There should be something to please everyone in this week’s Steins;Gate. It’s a near-perfect blend of the hard-core character drama of last week and the plot-driven intensity that marked the end of Suzuha’s arc.
Make no mistake, this episode was all about Okarin and Kurisu. If there were any doubt that the two were in love with each other – which frankly there shouldn’t have been – it was dispelled by both their words and actions this week. Their relationship progressed with a refreshing directness that’s terribly uncommon in anime. Okarin said he loved her, they kissed, they stepped back and discussed it, then kissed again. Even her usual tsundere barbs and his mad scientist role-play had no heart in them, it was plain to see. These two were made for each other, and neither of them could deny it any longer.
What added incredible drama is that all this played out under the cloud (somehow the rain was quite fitting) of the bombshell that Okarin dropped on Kurisu at the end of the last episode. Their conversation on the roof and in the stairwell was heartbreaking both for its hopelessness and for its selflessness. One got the sense that they were saying goodbye long before the scene at Akihabara Station later in the episode – the whole episode was their goodbye, and they wanted to share a little affection before the end came. Kurisu was quite right in pointing out that in all his trips to the past, Okarin was being numbed to the horrors he was seeing – that if the cycle were to continue unchecked, he’d lose himself altogether to madness and despair. Rather than allow that to happen Kurisu was more than willing to sacrifice herself for Mayuri, because in doing so she’d be saving Okarin too – and because, for once, the genius 18 year-old scientist wasn’t able to think of a way out. This was their last day together and they knew it, and as she heartbreakingly pointed out, she felt like railing at Einstein because her relative time was passing so quickly. In a different medium they no doubt would have done much more than kiss, but that can be left as implied here with no complaint from me.
The meaning of Okarin’s “The one I love the most” can be debated – I don’t think it says anything about his feelings for Mayuri except that his love for her is a different sort of love. I don’t doubt for a minute that if he could have sacrificed himself in Kurisu’s place Okabe would have, but that wasn’t an option, and both acted as the adults in the room and accepted the cruel fate that seemed inevitable. Okabe’s coping mechanism as he pressed the “Enter” key that would doom Kurisu and break his heart was to fall back into his mad scientist persona, and while it was undeniably pathetic it was more gut-wrenchingly sad than anything. Even Mayrui seemed to see through it – how much from real memory and how much pure empathy it’s hard to say. But she’d barely given Okabe permission to cry when Kurisu arrived breathless at the lab, just to tell Okabe she loved him too. The cherry on top of the tragedy was that she was too late to finish the statement, though he surely knew.
So now we’re left with two episodes to make sense of the mechanics of what happened, and what will happen now. The evidence is indisputable that the 1% barrier has been crossed, and the timelines have definitely been switched. Mayuri and Daru (presumably) have no memory of “Lab Member 004” and Okarin wants no part of the phone microwave anymore, repeating what would be the obvious moral lesson of this story if it were a simple one rather than the byzantine maze it is – life should be one go-around, no do-overs. But nothing is so straightforward on Steins;Gate, and when the phone rings it’s none other than Suzuha herself – returned from the year 2036 to tell Okabe that he needs to help her prevent WW III.
Implications there? Many, and confusing. The dystopia caused by SERN getting Kurisu’s tech and taking over the world presumably didn’t happen in this timeline. So what’s this WW III – is it not related to SERN? Certainly world wars can happen for other reasons, and someone – like Daru, for example – could certainly invent a time machine in the quarter-decade gap. Such a time machine might be a cause of the new world war – or it might simply be a means for Suzuha to come back and try to prevent it. But the fact that the root causes of the war can apparently be traced all the way back 25 years would seem to indicate time travel is a direct cause of the problem and not just a possible solution. Perhaps most importantly for our narrow focus, just what implications does this new reality have on the possibility that Kurisu might not be “fated” to die after all? In theory we don’t know if Kurisu’s death is one of those “watershed” events that’s integral to the Beta timeline in the same way Mayuri’s was to the Alpha – perhaps somewhere in there is the path to her salvation.
While all of that time stuff is fascinating, it’s still convoluted and impossible to nail down. What isn’t is the real, genuine and deep connection between Okabe and Kurisu in this episode. Their relationship has been one of the most interesting I’ve seen in any series for the way it’s developed over 22 episodes and for the amazing chemistry they have, and due to the strong writing and spectacular acting it was “consummated” as well as any anime relationship I can remember. Even if it hadn’t been under the cloud of tragedy it was, it still would have been a joy to watch those two drop all pretense and accept each other’s love. This was yet another stellar offering from S;G, and makes a perfect bookend to last week’s beautiful summation of the equally moving and complex relationship between Okabe and his “hostage”, Mayuri. It may not be a romantic triangle, but you’ll rarely see any character at the center of two relationships as fascinating and wonderful as these two.