by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
After last week zeroed in on Steins;Gate 0's new cast of characters and the emotional bombshell of the Amadeus system, episode 3 takes us back to a place that feels much closer to the original Steins;Gate's vibe. Things aren't exactly the same, of course, but how could they be, given everything Okabe and his lab members have been through? Despite some unfortunate aesthetic hiccups, one thing this episode of S;G0 does exceptionally well is balance its nostalgia for the good old days of the Future Gadget Lab while still taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by this more somber new version of their Akihabara.
It's clear from the get-go that Okabe is failing to heed Maho's advice when it comes to Amadeus. As he uses his phone camera to guide the AI around the streets of Akihabara, it's impossible not to notice an old rapport building up between the two, complete with the gentle teasing and constant inquiries that came to define Makise and Okabe's relationship. Amadeus is also saddled with the requisite naivety that comes with being a burgeoning artificial intelligence, but that doesn't make it any less heartbreaking when Not Makise casually mentions how much she would love to share a lab like Okabe's with friends of her own and personalized utensils. For Okabe and the audience, this one moment is enough to spark a maelstrom of other memories, the kind that are terribly dangerous for a man in Okabe's position to indulge.
Thankfully, all of this fraught territory has a counterweight, which is the increased focus on the other Future Gadget Lab members, who fell more to the wayside in S;G0's opening episodes. The scenes where Mayuri and friends plan a Christmas Cosplay Party feel right at home with the more upbeat, slice-of-life feel that Steins;Gate accomplished so well in its first half. What's more, these scenes do a great job of showing how the group as a whole has grown up; Faris and Suzuha have bonded more than they ever did in the original series, Yūgo and his daughter Nae are interacting with the Lab Members more, and Mayuri's social life seems much healthier than it did before. Her cosplay friends were occasionally mentioned before, but it's still nice to actually see her interact with friends her own age who haven't had their lives upended by time travel shenanigans and government conspiracies (yet). Maho and the Professor's interaction with the group at this Christmas party further cement them as welcome additions to the Steins;Gate world. I'm especially loving Yōji Ueda's performance as Alexis; he nails the Westernized accent in Japanese and gives the character an earnest charm, though I'm still not sure I trust his ostensibly altruistic intentions toward Amadeus and Okabe.
If there's anything that brings this episode down, it would have to be the art and animation. While I understand that little changes in style will come about with a shift in directors and seven years of time having passed, this is the first episode where I couldn't chalk up the sketchy artwork and inconsistent animation as by-products of this series' tone shift. The overall direction this week was sloppy enough to be distracting, with pedestrian camera work standing out even more against awkward editing. One scene in particular that lacked the necessary punch was Mayuri eavesdropping on Okabe's conversation with Amadeus – it works well enough to get the point across, but the messy transition between Mayuri silently fleeing and Maho intervening robbed Mayuri of the power that should have been afforded to her biggest character moment so far.
On the plus side, this was largely a table-setting episode, so the lapses in directorial quality didn't harm the overall impact much. Like Okabe himself, we're still getting used to being back in the Lab again, and some of the readjustments are going to hurt more than others. It's one thing to be confronted by the ghosts of a troubling past, but our poor mad scientist has to carry a painfully familiar voice in his pocket and be repeatedly asked why he called her “Christina”. The chemistry between Okabe and Makise is so on-point that I relish seeing them interact in any context, but I can't help but feel bad for taking so much pleasure from seeing Okabe relive the most harrowing moments of his life. His relationship with this computer program is bound to only become more troubling as the season continues.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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