by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 14 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Something I didn't necessarily anticipate coming into Steins;Gate 0 was just how difficult it would be to write reviews that don't just consist just of plot summarizing and speculation on what big twist is coming up next. Even more than the original series, S;G0's storytelling is completely beholden to its unnecessarily obtuse plotting. Say what you will about Steins;Gate's pacing, but at least that story had a fairly straightforward momentum, even before the twist of Mayuri's death was dropped halfway through. Characters were introduced, backstories were slowly filled in, and the looming threat of CERN and the dangerous developments of the time machine kept things interesting even when the Future Gadget Laboratory's adventures consisted mostly of hanging out.
Steins;Gate 0 just can't find that clarity of progression, getting bogged down instead with many subplots, mysteries, and red herrings. Maho and Amadeus have only just begun to cement their role in the plot, fourteen episodes after their introduction. We still don't know who's behind Kagari's brainwashing and the assaults on the lab. Kagari's character arc has stopped and started several times before we even get her return this week, and so on. There's a semblance of the original Steins;Gate's charisma buried deep beneath all of this unfocused storytelling and muddy animation, but I can't escape the feeling that Steins;Gate 0 is failing to accomplish the most important task of any prequel: it has yet to convince me that it really needs to exist in the first place.
It definitely hasn't made the case for needing to be 24 episodes long, especially when this episode is yet another instance of S;G0 shuffling pieces into places they easily could have occupied weeks ago. Maho's departure from Japan feels kind of silly when her follow-up story only consisted of being asked by Daru and Suzuha to help rebuild the Phone Microwave. She waffles briefly on whether or not she can do it, but by the episode's end she's on a plane back to Japan. Why even waste time with that entire scene of the Professor and Suzuha leaving if we were just going to have them right back where they started?
The same tinge of tedium can be felt in Kagari's arc, which certainly did not need so many episodes before getting to the big reveal of her being one of the helmeted agents who've been hunting for the Time Machine. For all of the time she spent just sitting around as a background character, I'm sure we could have taken the “Kagari regains her memories” episode and spread it across a few earlier episodes; the same goes for Okabe's investigation of the facility where she was held captive for so long. Then we could have gotten to her fight with Suzuha this week in half the time, and the show could spend more time on developing Kagari's relationships and personality enough to make this reveal have some sort of impact, instead of feeling so perfunctory.
Outside of getting Maho and Kagari back onto the main stage, this episode doesn't have much else to offer S;G0's grander story right now. Okabe and Mayuri share some nice moments together, but we've already got an entire season's worth of the original series devoted to developing that bond; there's not much else to say about these two characters that the show hasn't explored already. There's also a brief detour to the hospital where Katsumi is staying, but the show still hasn't given us a reason to care about any of Mayuri's friends, so the whole scene only feels like an excuse to get the Professor back onto Okabe's radar. Given how comically far the show has gone to make him the friendly naïve foreigner type, I would bet money on him being the ringleader of this season's Big Bad Organization. Even though it's predictable, I do hope that's the case because otherwise his presence in this story would feel like yet another example of S;G0's poor narrative management skills.
I hate to say it, but at this point watching Steins;Gate 0 is beginning to feel more like a chore than anything. The plot is so intent on weaving its complicated web that it can't be bothered to make its individual episodes as engaging or meaningful as they need to be in the space of serialized television. Maybe once the whole show wraps up, this middle-stretch of the series will be more palatable, but that isn't enough to justify just how boring it is to watch right now.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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