“Mother Goose of Mutual Recursion: Recursive Mother Goose”
I’m not quite sure in what context to view this episode of Steins;Gate 0. Last week felt like the end of something to be sure, so it would be logical enough to think this one would be a sort of beginning. But it really didn’t play that way – if anything it seems a but disjointed with the overall plot at times. That’s always a risk with Byzantine VN adaptations, where sometimes the anime staff will try to shoehorn side stories in even if they don’t quite fit, presumably because they assume the fans will want them. I have no idea if that’s what happened here, but it kind of felt that way.
The other factor that detracted from my enjoyment was that this episode was pretty high on the sappiness scale, which isn’t a problem with S;G all that often, but certainly can be on occasion. As far as emotional manipulation goes this was pretty l0w-hanging fruit, and I just don’t feel we have enough reason to buy in with Kagari in order to overlook that. Again, maybe someone going through the VN wouldn’t have that problem, but the anime should be judged as a standalone entity, for better or for worse.
Indeed, the most interesting part of all this for me was the matter of the song – which while pretty saccharine in and of itself, represented an interesting mystery in terms of the story. Kagari heard it from her mother, who she’s lost her memories of – OK, that works. But Mayushi is singing it in the present, too (which sets Kagari off on a fainting spell) and claims to have heard it from Suzuha. Suzuha swears she never sang it in front of Kagari in the future, which eventually leads the trail to Yuki, who says she heard it from someone in her baking class. And that someone turns out to be Okabe’s mom, who says she heard it from… Okabe, who has no memory of it at all.
I’m not sure what any of that means, or whether it has any broader implications for the tangle of world lines Okarin has to contend with. But adding to the sense of this as a standalone episode was the fact that Kagari’s arc seemed very much to reach a logical stopping point when she recovered her memories and recognized Mayuri as her stepmother. As for Okabe, he appears to have originally heard the song from Kagari herself (fresh from the future), and apparently forgotten it – but that seems unlikely, considering how much his mother says he used to sing it in middle school. It’s also odd that Mayushi has no memory of him singing it to her, which Okabe’s mother says he did.
There’s one other way one could assess this episode, and that’s as the first one after the departure of Maho, Leskinen and Amadeus – the “Zero crew” if you will. And by that standard, it doesn’t do anything to allay whatever concerns one might have – I would say the new characters were missed quite a bit. Without them and without Hououin Kyouma, Steins;Gate feels a little bit lifeless to me – time may prove differently, but for now it seems to lack the zing and sharpness it needs, and what was a compelling melancholy with the new cast involved was more like malaise. But it’s only one episode, so I’m not going to jump to any long-term conclusions.