one-on-one is a combo we definitely haven’t seen a lot (or any?) of.

Even Okarin is inspired to search the web for people peddling small pins like the one Suzu carries, hoping it will lead them to her dad. Suzu comes by later to give Okarin the divergence meter he made in the future, and which will switch over to 1.0 when the future changes.

She also tells Okarin he was the one who founded the very resistance movement she’s a member of in 2036. In a way, he’s her hero, or will be. It’s a very interesting relationship these two have, especially when Okarin curses his future self for giving up on Mayushii and fulfilling stupid puerile fantasies, and Suzuha corrects him: he wasn’t being stupid or living in a fantast: he was trying to create a better future for everyone.

It could end up being the case that Mayushii simply can’t be saved, even if they reach the beta world line, and continuing to try would be an exercise in further futility and self-destruction.

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Still, Okarin has a point: whatever point he gave up on saving her, I’m sure he had done everything he possibly could have done, but I still don’t want him to become that Okarin. I imagine that Okarin went on far longer in his lonely and futile crusade to find the right formula to save her, and failed a lot more, and became a lot more haunted and broken. Then again, if it wasn’t for that Okarin, there’d have been no resistance and no Suzuha coming to 2010.

Sure, Mayushii almost gets arrested for distributing flyers falsely accusing Suzuha’s father of kidnapping, and generally fails to get any leads, but just having her around, being warm, caring Mayushii, is a real shot in the arm for me as much as for Okarin and the other members.

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Her efforts weren’t all for naught, either: she inspired Okarin to scour the bauble tables around Akiba and he got lucky: one vendor says he may know where the pin came from and/or who it belonged to. With Daru is almost done the repairs to the machine, Okarin races to that vendor.

He wants to save Mayushii more than anything, but he can’t discount everything Suzuha has done for him and the lab. Finding her dad so they can meet for the first time before she leaves is the least he can do for her. So off he goes.

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Steins Gate – 14

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As expected, Rintarou can’t stop Mayuri from getting killed. Either Moeka and her goons, or what he can only describe as ‘fate’ always gets her in the end. The show doesn’t get too gorey about the myriad ways Mayuri meets her end (though the sight of a Jelly Mayuri, half-stuck in the wall, possibly in the 18th century, is properly disturbing), but it gets the point across efficiently: Rintarou’s plan isn’t going to work. He’s missing a big piece of the puzzle.

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Not only that, but he simply can’t go on like this. I opined last week that even if using the time leap machine over and over had no major physical side effects, the trauma of watching Mayuri die over and over would eventually drive him mad. To his credit, he breaks the futile cycle of attempting to save Mayuri on his own before that happens.

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Or to be more precise, it’s Kurisu who breaks the cycle, by noticing something is not right with her friend and finally coaxing an explanation out of him, during which he even calls her by her real name.

I must add, this is Kurisu at her absolute best, and also the point at which she’s almost switched roles with Rintarou. Where before he was the wide-eyed dreamer, those time leaps have worn him down. Kurisu sees that, and decides to be the voice of hope and faith when she can tell he’s running low on both. She even strikes a baller chuuni pose that even gets him to crack a smile.

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When she smiles back and offers her hand. In a nifty bit of animation, Rintarou hesitates in taking it, but she gently tugs at his hand and guides it into her own. There’s so much in that simple gesture, which makes it all the more sad when she sets up the time leap machine and sends him back.

It’s sad because the awesome Kurisu she is now, who Rintarou calls “Kurisu” and proudly brags about her invention, will cease to be. Then again, this is nothing new; countless wonderful moments between these two have already vanished from time, both before and during Rintarou’s failed attempts to save Mayuri.

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When Rintarou is sent five hours back–to the time Mayuri finished her cosplay outfit around the same time Kurisu finished the machine–past Kurisu is a little harder to convince than future Kurisu told him she’d be. But when he repeats the keyphrase she gave him about “My Fork”, something very private and embarrassing, she’s on board too. Good. With Kurisu by his side, they’re much more likely to figure this out.

Also, “Screw you, future me” is one hell of a one-liner.

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Kurisu warns Rintarou that failing to build the time machine alone may not be what is causing Mayuri’s deaths. Suzuha joins them, actually backs up her “nemesis”, and sneaks them into the Radio Kaikan building where the satellite crashed.

A sprawling but surprisingly gripping infodump ensues, replete with visual aids like braided ropes (along with her own braids) and a divergence meter made from Nixie tubes she says Rintarou himself will build in the future (thus explaining those numbers we see whenever he leaps. I kept thinking about writing them down, but didn’t).

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I’m not a fan of infodumps, but I, like Rintarou, have thirsted for answers (some answers…not all) for so long I welcomed the explanations, even as I wondered who the hell this crazy-athletic, all-knowing girl really is. We learn that, too: SHE is ‘John Titor’, from the year 2036, and the crashed satellite is her time machine.

I was impressed with how swiftly the story has moved from Rintarou realizing his plan to save Mayuri on his own is a dead-end, to teaming up with Kurisu and growing a little closer, to Suzuha finally revealing who and what she is and introducing a new time machine that could expand their reach across the time continuum. Rintarou may be the one who saves the world, according to Titor, but he’s going to need a lot of help from his friends.

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Steins Gate – 13

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How to follow up a cliffhanger that belongs in the pantheon of cliffhangers (along with “Mr. Worf, Fire” and “Boomer Shoots Adama”)? The same way those were followed up: by dropping us right back into the same moment it left us; in this case, with Moeka shooting Mayuri in the head. Moeka is aiming at Rintarou when Suzuha bursts back into the lab and takes out all of the other gunmen.

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She left to go turn on the 42″ CRT downstairs, and then returns to buy Rintarou and Kurisu just enough time to activate the time leaping machine, during which Kurisu too is shot right in front of Rintarou. Right after Steins;Gate’s best ending to date, we get its best cold open. The adrenaline was pumping from start to finish, even though I was reasonably certain Rintarou would get away.

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He ends up in the memory of the cemetery where Mayuri is looking up at a grave, and we learn the significance of that memory. The grave is Mayuri’s grandmother’s, and she’d visit it every day. One day, Rintarou watched as she became bathed in Rembrandt Lighting he feared would lift her up and away, so he ran to her, embraced her, and told her she can’t go anywhere, because she’s his “hostage” now.

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The cemetery is only a temporary stop, however, as Rintarou wakes up just before 5:00 PM the same evening Mayuri gets killed. Without stopping to explain anything, he cancels the party and runs out to look for Mayuri.

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Of course, Kurisu, being a genius, figures out pretty quickly that Rintarou used the time leap machine, it worked, and now has memories of the, or rather a future. But he’s in too much of a hurry and can only promise to tell everyone everything later, even Mayuri herself; his curtness frightens her. Of course, considering he just watched her die, I can’t expect him to have acted any more calmly.

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It’s that emotional trauma he carries that makes him slip up, realizing too late the trains were stopped by a bomb threat, likely for this purpose. The Mad Scientist finally has The Organization after him, and always seems to be one step ahead. A chase, a take-down, and Rintarou and Mayuri separate. He tells her to run, and she does, right into an alley where a waiting car runs her over.

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Rintarou is close to home, so he’s able to use the time leap machine again, but at this point I’m starting to think about Waremete, a Fall 2014 show I watched but left the reviewing duties to Zane. Turns out the visual novel it’s based upon was released a year after Steins;Gate. 

Here, as in WareMete, a protagonist tries multiple times to save someone, but no matter how they change the events of the day that someone dies, the person always finds a way to die, as if the timeline is attempting to balance itself. That’s what seems to be happening here.

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I say that because the first two times Mayuri is killed, it’s due to SERN’s actions, but SERN couldn’t have made Nae run up to Mayuri, trip, and accidentally shove her onto the subway track. That’s not outside interference; that’s…something else. Breaking the pattern of Mayuri’s deaths isn’t as simple as isolating her. Maybe it’s the watch?

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And then, there’s the possibility that Mayuri simply can’t be saved, no matter how many times Rintarou is able to go back. Pair that with the fact the trauma of watching her die is cumulative, and it won’t be long before Rintarou is simply too emotionally broken to have the necessary wits about him, which is all the more reason to tell the others what’s going on.

It all comes back to the cemetery memory. Was Rintarou only reacting to the strange light, or was there really something to his fear Mayuri was about to disappear? When he embraced her, was he only delaying the inevitable? SERN and time seem to be conspiring against him, and he is in way over his head.

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S;G reviews are back!…but only once a week.

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.

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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