Kokkoku – 05

At last we see Majima Shouko’s side of the story of the time she and Juri last crossed paths. She was riding in a car with her mother, father, and brother (the latter two being violent dicks) when the Yukawas activate Stasis.

Overwhelmed by despair at their sudden predicament, one by one her family is surrounded by tentacles and dust and floats away, leaving her alone. She finally meets another moving soul in young Juri, who is so upset about her dog dying she expels Shouko on sight.

Juri’s goal, which is different from Sagawa’s, is to retrieve her family from Stasis, if she can. She believes Juri’s ability may be the only way to do that, and manages to get one of Sagawa’s men to side with her in exchange for sex at a later date. Suddenly Juri teleports in and expels that guy, leaving Shouko with just one guy.

There’s a fleeting opportunity for Shouko and Juri to talk, woman to woman, but it doesn’t happen, because there’s no trust on either side. So Shouko and the eye-spot dude go to Sagawa, who again uses a sacrifice in order to summon not one or two but three separate Heralds, which Shouko believes to be her lost family members.

Shouko seems to refine her goal on the spot to simply recover her family’s bones, not get them back alive, which while noble, is simply not as pressing or compelling as the situation of the Yukawa’s, who are all still alive and haven’t given in to despair.

Juri and Gramps manage to rescue Takafumi, despite his resisting when they come to get them (Sagawa apparently set him up outside like bait with a big tin of chocolate). The bickering Yukawas are immediately surrounded, and Gramps teleports them away, but it’s going to be another chase. Yippee.

Finally, Tsubasa and Makoto make it home, but their tail gets there first and takes the note Juri left for her brother. Thankfully, Tsubasa can sense something isn’t right just in timeto save Makoto from getting stabbed.

Somebody ends up stabbed in the end, but as the fabric the knife goes through is the color of the towel Tsubasa was using as a shield, we don’t know who yet.

While it’s good to know more about Shouko’s motivations, things continue to move at a snail’s pace, while the cat-and-mouse game through the drab, lifeless Stasis has long since grown stale.

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Durarara!!x2 Ten – 09 (21)

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After opening with an “insurance agent” interviewing a guy who apparently sold Orihara Izaya his name, Drr!! cuts to the familiar cat-and-mouse of Celty vs. Kinnosuke, before she returns home, exhausted and lamenting her police-target status before putting things into perspective: Shinra is in bed convalescing, having been beated half to death by Adabashi (Of course, Celty is also missing her head, so I think she wins the whole despair sweepstakes).

While changing Shinra’s bandages, Celty discovers an old scar, which Shinra proceeds to talk about despite the fact he has some mixed feelings about it. He received it twelve years ago in middle school. That’s incidentally where and when he first met Orihara Izaya, and learned of his love of observing humans. He got him to join a two-member “biology club”, even though they wouldn’t be doing much biology.

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It seems they mostly hung out in a lab, collecting money for sports betting. One of their classmates, Nakura, got in too deep and demanded a refund with a pocket knife, but Shinra came between them, getting stabbed in the process. After stopping the bleeding with duct tape (truly a mob doctor in the making), Orihara asks Shinra to tell the police he, not Nakura, stabbed him. In exchange, he’ll make sure Nakura regrets it the rest of his days.

It would certainly seem like Nakura regrets a great many things, considering Orihara made him both “Lizard” of Amphisbaena and “Mr. Momui” of Heaven’s Slave, two apparently fictional leaders of the two organizations, fictions whose respective Number Twos (Mimizu and Shijima perpetuate to maintain order. And if there’s ever a gang war between, say, Awakasu and either or both of those organizations, Nakura, not Izaya, will take the heat.

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It was the first of many acts by Izaya that could be construed, depending on your perspective, as selfless, thoughtful, or loving acts to protect his friends and family, or more selfish poking and prodding of humanity. Ostensibly, he tortures Nakura to this day for hurting Shinra, and hired Celty to protect his sister, but in both cases those actions served him just as much as the beneficiaries.

And as Izaya continues to carry Celty’s head around, it would appear his own stabbing by an associate of Yodogiri Jinnai hasn’t discouraged him from continuing his usual habits.

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Steins Gate – 24 (Fin)

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Look at the void in this frame…it’s not really a void, but infinite possibility

I traveled more than three years into the past to watch Steins;Gate, eager to find out if it really was as great ad many had led on. I had no idea what I was getting into, but because I was told to expect greatness, it gave the show a greater burden to overcome than simply pulling something off the shelf and watching it with absolutely no knowledge of its standing in anime history.

I guess what I’m blathering about is that despite knowing so little and expecting so much, I entered Steins;Gate extremely confident it would meet and exceed any expectations I may have harbored. It also felt like an old friend, like something I had watched before and forgotten, as hard as that is to believe (the forgetting part, that is).

For all I know, in another universe, I have seen it, along with many other shows I’ve never watched in this one. And because memories can transcend the boundaries between universes (because I said so, okay?) I knew I was in good hands; that there’d be no way this show would disappoint. Maybe I have Watching Steiner; who knows. All I know is, I have a new favorite anime.

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A show so earnest and confident and masterful in its layering and weaving of stories wasn’t going to mess up it’s ending. More to the point, it knew after twenty-three episodes, many of them putting us in the emotional spin cycle, that its audience would want a “Good Ending” after the “Bad Ending” of Okabe having to sacrifice Kurisu, and the “Worse Ending” of Okabe killing Kurisu.

It’s also great to see Okabe in high spirits again, even if he is partially putting up a brave front. Everyone’s stoked that the Okarin they know and love is back yukking it up and spouting nonsense. His high tide lifts all boats. And when Mayushii manages to get Okabe to admit he and Kurisu love each other, she gives him her full support in saving her no matter what.

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The fact that Mayushii, like Feyris, is able to remember bits and pieces of other timelines, gives both Okabe and me optimism that if Kurisu is saved, she’ll remember the three weeks she spent with Okarin and the rest of the Future Gadget Lab. It’s not so much Reading Steiner as love crossing the boundaries of world lines, and the stronger the love, the more they can recall. Why else would Kurisu have believed Okabe so quickly so often while he was trying to save Mayushii?

Armed with the Cyalume Saber (powered by stuff that looks like fake blood) a stun gun (to knock out Kurisu and lay in said fake blood) and most importantly, the knowledge of who’s going to be where and when, Okabe goes back with Suzu. He buys the Metal Upa so when Mayushii buys one, it’s not metal and doesn’t end up on Nakabachi. Kinda awesome a 100-yen toy is the key to preventing a temporal arms race and Third World War, but that’s the infinite possibility of time for ya.

I want to point out, the music throughout this episode is fantastic. I has the perfect balance of urgency, occasion, an impending end (one way or another), and ambient casualness, making for a stirring “final dungeon” soundtrack.

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Meanwhile, in his exuberance to get on with the mission, Okabe neglected to check if the liquid in the Saber was still liquid. If he’d discovered it had dried up before going back in time, he’d have had time to procure some fake blood from a nearby store (it IS Akiba). Alas, he only finds out he has no fake blood when he’s about to use it. Just as a little metal toy can lead to the decimation the human population, a little slip-up like this can place his last chance to save Kurisu in jeopardy.

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No matter: I knew as soon as I saw that dried-up liquid, before he looked at his own hand, that the mission was still alive; he’d simply have to use real blood; his own. When he interrupts the pleasant father-daughter discussion, this time he has a cool head and even uses his usual theatricality to throw Nakabachi off.

Okabe is front and center, with Kurisu in a much better position in the room to avoid knife charges. Nakabachi has no choice but to pay attention to him and only him. Greatest of all about Okabe’s entrance is that this isn’t Chuunibyou or delusional behavior on display: Okabe really has come to save Kurisu and rearrange the world order.

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He’s also a true hero, who literally takes a knife to the gut to complete his mission. Whatever questionable stuff one can accuse him of doing to get to where he is now, this act absolves him of most if not all of it. Getting stabbed fucking sucks. I’m not speaking from experience, mind you, but even in animated form it’s obvious that it does. And S;G’s sound effects make that even more clear.

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Nakabachi gets Okabe pretty good, but Okabe is able to stay concious long enough to scare the shit of of Nakabachi, forcing him to flee, and then zapping Kurisu with the stun gun. You can see the fates conspiring with Okabe in the depths of Nakabachi’s eyes, willing him to GTFO. Nakabachi is no mastermind villain, just another variable that has to be manipulated at the right time and place, like a Metal Upa.

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Okabe arranges Kurisu face down in his own blood, creating a scene identical to the one he himself saw those same three weeks ago. This scene overwrites the one in which he accidentally stabbed Kurisu, so the horrifying death scene Past Okabe and we witness/witnessed in the very first episode was really the other Okabe’s art project. We know that because we witness it again with Okabe, just before Suzu hauls helps him back into the time machine. MISSION COMPLETE…and it feels so good.

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So what is the Steins Gate World Line like? Well, it’s everything you’d expect from jumping through every hoop, choosing the right dialogue for each character, and collecting every hidden secret crystal: the previously stated “Good Ending.” In it, Okabe recovers from his wound and proceeds to give every Lab Member he’d appointed in the previous world lines a pin, making their membership official in this one.

It’s a beautiful little gesture that reminds us that before it became all about saving people he loved from being killed off by time, and even during those times, this was a show about a bunch of strange, unique, interesting people coming together to collectively do great things. Okabe needed every single Lab Member to accomplish what he did, and his warmth and charisma and crazy ideas, made that coming together happen.

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He, and we, are finally rewarded by not only getting Kurisu back, but having them meet by chance on the (very!) busy streets of Akiba, home to the Culture of Cute as it should be. And not only do they meet; Kurisu remembers him, because they share a bond only Mayushii’s can compare to, one in which two people who love each other deeply don’t forget that love just because the world line has changed.

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There’s a lovely understated elegance to Okabe and Kurisu’s pre-curtain reunion. No big dramatic music calculated to rend the heart just so; no sudden change in the world’s palette; just two people suddenly realizing they just crossed paths with the one they love, and affirming it with a few simple, in-character words as the sound of the bustling city around them fades. Kurisu being alive may have been enough for Okabe, but not me. Her being alive and back in his life is a far better outcome.

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P.S. Whew…now that was a good show, wasn’t it? But I know; these 24 episodes aren’t all there is. I’ll get to episode 25 soon enough, along with the film. Looking forward to both. Thanks for reading!

Steins Gate – 23

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 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 – 03

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Rintarou: Then is this too, the choice of Steins Gate?
Kurisu: ‘Steins Gate?’
Daru: Something Okarin made up. It doesn’t really mean anything.
Kurisu: I’m sure. He’s mixing up his German and English.
Rintarou: …Take your shoes off!

It’s becoming more and more of a delight just to listen to Rintarou, Mayuri, Daru, and now Kurisu talk, particularly to each other. Just three episodes in and the voice actors are already like a finely-hewed ensemble, never missing a beat. I’m also loving the fact that, at this point, the title of the show is just gibberish Rintarou made up.

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Daru: Miss Makise? Miss Makise? Could you say, “Who’d eat a pervert’s banana, anyways?” once more, do you think? If possible, with an upset expression.

They get to play some jazz this time, as Kurisu invites herself in (she says she knocked), and makes a couple of snide remarks about the ‘lab’ and Japanese men. When she concludes she’s dealing with two perverts, they retort that it essentially takes one to know one, something she cannot dispute, flushed as she is.

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They eventually come to an agreement in which Kurisu (or “Christina”, or “Zombie”, or “Perverted Girl Genius”) will join the Future Gadget Lab as Member #004 (which really makes Mayushii’s day) and won’t sue the guys for sexual harassment in exchange for access to the phone microwave that’s turning bananas into green gel.

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With an accord reached, they get to work testing the microwave, thoughtlessly using Mayuri’s candy as a subject. When she opens the door to it before the experiment is complete (not wanting the food to burn), it causes an electrical surge that cracks the desk clean in two. Rintarou instinctively pulls Mayuri to the floor and shields her.

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The equipment is trashed, but with two concrete pieces of evidence—both the banana and his text messages about Kurisu’s stabbing—he’s ready to declare that what they’ve gone and made, quite by accident, is nothing less than a time machine, something that upsets Kurisu to the point she runs out of the lab, never to return to the episode.

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Talk turns to SERN and the Large Hadron Collider (it’s very nice how the show draws from real-world science, as Psycho-Pass drew from philosophy), the ominous Organization that John Titor said would ‘dominate the world’ in the 2030s, when he’s from. With their time machine in pieces and more proof needed, Rintarou directs Daru to hack into SERN to see if they can find any dirt.

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The seriousness of Okarin’s request is such that Daru is utterly distracted from the fact that Okarin is straight-up walking out on the bill. Let it be known that Rintarou is not utterly without skills; for one thing, he can slink away from financial responsibility like a boss.

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Outside the lab, Suzuha is goofing off with her bike, but accidentally overheard Rintarou and Daru’s talk about SERN. She even assumes Rintarou just got a text about ‘someone dying.’ Rather, he’s getting texts almost non-stop from Moeka, eager to get info on the rare PC, the IBN 5100, which Suzuha also knows about because she reads @channel. Suzuha’s timely arrival on Rintarou’s doorstep, along with her rapidly amassed knowledge of the situation, is contributing to her giving be a strange vibe.

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As Daru pulls an all-nighter attempting to hack into SERN as ordered, Rintarou hits @Chan, where ‘John Titor’ continues his lectures for anyone who will hear. Rintarou inserts himself in the discussion, and peaks Titor’s interest when he says there was another John Titor who arrived in 2000. World line shifts delete memories, he says, and yet Rintarou retains memories from another world line.

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To go off on a brief tangeant, I must say I’ve gotten used to the curious palette of Steins;Gate, in which most colors are extremely understated and low in saturation, while the sky is a deep, blazing cobalt blue quite different from the azure skies of our own world. It’s a small detail, but I felt it worth mentioning, since I’m sure the contrast between the deep dense sky and the comparatively washed-out world below was a very conscious aesthetic choice.

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Speaking of weird vibes: I didn’t just get them from Suzuha this week, but from Mayuri as well. She plays dumb all the time, but could that be an act? Did she intentionally sabotage the phone microwave at that crucial time for some reason? Is the staying close to Rintarou for reasons other than love or loyalty to a childhood friend? These are merely rhetorical questions based on random thoughts; no need to answer them.

Vibes aside, Rintarou and Mayuri still have adorable chemistry, best demonstrated by their little hot soup can content exchange negotiations on the roof.

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When they return to the lab, Daru has broken into SERN, though not with admin privileges. “Wow. I don’t understand, but wow,” Mayushii pointedly remarks. There, to everyone’s shock, most of all Rintarou’s, they find the ‘smoking gun’ he was hoping for: an email about how generating a miniature black hole with the LHC was successful, contradicting their public position.

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When they dig deeper into the “Z-Program Experiment Report 137”,  they find that the result of the experiment was “Error. Human is Dead, mismatch.” Now the Future Gadget Lab is really in the tall grass, where they’ll have to watch out for snakes.

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Steins Gate – 02

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We the audience are totally on board with the fact time has somehow shifted, and can fully appreciate how the presence of a suddenly-alive Makise Kurisu is a highly strange occurrence to Rintarou, and evidence of a very strange phenomenon afoot.

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However, Rintarou has a way of going about things precisely the wrong way, getting all up in Kurisu’s face and poking and prodding her like a test subject. If it wasn’t for Daru’s interceding, he would have likely ended up with a bloody nose at best or arrested at worst. Put simply: this exchange shows that Rintarou has a lot of work to do before he can start convincing people strange things are happening, and a lot of that is in the presentation.

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Total Defeat

When Kurisu is the one who ends up talking at the re-scheduled lecture, she starts in an undesirable direction for Rintarou: calling the very concept of time machines “foolish”. Rintarou rudely interrupts, but Kurisu is ready to take him down in a calculation-laced argument she dominates utterly, undercutting his credibility even more.

Here is a fellow scientific mind with published articles who would have possibly lent at least a half-open ear, had Rintarou simply interacted with her in a more civil manner. The message here is clear: whatever is going on, he’s the wrong messenger for it; he’s not ready for the big leagues.

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“But he’s a guy…”

Steins;Gate takenth away from Rintarou, but it also giveth, by introducing the very feminine Urushibara Ruka. Unlike Kurisu or even Daru, she’s fully invested in his Chuunibyou delusions, taking the 980-yen sword he ‘bestowed’ upon her and promising to swing it every day until she ‘awakens its power’. The only problem is Ruka isn’t a ‘she’ but a ‘he’.

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Whoa…that was an incredible hand-touch right there.

Ruka and Mayuri both seem to harbor romantic feelings for Rintarou, which explains their higher ‘tolerance’ for his tomfoolery. It also makes them biased in the eyes and minds of others, meaning they wouldn’t be taken any more seriously than Rintarou himself if they vouched for his story. More likely, Ruka and Mayuri would ‘believe’ what he said, but just like they ‘believe’ in everything else he says, out of a kind of obligation.

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Add Amane Suzuha to that list. While only the thinnest of love interests so far, she is a real-life girl of an age with Rintarou, who was just hired (as in, right in front of him in the shortest job interview ever) to help the landlord’s TV repair shop. Suzuha’s comments on ‘what’s popular these days’ and unfamiliarity with fresh produce suggest a certain precociousness that could make her another member of what I’ll call, for now, “Okarin’s Panel of Scientific Peers.”

They’re not like-minded for a multitude of reasons…but they do like his mind. Rintarou tossing her an ear of corn to Suzuha at the last minute demonstrates that for all his ranting and maniacal laughing, he can be a kind and affable fellow, not to mention fun.

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While on a Dr. Pepper-fueled all-night internet excavation, Rintarou confirms that the lecture was cancelled due to the satellite crash, that Kurisu was never stabbed, making him wonder if he simply hallucinated the whole thing.

Then things get stranger when he finds an “@chan” poster posing as his hero, John Titor, an alleged time traveller who arrived in 2000 and wrote several books expousing theories about “World Lines”, the infinite timelines one can travel through and manipulate with the proper means.

However, a Google search of “John Titor” brings up almost nothing, while his shelf of John Titor books is empty. The John Titor he knew simply doesn’t exist.

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The next morning, while on an intersection, he hears the clicks of a smartphone camera from a bespectacled lady, who retreats. He catches up to her and learns she’s documenting everywhere she’s been and everything she’s seen. My immediate impression is, ‘this lady is going through something like the same thing as Rintarou.” She also shows him an old-fashioned PC, and when he doesn’t recognize it, asks him if he knows who does.

Here, again, Rintarou shows his capacity to function not only as a normal member of society in spite of his apparently permanent Chuunibyou syndrome: instead of simply giving this random stranger Daru’s contact info, he acts as a go-between instead.

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He meets with Daru at the cat maid cafe where Mayuri works (wearing a blond wig) , along with another member of Rintarou’s ‘fan club’, “Feyris”, who is also fully-invested in an ongoing chuunibyou conversation about her training. Daru, for his part, curses RIntarou, apparently for inflicting such nonsense upon one of the girls at his preferred cat maid cafe. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement.

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But I’m not sure Feyris is necessarily a ‘victim’ of Rintarou’s nonsense; she may have been into it before and is simply happy to have someone on the same ‘wavelength’. There’s also a certain portentousness to the message “The World’s In Danger!” written in ketchup on their omelette rice; as if Feyris is subconsciously attuned to matters she’s not conciously aware of yet.

In any case, Daru identifies the PC as an extremely rare and commercially unsuccessful early model that may not have actually ever existed, something he’s probably right about. Rintarou also gets an extremely florid text from the mysterious girl, one Kiryuu Moeka, and tells Daru to thank him for not exposing him to a potential nutcase. Yes, I’m aware of the irony in that statement, as well.

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Daru: Why would you think that?
Rintarou: It’s my intuition as a mad scientist.
Daru: So, no reason.

That’s the relationship of these two, in a nutshell, so far. Daru is willing to go along with all these strange inventions, but he reserves the right to provide skeptical/snarky commentary in the process.

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But when the banana (CLEARLY MARKED as the EXCLUSIVE PROPERTY of Mayushii, yet stolen anyway) they put in the newly-adjusted Phone Microwave (name subject to change), and it disappears, only to show up in green ‘gel-bana’ form, yet fully attached to the bunch, Rintarou suddenly gains a degree of credibility…even though he’s just as freaked out as Daru.

I’ll admit the first episode was a little awkward, but this one made great strides, efficiently introducing vibrant new faces, nudging forward the engrossing time travel mystery, and employing lots of witty banter that had be laughing a lot more than I was expecting.

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Steins Gate – 01

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Back in Spring of 2011 I missed the Steins;Gate boat, but its MAL score of 9.18 (presently good for second all-time) got my attention, and I’ve been meaning to give it a look for a while now. Look for occasional retro reviews this Winter.

I found the first episode of Steins;Gate a bit dizzying, temporally speaking, and a bit drab aesthetically, but what stood out as an immediate strength was is characters, starting with Okabe Rintarou, AKA “Hououin Kyouma”, AKA “Okarin”, AKA “Mad Scientist”, voiced with bawdy relish by Miyano Mamoru.

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That’s a lot of nicknames, but he gave two of them to himself, while Okarin is how his two friends usually address him. That self-appointing of nicknames is part in parcel of Rintarou’s apparent self-importance and intricate attention to self-image. His overly colorful, often paranoid rants point to severe chuunibyou despite the fact he’s college age. I also love the fact that he talks to himself on the phone without shame.

His cheerful childhood friend Shiina Mayuri, AKA “Mayushii” (Hanazawa Kana), is a nice foil, down-to-earth yet adorably air-headed, and also supportive in a ‘not sure what you’re saying Rintarou, but you got it, teehee!’ kind of way. She also calls herself Okarin’s “hostage”, a chuuni term she probably got from him.

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This opening episode not only introduces the core trio, but a fourth named Makise Kurisu who takes Rintarou aside and asks him what he was going to tell her fifteen minutes ago, even though he’s never met her and only knows her name from a science magazine.

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The show makes a strong statement when their innocuous first encounter is followed up by Rintarou discovering Makise in a pool of her own blood, stabbed to death. Even stranger, when he hits “send” on a text message reporting the stabbing, it seems to affect the very flow of time.

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When he bumps into Mayuri, she has no answers for him about what exactly happened and where all the people on the street went, but they’re interrupted by falling debris, after a goddamn satellite crashed into the very building where they just were to hear a lecture about time machines.

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After an OP that’s smack-dab in the middle of the episode, we find ourselves on the other end of a camera where Rintarou is introducing himself and his colleagues, including Hashida Itaru, or “Daru”, a hacker, otaku, and friend since high school, who seems to highly value comfort, convenience, and girls both 2D and 3D.

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After unsuccessfully trying to get their weird “Braun tube” TV fixed on the cheap by their brawny landlord (he charges two thousand), Rintarou and Mayuri enjoy the curiously de-saturated sunlight in the park. (Mayuri also gives Rintarou his second Dr. Pepper of the episode, which he (rightly!) proclaims to be “an intellectual drink, for the chosen ones.” Watching Mayuri gives him a glimpse of her looking upon a grave from god only knows what time.

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We also get a look at their “Future Gadget Research Laboratory” in Akiba…which kinda just looks suspiciously like a normal apartment, aside from strange inventions laying around. One of those inventions is the “Phone Microwave”, which is just what it sounds like, only it turns bananas green, soft, and slimy. Why they’re microwaving bananas in the first place isn’t explained.

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While running errands with Daru, Rintarou compares their cell phones and sees the text he sent about Makise’s stabbing which caused a time jump only he is aware of. Even more bizarre, the text he sent was broken up into three separate texts and sent to the past.

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And who should come into view when they alight from the elevator but Makise Kurisu, alive and well, if a bit pensive. Something very odd and most likely inadvertent is going on, having something to do with Rintarou’s weird inventions, and again, since even his two closest friends only take a fraction of what he says seriously, he’s probably going to have trouble talking about it without them laughing/shrugging it off as ‘Crazy Ol’ Okarin’.

But we know…as ridiculous as Rintarou can be, he’s not crazy…this stuff is going down, and it’s probably just the beginning. I am looking forward to where this ride takes us.

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