Steins;Gate Ep. 23: The story has already ended


Okabe is no saint.

But time for the True End? Hm, I’m not so sure about that. Let’s think back to how the last episode ended. Why was Suzuha’s World War III revelation tucked away where some viewers could miss it? For shows like Usagi Drop and Tiger & Bunny, we’ve come to accept that there’s a Part C waiting for us after the credits. This has not been the case for Steins;Gate. So why did the adaptation make such a big gamble? Suzuha’s re-appearance in the anime seems like such a major development — why leave it up to chance whether the audience encounters Part C or not?

To answer this question, I have an idea. In previous weeks, I’ve written about how the anime employs more of a video game narrative, especially one where the player is given the ability to reload save states. To quickly recap what I wrote, if there’s a hotkey that can allow someone to replay an important portion of the game, Okabe has his finger on it (figuratively). And like most video games, every scene seems to begin in media res. We usually never see how the characters get from Point A to Point B. Hell, I can’t even recall ever seeing Okabe go to bed. So how does a video game narrative explain the thought process behind sticking such an important revelation at the end of the credits, where many viewers could possibly miss out on it?

The main quest is over
Everything that we’ve built up to — the mission to save Mayuri, the mental and emotional barriers one must transcend in order to do so, the story’s major themes, etc. — is all wrapped up by the end of the 22nd episode. No, really. Sharing a tender moment with Kurisu and seeing her off at the Akihabara station is the poignant way for the story to end. Think of how so many love stories unfold; Casablanca, for instance! Kurisu’s ultimate sacrifice epitomizes the lengths Okabe must go to if he truly wants to save his childhood friend. The bittersweet finality of it all makes the end of the 22nd episode the true end. If anything, Okabe’s new mission simply retreads old ground. If anything, Okabe’s new mission is the side quest.

Now, of course, people are going to quibble with me over the true end business: “Grumble grumble, this is what the creators called the true end and I believe them because they wrote the story!” I don’t care how the video game and its developers referred to the happy ending where everything is hunky-dory and all of Okabe’s beautiful lady friends are alive. To me, the true ending is the bittersweet one where the main character has to make a powerful, emotional decision. This was the perfect place to end the story, and I suspect that the anime realizes this. After all, if we suddenly decided to lop off Part C from last week’s episode, who would have been dissatisfied by the ending? Only those who have played the game and those who expect a happy ending to all of their stories. The main quest, however, was complete and thus Suzuha’s revelation was separated from the main body of the story as much as possible.

“But E Minor, we still had the mystery of the first episode to resolve, i.e. who killed Kurisu!”
I’m sorry, but this is just more plot. We reached thematic finality at the end of episode 22. In terms of storytelling, the fact that Kurisu’s mystery is unresolved is a minor issue at best.

The secret epilogue
Now, the way Part C is almost hidden from the audience also reflects Steins;Gate‘s video game narrative. In video games, secrets and epilogues are for the true fans — the fans that know and understand the game inside and out. True fans don’t rest easy just because they’ve seen the right ending; they need to see every ending. So if you were a true fan of the series, if you hung around after the credits even though you’ve seen the same damn ED for the umpteenth time, you get the bonus level!

After all, this “final” arc just feels so haphazard. We all knew that Kurisu’s killer had to be someone in the building. This is just mystery convention: you don’t introduce an unknown into the story at this late stage of the game (no pun intended), especially in a mystery. In a way, however, Steins;Gate avoids this and it doesn’t. So while it’s no surprise that Professor Nakabachi is actually the culprit, it’s also kind of silly that he also happens to be Kurisu’s father. Worst of all, however, is how lame of a character he is. He’s just this conniving, one-dimensional bad guy who says unbelievably dumb shit:

“Why are you so smart? A girl shouldn’t be smarter than her father! If it weren’t for you, I’d have been smart, too!”

And another eye-rolling moment: the professor whips out a switch blade to fight off Okabe. I guess anything’s possible, but a physicist toting around a switch blade? Whatever.

Then you get all this stuff about how World War III started when Nakabachi defected to Russia. Or Mayuri slapping Okabe for giving up ’cause the Okabe she knows would never, ever give up! Why is the last thing bad? Because she doesn’t come anywhere close to understanding just what Okabe had to go through in order to save her sorry ass. Nope, she can’t even imagine it. So, y’know, of course he’d be hesitant to relive the same ordeal, but this time, it’s with the love of his life. But of course, a slap and some inspirational words from a cute girl is enough to buck Okabe up.

So what’s going on here?
If this final mission is the true end — if it’s a part of the main story — why is the story being so lazy with the characterization? Why is the story retreading the same plot — I just saved one cute girl using time travel, so time to save yet another cute girl using time travel! — but nevertheless undermining the emotional decisions underpinning the series’ previous ten or so episodes? What do I mean by this? In order to save Mayuri, sacrifices had to be made. The message of the story thus far has been “Nothing comes without a price.”

In order for Okabe’s friends to be happy, their D-Mails determined Mayuri’s death. From small to big, all of these joys necessitated the death of an innocent girl. And in order to save Mayuri, Okabe’s friends all had to relinquish the brief moments of bliss they had managed to attain. Finally, the reason why the last episode resonated with so many viewers is because everyone understood what was truly at stake: Okabe has to sacrifice the love of his life in order to save Mayuri.

Then this new mission to prevent WWIII and save Kurisu rolls up and pretty much demolishes everything the story had built up thus far: “Actually, you don’t have to make sacrifices to save Kurisu! Well, you just have to see her die once, but everything will turn out fine at the end!” So no, we are not watching the continuation of the main story. I don’t care what is considered “canon.” I think these last two episodes are just fanservice. No, I’m not talking about the fanservice where anime girls get molested and/or their clothes fall off. I mean fanservice in the sense that a powerful, poignant story with thematic closure be damned — and I don’t care if Nakabachi comes off as a joke — just give me a happy ending.

27 thoughts on “Steins;Gate Ep. 23: The story has already ended

  1. Son Gohan

    I am usually one who dislikes forced good endings but in S;G case I don’t feel that is forced.
    If you had access to time travel technology, won’t you try to save the love of your life?
    If anything, it seemed weird to me that Okabe decided to throw away the Phone Microwave without trying.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It was hard enough for Okabe to see his childhood friend die a billion times and Kurisu was probably right when she said it would eventually break him. If anyone should understand Okabe, it’s probably her. Now, one can naturally imagine that Okabe would snap even faster if he had to see his true love die over and over.

      Reply
  2. Seinime

    The anime did a decent job tying up all the loose ends together near the end and made sure most, if not all characters, had a part in the plot. However, some of it is just outrageous. Professor Nakabachi is suddenly Kurisu’s father with no name change or anything, and pulls out a switchblade (aren’t those illegal?) and attempts to kill his own daughter just because of his jealousy. Really now.

    “Sharing a tender moment with Kurisu and seeing her off at the Akihabara station is the poignant way for the story to end.”

    I think the producers or the staff are just trying to make everyone happy, although everything feels shoved in at the end. Everyone gets a happy ending of some sort at the end. Okabe saves them both, and the other minor characters are just left in the dust because a) they don’t remember anything, b) they do, but only the happy times (with Okabe) and ignore the sacrifice they made, or c) forget them, they’re just minor characters. I already spoiled myself by reading the ending, but I think they could’ve planned all this better.

    In fact, I don’t think all the blabber and dragging on with the D-Mails and such would’ve been necessary. Cut all this in half, and you cut faster into the action and more about the time travel, which is what the show is interesting for. More people would watch it instead of dragging through ~10 episodes just to see the action begin.

    “I think these last two episodes are just fanservice.”
    It feels more like a rushed ending. One point arises, why go through all the potential trouble and save Kurisu when she remembers nothing of what has happened? Don’t worry, insert a flash of memories like they did Feyris and the others and suddenly everything’s back to normal. Seriously expecting that. And Okabe obviously doesn’t need time to have a second thought about all that just happened, because all the trauma is pushed aside after being slapped and the thought of saving Kurisu makes him jump right into it, while the other characters just go with the flow. Sigh.

    On the other hand, Kurisu’s been a pretty vital character. Okabe would probably go insane without her. She’s the one who perfected the microwave, time leap machine, and is pretty smart. Probably the person Okabe interacted with the most, and the deepest with. Fitting for her to have her ending, no? Although shoving it all in the end does not do it justice.

    Second draft of this comment, first draft broke the word barrier I never even knew existed.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      The problem with tying up loose ends is that it’s just the loose ends of the plot. I know a lot of people focus primarily on the surface details of the narrative, but it really bothers me that in order for S;G to accomplish this feat, they will pretty much retread the same story we’ve just experienced except that, this time, there’s no gut-wrenching decision to make.

      I think the producers or the staff are just trying to make everyone happy

      I’ll never understand the necessity of the happy ending. Yeah, they feel nice, but man, stories can be good without shoehorning in a cornball ending where everyone survives and true love prevails. This is why I will never believe that S;G is cyberpunk; it doesn’t have the cojones to be cyberpunk. It’s a video game narrative where, at the end of the day, the hero saves the princess(es) and his kingdom.

      In fact, I don’t think all the blabber and dragging on with the D-Mails and such would’ve been necessary.

      If I had my way, I’d probably cut a lot of the story. Everything could have been a lot tighter. Mayuri and Kurisu could have probably been combined into a single character. Instead of the D-Mails leading up to Mayuri’s death, let’s say it leads only to the dystopian future where SERN takes over the world. Okabe would still have his “how far will he go to change the future,” but this time, he has a more legitimate reason to skirt the law. Then, just when he’s about to save mankind from this terrible future, he realizes that undoing the D-Mails will lead to the death of the Mayuri/Kurisu character. As the anime currently stands, however, Mayuri really just muddles things up.

      One point arises, why go through all the potential trouble and save Kurisu when she remembers nothing of what has happened?

      Well, even if she doesn’t remember anything, it’s better to have her alive than not so this doesn’t really bother me too much. But you’re right, the story is seemingly forcing a happy ending so much that I think we may as well consider the end of the 22nd episode the true conclusion to the story.

      Fitting for her to have her ending, no?

      Yeah, but this is sort of an “everyone” ending. Her ending would sorta imply Okabe chooses her over… well, anything else. You could even do something powerfully romantic with this — “Screw the end of the world, because I can’t imagine a future without you!” If Okabe suddenly decides that he could live with SERN’s takeover as long as he had Kurisu, this would truly be a daring move by the story. But y’know, nothing’s really sacrificed in order to save Kurisu, which just doesn’t make any sense to me thematically. As I’ve said in the post, the story up until now has been about sacrifices, but all of a sudden, no sacrifices are necessary in order to save one’s true love. As a result, I can’t think of these final two episodes as anything but fanservice.

      Reply
      1. Ryan R

        Nobody is saying that a happy ending is necessary.

        But nor is it necessary for a good story to have “gut-wrenching decisions” in them.

        There’s nothing at all wrong with a hard fought-for and well earned happy ending, and that is exactly what we’re getting in Steins;Gate.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          My argument isn’t as simple as this. I’m saying that this sudden turn in the narrative is not executed well enough to be a true ending to the series. I don’t care if a story has a happy ending or not. That would be like me bitching about the endings in Miyazaki movies because they almost always end on a perfect note. I care, however, if a story executes the happy ending well, but in my opinion, this happy ending is slipshod at best. It is definitely not “well-earned” in my book. So it thus appears to me that the happy ending’s just shoehorned in like all those corny “secret” epilogues in video games. That’s my interpretation of it anyway. I’m not simply saying “RAWR I HATE HAPPY ENDINGS.” C’mon now, give me more credit than that.

      2. Seinime

        “They will pretty much retread the same story we’ve just experienced except that, this time, there’s no gut-wrenching decision to make.”
        Indeed. There’s no dramatic pause to think about it, nor is there any doubt of mind that things could go wrong. I think I’d rather shorten Mayushii’s part and extend Kurisu’s part if they were to do both.

        “It’s a video game narrative where, at the end of the day, the hero saves the princess(es) and his kingdom.”
        Leaving the minions dead, other characters ignored; poor Luigi and the others (Kurisu/Daru and etc), Mario (Okabe) gets all the credit.

        “Okabe would still have his “how far will he go to change the future,” but this time, he has a more legitimate reason to skirt the law.”
        Seeing how horrific the future is would be a better reason to go on, yes. Mayushii dying x times sure has impact, but something’s missing there.

        “If Okabe suddenly decides that he could live with SERN’s takeover as long as he had Kurisu, this would truly be a daring move by the story.”
        Heh, I can imagine it already.

        “But y’know, nothing’s really sacrificed in order to save Kurisu, which just doesn’t make any sense to me thematically.”
        It looks that way, but Okabe probably has to sacrifice things like effort and the such to rescue Kurisu. Of course, compared with the way S;G presented how severe rescuing Mayushii was, Kurisu seems way overshadowed.

        What ending did you have in mind? It would seem harsher to end it abruptly and release the final episode as an OVA or something.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          It looks that way, but Okabe probably has to sacrifice things like effort

          Sacrificing effort seems like such a strange idea.

          What ending did you have in mind?

          I don’t think ending the show at episode 22 would have been very abrupt at all.

        2. Seinime

          I know it sounded wrong, I couldn’t really think of much off the top. And now that I think about it, ending it at 22 would be a nice ending. Although part of me wants Okabe to be more cheerful and back to making epic speeches at the end, if so.

  3. Ryan R

    Sorry, dude, totally disagree with you on this one.

    Let’s be frank here: You don’t particularly like Okabe. You don’t think that he deserves a happy ending. So you have an emotional desire to see him not get one, and so you’re trying to poo-poo it away.

    WhiteFox likely decided to add the WWIII revelation after the credits of Episode 22 to simply make an even stronger cliffhanger. A cliffhanger that’s really at the very end, even after the credits.

    Regular viewers aren’t going to skip two whole episodes just because Episode 22 had some sense of finality to it.

    So, sorry, but what we see next episode is the true end. The last episode of a TV show is always the true end, unless otherwise stated explicitly.

    Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever read you stretch more to make an argument than in this blog post. It’s Ok if you’re not particularly fond of Steins;Gate, but you don’t get to determine what its true end is. What actually comes at the end of the last episode is obviously the true end.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      The last episode of a TV show is always the true end, unless otherwise stated explicitly.

      It’s Ok if you’re not particularly fond of Steins;Gate, but you don’t get to determine what its true end is.

      Haha, well, we’ve been down this road before. I think art as a two-way conversation between its creator(s) and the audience. As such, I have as much to contribute to the interpretation of art as the people responsible for it. But of course, it’s clear that you don’t share the same views. I’m not going to rehash post-structuralism here, so shrug, you can believe whatever you want — that I’m “stretching it” or that I wrote this post out of some hate for a fictional character. I actually think S;G is a decent series with some interesting flaws, but whatever you say, man. After all, it’s your prerogative to interpret my intentions however you wish.

      Reply
      1. Ryan R

        But you’re going beyond saying “I personally think that Steins;Gate would work better if it at ended with Episode 22, and so that’s how I’m going to think of it.”

        You have every right to that opinion and position.

        However, you’re going to the point of saying that Steins;Gate’s “True End” occurred before the credits of Episode 22, with two whole episodes left to go. And not just for you personally, but for everyone.

        That’s not you having a personal interpretation of the work – That’s you attempting to force your interpretation of the work on other people.

        In fact, by insisting on that being the true end of Steins;Gate, you’re going completely against your earlier argument on canon. “True end” shouldn’t even be a legitimate term for someone who thinks that canon is something that each viewer can change and adapt or extend as he or she desires.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          And not just for you personally, but for everyone.

          That’s you attempting to force your interpretation of the work on other people.

          Okay, now you’re being ridiculous. I’m not forcing my views on anyone. If you want to believe that the last two episodes of the series convey the true ending to the series for you, that’s your choice. And I suspect many people would agree with you. I wrote this already knowing that most people wouldn’t agree with me. Furthermore, of course I’m expressing my personal views. I’m sorry I didn’t qualify every statement I made in the above post with “I think” and “In my opinion,” but I shouldn’t have to. C’mon, this should be a given, dude. Of course everything I’m expressing in my post is subjective. Writing’s about brevity. I shouldn’t have to bog down my entire post with a bunch of subjective qualifiers when I’m interpreting art.

        2. Seinime

          “I wrote this already knowing that most people wouldn’t agree with me.”
          If everyone wrote the same stuff that everyone agrees on, commenting wouldn’t really flourish in the first place. It literally promotes: “discuss!” in a good way, of course.

  4. AidanAK47

    Let me jump in here for a second.

    “That’s not you having a personal interpretation of the work – That’s you attempting to force your interpretation of the work on other people.”

    No he isn’t. He writes and people have the choice of reading what he writes. That’s not forcing people to accept an opinion. He’s merely presenting one. Also this very sentence makes you a hypocrite. Look at the comments. Who is attempting to force their interpretation of the work on other people? Three guesses.

    I don’t always agree with E Minor. (I still think deeming Madoka as utterly forgettably is just crazy talk) Still I respect that he presents a different kind of opinion. In this post he makes some very good points. The characterisation of the father was terrible and not very surprising as a revelation. 22 did feel like an ending. And honestly this WWIII plot sounds to me to be a bit contrived. However I did still really enjoy this episode. But he’s right in saying that Steins gate is flawed. (It is from the writer of chaos head after all…)

    Reply
  5. Mentar

    Sorry, but I need to agree with Ryan here. E Minor traditionally has the strange urge to look for the hair in the soup, and if there isn’t one, you’ll find him combing his hair frantically over the pot.

    Just claiming “this is contrived” does not make it so. Take WW3 for example – the story has established that Chris has written a groundbreaking paper on how to create a time machine. The story has also established that her father is going to defect to Russia due to his peer pressure at home and his implication in Chris’ death. That the control over time travel technology would be a tremendous source of power is obvious, and that – should something like this be possible – this would most likely trigger another arms race is obvious, too. So, taking all this into account, what is contrived about WW3? NOTHING is. It’s perfectly logical.

    I think that E Minor tends to confuse personal perception with objective fact, and then tries to validate his personal opinion with pseudo-objective, but patently unsubstantiated statements. Of course he is entitled to his own opinion, I just think that he should take greater care to tag it as subjective. Or, if he really does try to argue on an objective level, to give more supporting evidence.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Of course he is entitled to his own opinion, I just think that he should take greater care to tag it as subjective. Or, if he really does try to argue on an objective level, to give more supporting evidence.

      This boils down to you being bothered that I don’t use “I think” and “this is my opinion” often enough. This is art criticism. Criticism of anime even. I was never writing scientific papers. So sorry, my failure to “take greater care to tag [my work] as subjective” is not really a problem. I’ve always written posts under the presumption that they were subjective and it isn’t my fault you somehow thought I was presenting objective facts.

      Reply
  6. draggle

    I agree: this episode felt like fanservice tacked on at the end to make everyone happy. It kind of cheapened what Okabe did with Mayuuri too. Before, Okabe had to relive hell over and over again. Now, a girl from the future and his future selves solve everything for him.

    And there’s exactly one out of an infinite number of universes where there are no local attractors? And without local attractors everything is perfect? How convenient. Okabe just happens to be a step away from the perfect universe, too! And the path there is oh so obvious: fool the entire multiverse with your good acting skills!

    Not to mention it crapped all over the original time travel setup (or I just don’t get it). Before Okabe had to live up to the point he sent a text message and send it himself. Now he just receives the message immediately without sending it? Again, how convenient.

    I’m probably focusing too much on the mechanics. But in a series about time travel where half the fun is coming up with crackpot theories to explain what’s going on, I’m disappointed.

    Reply
    1. Seinime

      I didn’t even remember when Okabe sent that D-Mail with the fuzzy video. Either that’s a good job of tying up loose ends or a simple way to solve everything.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous

    The story could’ve just ended @ Ep.22, but let us not forget there are still parts not explained from Ep.1. The squad of soldiers running on the roof (assuming they come from the future * ie : wearing the same uniform as Suzuha in Ep.23*) probly to stop Okabe to save Kurisu for his 2nd attempt to use the time machine to save her.

    Just because the story might looks to be heading to a “Happy Ending” it doesn’t mean its purely for a fan service.The whole story is about how a group of friends invented a time machine and to put it into use.Let us recap the story from the start.

    Started with a fluke of luck a failed invention happens to effect Okabe’s hand-phone to be able to send text back in time, developed into a memory transfer back to time, and soon they discovered they can change little stuffs around but they were unable to control what will happened after.Worse when Okabe found out that no matter how he can change things in the world line,it leads to the same ending over and over.Altho a time machine is invented in the future, it cant be used to change the world line as proven by Suzuha when she tries to go back in time to retrieve the IBM.If a time machine is unable to perform such a task its a fail invention to began with.Therefore the story is just proceeding to the next phase of progress of perfecting the time machine – to be able to change the future without paying its price.

    Its my point of view and I just like to share it =) the characters are just like pictures in a book, but its the story which keeps the readers interested.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Just because the story might looks to be heading to a “Happy Ending” it doesn’t mean its purely for a fan service.

      I’m sorry, but that’s not exactly what I said.

      Reply
  8. Pingback: Steins;Gate: A stingy aftertaste | ganbatte.

  9. LazyBrah

    Ok, few quick things I LOVE to point out.
    Sure the pacing was god damn slow, but you say putting Kurisu/Mayuri’s character into one, then weigh her with the group of mankind? If the anime chose this path, I would rate it MUCH lower then what I will now; I mean, it’s not like every one out of three action visual novels/anime pull this cliche off. The way episode 22 ended was much more refreshing and also neater.

    Next, you said that the last two episode is fanservice, and to that degree, I agree with you. However, that is doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing; not everything have to be bittersweet emotional to leave an impact. After seeing the poor man witnessing his childhood friends’ death a thousand time, you really hope that Mayuri will be saved. Similarly, because he suffered so much, he learned that saving her means the death of the one whom he love so much, wouldn’t you wish to see Kurisu being saved too, especially since he has the ability to do so?

    Which brings me to my next topic, you mentioned that there is no point to save her because she’ll forget everything, and the makers acknowledges this, going with the whole memory flash gimmick. Regardless of the gimmick, isn’t saving a person whom would no longer remember you but you’re just gonna be happy that they’re going to be alive, ANOTHER popular tried and true cliche? Like Okabe said, “atleast I know you’re alive somewhere.”

    I find that you’re way too harsh on the anime purely because the last two episode decided to make the audience and Okabe abit more cheerful, but remember it did good for most of the show. Sure there’s some loose end and logic here and there, but think about it; Suzuha suffered greatly in world-line alpha, her return (and her exit) was kinda heart warming. We have both Mayuri and Karisu alive and kicking (despite the limitless amount of nightmares for both parties), it’s a worldline without a definite negative future! What’s there about this ending not to love aside from being “a little rushed?” It’s a little rushed, but not enough for you to clearly point it out without pinpointing minor details.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Steins;Gate and Desensitisation | Veganime

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