Thank goodness, the humor is back in Steins;Gate, even if it’s been suitably scaled back to reflect the gravity of the situation. But I definitely know the way I’m going to introduce myself the next time I’m in Akihabara:
“Hello, I am mad scientist. So cool. Sonuvabitch!”
Although things are still pretty grim, this episode felt slightly less dark and depressing than the last few. It was a breather episode, for starters. As usual it was Makise who calmly thought of the best short-term plan to maximize our heroes’ chances to effect a change in circumstance – go back 5 hours to the creation of the time machine, then use it to go back the maximum 48 more, thus giving Okarin the maximum 53 hours to organize countermeasures to Moeka and SERN.
But it also felt less grim because the lab members were finally fighting back – hesitatingly, somewhat blindly, but not on the frantic defensive run that Okarin had been the last few episodes. The change in tone was subtle, but definitely present, and that was what allowed a little of the humor this show is so good at to re-enter the picture (such as when Okarin made his grand announcement of his @channel identity). Not coincidentally the lighting itself was brighter as well, even a glimpse of blue sky showing through – just compare the screencaps to what the last two eps looked like if you don’t believe it.
In terms of exposition and speculation, at this precise moment you can either take Suzuha at her word or not. For the sake of argument – and lacking strong evidence to the contrary – let’s do so for now. So what do we know? She came from the future (2036) in a kind of dystopian nightmare (anime loves those) where SERN rules the world with an iron fist. She intended to go back to 1975 and find an IBN 5100, to hack into SERN to prevent Okarin’s initial D-Mail from triggering their time travel search engines (powered by Google), thus hopefully preventing them from every developing a time machine. She stopped in 2010 to find the Dad she’d never met, who developed a time machine independently from SERN and willed it to her. Okarin founded a resistance, invented the divergence meter, and also died before 2036 – without ever meeting Suzuha. The time machine landed on top of the Radio Kaikan building in 201 by mistake, but worked at the time. It’s since been broken – possibly by lighting or flooding.
So where does that leave us? Counterattack. Daru works on fixing Suzuha’s Dad’s machine while Makise completes the original memory time machine (which still needs to actually be built for Okarin to use in 48 hours). Meanwhile Maysuhi takes it on herself to try and find Suzuha’s father – with some eventual help from Okarin and Suzuha herself – with nothing to go on but the fake name “Barrel Titor” and some sort of pin badge. All of the scenes involving that hunt were delightfully relaxing, not least because it was such a relief not to be consumed with Mayushi’s death for a little while. Her preposterous “kidnap flyer” scheme was a classic of absurdity.
So that’s what we know and where we are – but what do we suspect? The hinting that Daru is Suzuha’s father could hardly have been stronger, which lends an ironically humorous tinge to his ecchi comments to her. He recognized the tech in her time machine, for one – indeed, seemed quite at home working on it considering the technology is from the future. There were lots of long, lingering close-ups of his face when he was speaking to Suzuha. And most obviously, Mayushi – who makes up in perception what she lacks in book smarts – pointed out how natural they looked together. It fits in every way – the timing, the location, even the pathos and poetry of the situation. If Daru isn’t Suzuha’s Dad that would constitute a surprise for me, at this point. I’m even very open to the idea that Feyris-tan could be her mother.
This really is an outstanding show, and adept at transitioning between different moods beautifully. It would work strictly as a fun intellectual puzzle, but the fact that the characters are some of the best in anime this year makes it something special. I’ve come to like and care for all of them, and it was nice to see them take a hesitant step back from the brink of despair, at least for a week. The battle is truly joined now, it seems, and I expect the rest of the series to be a fast-paced and often difficult experience. With that in mind, every peaceful moment and razor-sharp bit of comic dialogue should be appreciated to the fullest.