“Missing Link of the Annihilator: Absolute Zero”
Note: Needless to say, please avoid any VN spoilers in the comments. The rule here is if it’s appeared in the anime, it’s fair game – if not, it’s 100% banned. And no spoilers disguised as “speculation” either (yes, I can almost always tell). Thank you for your understanding.
The first thing I have to say is – has it really been 7 years since Steins;Gate aired? Damn, time flies – but it really has been, almost to the day. This was a show from pretty early in my anime blogging career, and though it’s hung around in various incarnations since (a movie, some semi-advertisement and legitimate OVAs, and one other thing which we’ll talk about shortly) it really does feel like it comes from a different time both for me and the medium. And, I suppose, that’s only fitting.
The next matter of importance is the issue of timelines. Because in the often indecipherable tangle of plot that is Steins;Gate, timelines are everything. If one remembered enough from the original TV series ending and hadn’t paid any attention since, this premiere would seem very confusing. Indeed, my memory of it is dodgy enough that I was confused myself until I stopped the player halfway through and did a little review. Obviously “0” is operating on a different timeline from the one which concluded the series – a “Beta” timeline, one where Mayuri still lives but Kurisu dies. That, of course, explains Okarin’s depressed state as we rejoin the story (indeed, he’s undergoing hypnotherapy).
What’s interesting to note here is that there was an alternate Episode 23 from the original series – though it came later, first airing when the show was rebroadcast in 2015. Steins;Gate 0 seems to take up directly where that left off, more or less – and that, of course, means things are off to a rather grim and gloomy start. Okabe’s failure to save Kurisu (indeed, he was the one that killed her, albeit by accident) – and just as much, the hell he went through trying to cheat destiny and save both girls he loved – has left him so traumatized that he’s abandoned his old life and dedicated himself to college (he plays tennis, for cripes’ sake), leaving Akiba and the lab behind.
Now, it should be noted that few anime in the modern era are as beloved as Steins;Gate, and (equally importantly from my perspective) few have crossed the divide between artistic and commercial achievement so successfully. As such, I suspect that the general reaction to 0 was going to be overwhelmingly positive, no matter how good a premiere this was, just because so many were so happy to have S:G back. I think it was very good, as it happens, but I’m not yet sold that it needs to exist for any reasons apart from commercial ones. I’d also be very interested in knowing whether I’d love the first series as much now as I did then, with so much more exposure to this industry under my belt. Maybe I would – but since there’s no way I can take the time to re-watch it, it’s one of those things I can only speculate about.
There are some important changes this time, notably that neither of the original series’ directors is back for this trip. Ultra-experienced adapter Hanada Jukki is, though, and this is an instance where that may be just as important. Most of the cast is back, though of course there is one notable exception (for now) and there are some new faces this time – like the (very) diminutive Hiyajo Maho (Yahagi Sayuri), a researcher at the same lab as Kurisu and as assistant to Professor Alexis Leskinen (Ueda Youji – hooe! ) in developing a new A.I. called “Amadeus” that’s based on Kurisu’s research, and seems to be at the nexus of this timeline going all to Hell.
As we re-enter this mythology, the drama seems primarily to stem from Suzuha’s attempts to get Okarin to once more try and change time in order to prevent the dystopia she knows is coming, and his weary refusal to be drawn back into the same horrific cycle. While it’s fair to point out that the mood of this first episode is extremely dark, Steins;Gate has always had a profoundly tragic air about it – especially from Okabe’s perspective, because he’s the one who has to see all these terrible things and carry the memories with him. It’s one of Miyano Mamoru’s finest performances – and far different from the sort of role he seems to have been typecast into in recent years.
I would certainly love it if Steins;Gate 0 is every bit as great as the first one, and I’m still at a place as a fan where I can enjoy it on the same level. I get the impulse to go back and mine immensely profitable franchises for more gold, and it’s understandable – I just feel like the first series ended so perfectly that it might have been best left to stand alone as the franchise’s signature anime statement. But this series has 23 episodes to prove me wrong, and I heartily hope it does.
ED: 「Amadeus」by いとうかなこ (Itou Kanako)