by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Leave it to Steins;Gate 0 to simultaneously dive headfirst into some crazy conspiracy shenanigans while still managing to take its sweet time moving the plot along. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't a bad episode, but it certainly took some of the air out of last week's cliffhanger to resolve The Masked Gunman Invasion Redux so quickly, with Yuugo showing up to dish out some Mr. Braun-style justice shortly after the masked mooks tried to abduct Kagari. After that, we get more of Okabe stewing in his paranoia and secrecy, plus some nice character scenes featuring Suzuha, Ruka, Okabe and Yuugo that admittedly didn't advance the plot as much as I'd like.
Suzuha and Ruka's scene is interesting, because this isn't a pair we've seen together much at all, and Ruka especially is one of the least actively involved members of the Future Gadget Laboratory in terms of the time travel stuff. Being pushed to the sidelines is actually what this scene is all about; Ruka has been paying attention to what's been going on between Okabe and the rest of the group, even if he's never directly invited to contribute to their schemes, and he's figured out that something weird is going on with Suzuha and Kagari. Ruka is much smarter than a lot of the others give him credit for, so it's understandable that this poor kid would have questions after a bunch of crazy hitmen were trying to kidnap his friends at gunpoint.
I really like this development for Ruka, who has always been a favorite of mine, though I was less enthusiastic about Suzuha's response, which boils down to Ruka needing to be kept in the dark so his innocence can be preserved for Okabe's sake. While I can appreciate the emotional angle the story is going for, I can't help but feel shortchanged on Ruka's behalf. This is the person who gave up an entire lifetime of happiness and comfort in his own skin just so that Okabe could fix the timelines; he's owed some answers if nothing else. Still, this is the most Ruka's gotten to do in a long time, so I hope it's a sign of his increasing importance to the narrative, despite what Suzuha and Okabe might prefer.
Speaking of Okabe, he has a one-on-one with Yuugo that finally forces the former to open up about his knowledge of the latter's secret life as a Rounder for SERN. Even though I thought the abduction fakeout at the top of the episode was kinda cheap, I was glad to see Yuugo step into the fray for his daughter's sake, and Okabe's confrontation with him opens up some interesting narrative possibilities. Not only does this conversation put Okabe and Yuugo on level ground, it confirms that Moeka is not the one aiming a gun at Okabe's friends for once. Plus, the two men are able to strike a bargain. While Yuugo may be a trained operative, he's still only one man, and cooperating with Suzuha and Okabe means that Nae will be better protected, while Kagari will have a safe space to work and learn more about her past. It does come off as surprisingly simple to just handwave Yuugo's association with SERN as a mild inconvenience, but I'll take that leap in logic to get more characters operating on the same page. The scene's more pressing faults lay in S;G 0's middling direction and aesthetic style, which doesn't carry the tension or emotion that I feel like this moment was meant to have.
Unfortunately, I'm starting to notice these lacking production values more all-around in Steins;Gate 0. The show still doesn't look bad in the strictest sense of the word, but there's a flat and stiff quality to the colors, lighting, and animation that feels weak even compared to the series' older sibling. The attempted kidnapping that opened the episode just isn't as dramatic or intense as it should be, and almost all of the fight choreography between Yuugo and the kidnappers is too clunky to be exciting. I can forgive the more subdued color palette given S;G 0's darker tone, but all of the other wonky aesthetics are becoming more and more noticeable with each passing week.
Is this enough to make Steins;Gate 0 less fun or compelling? I don't think so, or at least it isn't yet. The show might still be setting up the bigger picture, but it hasn't skipped a beat when it comes to reeling the audience in with great characters and infuriating cliffhangers. I didn't even realize at first that there was an after-credits sequence this week, but it's a doozy. Not only does Okabe end the episode by shifting world lines, the new timeline he finds himself features a living Makise Kurisu. “More Okabe and Makise” might as well be the magic words that get me immediately invested in whatever is going down next week, though I can only imagine how hard it's going to be on poor Okabe.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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