「Protocol of the Two-sided Gospel -X-day Protocol-」
I have to give an awful lot of credit to Steins;Gate 0. Yes, I had a lot of skepticism about it for starters, there’s that. But I also think that skepticism was justified, given all the intangibles behind this show and its creation. In a sense this series really shouldn’t be as good as it is – but make no mistake, based on three episodes at least it’s pretty goddam good. As good as the first one at this stage, probably, or close enough for it to be a moot point.
I think the get out of jail free card for Steins;Gate 0 (if you set aside the lingering suspicion I had that the whole franchise wouldn’t work for me as well as it did 7 years ago) is this. It’s not trying to duplicate what the first series did. It’s different without being inconsistent. There’s a freshness about the new approach to the mythology that makes “0” feel essential and alive in a way I didn’t think it would. Whether that will remain the case when timelines start to converge I don’t know. But it’s certainly working for the series right now.
Make no mistake, there’s an overriding sense of melancholy to this sequel that may not be to everyone’s tastes. That makes a character like Mayuri stand out even more, with her constant (and at times obviously forced) cheerfulness. Mayuri, frankly, is one of the characters in S;G that I really shouldn’t be able to stomach. And there are times when she’s a bit much, especially (as was the case this week) when she’s surrounded by her otaku-bait entourage. But there’ an underlying sense of tragedy to Mayushi that cuts through the tropes. Part of it is that we’ve seen what Okarin has seen. Part of it is that we know she has feelings for him that he’ll never return, even if she won’t admit it. That’s why the comment about her being Rintarou’s girlfriend really had some bite to it.
Kurisu, meanwhile. is sinking her claws into Okabe ever-deeper. She’s checking his schedule at school and calling him relentlessly. She’s prying and demanding, and dispensing advice. She even eavesdrops (with the help of his carelessness) on Okabe’s group date. Whatever Amadeus is and whatever it isn’t, it’s Christina in a meaningful enough way that poor Rintarou is falling for her all over again. He knows that in profound and myriad ways this “relationship” is doomed – but he can’t stop himself.
Maho, to her credit, is rightfully concerned about him. Professor Leskinen seems not to be, being much more vested in scientific curiosity about Okabe’s interactions with Amadeus. I don’t think it’s cruelty on his part – he just doesn’t have the emotional sensitivity to sense the danger in an innate way. Just as I don’t think it’s her own feelings for Okarin that are driving Maho’s concern – she’s generally worried about what will happen to him. She’s not reading articles about displacement and coping for entertainment purposes, that’s for sure.
All of this comes to a head when Leskinen invites himself and Maho to the Christmas party Mayushi is throwing at the lab (also, in part, a surprise party for Suzu). There’s some very funny stuff here, proving that Steins;Gate can still operate in that mode. A lot of it comes from our affection for the characters but many of the biggest laughs are courtesy of the newbies, like Leskinen’s comment about Ruka being “incredibly sexy”, or Maho being asked what grade she’s in by Nae. Jackhammer comic dialogue has always been the spine of this series, and it’s good to know that hasn’t changed.
Ultimately, though, S;G seems more than ever a tragedy. All of the central figures are tragic in their way. Okarin lives with the pain of what he’s seen and cannot change, Mayuri suffers from knowing there’s only so much she can do for (and with) him. The supporting cast – Suzu, Daru, Ruka – are all carrying burdens of their own, and it’s clear that Maho (whether she has feelings for Okabe or not – which I think she does) – is forever changed by what happened to Kurisu and being forced to carry the pain with her in the form of Amadeus. Surely, though, Kurisu is the most tragic of all – with all the memories and seeming feelings of a person, but unable to truly live. And perhaps even worse, unable to even forget. It’s a powerful setup, and Steins;Gate 0 is thus far exploiting it rather brilliantly.