I think it’s pretty safe to assume most people are going to consider this a mediocre episode by Steins;Gate standards – as high as those are – but I’m going to disagree for a number of reasons. Maybe I’ve become so attached to this show that I’ve lost some of my critical edge, or maybe I’m biased because the Adorable Trap-Miko is back – but I thought this was yet another very strong effort.
First of all, with only six episodes to go the opportunities for the kind of light-hearted and banter and character humor we saw here are going to be as rare as they were during July’s epic run – and not many shows do those things as well as S;G does. Frankly, it was great fun to see a lighter episode in tone and of course, that matters only because the comedy totally worked – for me anyway. There were so many great little moments – Okarin’s “Actually, that was pretty cute!” The death flag discussion with Kurisu. The ramen shop owner scowling in the background when Kurisu was horrified at the idea of taking a date there. Okarin’s strangled “Peter Brady” voice during the awkward conversation at the café.
The other major reason I thought this ep succeeded is that it was surprisingly successful – more so than the Feyris-tan ep last week I thought – at showing the human cost of this time manipulation that Okarin is doing. And being the good person that he is, seeing Ruka suffer as (s)he does here is brutal for him. In a way he’s forcing Ruka to make an even bigger sacrifice than the one Feyris made, in that she’ll be giving up her very identity and the possibility of being with the person she loves. On the surface, the whole date premise was a classic comedy set piece, and indeed it worked really well in that respect. But it was also an extended torture scene for Okarin, as he got a taste of what his scientific curiosity has unwittingly wrought.
The episode was revealing about the characters, and not just the simple fact that they’re seemingly all virgins (which busts the theory that Okarin slept with Feyris-nyan last week). Possibly the highlight of the episode was watching Kurisu obsess over the very notion of Okarin dating another girl while pretending not to care (which she seems to be getting worse and worse at). Not content to micromanage every aspect of the day from a first date how-to book, right down to shopping for Okarin’s date outfit from Uniqlo – no doubt wishing it were her own dream date with Okarin she was designing – she actually drags Daru along to follow them. And we got a chance to see Ruka in the spotlight for the longest stretch of the series. Boy or girl, Ruka is a kind and tortured soul – there was never any doubt (s)he would agree to send the D-mail. But the desperation of the moment actually gave girl Ruka the courage to go all Carpe Diem on Okarin, which was a sad irony indeed.
Of course, none of this was irrelevant to the plot, and it was all tied in rather nicely. I liked the simple reason given for the IBN 5100 being gone in this timeline – Ruka broke it. Presumably as a boy with much greater muscle mass (no matter how he looks) male Ruka won’t drop the 5100 and that’s the key. And it did indeed move the divergence meter – up to .523307, the highest it’s been for a while but not good enough. As Okarin said, there’s one more D-mail left, but this is the big enchilada. Presumably Moeka won’t be so easy to convince, and not knowing the contents of the mail it’s not as if Okarin can counteract it on his own.
And another fascinating question has emerged: just why is it that both Feyris and Ruka regained memories of the old timeline, even before the timelines themselves reverted? Is Okarin somehow able to share his Reading Steiner by touch? Is it the mere act of telling the person what happened that causes the memories to become confused, a kind of archetype of the collective unconscious hidden inside their brains waiting to be triggered? I suspect the answer to that question is going to be critical when we get around to solving the final puzzle, how to save Mayushi without sacrificing American Virgin.