Steins;Gate – 24 (END)
「終わりと始まりのプロローグ」 (Owari to Hajimari no Purorōgu)
“Prologue to the End and Beginning”
Tuturu! Finale season is upon us, and it begins with one of the most highly anticipated endings in many a year as Steins;Gate finally concludes its epic journey through time. The obvious question on everyone’s mind – did it live up to the hype?
For the most part, I would have to say yes. Finales are hard – damn hard. And in many ways the better the series the harder it is to meet expectations (I could point to countless examples of this). White Fox chose a safe route for this ending, delivering up a satisfying 22 minutes that was short on surprises but long on audience gratification. I would judge this episode to be a couple of notches below the very best this series has had to offer, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a really good series whose final episode was among the very strongest.
In a sense it seems as if the suspense was sucked out of this episode by the epic blockbuster last week, which effectively spoiled the ending in almost every way. Thus, the drama this time wasn’t so much about wondering what was going to happen as in anticipating it. Okabe’s plan went off more or less as expected, with only one real surprise – but it was a shocker. Covering all his bases, he poached the metal oopa before his other self could snag it for Mayuri, ensuring that Professor Nakabachi’s paper (really Kurisu’s paper) would burn on the plane. The meat of his plan was exactly as he laid out from the future – con his younger self into believing Kurisu was stabbed when in reality, she was only unconscious. The tools of the trade: a Taser and the “Cyalume Saber” – a future gadget full of a sticky red liquid that would obviously come in very useful.
Here’s where the episode took its one real shocking turn. With the blood inside the light sabre dried up, Okabe had to think quickly, and an already GAR character established his place in the GAR Hall of Fame. With no fake blood to fool himself, Okabe used the most obvious source of real blood around – himself – and goaded Kurisu’s father into stabbing him. When he stuck those four fingers into the wound to generate the volume he needed – wow. That was definitely the most intense moment of the finale. There was a part of me that wondered just for a moment if we were going to get equivalent exchange after all, but I never really believed that – so it came as no surprise that when he returned three weeks into the future with Suzuha, he made it to the hospital in time. Suzuha herself disappeared, her future self now never having needed to travel back in time.
Was I surprised to see Kurisu cross paths with Okabe during the epilogue? No, I pretty much expected it. But then, it was artfully done – I enjoyed watching Mayuri chase Okabe from lab member to lab member, giving us one last chance (or was it?) to see old friends. What I especially enjoyed was the subtle irony written into the script – if Okabe’s Cyalume Saber had worked, it seems to me that Kurisu would never have come looking for him. It was the act of taking a knife wound for her than impressed her enough to do that, which I suppose was the choice of Steins;Gate. El Psy Congroo. That was definitely a clever and poetic cherry on top of the story.
So in the end, we got a lot of vamping (Mayuri’s “Okae-Rin!” – how cute was that?) by the major characters and an almost totally happy ending. Daru mugged for the camera and asked about his future wife, Okabe gave us several full-on mad scientist moments, and Moeka even got a job at Braun’s shop. I’m actually a fan of the happy ending, and we don’t really see them all that often. I was a little conflicted, since part of me felt like there had to be a lasting price paid for all the time meddling that happened here, but no one could make the case that Okabe didn’t suffer plenty – Mayuri and Kurisu too, to a lesser degree. So I have no complaints. This was a character driven series in spite of all the time travel and pseudo-science, and I was thrilled to see these characters end the story happy and in a good place. If it wasn’t a thrilling and mind-blowing finale, it was certainly a satisfying one – and that’s good enough for me.
ED4: 「Another Heaven」 by いとうかなこ (Itou Kanako)
When people (me included) write the book on anime in 2011, there’s no question that Steins;Gate is going to be acknowledged as one of the most important and most popular anime of the year. Through three quarters, S;G, Madoka Magica and AnoHana are probably the three most talked-about series of the year. In my mind this show is clearly deserving of that honor – it won’t end up as my number one series of the year but it will certainly rank in the top 10, and certainly ahead of Madoka Magica. It may also rank with Kanon 2006 as one of the greatest VN adaptations of all time.
The fact that I went into this series with almost no knowledge of the source material and was still able to enjoy it as thoroughly as I did speaks volumes about the fantastic job White Fox did with this adaptation. They realized going in that they were making an anime, not a game, and as simple as that sounds it’s something studios get wrong all the time. I won’t drone on about why adapting games and VNs is so difficult, but to have accomplished the task of pleasing the VN fans and thrilling a new group of viewers may be Steins;Gate’s greatest victory. There were remarkably few complaints from the gamers and the new viewers were hooked in almost immediately by the fascinating premise and great dialogue. White Fox took a twisting, convoluted series of routes and weaved them into a coherent, linear dialogue that was full of mystery but easy to follow. They did this in part by telling the audience just enough every week to feel like they were getting somewhere, while still keeping a few mysteries up their sleeve.
One of the things that pleased me almost immediately about this series was the dialogue. Whatever the source material, it was funny – really, genuinely funny and smart to boot. I commented way back when (before I even joined RC) that listening to Okabe and Kurisu banter was like listening to Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn go at it in one of the great screwball comedies of the 30’s and 40’s. The meat of the credit goes to the writing staff, especially Hanada Jukki (Seitokai no Ichizon, Level E, Natsume Yuujinchou, Sola, Kuragehime – what a track record!) But the cast deserves their share of the praise as well. Imai Asami, KanaHana, Tamura Yukari, Goto Saori – I’ve called all of them out for their strong work here over the last couple of months. But the center of the show was obviously Miyano Mamoru as Okabe, and he delivers one of the standout seiyuu performances of recent memory. To be blunt, I wasn’t a big fan of his before this series, but he’s found the role of a lifetime here. Okabe Rintarou is a perfect fit for Miyano’s grandiose, snarky delivery – but what really impressed me was the depth of emotion he was able to bring to Okabe’s darker moments. Miyano was great at hitting dialogue like “Hello, I am mad scientist – so coool! Sunovabitch.” out of the park, and he nailed the romantic banter with Imai Asami’s Kurisu. But he also went to some very dark places with Okabe and really showed us what was happening in the mind of this strange, egomaniacal, insecure and ultimately heroic 18 year-old. He’s my early favorite for male seiyuu performance of the year, along with Hirata Hiroaki’s Kabaragi Kotestsu.
So in the end, I would call Steins;Gate a success in every way these things can be measured. It was superb visually, pleased fans both old and new, drew strong ratings and sold a ton of DVDs and Blu-Rays. And the great thing is, all of it was deserved. It was a first-class production that delivered both as an entertainment and as something more, a series that was smart and filled with big ideas that both played fair with its audience and challenged them. I guess all that it was led to the announcement at the end of the episode that there would be a film adaptation of the story. Details are sketchy at this point, and the short clip certainly didn’t give anything away, but I have enough faith in White Fox to view this announcement with excitement rather than trepidation. As good a job as they did with the TV, I expect they’ll do just fine with the movie.