by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
If I'm being honest, there are few plot devices I find more tedious than the Slowly Recovering Amnesiac, and this episode's add-on to that trope is equally cloying: “One Fragmentary Clue Will Recover The Amnesiac's Memories”. Even though she's ostensibly one of the central figures of Steins;Gate 0's plot, episode 12 is the first time Kagari Shiina has been given any real focus. True to form, S;G0 manages to spend most of its time meandering, sneaking in bits of character and plot development between too many scenes of the gang wandering around town, hypothesizing the origins of the nursery rhyme stuck in Kagari's head, her one link to the life she lived with Mayuri as her mother.
On a surface level, this is a storyline I can get behind. Despite being one of the emotional cores of the entire Steins;Gate franchise, Mayuri has suffered from a noticeable dearth of interiority. We know she's an implausibly sweet girl who loves chicken tenders and friendship in equal measure, but her character is defined less by what she wants and more by how the characters (mostly Okabe) feel about her. So giving Mayuri a time-displaced maternal bond with someone else is exactly the kind of character development that could help elevate her lacking character.
However, Steins;Gate 0 still has a long way to go on that yet. After establishing the nursery rhyme as Kagari's subconscious link to Mayuri, most of the episode is devoted to Okabe and Mayuri walking Kagari around town to figure out its source. Kagari heard present-day Mayuri sing it, and Mayuri says she heard it from Suzuha. After discovering Suzuha winning a curry-eating contest, Suzuha confesses to Okabe that she heard it from her mother, and it just so happens that they discover present-day Yuki out on a date with Daru. This is a fairly cute moment, if only because it's been a long time coming, though Okabe's surprise seems somewhat out of place given that he's one of the few people that know Daru is destined to marry Yuki and have Suzuha someday.
After the gang plays telephone for an interminably long time, the episode offers its first surprising moment when Yuki tells Okabe that she learned the song from one of her college classmates, who turns out to be Okabe's mother. Given how little of Okabe's home life has been addressed in this series, it's nice to know that Okabe has some sort of family out there, but it's even more interesting to learn that Okabe's mother learned it from Okabe himself; he used to sing it when Mayuri was feeling down after her grandmother died. The full implications of this supposed dead end aren't actually addressed until the episode's post-credit scene, since the show has to make time for a visit to Mayuri's grandmother's grave, so she can tell her late relative all about her new friend Kagari. I was not a big fan of this development, since it mostly felt like more stalling for time and highlighted how little Kagari has contributed to the show's ensemble despite being in the background for so many weeks now. I know that Mayuri becomes best friends with everyone, but even the cross-temporal family connection hasn't elevated Kagari's position in the story beyond acting as a plot device.
In general, this feels like an episode that could have either been cut in half or excised completely; the cross-town runaround just isn't entertaining enough to warrant the time spent on it, and Kagari will seemingly never become compelling until she gets her darn memories back. That actually happens at the end of the episode to some degree, but the results remain underwhelming. Hearing some classical music on the radio, Kagari has a vague vision that's apparently so powerful that she can't help but rush out into the street, almost getting hit by a bus in the process. While sleeping, she has yet another dream of her mother and wakes up sobbing, finally recognizing Mayuri as her “Mommy”. If Kagari's relationship with Mayuri felt like more than a cheap ploy at emotional manipulation, this scene might have worked, but I felt mostly indifferent as the credits began to roll.
Going back to the nursery rhyme, a brief after-credits scene shows that somehow Kagari ran into Okabe as a young child, meeting him on a bench near his home while being trailed by whatever organization held her captive for so long. Outside of being framed as a callback to the non-canon Steins;Gate movie, Load Region of Déjà Vu, this also brings up a Bootstrap Paradox within the Steins;Gate timeline. The song that brought Mayuri and Kagari together in the future only exists because an older Kagari traveled back in time to teach Okabe the song that he would eventually pass on to Mayuri himself. Steins;Gate generally tends to avoid overt time paradoxes like this, so I'm interested to see if this is something the storyline with thoughtfully address, or if it's just a detail dropped in because it seemed cool. At least now Kagari and Mayuri will hopefully be given the opportunity to talk to each other and learn more about the secrets that Suzuha and Okabe have been keeping from them. More than anything else, I'm ready for Okabe to no longer have to feign ignorance about the world and finally start to do something about it.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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