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.