Steins;Gate 0
Episode 15

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 15 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?

At the very least, I'm glad this week's episode of Steins;Gate 0 didn't go all in with its gimmicky riff on Back to the Future. The moment Suzuha showed her hapless future father the slowly fading picture of her with her mother, I audibly groaned, because I've always relied on Steins;Gate to provide its own relatively unique spin on time-travel fiction. It wouldn't have been the first instance of this series breaking its universe's anti-paradox rules, but it certainly would've been the dumbest, a cheap sitcom ploy that would have only reminded viewers that they could be watching better science-fiction anime.

So I was very relieved when Suzuha admitted that the photograph and her story about Yuki chatting it up with some other dude were ploys to convince Daru to step up his game and officially start dating Yuki—not to keep Suzuha from being wiped from existence or anything, but rather to give the time-displaced soldier just a little time with the happy, healthy parents she didn't get to appreciate in her own era. It's a better turn of events by comparison, but I'm still not happy that the whole plot of the episode is nested in a different sitcom cliché, where the doofy boyfriend goes through some extreme measures to appear confident and cocky and cool, only to have the guy's romantic interest prefer his original dorky self. It's the kind of love story you might expect to see in a series aimed at young children, so watching this trope played so straight is just another kind of disappointing.

The only other turn of events worth remarking on in this week's plot is Maho's return, which is handled fine. The gag with her disappearing behind a comically large suitcase at the airport is another moment that felt a little too wacky for Steins;Gate in my opinion, but at least it was funny, and I'm certainly glad to have her back around. Her other contribution to the episode lies in providing the “sleep learning” machine that Daru uses, and it can't be a coincidence that Maho suddenly pulls this device out of nowhere in the middle of an arc that revolves around Kagari's own brainwashing. This might imply that Maho herself is involved with the nefarious plot against Kagari and Suzuha, but it's much more likely that this scene is just foreshadowing her proximity to the real villains of the story, namely Professor Leskinen or at least the people he's working for.

More and more over time, it seems to me like Steins;Gate 0's failures lie in its drab presentation and inconsistent direction. The original Steins;Gate was able to get away with its many low-impact episodes by virtue of its slick dialogue and more eye-catching visual composition, which kept the more low-stakes stuff entertaining. But this week, as is often the case with S;G0, the camera angles are flat and the dialogue scenes are plagued with this listless quality that's difficult to pin down. Worse off are the dramatic scenes, namely Suzuha's flashback to Future Yuki's death via drone fire. The scene is meant to be grim and tragic, but the janky way Yuki's death flails are animated, coupled with the eventual reveal of her still-smiling face, make the whole sequence feel more unintentionally comedic than anything else. Suzuha's story in the original Steins;Gate was an absolute gut punch of emotional ups and downs, an example of the series firing on all cylinders and delivering a truly affecting story. In Steins;Gate 0, Suzuha's entire arc has felt shrug-worthy, and I can only feel that she, Yuki, and Daru deserve much better.

I really don't know what to think of Steins;Gate 0 anymore. It started its run with a lot of promise in how it handled the fallout of Makise Kurisu's death, but the story has meandered and petered off so many times that I just don't feel invested anymore. Perhaps my mistake was going into a series about a doomed timeline and expecting it to have a compelling plot and meaningful character development. If I knew all along that Steins;Gate 0 was going to mostly consist of disjointed mysteries padded out by repetitive filler, I might have been able to enjoy the series as a nostalgic but trite adventure featuring characters I care for just sort of milling about. Who knows? Maybe this story still has enough surprises up its sleeve to make this whole adventure feel worthwhile by the end. Unfortunately, I'm starting to seriously doubt that we don't live in the worldline where that better version of Steins;Gate 0 exists.

Rating: C-

Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.


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