Steins;Gate 0 – 21 – Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Lab Members

Thanks to Maho’s improvements, the time leap machine can send Rintarou back 336 hours instead of 48. It’s truly a case of Salieri surpassing Mozart. But he’ll still need to make three thousand such jumps to return to 2011 in order to foil Leskinen, Stratfor, and Durpa and get Mayuri and Suzuha safely off in the time machine on the roof.

That’s a lot of jumps, but Rintarou is committed. Nobody in 2036 particularly likes how things turned out (Rukako has bought it, and soon all of them will), so they’re all for him changing the world if he can. The first jump goes well, but it and many many more after it will require that Rintarou wake up after a long coma.

He gets better and better at convincing Amadeus that he’s indeed from the future, and each time, his friends send him on his way. He even gets to see Lil’ Suzuha! Eventually, he reaches the time where two weeks earlier he’ll no longer have Valkyrie HQ to rely on to time leap.

It’s the day he’s captured, tortured, and allegedly killed. However, things go differently this time, as Amakurisu suggests he uninstall her program and ditch all other tech the enemy is using to track him, while all of his friends act as decoys.

The Leskinen of that time knows he’s lost this round, while the Daru of that time and everyone else sees Rintarou off as he…well, he kinda runs all the way back to 2011. Not sure how that happened, actually, but I’m assuming he didn’t actually run back in time, but managed to escape the enemy and find another means of time leaping.

In any case, when he returns, he’s indistinguishable from the Rintarou of that time, so Maho and Daru think nothing of him showing up in the lab. However, he demands that one of them punch him for being such a whiny little bitch for so long, and Daru does just that.

Daru had no way of knowing what his right hook (or whatever; not a boxing expert) would lead to…the Awakening of Hououin Kyouma from a deep slumber. It took twenty and a half episodes, but we finally get to hear that ridiculous mad scientist laugh. It’s a sight for sore ears.

Not ten seconds after awakening, he’s giving Maho a nickname (“loli girl”) and a weird alternate name (“Safina”). He also dubs her Lab Member 009 and calls an all-hands meeting of the other members, who are just as happy as Daru that their Fearless Leader Kyouma is back.

Maho eventually gets it too: this “Kyouma” fellow has charisma, and rather than dragging everyone and the mood down, he’s galvanizing it. And yet, the same old Rintarou dwells within him, it’s just that he’s done running and cowering, and whining. It’s time for ACTION.

After meeting with the lab members, Kyouma talks with Ferdinand Braun downstairs and makes a number of arrangements roughly a half-hour before Akiba became a war zone in the other timelines. This time, the woman in black with the helmet isn’t Kagari, it’s Moeka, who is on Kyouma’s side in this World Line. Talk about an awesome reveal.

Yep, it sure looks like Hououin Kyouma was the missing variable in the formula to foil Leskinen’s plans and ensure Operation Arclight went off without a hitch. It’s a triumphant, righteous moment. It doesn’t last long.

Even though Mayuri and Suzuha get in the time machine and set off far earlier than previous times, that damned attack helicopter still peeks out from behind a building, launches its missile, and destroys the machine in front of Kyouma and Moeka.

Apparently, not enough conditions were met to avoid the convergence. Clearly it’s not enough to neutralize Kagari and Leskinen; something has to be done about the helicopter. I feel bad for Rintarou having to start all over again right after his grand awakening, but no one ever said changing the world was easy or pleasant.

Steins;Gate 0 – 20 – The Darkest Timeline

Something went terribly wrong during Rintarou’s second attempt. As a result, he wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future where Akiba is in ruins, roving soldiers will shoot you as soon as look at you, and that gorgeous blue sky Steins;Gate is known for is nowhere to be seen. Worse still, Rintarou has never looked weaker or more haggard; not exactly the person you expect to be able to do anything about this situation.

Fortunately for him, he still has friends in this timeline. For someone like Suzuha, who grew up in this shit, she seems right at home. But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to a skinny Daru, not to mention Feyris and Rukako going commando (and by that I mean actually becoming commandos, not going without underwear). It’s your prototypical Dark Future, where everyone’s just trying to survive.

It’s tragic, then, that Rukako meets his end just as Rintarou wakes up, dying in Rintarou’s arms serving as a proverbial glass of cold water in the face. Losing Kurisu, Kagari, Mayuri, and now Rukako, Rintarou knows he can’t just sit around satisfied he’s still alive.

His body may be 2036, but his mind is 2011, and so he’s still got enough hope left in that head to make yet another go at finding the Steins Gate. Daru and Maho have managed to keep the Time Leap Machine in working order; he tells them to get it ready. Frankly, I can’t blame the guy: I wouldn’t want to spend one minute longer than I had to in such a drab hell.

Any future would be better than this one…unless of course he manages to find one that’s even worse, where rather than still having some his beloved friends around, he’s completely alone, and without the means to ever time leap again. I’m hoping he can score some kind of a win with his next attempt.

Steins;Gate 0 – 19 – First Attempt

In response to the shock of the evening’s events that have led to the destruction of the time machine, the recriminations fly between Rintarou, Daru and Maho. All of a sudden, Rintarou demands that Daru and Maho finish the Time Leap Machine so he can go back and try to undo what’s been done.

This leads Maho to admit that, at present, she doesn’t have the know-how to discover the secrets of machine by herself in time (it will only go back about 48 hours). That means having to sacrifice her desired quest to attain the same answers as Kurisu, and instead just be given the answers by Rintarou.

Considering the stakes and the tiny window of time they have to work with, it’s the only choice she could have made, though it sets aside her scientific pursuits and just getting the thing built ASAP, it cements her role as an official Lab Member, working together as a team.

While Rintarou verifys that there were no remains of Mayuri and Suzuha— suggesting they may not be dead—the time leap machine construction proceeds anyway, seeing as how there’s far too much uncertainty about the fate of the two young women to simply sit back and do nothing. (We don’t learn anything more about the nature of Mayuri’s text, or whether it was a D-mail).

Feyris and Ruka do their part keeping the machine-building team fed and refreshed as they work tirelessly for the next 48-odd hours, successfully hacking into CERN and even getting Tennouji to switch on the 42″ CRT downstairs. Rintarou observes that the lab is suddenly a lot “livelier” and more fun than it had been in a long time. It’s just too bad Mayuri isn’t there to see it.

But enough “too bads”; it’s time for action. After waking up and mistaking Maho’s sun-bathed black hair for Kurisu’s red locks, Rintarou gathers the troops, an in a speech (that unfortunately doesn’t devolve into the chuunibyou intensity of Hououin Kyouma), thanks everyone for their hard work, including Amadeus, who blushes when he calls her Kurisu.

With that, the Phone Microwave (Temporary Name) Unit-02 is activated, and Rintarou leaps two about two days before the shit hit the fan (July 7). With so little time having passed since his origin, Rintarou has little trouble convincing Daru and Maho that he is indeed from the future, and they need to get to work deleting Leskinen’s data to preempt his move against them.

Rintarou also arrives at the rooftop of the Radio building a full hour earlier than “last time”, and rather than getting shot by Suzuha, Mayuri is successful in convincing him not to stop her from carrying out Operation Arclight – going back to August 21st and convincing him not to give up on searching for the Steins Gate.

Unfortunately, Judy Reyes, Kagari, and Leskinen interfere earlier than last time. Suzu and Rintarou are able to subdue Judy (who apparently represents DURPA), but Kagari and Leskinen appear shortly thereafter. Thankfully, this time we don’t have to sit and listen to him explain his plan and laugh like a Bond villain.

Suzu and Mayuri seal themselves in the Time Machine and it begins to activate…but Leskinen calls his air support to fire a missle at the machine, and Rintarou is right back where he started. His purpose for going back—saving Mayuri, Suzuha, and Kagari—has failed, and he fears that like saving Mayuri in the Alpha World Line, there may be no way to save the time machine in the Beta.

However, there’s no reason he can’t go back to the lab, have Daru and Maho finish the machine, and leap back again—and that’s exactly what he does. s he said in his speech before his first attempt, he’s prepared to fail dozens, hundreds, thousands, even a million times, but he won’t give up as long as he has the means to continue. Maho tells him to tell all her counterparts he meets that she promises to help for as long as it takes.

However, something strange happens after his second attempt: there seems to be a longer delay before he actually leaps, and the screen that displays the date and time for us suddenly stops a July 6 and cracks. That doesn’t bode well for having a third attempt, let alone thousands more…not to mention there are only four episodes remaining.

Steins;Gate 0 – 11 – WWIII Averted…For Now

The shadowy guy whom Maho hired to analyze Makise’s laptop turns out to be…Daru, working out of the back room of a cosplay store. He still needs three days to complete his work, but after telling her the whole story about the time machine and the horrors the secrets within the computer may unleash, Rintarou manages to convince Maho to destroy it.

Before they can, the “wrong hands” in which it would be so dangerous arrive in force. Daru has an escape route worked out, but they’re still cornered in a dark alley and Maho is nabbed and has a knife placed against her throat. That they were able to find Daru’s hideout so soon, or were watching listening for just the right time to move in, is disconcerting, to say the least.

However, they must not have been listening in, because after some negotiations they’re willing to let Maho, and Daru walk away unharmed in exchange for the laptop. Rintarou briefly switches places with Maho as their hostage, but then another masked group arrives and opens fire, making sure the laptop is destroyed.

It’s doubtless a harrowing ordeal for Maho; she may have been held up along with the others at the lab, but no shots were fired. Here, had Rintarou not pushed her flat to the ground, she might’ve died. Back at the lab, she’s so out of it she doesn’t notice she’s clutching one remaining shard from the laptop in her hand so tightly it’s drawing blood.

Rintarou takes Maho to Feyris’ to clean up, but the trauma from the shootout has a more pronounced effect than she thought, and after all that tension, every muscle in her body goes limp, making her practically a helpless doll. And just as Rintarou once walked in on Kurisu, he ends up facing Maho just as her towel falls off. The universe is keen to make him suffer, but also to make him accidentally see his love interests in the nude.

That night, Maho asks Rintarou to stay by her bedside a little longer, and he happily obliges. Returning to her Mozart-Salieri narrative, after hearing from Rintarou about the possibility she might “disgrace the dead” by unlocking Kurisu’s laptop’s secrets, Maho admits to herself that it wasn’t just a matter of honoring her friend’s legacy, but trying to subconsciously exorcise the frustration she felt.

Not just frustration over not being able to achieve the things Kurisu did, mind you, but frustration over the mere fact she’s so concerned about her as a rival; Mozart, she says, never wasted a moment concerned with Salieri; he only made great music (and drank and gambled…it’s all in the movie).

Rintarou disputes the similarities between the two pairs of gifted people from vastly different times. He’s convinced that Maho loved Kurisu and would never disgrace her. It’s why she agreed to break the laptop, it’s why she shed tears and apologized, and it’s why she clutched the fragment so tightly.

It’s such a quiet, tender scene filled with mutual respect and affection, with Mamoru Miyano wonderfully modulating Rintarou’s voice to a caring hush, matching the vulnerability of Yahagi Sayuri’s Maho. Very nice work here.

After Rintarou and Maho’s lovely night together, she and Leskinen head back to America, but not before inviting him to Viktor Chrondria University whenever he can make it. So it’s not goodbye, merely see ya later for the couple. That probably makes both Leskinen and Amakurisu happy; Ama also fully intends to see and hear from Rintarou again, expressing Kurisu’s tsundere mode.

Rintarou is also able to convince Suzuha that they’ve avoided a potentially WWIII-starting clash between America and Russia (the two powers he suspected he and Maho were caught between), though Suzu remains skeptical that they’ve eliminated the only cause of the war, only one of them. And she’s most likely right.

One of the last scenes is of Maho’s colleague Judy Reyes aboard a flight, hiding…something in her lap. Was she one of the masked people in black? Could it be salvageable remnants of the laptop? Whatever it is, it’s clear Rintarou’s work is far from done. Meanwhile Mayushii seems to harbor some conflicting feelings about Okarin leaving for America to join Leskinen, Maho, and the digital Kurisu.

Steins;Gate 0 – 10 – Kurisu’s Salieri

Amadeus is a fantastic movie with a good old-fashioned fatal flaw in its co-protagonist: caring too much. Salieri could hear God through Mozart’s music but not in his own, and it drove the guy mad, especially since he worked and prayed so hard, while everything seemed to come all to easily and naturally to Mozart (or at least it seemed that way to him).

I like how Steins;Gate 0 references that film, and the historical figures behind it, as a kind of loose parallel for Kurisu and Hiyajou Maho. Maho doesn’t claim to have anywhere near the obsession Salieri had, but can’t deny she’s always measured her life and accomplishments against her departed kohai.

She’s also a grinder, which explains how terrible a mess she makes at Feyris’ place (though she has a bodyguard in Kiryu contributing to the mess). When Mayushii is invited over, she brings “Sergeant Clean” Nae with her along with Daru to whip the place into shape.

Maho is asked to leave the apartment so they can clean more efficiency, and that’s when she’s able to present the newly-rebooted Amakurisu to Rintarou, who for his part is ready to “move forward” and regard her as a distinct AI and not Kurisu Reborn.

After that, Feyris hosts a sleepover with Maho and Kiryuu, and Maho learns Kiryuu is writing a novel, and also believes she’s “not special in any way” and imminently replaceable. Maho tells her none of that is true; that she shouldn’t belittle herself so easily; or compare herself to others and go through life feeling inferior and…oops, that’s exactly what she’s done with Kurisu. She backs off.

That night, Maho seems to resolve herself to moving forward, just as Rintarou said he wanted to do. They go on a date by any other name to Akiba, where she geeks out both on obscure computer parts (the district’s original function) and racing games (part of its newer identity). Rintarou even wins her an @channel plushie.

The fun day takes a turn for the solemn when Maho says it’s her intention to visit the Radio Building where Kurisu died, perhaps to find some kind of closure. Rintarou accompanies her, and when Maho laments that humans can move around the axes of space, they’re prisoners of time. If only we could move through time’s axes as well, she wonders, but Rintarou, speaking from experience, tells her they still wouldn’t be able to change anything.

Maho is no dummy, and can tell there are a lot of things about Rintarou and his relationship with Kurisu he’s not telling her. Even so, she can sense he’s somehow working to protect her (and Mayushii) and seeing him struggling alone makes her want to support him in some way. To that end, she informs him she has “Kurisu’s legacy”—her notebook, likely containing all of her time machine research. She doesn’t know the login password, so she hasn’t been able to access it yet, but has reached out to a “trusted” party to analyze it.

This news makes Rintarou turn white as a sheet and adopt his “extremely freaked out” face. He calls that notebook a Pandora’s Box that should never be opened, and could well lead to World War III. Considering her lab was ransacked and she was present for an attack by people they still haven’t identified, Rintarou’s words don’t seem to sound like the ravings of a madman to Maho. They shouldn’t—he knows what he’s talking about.

Steins;Gate 0 – 09 – Peaceful for All Eternity?

After the powerhouse of Steins;Gate 0’s episode 8, episode 9 had some big shoes to fill. Would Okabe find himself back in the Beta world line where he had been, in which Kurisu was dead but Mayuri was alive? If so, what if anything would have changed as a result of his visit? What fresh emotional torment would be in store for our most Promethean Mad Scientist?

When Okabe wakes up in the hospital, the show milks the suspense, as there’s no one in his room or in the hallway at first. Just hearing Mayuri’s voice and seeing her there with Daru and Maho warmed my weary heart. He asks them if they know the name Makise Kurisu; Mayuri says she does; she’s the girl in Amadeus.

So he’s back in Beta. Strangely, in this world line both he and Mayuri’s cosplay friend Nakase lost consciousness at the exact same time. Nakase had a dream where Mayuri was gone and she was working with Feyris in the cafe. I guess she traveled to the Alpha along with Okabe…either that, or they’re soulmates (as Kurushima muses).

Amadeus is safe from “takeover” for the time being, but that could change without warning. Okabe still needs to find out what happened, and vows to protect this Beta line that has and alive-and-well Mayuri in it alive and well.

That means putting the apparently non-evil Moeka busy with sleuthing (her nearly wordless visit to the lab and text convo with Okabe was vintage Moeka), as well as leaving Maho in the safety of Feyris’ well-protected home.

Okabe is about to get to work trying to discover who raided the lab and what they wanted (besides Kagari) when he gets a text from Suzuha saying she needs to talk. I somehow knew it wasn’t going to be a friendly chat, and when Suzuha pulls a gun on Okabe, I’m proven right.

Suzu is in a desperate state, especially when Okabe confirms that there was a world line change, even if brief and temporary. The earthquakes (and possibly the fevers and collapses that have been going around) are most likely the result of Russia and America’s “time machine race”, which will lead to WWIII.

Suzuha can’t allow that to happen, and is ready to force Okabe to get in the time machine with her so they can travel back to July 28th, when he first learned he could send D-mail.

Okabe tells her the torment and the nightmare that awaited him once he started trying to toy with the past to affect the future, and warns her that forcing him to do it all over again does not guarantee anything; if anything, it could result in a future somehow worse than the one she knows and is so afraid of repeating.

Ultimately, Daru comes in to talk Suzuha down. I can’t blame her for acting as she did, as she considers herself one of the last people standing in the path of WWII occurring. But perhaps she’s over-inflating her role: as Okabe says, there’s only so much they as humans can do to influence things. The universe is most likely going to have its way, no matter what they do.

After the rooftop standoff, Okabe goes back to Tennouji for more clues and insight on who was behind the lab raid. “DURPA” and “Stratfor” are names he researches, and a Makise Kurisu in his head helps him out. For instance, no group could steal future time machine tech to build their own time machine without causing a massive paradox.

Meanwhile, Suzuha and Daru settle in for a night guarding the Time Machine, with Daru assuring his daughter that one day Okabe will be reborn as the delusional chuuni Hououin Kyouma, take command, and lead them all to the ideal future. It exhibits great deal of confidence in his friend.

Having calmed down some, Suzu brings up their critical fuel situation, which will only allow them one or two jumps of half a year. It could even result in them getting caught between world lines for all eternity, though she wonders if that would really be the worst thing if it means things could be as (relatively) peaceful as they presently are; an eternal calm, and never any storm.

Okabe checks in on Maho at Feyris’ and discovers how messy Maho can be when she’s hard at work researching. Okabe posits that the groups trying to acquire time travel are after Kurisu’s theory, which may well be contained in the memories used by Amadeus.

Maho refutes that, but also stares at a login screen with Kurisu’s name. What secrets lie beyond that security wall…and is that wall any match for the powers that desire her secrets?

Steins;Gate 0 – 01 – In Which the Steins;Gate is Never Achieved (First Impressions)

Are we having fun yet

What if, at the end of episode 23 of Steins;Gate, Okabe, his coat still stained with Kurisu’s blood, didn’t get slapped by Mayushii, or told by Suzuha he had to fail once in order to unlock the video message on his phone, and thus never heard about Operation Skuld. In short, what if he never saved Kurisu? That’s where Steins;Gate 0 starts. It bypasses the happy ending of the 2011 anime.

Instead of slapping him, Mayushii gave Okabe a comforting hug, and from that point on there would be no more jumping between world lines, no more Hououin Kyouma, and no more Future Gadget Lab. Okabe goes back to college and settles into the life of a “full-fledged normal.” But in the distant future, on the same world line as the present day, WWIII is raging as Suzuha warned.

Familiar faces and places, but a far more somber mood

The same circle of friends remains, but Okabe sees less of them, partly due to college, and partly, perhaps, to avoid situations that will worsen his already fragile grip on sanity. Simply putting one foot in front of the other seems to be a challenge for him.

An encounter with Mayushii eventually leads to the whole gang getting back together at the lab, where Itaru is doing his usual thing, only with his daughter Suzuha around, nagging him to build the damn time machine already.

But there’s the distinct feeling things aren’t quite the same, they never will be, and it’s due in large part because Kurisu is gone, and because Okabe was the one who accidentally killed her, as if his hand were guided by that indelible fate.

Mad Scientist no more

When going to the bathroom Okabe encounters Suzuha (who was hiding from her future-mother Yuka), and the two go to the roof. Suzuha hasn’t given up, and reiterates that if nothing is done, the world line they’re in will be destroyed by war and billions will die.

Her memory of that hellish future is still clear as day, judging by her horrified reaction to something one hears dozens of times every day in a peaceful city: an airplane cruising overhead.

Okabe hears her, but he doesn’t believe there’s anything more he can do. No matter how many world lines he drifts through, the overarching constant is that he only has the power to change or control so much, and the rest is in the “domain of god.” Whatever he does, the universe will self-correct. There may be no stopping WWIII from happening. Suzuha hopes he’ll reconsider.

Trying to live life in a forward direction, but his trauma is never far behind

But Okabe is on a new path, and saving the world (at least that way) isn’t a part of that path. Neither is visiting the lab as much as he once did. Mayushii notes that it felt good for everyone to be there, but that there are times that she feels so lonely there she could cry, even though Itaru is there (and when he wasn’t, she waited for Kyouma countless times).

Okabe knows a part of her must sense that Kurisu is the missing piece, but insists that she, he and Daru were the only ones ever in the lab. But that’s a lie.

While having drinks with other college students and professors, Okabe suddenly has a vision of Kurisu’s demise and runs outside, ready to hurl. Like Mayushii, he can feel her loss, and because he blames himself, it’s all the more visceral, constantly tugging at him.

“Legal Chibi FTW”, as Daru would probably say

And if he feels Makise Kurisu the person is permanently gone from his life, her legacy lives on in the scientific world, as he witnesses first hand attending the Akihabara Techno Forum lecture on the “AI Revolution” being given by the chief researcher of the Brain Science Institute of the college Kurisu used to attend.

There, he meets the very diminutive, but definitely 21-year-old, Hiyajo Maho, who not only also works at the BSI, but to his surprise, serves as the English-speaking chief’s interpreter for the largely Japanese audience. (Kiryuu Moeka is there too, someone Okabe no doubt wants nothing to do with).

As it turns out, the march of progress did not stop with Kurisu’s untimely death. Her scientific colleagues have used her ingenious theories on preserving memories as data to develop an artificial intelligence system unlike any other—an AI with human feelings and memories…with a heart. That system is called Amadeus…and its reveal scares the daylights out of Okabe.

Having gotten the happy ending I all but demanded back in its original run, this new Steins;Gate is a welcome opportunity to explore a darker path on Okabe & Co.’s journey. S;G didn’t let me down before, and I have no reason to fear it will let me down here either, so I’m ready to dive deeper in to what Suzuha calls “the worst world line imaginable,” quoting her dad, future-Daru.

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 – 22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10_brav2RABUJOI World Heritage List