by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
We've reached a point in Steins;Gate 0's run where any praise I muster for the show has to be framed within the context of my severely diminished expectations. “Altair of the Cyclic Coordinate” is much better than last week's dismal outing, but that isn't saying much within the scope of the series' many ups and downs. To give credit where it's due, I appreciate that the narrative is at last attempting to inject some stakes into its plot, after spending the last four months just milling about. The time machine has been destroyed, as far as the Future Gadget Lab can tell, and there's no sign of Suzuha or Mayuri anywhere. The rumblings of war are finally beginning to become evident, so a desperate Okabe relents and gives Maho and Daru the go-ahead to finish repairing the Phone Microwave. They need to hack into SERN again and use their Large Hadron Collider to produce the necessary timey-wimey science stuff that will get their makeshift time machine up and running again. There are plenty of montages that feature all the group members pitching in to finish the machine before the end of the 48-hour deadline, and Amadeus even shows up again, reuniting with the gang to offer her support and giving Maho a metaphorical kick in the pants.
It's fanservice in other words, but in typical S;G 0 fashion, the end result is incredibly uneven. Amadeus is herself a perfect example of this story's faults in microcosm. She's been absent for much of S;G 0's run, and her impact on the plot has been surprisingly minimal. It's as if the writer loved the idea of Amadeus as a metaphorical ghost, haunting the lives and memories of those who knew Kurisu best, but then forgot to address the implications of the AI as an actual presence in the story's world. She's a scientific marvel, a self-aware artificial intelligence that's also a cloned personality of one of the series' most important figures, which should in theory completely shatter people's preconceived notions of consciousness, the preservation of life after death, and so on. But in this episode, Amadeus is once again treated as just a nice computer girl who shows up sometimes to address Okabe and Maho's hang-ups about the real Kurisu. It's a strange waste of a potentially fascinating character.
Also wasted is the long-awaited return of the Phone Microwave. The show has already made Okabe leap into another world line (which still has yet to be explained), so the emotional impact of seeing Okabe finally make the choice to rebuild the Phone Microwave and use it to save Mayuri and Suzuha is much less affecting. Also, despite the looming threat of an apocalyptic war and the deadline that everyone is fighting against, the episode struggles to establish any sense of urgency or dread. The overuse of minimally animated montages certainly doesn't help, but the poor production values are no longer a surprise for this series. There's one cut late in the episode when Okabe has leapt back in time two days and confronts Suzuha and Mayuri again, where Suzuha's lip-flaps don't shut when she's finished speaking; she just stands there with an angry gaping mouth while Okabe talks. I thought it must have been some lag in the video player at first, until I went back and watched it again.
Bad animation is something I'm willing to overlook when the story is working though, and Steins;Gate 0 just hasn't figured out its narrative after nineteen weeks. Months were spent belaboring the point about Maho's complicated feelings toward Kurisu and her growing intimacy with Okabe, but “Altair of the Cyclic Coordinate” still feels the need to waste time on an awkward gag where Okabe sleepily envisions Maho with Kurisu's red hair. Later, Okabe reunites with Suzuha and Mayuri only to essentially repeat the same conversation we've heard for the past three episodes right before the time machine explodes again when Okabe is attacked by Leskinen and a helmeted Professor Reyes. Her betrayal is treated like a surprise, but I'm surprised Okabe even remembers who Judy was, seeing as she only showed up in a couple of scenes to be telegraphed as the duplicitously friendly character.
That's where the episode leaves us. The time machine is gone, and Okabe is worried that this might be a convergence point similar to Mayuri's death in the original series, but he still promises to leap back as many times as it takes to save his friends. It's a familiar beat, and while I like that the plot has acquired at least a little more momentum, it's a shame to see Steins;Gate 0 fall into the same trap that so many spinoffs and sequels do. After weeks of dishing out false starts and dangling narrative threads that have yet to go anywhere, it seems as if S;G 0 is simply going to follow the first show's beats, except now everything is twice as complicated and half as fun.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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