Steins;Gate Ep. 19: The reluctance to cry wolf

This episodes pinpoints the exact reason why the previous episode was so dull. There’s a desperation in Moeka — a sick, twisted desperation — that gives her story so much more emotion and urgency than Ruka(ko)’s half-hearted exploration of a trans woman’s complicated feelings. The complete and utter dependency that Moeka exhibits for this ‘FB’ is the sort that has wormed its way into every inch of her existence. You don’t just tell the poor girl to snap out of it; she is it. Okabe tries to tear down everything Moeka holds dear, but all he’s done is replace one obsession with another.

The harem anime with causality
Oh no, not causality again. You’ll have to excuse me as I still have “Mawaru Penguindrum” on the brain. Even so, I don’t think what I’m about to say is a huge stretch or anything so bear with me. I’m going to pose the following question: is “Steins;Gate” all that structurally different than, say, “Kanon?” We have a male character, the harem leader, going around solving his haremettes’ problems until he finally gets with his one true love. The only difference here is that we’ve given the same story structure a sense of causality.

It was always rather perfunctory how most harems functioned. Why do we go through arcs and arcs of the harem leader courting random girls until he settles upon one? Why doesn’t he just go after the girl of his dreams to begin with? What’s the causal relation that requires me to watch the previous arcs? Some harem stories try to remedy this problem by literally restarting the story (read more about this here), but there’s still something unsatisfying about having to hit some proverbial reset button each and every single time we solve one girl’s problems. How do we get around this?

“Steins;Gate” introduces the causal relation to Okabe’s journey, which makes perfect sense considering the show’s focus on time traveling. I haven’t played the visual novel, but one can suspect that he’ll end up with either Mayuri or Kurisu. Here, however, is the beauty of it: he can’t get with either of those girls unless he fixes the world. Literally, there’s no future for his love unless he fixes each and every single one of his haremettes’ problems. If we (and Okabe) want to see the true ending, we actually have to go through all the arcs — no haremette left behind.

Oh, you can argue that none of the other girls, i.e. Suzuha, Feyris, Ruka and Moeka, ever really had a chance at Okabe’s love so they’re not really haremettes. Plus, if he gets with any one of them, the world ends (at the very least, the world turns out rather poorly). But c’mon — we’ve got a male character (Okabe), his sex-starved, (mostly) comic relief best friend (Daru), and a bevy of women at Okabe’s fingertips. He literally had to go on a date with one of them to complete her path. Even if “Steins;Gate” isn’t a true harem anime just because you can’t get a happy ending with each and every single girl, it’s still pretty damn close.

A horror harem
If you don’t buy my previous argument, at least “Steins;Gate” is a hell of a lot more interesting when Moeka is going berserk.

When Okabe noticed that the screaming and banging had stopped, and the camera was at an angle, I half-expected Moeka’s head to pop out through a window or something for a jump scare. But alas… we need more horror harem anime, but don’t get me wrong — I’m not talking about lame shit like “11eyes” or melodramatic nonsense like “School Days.”

The Kitty Genovese effect
It doesn’t really matter how you look at this particular scene:

Whether it’d be from this angle or this, it should look like rape. Somehow, the female onlooker takes a quick look at the struggling pair — I don’t think she can even see whether or not Okabe’s kissing Moeka from her vantage point — and decides that there’s nothing particularly fishy going on: “Jeez! Couples these days….” How is it remotely possible that anyone could come to such a conclusion?

We hear a woman (Moeka) screaming and crying. We hear someone slamming something heavy (a table) against a wall of some sort (the front door). We see a man (Okabe) straddling said woman, pinning each of her arms down to the floor. Even if you just assume that this might be some kinky role play, the front door’s open. Even if there are role players out there indulging in pretend rape fantasies — and I certainly don’t deny that a lot of people out there, male or female, have rape fantasies — it’s even less likely that they would leave the front door open in the middle of the night.


The apartment complex where Moeka lives.

Plus, it’s not as if Moeka lives in a gigantic mansion in the middle of a large estate. She lives in an apartment complex, and I know apartments are pretty small in Japan. How is it remotely possible that none of her neighbors heard anything? No, I bet they did. What else am I supposed to think? That the adjacent apartments are completely empty so no one heard Moeka’s screams and struggles?

What we have then is the Kitty Genovese effect. Much of the Kitty Genovese story is exaggerated, but there’s nothing fake about the ‘diffusion of responsibility’ concept. People simply assume that someone else will take care of the problem.

Overthinking rape
Still, it’s not just the Kitty Genovese effect that bothers me about this particular scene. It’s how people are hesitant to interpret rape in a situation that just screams rape. Here’s a reaction from a fellow tweeter, HirakuNoShadow:

“How does that woman not see that as a rape… I guess I’m overthinking it. #SteinsGate”

No, my good friend, no! Even if you assume “wrong,” you’re erring on the safe side. What if it isn’t rape? Okay, you tell the couple to stop being so loud and go back to whatever it is you’re doing. What if it is rape? Then you have a chance here to stop, well, rape.

“But it isn’t rape! Okabe’s trying to reverse a D-Mail so he can save Mayuri-chan and the world and blah blah blah.”

But there’s the rub! Everything works out for Okabe thanks to the consistent failure of human beings to help others in times of need. And what does the anime do? It implicates the audience. We want to cry rape, but we can’t because it would increase the chances that Okabe fails his mission. Or in HirakuNoShadow’s case, we want to cry rape, but we pull back when others don’t do the same — even when that ‘other’ is none other (no pun intended) than an inconsequential, faceless bystander who has likely made her first and last appearance in the entire series. Some even hope that the ambiguity in the scene is intentional to demonstrate humanity’s ugliness. Any way you slice it, the anime implicates the audience — intentional or not, who cares? The effect will still be the same either way. This particular scene is suddenly a touch more horrific, isn’t it?

Hm.

Dare I say well played to “Steins;Gate?”

Bonus material for some levity:

8 thoughts on “Steins;Gate Ep. 19: The reluctance to cry wolf

  1. inushinde

    Moeka being broken is one of the creepiest sights I’ve seen in anime in quite awhile. Still, I just can’t fathom how somebody could take a TABLE being thrown as some kind of extremely kinky roleplay. I mean I know people can get really into it, but something potentially fatal, and a woman screaming at a strange man again and again to give something back to her, just make the bystander’s response all the stranger. You did hit a good point, that maybe she doubted that it could be rape or assault, but she might’ve been living in that complex awhile. If so, she could most likely tell how quiet Moeka usually is. You are probably right, but it’s just the right kind of almost unbelievable disturbing to really sink in and make you think.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think Okabe’s moral deterioration becomes all the more compelling when we are unsure if he’s doing something wrong or not.

      Reply
  2. Son Gohan

    I disagree that Okabe is “solving his haremettes’ problems”. In fact you can say that he RECREATED the problem in the case of Feyris and Ruka!
    While it’s true that the last 4 episodes followed a harem-like path, I think it’s undeserving to call S;G a harem series.
    The plot is still very solid, even if sometimes they have to resort to people’s stupidity to make it work. (Another example is how Okabe was able to escape the Rounders again and again)

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Whether he created the problems or someone else did, what does it matter! He’s still going from girl to girl to fix their problems. You only hesitate to call it a harem series because you think it’s undeserving — because the harem moniker is a slight. Plus, I didn’t say the plot was any worse because it is a harem anime.

      Reply
  3. 2DT

    Ever seen the movie Blood Diamond? How the kids are kidnapped, then they’re woken up in the morning by armed men who hit them and say “Your parents abandoned you, they’re dead, we’re your new parents now”?

    That’s what I thought of immediately. Still gives me chills.

    Reply

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