Steins;Gate 0 – 08 – Only a Dream

I got your picture hangin’ on the wall
It can’t see or come to me when I call your name
I realize it’s just a picture in a frame

The much-awaited Steins;Gate sequel started out somewhat languid and listless, owing no doubt in part to the vast grey pall of grief that hung over Okabe living in the Beta World Line. Then we got a new twist on the first season’s ambush and all of a sudden it looked like the old show’s energy was starting to return. Like all good things, it just took time.

Then Steins;Gate 0 went and stuck an electrode in our hippocampus all over again this week, giving us a tantalizing look at the Alpha World Line in which Kurisu lived, only for Okabe’s joy at that being essentially canceled out by his grief over the loss of Mayuri, and his guilt over his role in that loss.

I read your letters when you’re not near
But they don’t move me
And they don’t groove me like when I hear
Your sweet voice whispering in my ear

More than that, though, it’s just so good to see and hear Makise Kurisu in non-AI facsimile form. Ironically along with Hanazawa Kana, Imai Asami is one of my very favorite voice talents, and lends a depth, warmth, and subtlety to her performance as Kurisu that simply makes her feel more human. Miyano Mamoru also does fine work beside her.

It doesn’t take long at all for someone of Kurisu’s towering intellect to deduce that the Okabe before her is not the Okabe of her World Line. Almost in anticipation of such an Okabe arriving and not knowing whether to go or stay, she reconstructed the Phone Microwave, adding (Revised) to its name to indicate she may well have improved upon the original.

I play the game, a fantasy
I pretend I’m not in reality
I need the shelter of your arms to comfort me

It isn’t that Kurisu doesn’t have conflicting feelings about urging Okabe to go back where he belongs; her cold-shouldering belies a genuine affection for the big lug, and every one of their interactions in this World Line is informed by the unspoken love they feel for each other. Amadeus, as Okabe says, truly has nothing on the real thing.

Yet Kurisu doesn’t let emotions deter her. In fact, she’s willing to use emotions to help Okabe see the light—literally, as it turns out—when they take a train to the cemetery where Mayuri is buried.

Kurisu tells Okabe how much time the Okabe of that Line spent there, as if waiting to be taken to heaven. Okabe raises his hand to the sky, much like Mayuri used to do, and Kurisu hopes it means Okabe will wake up from this “dream” and return to his reality.

I got some memories to look back on
And though they help me when you phone
I’m well aware nothing can take the place of your being there

Kurisu gets everything ready, including a D-mail Okabe is to send to herself saying “Don’t come in.” Okabe sees this as sentencing the woman he loves to death all over again, but she urges him to “Do it, even if you can’t…That’s what I want.” Whether she’s putting Mayuri’s life ahead of her own, or simply trying to restore balance to the universe, Kurisu will let Okabe go through with it.

Before he does, she sees the face he’s making, and gives him a parting kiss before hitting “send” herself. From there, we’re transported to the time Okabe “killed” her the first time, but from her POV; running through the streets, about to come in just in time to stop him when she’s delayed just a few seconds from that D-mail: “Don’t come in.” 

She ignores it and rushes in to confess her love…but it’s too late, and now we’re transported to another world line with a divergence number we haven’t seen before:  1.097302…oh-so-close to the 1.048596 of the Steins Gate. Where-or-whenever it ends up being, one thing’s for sure: that infectious Steins;Gate energy is back.

Orange – 04

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I’ve mentioned how cold and bleak and dreary things look in Naho’s “bad future.” With Kakeru dating Ueda, it’s like that coldness has seeped into present-day Naho’s world. Heck, the first image in the present is of a futuristic—and somewhat frightening—looking interior of an automatic ice cream cone-serving machine.

In it, two cones are stuck in their stands, so close together and yet inexorably separate, being pushed and pulled by outside forces ever further away. One is filled with pink ice cream – which I saw as a symbol of the aggressive redhead Ueda’s new regime in Kakeru’s life.

The workings of the ice cream machine seem unchangeable, but that’s just an illusion brought on by its cold, intimidating, mechanical nature. In order to prevent the same thing happening this time, the machine has to be unplugged and reprogrammed. And Naho is the only technician who can do it.

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Kakeru is most definitely dating Ueda-senpai. He is also most definitely miserable, because of the note he got from Naho a hair too late. Now he’s trapped, and Ueda will not leave him alone. She’s hot, but she’s also clingy, monopolizing, and singleminded. She’s also not a fool, so she sees the glances between Naho and Kakeru, and doesn’t like them one bit.

There’s already tension—like Weyoun and Dukat when DS9 was occupied—that Naho could capitalize on if only she had the nerve to. Alas, she still doesn’t. Letters that tell her she can’t keep ignoring Kakeru, even when he calls you to her and Ueda is nearby (as she always is) seem all well and good to Naho, but her future self is looking back; she’s not in the moment, trying the best she can but coming up a few seconds or a few inches too short.

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What present Naho doesn’t realize is that those seconds and inches become the years and miles that end up dooming Kakeru. Ueda will be the death of him if Naho doesn’t stop running away.

When Kakeru says “bye” to Naho, and Naho calls out his name, Ueda hears it all and takes her revenge by knocking Naho over on her way to her boyfriend. But it backfires: Kakeru doesn’t take the side of his current girlfriend—who just demonstrated that one should never pick someone based on looks alone—but Naho’s side, angering Ueda, who storms off in a snit. Smell ya later, missy.

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Back to the subject of color temperature: what had been a cold and bleak episode got much warmer and more comfortable, starting with the Ueda fight and continuing throughout the remainder of the episode, as things start to turn around for Naho, her colors of green and yellow (or, ya know, orange) start to replace the blues and reds.

Naho alone may not have the strength to do what her future self asks of her, but her friends lend her some of theirs, including Suwa, who is putting Naho’s happiness ahead of his own feelings. He, Azusa and Takako have plainly seen what Ueda (whom they loathe) has done to their Naho and Kakeru. They want Naho to know it’s okay to talk to Kakeru; after all, he wants to talk to her too.

Interestingly, Suwa’s mini-intervention wasn’t in future Naho’s letter; Naho takes it as a sign that the positive change she’s affected so far has already started to change the timeline. She can’t very well stop now.

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She doesn’t, and we finally get to end an episode NOT in the depths of despair. Yay! Naho speaks up, from across the street (then crosses after looking both ways. Good Naho!), and she and Kakeru reopen a very enlightening dialogue.

Kakeru is thinking about dumping Ueda, and not just because of the little public fight they had. Naho’s “no”, which she assumed he’d forgotten or ignored, has weighed heavily on him ever since he said yes to Ueda. It’s never felt right as a result, because he only chose Ueda because, at the time, he didn’t know Naho’s position, and Naho’s position is far more important to him than arm candy.

What Kakeru won’t reveal to Naho is the person he likes more than Ueda, even though it would be clear to anyone who wasn’t Naho that he’s talking about her, and like her is too afraid to just come out and say it. But never mind; just the fact he’s considering dumping Ueda makes this a small but crucial victory for Naho.

She realized that her future self doesn’t  have it easy. She’s dealt with ten years of regret of not doing what she’s telling her to do; Naho’s only dealt with a few weeks. And while future Naho can do nothing about any of it because Kakeru is gone, Naho doesn’t have that problem. Kakeru is right there. She has to keep her chin up, and think warm thoughts.

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Orange – 03

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Mother of God…this show. The emotional hold it has over me was maintained this week; in fact, it only tightened and intensified its formidable grip on my heart. I have to tip my cap to any show that is able to make such an relatively small, personal drama and tragedy feel like a world-reaching epic.

Naho seemed so confident and resolved to change the future, and so convince it was happening, and so happy that her efforts were bearing results.

And then Ueda-senpai happened. I know, right? A “prettier” love interest moving in on the heroine’s man…Naho will surely prevail, because it’s true love between her and Kakeru, right?

This shouldn’t be such a big deal, and yet it is. It’s a huge deal, because Kakeru has no future if he dates Ueda. The two things are firmly intertwined.

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This isn’t just about Naho getting the guy. It’s about saving him from oblivion.

Sure, I care far more for Naho’s happiness than anyone else’s (which is as it should be), but the specter of that increasingly bleak, almost nightmarish future considerably raises the stakes for Naho to win the Kakeru Sweepstakes.

Naho’s fatal flaw now—and in her future self’s original past—was that she cares for others before herself. She questions whether it’s right to trample on Ueda’s feelings to satisfy her own desire. She hesitates, and before she knows it, what had been an iron resolve to save him last week starts to rust and bend.

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What’s so impressive is just how goshdarned fast just a little bit of hesitation can get Naho into such serious trouble. Kakeru asked her flat out if she likes anyone; she couldn’t answer. He asks her “what she wants” before going to get drinks; all she can say is “orange juice.” In both cases, Kakeru is, consciously or not, reaching out to Naho, and it’s either not the appropriate time, or she just can’t muster the words she needs to.

So she ends up behind the curve, and Ueda steals a march on her with the tools Naho desperately needs to develop in a hurry: Directness. Persistence. Initiative Guts. She gets his hidden eraser note too late. She writes her reply to the question of whether it’s okay if he dates Ueda (Hell No) and sticks it in his shoe locker, instead of running to Kakeru herself and yelling “NO!” at the top of her lungs in front of him and Ueda.

Instead, Ueda corners Kakeru, and both overwhelmed by Ueda and absent a clear answer from Naho, Kakeru says yes, he’ll date Ueda, and go out during the break. I was so devastated by this development, even though it was sure to come along, I had to pause the TV and pour a glass of water to calm myself. It wrecked me.

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The only, and I mean only faint glimmer of hope comes when Kakeru finds her “No.” But I imagine he’s too nice a guy to dump someone so enthusiastic about dating him so soon after saying yes, so it could well be that Naho’s response was too little, a hair too late.

As expected, Naho is so crestfallen by the events of the day, she can’t eat, let alone pretend to hide her feelings to her mom. She goes up to the bed, pulls out the juice box Kakeru bought her before everything turned to shit, and drinks it as tears fall from her eyes. Sweet, sour, sorrowful…and utterly devoid of solace (Sorry, Suwa…)

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There are a couple of “post-apocalyptic” shows out this Summer, but none of their dystopias have been as and desolate and dismal as Naho’s future in Orange. It’s still, cold, desaturated, and the trees are leafless. Kakeru’s friends find that his note isn’t to himself, but to all of them.

He didn’t write to himself because he knew he didn’t have a future, which obviously insinuates he may have taken similar steps as his mother rather than suffer an accident. At the same time, no one’s dreams for the future came true, even his wish that they were all still close.

Tears well up in everyone. They shed those tears not just for Kakeru, but a bit for themselves, past and present: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Despite all that went awry for Naho and how steep a hill she must climb, I have to believe things can be made right; that a more hopeful future can be made. I may well end up even more disappointed and disheartened than I am now, but so be it.

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