Right from episode one of Steins;Gate 0 I kind of sat on the fence about whether or not I was on board with this most recent addition to the Steins;Gate anime world. Overall it was an up and down experience but now we come to the final review and I have to figure out exactly how I feel about this show.
Steins;Gate 0 takes on the task of exploring an alternative time-line, one in which Mayuri lets Okabe stop trying to save Kurisu and as such we see an Okabe Rintaro we have never seen before. This is an Okabe who has given up his delusions, his manic laughter, and even the white lab coat because he’s just a student suffering from some severe depression with a huge fear that something will happen to destroy the peace he sacrificed so much to achieve. But things are never that easy (that was easy) and soon Okabe is going to be plunged back into conspiracies and time travel intrigues whether he wants to be or not.
We also have the involvement of America and Russia, the need to stop World War 3, and an AI based on Kurisu who may or may not be a real character but ultimately is fairy unexplored compared with what they could have done.
I will admit, the idea of seeing Okabe as a more ‘normal’ person and seeing him dealing with the fallout of failure is an interesting concept. The problem is how this impacts on the overall tone of the show. It isn’t just Okabe who lacks energy and charisma. The entire cast takes a hit and the beloved chemistry and rapid fire dialogue that permeated the original Steins;Gate anime is gone for the vast majority of 0’s run-time. This could have worked if they’d spurred Okabe into action earlier after giving us a taste of this alternative version of him but it went on for so long and even after he’d been given every reason to get back to time travel he continued to dig in his heels and refuse. While this is believable as a human to not want to change a hard made decision, it doesn’t make for overly compelling viewing.
That said, it isn’t as though this season is devoid of good moments. We get some fantastic moments between Mayuri and Okabe. Mayuri was a fairly underused character in the original as she ended up more of a plot device than anything else and in Steins;Gate 0 she becomes the driving force for a lot of the action. She fully understands that it is her fault Okabe has essentially lost sight of who he was and while she isn’t planning on abandoning him anytime soon, she very much wants to bring Hououin Kyouma back to life and she’s happy to break time and space to do it.
We also get a great episode where Okabe for whatever reason ends up in an alternative time line where Kurisu is still alive and essentially she gives him a pep talk before sending him back. This was one of the few moments in the first half of the show where we see the rapid fire dialogue and chemistry that is sorely missing from so much of this anime. Not to mention it is Kurisu and Okabe together again in a way that just makes you realise how lacking Amadeus, the AI based on Kurisu, is as a substitute.
I’ll also say that from episode 20 to 23 we get a fairly solid run to a conclusion and these episodes are actually very entertaining. Part of me almost wishes they’d done this series in 12 episodes and condensed everything before episode 20 into 8 episodes and then maybe it wouldn’t have felt so bloated and it could have been a tight series keeping us on our toes. It is very rare for me to wish less episodes on an anime but I really feel content-wise this anime just didn’t have enough for its run time.
And that brings us to some of the real issues I was having, other than just not enjoying the characters very much this time around. The question of should we or shouldn’t we mess with time lacks weight here because we’ve already had it explored. We get that Okabe is scarred but his arguments for not building and using the machine are weak and ultimately we know he’s going to have to. With this central premise more or less dead in the water, there are other avenues the anime could explore but ultimately not a lot came of them.
For instance, episode 12 spends a great deal of time constructing a bootstrap paradox. One of the characters from the future (travelled with Suzuha) is singing a song that she heard from someone and they try to track down the song’s origins. We go around in circles before realising that Okabe taught it to the others but he heard it from the girl when she’d travelled back in time and so the question remained where did the song come from. It was an entire episode to set up a paradox that ultimately served zero purpose. And while it still could have been fun given time travel shows inherently do have paradoxes in them and this one seemed to plunge us into it just for the fun of it, ultimately it just felt like more clutter and distraction from where we knew the story would have to go.
The AI is perhaps the part that suffers the worst from this. There are so many ideas and questions that could have been explored with Amadeus. And while the anime certainly walks around the edges of whether or not the AI is a person given it has the same thoughts and memories as a person, very little is done with this. Nor do they open up obvious questions such as how this will change people if we could in fact copy our thoughts and memories into a program. Or what it could be used for. Or even the ethics of erasing it. While we get an emotional sequence where all the characters kind of say goodbye, the anime isn’t really interested in asking whether or not this could be considered murder if we could consider the AI a character. I’d have loved for them to do more with this.
There are also a whole bunch of characters who ultimately just don’t serve much purpose here and lots of red-herrings just because.
Steins;Gate 0 did introduce us to Maho though and while at first I wasn’t really sold on her character she actually did a good job integrating with the core cast by the end. At the very least she served a fairly valuable plot point and her interactions with Daru and Okabe were pretty good by the end.
And while we’re on that point, Daru certainly came out of Steins;Gate 0 leaving a better impression than the original. So in terms of fleshing out Daru and Mayuri, this spin off really succeeded.
Ultimately that is what will determine your overall enjoyment of this show. If just seeing more of these characters is enough and those few glimpses of development are sufficient to make you happy, here are 23 episodes for you to sink your teeth into. However, in terms of giving a great story, Steins;Gate 0 relies to much on nostalgia for these characters and it stretches things out and has too much that feels like filler to really be something amazing. I’m not unhappy that I watched this but it isn’t exactly blowing me away.
- Episode 23: The End and the Beginning
- Episode 22: Farewell Amadeus
- Episode 21: I’ve Missed Hououin Kyouma
- Episode 20: It’s The End of the World
- Episode 19: Okabe the Hypocrite
- Episode 18: Even Knowing The Future Won’t Help You Make a Better Choice
- Episode 17: Choices and Consequences
- Episode 16: The World Or Mayuri?
- Episode 15: I Just Wanted To…
- Episode 14: What Happens If Okabe Isn’t The Protagonist?
- Episode 13: Ignore the Paradox
- Episode 12: I Wonder How They’ll Deal With This Paradox?
- Episode 11: As If Things Are Finished
- Episode 10: And This Is Why Characters Should Speak
- Episode 9: Putting It Together
- Episode 8: Reliving The Tragedy
- Episode 7: Leaping To Conclusions is Fun
- Episode 6: And Round and Round We Go
- Episodes 4 + 5: It’s Never Over
- Episode 3: Kurisu and Okabe Still Have It
- Episode 2: Okabe Reacts
- Steins;Gate 0 First Impressions
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