How does the saying go… “The darkest hour is before the dawn?” Well, I’m sure this idiom is more lyrical than truthful, but it does apply a fair bit to this week’s episode of Steins;Gate. Here Okabe stands, at the crossroads of fate; he can either save Mayuri, his childhood friend, or Kurisu, his… his what?
“The world… will be rebuilt!”
A rainstorm forces Okabe and Kurisu to share a bit of an oft-used romantic trope: lovers seeking shelter when a sudden downpour catches them. Okabe then fumbles around in both complete darkness and his personal feelings until Kurisu sets him straight; her kiss lights up his world. You could then sort of see the world as an externalization of Okabe’s feelings. When he sees her off at Akihabara Station, it’s completely empty around them. Well, when does Tokyo ever feel so empty and abandoned? Instead, it’s more that in Okabe’s mind, no one but these time-crossed lovers need exist.
I don’t think it’s something as tacky as “Okabe has the power to directly alter the world around him,” but his story is a personal one. We thus see the world through his subjectivity. Somewhere out there, the objective world exists. We don’t directly perceive the objective world, however; we only see it filtered through our subjectivity. How I interpret the world might be completely different from how you interpret it. Of course, this isn’t problematic because, for instance, even if your yellow qualia doesn’t resemble my yellow qualia, we call it by the same name. In Steins;Gate, the audience gets the rare opportunity to see how Okabe sees his world.
Okabe’s metropolis isn’t grey and stark because the world is literally grey and stark. It’s grey and stark because this reflects Okabe’s internal state. Akihabara Station isn’t actually empty in the objective world, but like in any romantic movie where one lover sees another lover off, the stage is set only for Okabe and Kurisu. If Steins;Gate’s setting reminds anyone of cyberpunk, it isn’t because the story is actually cyberpunk, but rather that Okabe (subconsciously) believes it to be so. He thinks that he’s the mad scientist, after all.
I’ll follow you into the dark
Corny song lyrics aside, I’m a little disturbed by Okabe and Kurisu’s love. Okabe is like a twisted genie who snatches away young girls’ happiness after giving them the taste of paradise. He’s foiled SERN? The battle of Ragnarok has ended? Oh please, my good sir. The only reason why SERN could even take over the world in the first place was because Okabe started the whole mess to begin with. He opened Pandora’s box and got bitten. He then goes around and asks pretty girls to sacrifice their dreams to rectify his biggest failure, i.e. failing to protect his “hostage” Mayuri.
Why is Mayuri’s life worth Suzuha’s dementia? Why is it worth the life of Feyris’s dad? Why should Rukako stay a Ruka for Mayuri? Why must Moeka lose the one thing she believes in? Finally, why must Kurisu die for Mayuri? The last sacrifice is key. Okabe confesses to Kurisu that he cares for her more than anyone else, and yet, it is Mayuri who will live and not Kurisu. Nevermind the fact that some true end will allow both girls to live; this isn’t something Okabe is considering. And yeah, yeah… if the world line doesn’t cross the 1% threshold, SERN will take over the world, but that’s not what Kurisu and Okabe are debating. Instead, Kurisu argues that Mayuri’s death will break Okabe.
But this is what I don’t understand. He’s already seen Mayuri die countless times. He’s only seen Kurisu die once. He supposedly cares about Kurisu more than he does for Mayuri. At the very least, the affection he has for the latter is on an entirely different level than what he feels for the former. Why, then, should Mayuri’s death break Okabe any more than Kurisu’s? I’ve conjectured this in the past, and it wasn’t a popular theory, but I’m going to hazard the guess again: it’s not Mayuri’s death that will break Okabe but his failure.
The question I’m asking is why Kurisu and why now? So often, we never really wonder why two characters get together in a story: “Oh, you can’t explain love.” I think there’s a reason why the story chose Kurisu over all of the other female candidates. Okabe loves Kurisu because she’s willing to follow him on his mission. She’s even willing to put her life on the line for him to accomplish his goal. This is the ultimate sacrifice from any woman. Each of the girls in the story had to give something up in order for Okabe to return to the original timeline, but Kurisu makes the biggest sacrifice of all. The anime implicitly argues that the greatest display of love is thus complete and utter devotion to another even if one’s life is at stake.
Kurisu: “You and I have come this far, from the single wish to save her! If we stop, we’ll always regret it.”
This is the only way I can rationalize why an eighteen year old genius would so eagerly discard her nascent potential. It would be one thing if Kurisu justified her decision by invoking the fate of the world, i.e. let’s not allow SERN to dominate the future, but neither of the lovers even mention SERN until the final D-Mail has been reversed. In fact, if either character truly cared about the world’s fate, the choice would be easy: let Kurisu die. Maybe the world would turn to hell if Kurisu dies anyway, but neither of them know this. Instead, Kurisu wants Okabe to let her die so he could complete his mission. Nothing else. Is this a cynical take on the show? I guess I never really saw Okabe as a true hero.
World War III?
So it turns out the world will still go to shit if Kurisu dies… not that any of the characters could have known otherwise. Okabe gets Suzuha’s phone call as if he’s a secret agent or something: once he completes a mission, another one begins. Still, I’m a little skeptical that a single man can prevent a world war. We’re all lazily taught to think the assassination of Franz Ferdinand kicked off the first world war, but let’s be honest. At that point, Europe was a pressure cooker ready to blow. International relations were severely strained due to a confluence of issues. Some archduke’s death was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. If the world’s going to break out into a major conflict any time soon, I doubt Okabe could prevent it all by his lonesome. Oh well, I guess I’m digressing too much at this point….
Oh well, at least Okabe had the balls to confess to and kiss a girl.
How many anime heroes can muster up the courage to do that?