Steins;Gate 0 – 07 – Mr. Braun (and Wikipedia) to the Rescue

The standoff with what is apparently the “Rounders” of SERN mercifully ends without any tragic deaths, thanks to the sudden arrival of Tennouji, who makes quick work of the masked bandits, while Suzu frees their quarry Kagari from their clutches.

Their leader in black has a female figure, but Okabe almost immediately doubts it was Kiryuu Moeka again because the Akiba boss from the other world line was Braun; it would  make no sense for him to hinder the Rounders here. Something else is clearly up.

The first priority is ensuring Kagari’s safety going forward now that they know she’s particularly susceptible to capture. She continues to stay at Ruka’s place, which Daru fortifies with motion sensors while Suzuha keeps a sleepless watch.

Ruka can tell something’s up, and wants Suzuha to explain why she uses the family-based honorifics she uses…but Suzuha isn’t talking. She (rightly) believes Okabe wants to keep Ruka from learning anything about other worlds, so that he can stay in the one he’s in.

The next day Okabe visits Tennouji at the shop to explain the disturbance he had to break up (not the kind of landlord duties he likes undertaking, even if he’s more than capable). Okabe first confirms that Tennouji is indeed Ferdinand Braun, affiliated with the Rounders.

Braun concedes that Okabe is disturbingly accurate about things he has no business knowing, and in the absence of more credible explanations is willing to at least hear him out about time travel and world lines. He agrees to keep Kagari under his protection, hiring her and Suzuha as part-timers, but insists Okabe get to work discovering the identity and goals of Kagari’s would-be captors.

One clue is the alphanumeric code uttered by two of the Rounders: K6205, whom Mayushii’s friend Kaede is able to identify as possibly a Köchel number; those used to catalog the works of Mozart. Specifically, K. 620, his opera The Magic Flute, which is packed with Masonic elements.

Scene 5 of Act 2 involves a man being ordered to marry an elderly woman or he’ll be imprisoned forever. When he does, she’s transformed into a young and beautiful young woman, only for priests to hold him back, warning that he’s not yet worthy of her.

I learned all of this on Wikipedia, as Daru and the others’ primary source of research (always a good place to start, anyways). But one can’t think of the Mozart connection without also thinking about his middle name: Amadeus; ‘loved by God’.

Amadeus is still offline and when Okabe calls Hiyajou, she expresses her fear the server has been taken over. But moments after Hiyajou hangs up Okabe gets a call from Amadeus. It’s highly distorted and garbled, but Amakurisu pleads for help clearly enough.

That’s when Okabe enters Reading Steiner, the Divergence Meter’s Nixie Tube numbers flutter furiously. He ends up alone in the lab, the TV no longer shot through, and the Amadeus app gone from his phone’s home screen. It’s a World Line Change, people, and what do you know, Kurisu is alive in this one.

Just like the first Steins;Gate series, S;G 0 started off slow, but there was always the possibility, even probability that one big event after another was bound to go down soon. Now we’re there, with Okabe, in a totally different world than the one in which started, with no knowledge of how he got there, whether he’s been there before, or if he’ll ever get back.

Not to mention the fact that without even trying he’s been reunited with the only woman he’s ever loved. Depending on how things go, he may not even want to leave…but where Steins;Gate is concerned, getting something you want almost always means losing something you need.

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Steins;Gate 0 – 06 – New Year, Same Old Problems

“Kana” is definitely Shiina Kagari—even if the Oopa were a copy, there are certain things (the sound of her name, words from her future adoptvie mother) that give her an odd sense of nostalgia. And Suzu would recognize the girl who pulled a gun on her a mile away.

Okabe contacts Kiryuu to tell her Kagari has been found, but to request she continue investigating the group that was after her. After Kiryuu hangs up, we get our first sense that something is going to come to a head this week.

Little did I know when watching her teasing Maho that Judy Reyes of all people could also be involved.

It’s New Years, so the whole gang goes to the shrine, both to pray and give offerings and see Mayushii, Rukako, and Feyris in shrine maiden garb.

Everyone has lots of fun, but Judy shows up with Leskinen to say a quick ‘Hi’, while turning to leave she spots Kagari and gives her one hell of a sidelong glance.

There are more foreboding doings as Tennouji acts particularly shifty and a man in black lurks behind a wall, all while Mayushii & Co. bring the party to the lab and continue enjoying themselves.

Maho is among those having a good time, but gets a sudden video call from Amadeus, and answers the phone without leaving the room. Before long she’s surrounded by everyone curious about who her caller is, and Maho has no choice but to reveal the AI with Kurisu’s memories to them.

She apologizes to Okabe as the others talk with Amakurisu, but Okabe isn’t mad; he knows he has to start thinking of Kurisu, Amadeus, and Kagari as three distinct individual entities. He also needs to keep protecting the world Kurisu sacrificed herself to protect, no matter how much it might hurt or how easy it is to look back.

Unfortunately, Okabe is caught quite off guard when an armed gang once again infiltrates the lab and points their guns at Mayushii, Kagari, and the other guests. Suzuha is also caught off-guard, so it’s not like Okabe was alone in being lulled into a false sense of security. They weren’t direct witnesses to all of the strange things going on on the periphery of this episode like we did, after all.

When Kiryuu’s SERN assault team raided the lab back in the first season’s twelfth episode, it marked the official end of “fun and games.” That moment arrives six episodes earlier in S;G 0, and it also has the burden of trying to top that devastating, show-defining moment. Suffice it to say the ending of this episode wasn’t nearly as shocking, for the simple reason that we’ve seen it before.

History would seem to be repeating itself, and his loved ones apparently aren’t safe even here, in this Kurisu-less World Line. Then again, Mayushii wasn’t shot…yet. Perhaps, like Kagari and Kurisu, events only resemble what happened before, but may in reality be something completely different. But whatever that ends up being, it probably won’t be pleasant.

Steins;Gate 0 – 05 – Time Goes On

Needless to say, the sudden appearance of Moeka Kiryuu puts Okabe on edge, and even if this is not the same world line in which she killed Mayushii, he suspects she’s still a “Rounder”, and cannot fully trust her. Suzu can tell almost immediately that Moeka is someone Okabe knows (or knew), even if he won’t come out and say it. Nevertheless, Okabe assents to Daru’s hiring of Moeka in order to find the lost girl.

Meanwhile, Hiyajou can tell that Okabe hasn’t been answering Amakurisu’s calls, and feels partially responsible for telling him that Kurisu he knows is dead, even if a part of her is jealous that he was so much closer to her. With Leskinen’s unsolicited blessing she strikes out into Akiba to meet with Okabe, but suddenly feels extremely paranoid about being followed.

The camera angles, editing, and music all conspire to make us really feel that paranoia, initially brought on by the sudden appearance of Moeka and only intensified here. By the time Hiyajou is calling Okabe in a near-panic, and he runs out to find her dropped bag, I truly feared for the worst, as he did.

Mercifully (though also a bit disappointingly) the person initiating contact with Hiyajou turns out to be Professor Judy Reyes, a colleague at her university. While communicating in English Okabe fails to correct Reyes’ assertion that he’s Hiyajou’s boyfriend (though the prospect makes Hiyajou blush).

Once they’re alone, Hiyajou brings up Okabe’s lack of responding to Amakurisu. She’s no dummy (obviously), and can tell Kurisu had an incredibly “large presence” in Okabe’s life; far larger than he lets on.

When she reminds him that Amadeus is merely a system, Okabe tells her he simply needs more time. He’s confused, but that’s because he’s not willing to dismiss Amakurisu out of hand, at least not yet (and with no other alternative).

Okabe (and the episode) finally remember the somewhat urgent call Rukako made to him about a guest of his family’s…he comes to the lab with that guest in tow, and Okabe is shocked to find that guest is a dead ringer for Kurisu. However, he later chalks it up as a coincidence (plenty of blue-eyed redheads with bangs out there, after all).

Rukako informs Okabe that the girl has amnesia, and they’ve simply been calling her “Kana” in lieu of her name. She’s hoping Okabe with all his brainy sciency know-how can find a way to help Kana find her real name, where she came from, and how she lost her memory.

While flattered, Okabe is honest about not being an expert in any of that stuff (even if he knows people who are), but Kana’s identity is quite surreptitiously revealed by Mayushii, who recognizes the oopa that is the only possession of Kana’s that might be a clue.

What’s odd is that the oopa is from a very recent movie, but looks like it’s much older than that. Upon the pointing out of that fact, Kana suddenly collapses, just as Suzuha shows up, and instantly recognizes the girl for Kagari, the girl she lost. Well, now she’s found. What’s next; and is it merely a coincidence that she so closely resembles Kurisu?

Steins;Gate 0 – 04 – Another Girl Lost in Time

Okabe experiences a number of strange flashes in various world lines before waking up in bed, only to eventually return to the roof of the lab with Maho. They include running from enemy forces (likely in the bad future) and answering a mysterious phone call. He wonders if he somehow experienced Reading Steiner, and fears for the worst.

Thankfully, both Mayushii and everyone else are fine, so if there was a world line change, it was a subtle one, at least in terms of how it affected his life. Later, Amakurisu suggests Okabe give his mismatched present (a sexy red dress) to Maho, saying she’d likely be “surprisingly happy.”

Okabe doesn’t do that, but both Maho and Leskinen can tell he’s gotten close to Amadeus in not much time at all, feeding Leskinen’s hope that the AI will be able to fall in love, which would obviously be a huge breakthrough.

It seems like fate that they’d find the person who just happened to be in love with the real Kurisu. Maho just wants to know more about the side of her good friend and colleague that she never knew, lamenting that she “knows nothing”, despite the fact she is not Jon Snow.

Meanwhile, as Suzuha tries to get her eventual dad to go on a date with her eventual mother, Daru senses Suzu is hiding something, and isn’t thrown off by Suzu’s weak “it’s nothing.” What Daru learns is that Suzu did not board the Time Machine alone, but took Future Mayushii’s adopted war orphan daughter, Kagari.

In 1998, Suzuha and the 11-year-old Kagari were separated in Akiba, meaning in the present she’s a 22-year-old woman. Suzuha has been busy searching for her, with no success. Daru relays this information to Okabe, along with a request to help with the search.

Okabe quickly agrees, and when Amakurisu gets word of his task, she offers to search the vast networks she has access to in order to assist him. He pockets that offer for now, not wanting himself or Amakurisu to get into any unnecessary trouble (doing what she proposed may not be legal, strictly speaking).

After a flashback to 1998 when Kagari pulled a gun on Suzu in order to stop her from changing the future (the one in which her mother Mayushii lived), we’re back in the present, where Okabe asks Rukako and Feyris (who both grew up in Akiba) to put feelers out about a girl.

Feyris gets back to him about a “ghost with braids” asking people about a lost little girl (obviously Suzuha), but nothing concrete about Kagari. As Okabe is receiving Feyris’ call, he spots Dr. Leskinen turning a corner, but when he follows him he hits a dead end of boxes. Weird.

When Okabe returns to the lab, Daru has called someone he apparently knows who may have information for them. While waiting for this person to arrive, Okabe gets a call from Rukako with an urgent request to come meet him at his house, and no other time will do.

Then there’s a knock on the door, and who should be on the other end but Kiryuu Moeka, the sight of whom triggers all of the awful dealings Okabe had with her in other world lines. Oddly, I knew with some certainty that it would be her, partly because there was just something off about the suddenness of Daru’s connection.

Of course, this may not be a Killer Kiryuu…but from the glimpse of the hair of Rukako’s guest, it’s pretty clear her assistance isn’t needed to find Kagari…Kagari is that guest. All Okabe has to do is go to Rukako’s and he’s found her. The question is, will he be able to?

Steins Gate – 25 (OVA)

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As anyone who’s read my nearly five-year-late reviews of Steins;Gate, you’ll know it’s my favorite show, and I really enjoyed the ending, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see more. A fun and serious peril-free epilogue was indicated, and sure enough, its what we got with this extra episode, which takes place two months after Okabe changes the power structure of the world and runs into a grateful and very knowing Kurisu in Akiba.

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It also takes place in America; L.A. specifically, though on this the episode falters a bit with Okabe getting into some somewhat forced trouble with the TSA and later with some random cops. Granted, he’s acting pretty weird for someone not in his home country. And I must convey serious props to Kurisu’s choice of American wheels: a ’59 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz. Like those stitches she applied to Okabe’s coat, it’s pink and memorable.

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She drives her fellow Lab Members to her personal hotel suite and they proceed to treat it pretty much exactly like the lab in Akiba, even taking the same positions and engaging in the same activities. Routine daily habits are hard to break, even abroad!

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Kurisu deposits them at the best lodging they can afford, and the members let their imaginations run wild. Combined with the fact they can’t quite figure who will sleep in which room, Kurisu decides she’ll stay there with them.

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There, at night when everyone else is asleep we get a better idea of what exactly happened with Kurisu (over a DIET Dr. Pepper. AMERICA). She has dreams about things that happened, which happen to be some of her more memorable moments with Okabe, like cheering him up, or stitching that coat. They’re only dreams to her, but Okabe tells her they’re real, which makes it harder for her to bring up the fact she’s also dreamed of them confessing to one another and kissing.

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Prior to that scene in the (surprisingly not too shabby) motel room, Kurisu had been her usual tsundere self, having even told Mayushii Okabe didn’t have to come to America, as if testing to see whether he’d listen to such nonsense. At the Rai-Net tournament Feyris invited them too (at Staples Center; nice) we finally see Kurisu wearing something other than her hot pants-and-cardigan combo; the same maid outfit as Feyris and Mayushii. It’s blatant fanservice, and somewhat random, but who cares? The whole episode is a thank you to the fans for watching.

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And it only gets better. Kurisu lets on that she intends to forget all of the weird memory-dreams she’s been having, since they’re not pertinent to the current world line. Okabe tells her it’s fine, but he’s clearly miffed. Then he spots Suzuha getting into a Mustang and has a cab followe her. Turns out it’s Suzuha’s mom, who in another world line met Daru at the Rai-Net tournament, fell in love, and had a daughter in seven years. Another neat little thread.

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But his desperate chase cost him all but 67 cents of his cash, and his phone battery is dead, so Okabe must return to civilization on foot. He does seem like a dude who can’t be left alone lest he get himself into trouble, doesn’t he? Especially abroad.

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Lucky for him, he’s rarely alone, and Kurisu arrives on her proud, pink steel steed to rescue him, just as he once rescued her in another time.

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S;G has always been pretty stingy with color, other than its cobalt sky. But for this final, wonderful scene, the sun sets and fills the frame with gorgeous hues; the perfect backdrop for some straight talk between the lovebirds. When pressed, Okabe admits, he told her he loved her in another world line, and she him. More than that, he still loves her, and always will, no matter which world line he’s in. Just to be clear, he repeats himself, and asks her how she feels.

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And in what’s pretty much a perfect end to an imperfect but still immensely fun epilogue, Kurisu proceeds to respond the exact same way she did the first time Okabe confessed: by telling him to close his eyes. They’re in the desert at sundown with a car with no gas, but I suspect these two crazy kids are going to be just fine.

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Next Week, I review Steins;Gate the Movie: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu.

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 – 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 – 12

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steins Gate – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 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 – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steins Gate – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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