by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
One of the most interesting things about the way Steins;Gate 0 has progressed so far is how it's gone about establishing an entirely new status quo for both the world and its cast while feeling very much in line with the original series in pacing and progression. After a couple of weeks getting both new viewers and old fans up to speed, S;G 0 has settled into a familiar rhythm of teasing out plot developments while gradually ramping up the speed of the story, taking time to introduce new characters along the way. On the one hand, this makes for a consistently entertaining and engaging show; it's just more Steins;Gate after all. Still, I must admit that I'm starting to see some of the pitfalls that come with crafting a story that's basically a “sidequel” to the 2011 hit.
Much of what made Steins;Gate work was the way it was able to sow seeds of suspense early on in its run that eventually blossomed into genuine shock when the other shoe eventually dropped. Moeka's betrayal, Mayuri's many deaths, and the onset of an apocalyptic Third World War were all tropey sci-fi twists that benefited from Steins;Gate Prime playing its slice-of-life-based first half so straight. S;G 0 is doing a lot of things right, but I am beginning to notice the limitations of its narrative presentation, given that the series no longer benefits from the naivety I approached its predecessor with. It doesn't help that this episode really laid it on thick with the flashbacks and allusions to the first series, making it even easier to be nostalgic for the old show instead of focusing on what's going on in S;G 0.
Chiefly, the issue is that I'm having is that I possess less patience for this series' abuse of thriller, visual novel, and sci-fi tropes now that I can see the twists coming so far in advance. For instance, when we hear of a mysterious team of operatives being lead by a foreign agent, I immediately suspect the intentions of both Alexis Leskinen and new addition Judy Reyes, no matter how hard the show tries to present them as friendly and well-meaning goofs. Many of the original series' most hard-hitting moments came from surprise revelations about cast members we thought were innocent bystanders, but that trick doesn't hit as hard the fourth or fifth time around; even if both Aleksis and Judy somehow remain perfectly innocuous supporting cast, even the pretense of foreshadowing their betrayal feels, more than anything, like Steins;Gate 0 dutifully hitting the expected notes.
Thankfully, the worst cliché dropped this episode gets resolved quickly and mostly painlessly. From the moment that Kagari Shiina showed up with her amnesia and her Kurisu-doppelganger face, I was worried that S;G0 was going to make a big to-do of Okabe taking forever to figure out who she was by conveniently keeping her and Suzuha away from each other for multiple weeks. My fears were happily assuaged when the episode capped off by bringing in Suzuha and immediately clearing up the identity crisis. Whether Kagari is a clone of Makise, a long-lost daughter, or some kind of time-paradox anomaly, I'm just glad to know that we won't have to go through multiple episodes of characters futzing about the reveal to get answers.
Outside of having to deal with some of the pains that come along with Steins;Gate's brand of getting through its rising action, S;G 0 remains an enjoyable follow-up to its predecessor, mainly through the strength of the cast's interactions and my interest in seeing where all of this is headed. The visual direction is still lacking, and I don't like Maho being set up as a love interest to Okabe, since her personality is a bit too similar to Makise's, and we already have two stand-ins for her in Amadeus and Kagari. Quibbles aside though, I am happy to be back in Akihabara with this crew of lovable dorks, even the experience isn't as quite as novel as it was way back in the day.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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