If great characters make a story, then any set in this mythology has a massive head start.
OP: “Anata no Eranda Kono Toki wo (あなたの選んだこの時を)” by Kanako Ito
Fuka Ryouiki no Deja vu is neither indispensable to the Steins;Gate franchise, or a great story in its own right. That said, it’s mostly a massive pleasure to watch, so what’s the lesson here? It’s not that those things don’t matter – they do – but more than these characters are so indelible and relatable that they’re like family by now. And if you haven’t seen your family for a long time, it should be wonderful to spend time with them even if nothing all that memorable happens.
Steins;Gate was one of the very best series of 2011 – #3 on my year-end rankings – and one of the very rare occasions when my tastes largely overlapped with both the English-language anime fandom and the Japanese target market. It placed first in the readers poll both here and at RC, Divine chose it as his #1 series of the year, and it was a massive success on Blu-ray. There’s a reason S;G was so appealing to such a diverse group of people, or rather many reasons: a massive and well-conceived sci-fi plot, fantastically culturally aware setting, great dialogue. Most of all, it presented one of the best casts in recent anime history, a group that managed the rare feat of becoming both archetypal and believable as real people.
It’s really that last part that carries through to the S;G movie more than the others. The plot here is pretty good, though in a sense it feels like an alternative track from a bonus CD more than anything, and the setting isn’t quite as fresh and exciting as it was when the series premiered. But the people are still the same. Okabe and Kurisu still have chemistry to burn, Mayuri is still heartbreakingly decent, Daru and Ruka and Suzuha and Moeka are just as interesting and charismatic now. Rather than adding anything really new to the mythology this indeed feels more like a family reunion, but there are far worse things that could be said about an anime film – and even if the premise isn’t as captivating as the TV series’, the cast all behaves in a way that feels very much true to themselves.
If we’re to describe the story of “Deja Vu” (needless to say spoilers are to follow, so stop here if you haven’t seen it), I think it boils down to Kurisu having the chance to experience what Okarin did during his long, lonely journey through a personal Hell the likes of which we’ve rarely seen depicted in anime (and even more rarely depicted so well). There are several problems with this, starting with the most obvious – good as it was, this is a story we’ve already seen Steins;Gate do. In addition, what made it’s brilliance possible was the length of the TV series – in a roughly 90-minute movie there simply isn’t going to be the time to either comparably build-up to Kurisu’s desperate attempts to change history or to give it the grisly detail of just how brutal the experience was.
So in the end, then, we have a premise that the series has already executed better re-created in condensed form. There might have been better choices if the goal was to create something of stature in its own right, but if you view S;G as a sort of homage to the power of friendship and love to transcend even time, Fuka Ryouiki no Deja vu makes a nice bookend to the TV series (and thus, the VN’s main route). Okabe and Kurisu is, quite simply, one of the best love stories in modern anime. There’s not as much of them actually together here as I would have liked – their dialogue was the highlight of the series for me, and it generated most of the best comic moments (comic moments, too, are sadly few and far between in the film). But Kurisu – and Imai Asami – is here in fine form, showing the qualities that made her such a vital part of the original’s success. She’s full of self-doubts but ultimately a lonely idealist who wants more than anything to believe unreservedly in another human being – and that turns out to be Okabe. It does seem fitting that she should understand a little (and it really is only a little) of what he went through in order to save her.
As for Okarin himself he, too, is less prominent in the movie than I would have liked. The larger part of the story is Kurisu trying to find a way to stop him from disappearing from the Steins Gate timeline because he has too many memories of the neighboring ones, and that means he’s physically absent for much of the narrative. This is a truly great character and one of the best seiyuu performances in years by Miyano Mamoru, and there is something lost by having so little of both for so much of the movie. In his place we do get a large dose of the supporting cast, especially Mayushi and Daru (who’s the founder of the lab once Okarin – and memories of him – disappear from the world line). That’s a fine thing (I’ve really missed “Tuturu!”) as these are really more like co-leads, with terrific performances by Seki Tomokazu and Hanazawa Kana (this is one of her very best roles, IMHO). But like the characters themselves, I think Steins;Gate really misses Okarin when he isn’t around.
As for the ending, well – I won’t say I didn’t see it coming as soon as we heard Suzuha say the best plan was to create a strong memory in the 2005 Okabe Rintarou. The Hououin Kyouma story was nice, but what better way is there to implant a strong memory in a 13 year-old boy than the one Kurisu chose? Still, predictable or not it had a sort of poetry to it, and framed the storybook romance between the two leads in a very nice way. I think the fundamental questions about time travel – which after his own experience Okabe believes more strongly than ever is something humans should never attempt – are largely kicked to the curb in favor of a generic “follow your heart” message. If there’s a true sequel to Steins;Gate I’d like to see it take that subject on in a meatier way, but that really wasn’t the point of Fuka Ryouiki – that was to give us one more chance to spend time with this cast, and celebrate the bond between Okabe and Kurisu. On those terms, at least, it’s a solid success.
ED: “Itsumo Kono Basho de (いつもこの場所で)” by Ayane