Steins;Gate Ep. 20: We meet “FB”

Apoptosis: programmed cell death. Not all cell death is bad though. We believe fingers and toes form due to cells apoptosing during the embryo stage. So when Okabe realizes that his actions, i.e. reverting the D-Mails, will “program” a timeline where Kurisu dies, why is this necessarily a bad thing? After all, doesn’t SERN take over the world in the alpha timeline? Isn’t one death worth the fate of the entire world?

Well, we’re not all utilitarians. And maybe the world will turn out poorly whether Mayuri or Kurisu dies. Most importantly, however, how do we even know Mayuri died in the original timeline? Okabe never did verify her death; he just ran. Maybe she was heavily injured, but not quite dead. Sure, there’s blood, but did it belong to her? Plus, there is still something else rather puzzling about this particular scene. Who let out that anguished scream? Why did it sound so much like Okabe?

The video game narrative
When Braun shoots Moeka, the ringing of a bell drowns every other sound out. Scenes of Nae waking up are then interspersed with Braun’s final monologue. For Okabe, how real is death? After all, every single time someone dies (usually Mayuri), he “wakes up” at a different, earlier point in time. While the rest of us wake up “forward” after a nightmare, Okabe moves backward in time. Death is just the end of a dream for Okabe, but not exactly; I’ll get to what I mean in a second.

“Steins;Gate” is structured much like a dream. Scenes start and end abruptly, we usually don’t get to see how the characters get from point A to point B — they’re usually already there. The current episode simply takes this idea and expands upon it. While Okabe tails the IBN 5100 package as it makes its way from one mysterious person to the next, he repeatedly time leaps whenever screw ups occur. The result is something that gives the audience the illusion of one cohesive scene where Okabe finally tracks down “FB,” but in reality, Okabe is simply going from one life to the next, each life starting in media res.

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.


These screenshots show off some of the episode’s disjointed and dream-like sequences.

As we near the conclusion, Okabe will soon have to choose between Mayuri and Kurisu. All along, we’ve thought that the “right” timeline is the one where Mayuri doesn’t die. But now that Okabe realizes Kurisu will die if the D-Mails are undone, what’s necessarily the “right” timeline now? Much like in Chuang Chou’s story, which timeline will remain a “dream” and which will become “reality?” Or is only difference being we simply choose to “believe” one over the other?

When I say that the narrative is dream-like, however, I am not invoking an “It’s all a dream” interpretation. Far from it. His world is certainly not “real” as we understand the concept. After all, what is concrete in a world that one can change on a whim? Even so, this isn’t all a dream because Okabe can exert his will upon the world around him. “Steins;Gate” is based on a visual novel though, is it not?

Think about it — Okabe doesn’t accept the world for what it is (the alpha timeline); he’s given an alternative (the beta timeline), but he doesn’t like it either. As soon as something goes wrong, he instantly “reloads.” The narrative thus adopts the perspective of a gamer. We save our progress before every major plot branch, and as soon as we encounter an undesirable event, we reload an older save file. Each scene always occur in media res much like how our saves plop us in the middle of a level and thus a story in progress. Of course, it would be far too tacky for the anime to come right out say “This is a video game metaphor!” Making the narrative feel dreamlike, however, solves this problem.

The construction site
It’s good to see the “Steins;Gate” world re-enforce the story’s themes. Okabe’s reality is constantly in flux; he’s always making tiny changes to his timeline, removing this and adding that. Unfortunately, none of his actions thus far have created the desired effect, i.e. Mayuri’s survival. Similarly, you can topple one building and construct another in its place, but will this change the city? How many buildings do we have to replace before the city’s identity shifts completely? When does a pile of sand become a mountain?

This is currently Okabe’s game. Even if he changes the timeline enough, i.e. Kurisu dies instead of Mayuri, is this really a significant symbolic change? Someone close to him — someone he loves — will still die. Even if you have a mountain of sand, it’s still just sand.

6 thoughts on “Steins;Gate Ep. 20: We meet “FB”

  1. inushinde

    Death has become cheap to Okabe, so I see this as a way to make him stop messing with the timeline. Fatalistic, but not specific with who’s taken by the end, so he has to choose a world line to settle on or risk enduring the same torment again and again. Now that he has the IBN again, and thus his reason to travel back through time, he now has nothing to delay his choice aside from SERN.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I see this as a way to make him stop messing with the timeline

      That would seem to imply someone on top is calling the shots. I dunno about that.

      Reply
  2. 2DT

    It’s a crime that this isn’t getting more attention. As a person who knows nothing about video games, I appreciate this kind of analysis. It’s illuminating.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      It’s a crime that this isn’t getting more attention

      People vote with their hearts. If this post isn’t getting more attention, it probably sucks.

      Reply
  3. seinime

    Good analysis. Waiting for your Usagi Drop one, as well. Strange I didn’t find the video game aspect where Okabe could just reload the “game” and start all over again. I always thought that when given a chance to rewind the tape and record a new future, you would do it. ex. the movie Click.

    “Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” – Really good quote and take on it.

    To someone who had lost a dear friend, I’m not sure whether it is more painful to accept the loss and move on, or given the chance to rewind time, and try to change things. I noticed Okabe’s view on death has changed; he has simply become more impartial as things go along. Having rewound time so many times and watching Mayuri die so many times, he doesn’t have the same emotion he had in the past any more. Is he really doing it for Mayuri? For himself? Or just because he can? For example, one might load a visual novel save game many times just to get the “true” or good end.

    I foresaw the D-Mails having a major impact of the future, ex. the Butterfly effect. Now whether he can use that to an advantage somehow, I don’t know.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      Rewinding a tape would fit up til the point that you normally don’t have any control over a tape. You could rewind it, but you’d still be watching the same events unfold. Okabe can definitely influence his world so I just thought the video game comparison would fit better. As for Click, I thought Sandler’s character could only slow down or speed up time.

      Reply

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