At some point, excitement hits a point of diminishing returns. Any good narrative needs to know when to take a little break and give the audience a chance to breathe. Or else, little by little, consequences start to loose their impact and you risk making viewers Jared and too exhausted to care.
I have had an uneasy feeling that Steins;Gate 0 was going down that exact path as it seems too restless to just stand still for a moment. Not to mention that the attempts at filler have been by far the weakest part of the series.
So it was with mixed feelings that I watched the first half of episode 11, in which Maho and Okabe visit the hacker in his hideout which turns out to be Daru. After an emotionally tense conversation they decide to reveal everything to the tiny scientist in what should have been a pivotal plot point. We see Maho having to come to grips with the reality that time travel is in fact possible and that Kurisu’s laptop may hold to key to unlocking its mysteries. Shift her perception to understand that she may have an option to save the life of her beloved friend and then immediately squash that unexpected glimmer of hope when the crazy guy she kind of likes tells her any attempt to change the past would be disastrous.
That right there is an entire episode in its own right. Maybe a couple. Not only is it a lot to ask a character to adjust to this brave new world all at once, but the greater implications of Maho having this knowledge are potentially huge. Once again Steins;Gate 0 was throwing a whole lot at us and I couldn’t help but tally up the loose plot strands in my head. So….no one’s gonna discuss the second Reading Steiner. Okie dokie.
I would have debated the wisdom of overstuffing yet another episode but before I could, what seemed to be a heavily arm black ops team burst into Daru’s hideout forcing them all to escape out of a window and parkour their way across the town only to be quickly caught in a back alley. It seems the invaders are after the laptop and have no qualms in using violence to get it. Luckily, just as the bad guys attempt to make off with Kurisu’s data, a second heavily armed group of masked intruders unleashes a hail of bullets into the fray, wounding the would be thieves, destroying the laptop and giving our heroes a chance to escape. In case you’re wondering we are about halfway through the episode.
At this point I was going to call my review: Between a rock and a hard place. The appearance of two seperate, obviously dangerous antagonist groups that seemingly have nothing to do with SERN (who are still a potential threat) was kind of exciting I admit, I thought of focusing the review on that. I would have expounded on the comical subversion of making this little team of out of shape nerds into action stars. Discussed a bit the unbalanced presentation which to me robbed the earlier revelations to Maho of their impact and left me concentrating almost entirely on the attack.
That’s not a bad thing mind you. It’s normal that such spectacular events would push everything else out of your mind. The same thing is happening to the characters after all. But I still had 10 or so minutes to go…
As usual, Steins;Gate 0 is completely immune to my expectations.
The second half had to slow down almost out of necessity. A wounded Okabe and Maho return to Faris’s to tend to their injuries while Daru heads to another hideout. Eventually they will need to tell everyone what happened…or maybe not. After all why risk bringing up more questions that they can’t answer?
The rundown of the episode was a release of tension in every way.
The focus shifted on a numb and hollow Maho, simply trying to piece reality back together. Finding the whole ordeal unsustainable now that the adrenaline was gone. A somewhat clumsy but still cute fanservicy bathroom scene served to loosen the audience and lighten the mood. Everything slowed to a crawl. By the way, do any of you guys do that as well: find that your hands get frozen in a certain position due to stress? It’s only happened once or twice in my life, but I remember a particularly traumatic time where I had to sign a bunch of documents and I found I couldn’t seem to let go of the pen. I had to use my other hand to pry my fingers open. It doesn’t hurt and only lasts about a minute but it’s an eerie little detail that spoke volumes to me as Maho struggled and failed to open her hand in order to show Okabe the small computer shard she had retrieved.
The final episode arc felt like an end and a rebirth. Maho and her team are returning to America and taking Amadeus with them. Everyone said goodbye once again at the airport. Okabe’s line to Kurisu: “how many times have I said goodbye to you” held such a painfully meaningful note and was delivered with such tenderness, that I couldn’t help but smile.
The show also seems to be toying with us again. They’ve hinted at Yuki’s possible involvement with the mysterious assault team last time we saw them as well. She never seems to be around when these incidents happen. This time, the camera blatantly lingered on her bandaged hand while inking, pointing and going: hu HUH! (oh – the girl baddy sustained an injury on her wrists during the shootout in case you missed that). But then, in classic Steins;Gate – why settle for one twist when you can have 17 – fashion, the episode also heavily suggested that it could have been Judy.
DONE WITH THE RECAP NOW I WAX THEORETICAL:
Why did I switch my title to Anti-thesis, and why add the unnecessary hyphen? Well the hyphen is just an eccentricity, I still mean essentially the same thing as antithesis, but I also wanted to draw a parallel to research papers as such scientific thesis are so central to the story of Steins;Gate. Guys, this is as fancy as I get so humor me, will ya?
As for the greater meaning, to me Steins;Gate 0 is doing something both very unusual and somewhat risky. It’s thematically destroying its own foundations by deconstructing most of the basic tropes established by the original series. It’s slowly and subtly going back on everything it’s supposed to be.
Steins;Gate was about accepting who you are in order to become the best possible version of yourself. Steins;Gate 0 is about learning to grow and adapt and change. Steins;Gate celebrated determination, defying the rules of space and time, stubbornly refusing to give up even if it means reshaping reality. Steins;Gate 0 is about learning to let go, to grieve and move on and find balance within reality. Steins;Gate was an epic love story with fated soul mates. Steins;Gate 0 takes the classic romance trope of impossibly separated lovers who nevertheless have an incredibly slim chance of reuniting, and inserts a potential new interest. A GREAT one. Just as suited and perfect as a potential partner as the one we were suppose to root for. Just as deserving and likale. That’s a big no no for the genre. I mean, your viewers are obviously going to riot if you mess with their precious perfect love. How dare you suggest it wasn’t completely unique and irreplaceable.
Steins;Gate was about the limitless potential of technology and human ingenuity. Steins;Gate 0 is about the fragile boundaries of the human spirit and respect for natural order.
Sure, I may be reading into it more than what was intended. I do that – I write a blog about anime… And sure, the quality and success of the execution is up for debate. However, I have to be impressed by a sequel that has the guts to completely upend the very nostalgia everyone accuses it of being reliant on.
I think I got a few great pics, I wish I would have found a spot for them: