by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 1 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
How would you rate episode 2 of
Steins;Gate 0 ?
Steins;Gate 0 occupies the wonderfully weird kind of space that only time-travel stories can, in that it is both an alternate universe what-if story that diverts from the original series' ending and and a precursor to the events of Steins;Gate Prime. So on the one hand, S;G0's place in the grand scheme of franchise continuity is a foregone conclusion. Eventually, Steins;Gate 0's version of Rintaro Okabe is going to be the one that reaches out to the Okabe of Steins;Gate episode 23 and convinces his past self to take the necessary steps to save the life of Kurisu Makise. On the other hand, Steins;Gate 0 seeks to sidestep the pitfalls that stymie other series' prequels and AU spinoffs by establishing a story that feels fresh and exciting, even to fans that have watched through the original series multiple times.
In the season premiere, the show took the time to catch viewers up on the world line where Kurisu was never rescued from her bloody fate, and Okabe has grown as weary and cold as we've ever seen him. He's abandoned his old mad scientist moniker of “Hououin Kyouma”, and he never stops by the Future Gadget Lab anymore. The show has really run with Okabe's grim new perspective, employing a slower pace and dynamic camera angles to reflect its protagonist's inner torment in a manner that feels appropriately muted without crossing the line into suffocating dourness.
While the first episode did an excellent job of reorienting viewers to this new Kurisu-less reality, the second episode ironically sets the main plot into motion by bringing Kurisu back – or rather, a simulacrum of Kurisu brought to life by the Amadeus AI system that Alexis Leskinen and Maho Hiyajō introduced last week. What I especially enjoyed about this turn of events is that S;G0 never plays coy about what a bombshell this would be for Okabe; after spending some time developing a rapport between Maho and Okabe, the diminutive researcher takes our wary hero to meet a program that has the face, voice, and memories of the woman he watched die in his arms. For anyone who was invested in the original Steins;Gate's primary romance, the moments leading up to Okabe's pseudo-reunion with his lost love contain a palpable sense of dread. Even Maho can feel it, despite only being able to guess at the true depths of the relationship she's helping to reanimate.
Leading up to Okabe's fateful meeting with Amadeus, S;G0 does an excellent job of establishing these new characters, who slide comfortably into Steins;Gate's universe. Maho is especially likable in these episodes, and I'm glad to see that the show doesn't lean too much on her stature to characterize her, instead setting her apart from Kurisu as a whip-smart scientist in her own right; I hope to see her interact with the rest of the Future Gadget Laboratory as the series continues. Aleksis is also an interesting addition to the roster; these episodes establish him as an affable man who just wants to see the late Kurisu's work flourish, but this being Steins;Gate, I'm sure there's more to him than meets the eye.
Ultimately, the highlight of episode two is Amadeus Kurisu's big introduction, which immediately recaptures memories of the original character's effortless likability and tsundere charm, while still sowing the seeds for the digital doppelganger's place in the larger story. While the production values are rough around the edges compared to Steins;Gate, S;G0's writing is in top form, and this one scene captures the skillful character chemistry and intriguing sci-fi themes that made this series successful to begin with. All of the big emotions and big ideas are present, from Maho and Amadeus Kurisu's cute back-and-forth to Okabe's frazzled attempt to separate the Kurisu on the computer screen from the one who helped him survive his eternal summer.
This is where I got the most excited to see where Steins;Gate 0 is headed, as Maho warns Okabe: “She's not the girl you became friends with, and she's not alive.” Many science-fiction stories in the past have dealt with the ramifications of replicating a real human's consciousness in the form of an AI, and it's reassuring that S;G0 has the wherewithal to address those tropes head-on. Maho and Okabe are both all too aware of how dangerous it could be for Okabe to start treating this virtual copy of Kurisu as the real deal. “The more you talk with Amadeus, the more that truth will sting,” Maho says. “You'll realize that she's gone forever, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
Except for Okabe, and those of us who followed his journeys across time, that isn't true at all. If the scientist formerly known as Hououin Kyouma has learned anything, it's that there are an infinite number of ways to potentially bring Kurisu back. Even knowing this, it's the deeper cost of time travel that Okabe is no longer willing to tamper with. While the Okabe of Steins;Gate 0 will eventually change his mind, we don't yet know what must happen to get him to that point. If the brief glimpse of this future we got back in 2011 is any indication, things are about to become much more complicated for the members of the Future Gadget Laboratory, and I can't wait to watch it all play out.
Steins;Gate 0 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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