by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Given last week's cliffhanger ending, I came into “Dual of Antinomy -Antinomic Dual-“ fully expecting Steins;Gate 0 to take a break from its expositional shenanigans to roundhouse kick me right in the heart, and that's more or less what we got. This episode isn't especially concerned with Amadeus, the new gang of thugs threatening the lab, or any of the other pieces that S;G 0 has been so carefully setting up the past couple months. No, this is a story about Okabe coming to terms with his doomed love for the two most important people in the innumerable iterations of his life: Mayuri and Kurisu.
The ironic thing about Steins;Gate 0 is that its fixation on Okabe's trauma is both its primary reason for existing and the one aspect of the story that could end up doing more harm than good. Okabe and Kurisu's romance is one of my all-time favorites in anime, so it takes very little convincing to get me on board with the prospect of seeing these two together again, because their chemistry is just so darn perfect. Sure, Okabe spends most of the episode drowning in his own emotional malaise, having mysteriously jumped back into one of the alpha worldlines where Mayuri is dead and Kurisu lives, but there's still a melancholy sweetness in Kurisu doing her best to heal Okabe's fractured heart and send him back to the beta world line that he came from.
That said, seeing as we already know about the ultimate conclusion to Steins;Gate, I couldn't help but spend much of this episode wondering how long Steins;Gate 0 could really sustain Okabe's despair. We know that eventually Okabe will triumph, and that this version of events will leads our hero to send himself a message from the future that will allow him to create a new world line that saves everyone. “Dual of Antinomy” divorces Okabe from all the new plot stuff in Steins;Gate 0 so he can struggle with a purely emotional conflict, and it's understandable to be wary of having to take so much time out of the plot just to cover ground that the first series has already covered and resolved.
As it turns out, the solution to this conundrum is to overload Okabe with ridiculously unfair amounts of pathos and nostalgia. Not only does this episode play up Okabe and Kurisu's chemistry for full effect, it also has the gall to take them to Mayuri's grave so Kurisu can convince Okabe that sacrificing her to save Mayuri is the right thing to do. The clouds part and the sun beams down on Okabe as he wrestles yet again with his impossible choice, and we get a beautiful moment of visual symmetry as Okabe tearfully reaches his hand up to the sky like Mayuri used to do. It's a cheap trick, but it's undeniably effective, proving that Steins;Gate 0 can make its inherently cyclical story work given the proper care and attention to details.
Equally unfair is the episode's ending, where Kurisu shares a tearful kiss with Okabe before sending his D-Mail for him in a scene that echoes some of the strongest emotional beats of the original series. At first, I was wondering how “Don't come in” was supposed to set things right in a world where Okabe had already decided to save Kurisu and give up on Mayuri, but then the insert song kicks in and S;G 0 takes us to the climax of Steins;Gate's 22nd episode, where Kurisu races to meet Okabe as he's about to make his final leap to the beta world line. Kurisu is the one to receive this D-mail, and though it doesn't stop her from bursting through the door to confess her love for him, it delays her just enough that Okabe is too late to rethink his decision. It's a masterful bit of writing that plays perfectly into the original series' plot in the way that I hoped Steins;Gate 0 would do. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little misty-eyed by the time this episode came to a close.
S;G 0 is set to run for two cours, which means we have about sixteen more episodes to get through before its story will be complete. I don't think S;G 0 will be able to go back to this well often without ruining what makes episodes like this one great, so hopefully this story has some more tricks up its sleeves going forward. As a one-off love letter to what made Steins;Gate such a success in the first place though, “Dual of Antinomy” is a remarkably effective chapter that makes me incredibly excited to see what's coming next.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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