The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Steins;Gate 0
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Steins;Gate 0 ?
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For all of its myriad faults, the original Steins;Gate remains a perennial favorite of mine, because so few other anime have done such a good job at marrying heady science fiction with such a likable cast of unrepentant dorks. It's a messy show, and it drops the ball hard in some key areas of character development, but there's just too much earnest charm and confident storytelling at work in the show for me not to love it. I went into Steins;Gate 0 with some trepidation; having not played the game it's based on, I had no clue whether this alternate-timeline follow up to the original would work as a complementary piece of the original puzzle or come across as hasty cash grab.
Thankfully, Steins;Gate 0 seems to be the real deal, at least as far as this premiere is concerned. We pick up right where the original series left off at the end of its 23rd episode, except in this version of events our hero Okabe didn't go through with the heroics that brought Steins;Gate prime to its happy ending. Instead, Okabe has gone full on tortured fallen hero, even going so far as to don a jet black ensemble to reflect the depths of his anguish. Were Steins;Gate 0 just a little off in its execution, this would come across as unbelievably corny, but thankfully this episode nails the weight of the trauma that has been bearing down on Okabe's shoulders across his many trips through time, making the more somber tone feel justified. While much of this episode is devoted to recapping the events that led the Future Gadgets Lab to fracture, this is definitely not a place for newcomers to start. Without the experience of the show's first 24 episodes, I reckon that this episode would feel overstuffed with sadness, but longtime viewers will likely appreciate the show diving into the darker doomed world that the original Steins;Gate only ever hinted at.
While this series is under the new directorial stewardship of Kenichi Kawamura, original writer Juuki Hanada and the original voice cast and many crew members at White Fox Studio all return for this adaptation of 5pb.'s visual novel. This means that the premiere is aesthetically in line with the original series, which is to say that it looks and sounds great. The episode does a great job of tweaking the series into something much more unsettling than Steins'Gate's early episodes; dramatic closeups and moody camera work ensure that the audience is never unaware of the deep psychological stress that haunts Okabe at all times. Outside of his solo scenes, the original Future Gadgets Lab members all play off one another without missing a beat, and the few new characters we meet also look to be exciting additions to the cast (though I really hope the series doesn't follow through on all of the loli jokes with Maho Hiyajo).
Some tweaks to the character designs will take getting used to, and there are a couple instances of off-model characters throughout, but what we've seen of Steins;Gate 0 is so far on par with its predecessor's high standards. It remains to be seen if the show will be able to make a compelling story out of a scenario that fans already know a happier outcome for, but the quality of this premiere has assuaged my fears. Even if poor Okabe has to suffer for it, it's good to have Steins;Gate back.
Seven years out from the original Steins;Gate, I really wasn't expecting a straight-up sequel. But after a charming OVA episode and an interminable feature film, here we are, following Okabe and his friends in the months following the events of the original series. Or at least, one possible version of those events - the specifics of this particular worldline feel somewhat uncertain, and it's clear by the end of this episode that Okabe's great victory from the original series was far less effective than he'd hoped.
It's to this show's great credit that it actually feels like a genuine sequel, from the tone and writing to the visual presentation. Though we've switched directors, 0 still possesses the same stifling color palette and compositionally enforced sense of alienation from the original, and the animation actually feels stronger here than in the original series. In basically all aesthetic respects, it really felt like I was stepping directly back into the Steins;Gate universe.
As for the story, I also greatly enjoyed this episode's melancholy reunion between the old show leads. Okabe spent the entirety of the original Steins;Gate being psychologically beaten down one episode after another, and in this new series, you can absolutely feel how those experiences still weigh on him. Okabe is emotionally exhausted, burnt out on play-acting, and haunted by trauma that flares up whenever he's reminded of that one cruel summer. This episode's idle conversations between very familiar friends did a great job of asserting how badly Okabe had suffered, making his resistance to Suzuha asking for further help feel entirely natural.
All in all, Steins;Gate 0 easily clears its principle hurdle: feeling like a genuine, natural extension of the Steins;Gate world. The show feels somewhat limited by its color palette and a little lethargic in its pacing, but honestly, those were also complaints you could level at the original series. Personally, I felt the original Steins;Gate wrapped up its story very well, and am not necessarily thrilled by this premiere's introduction of an entirely new conflict. But if you're eager to spend more time with the old Gadget Lab crew, Steins;Gate 0 will make you feel like they never left.
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