Steins;Gate 0: The Despair Horizon

The question that every sequel to a popular series, both anime and not, is simply “did we need this?” Does the story they are telling in the follow up deserve to be told? Are the characters being put in proper directions? Or does it just feel like this is a cheap cash-in to service fans? Few sequels are able to properly answer those questions properly and sadly, the show we are talking about today doesn’t change that. After the cut let’s take a dive into the sequel series Steins;Gate 0.

Do you like sadness? Well do I got an anime for you.

To understand why Steins;Gate 0 does not really work, you have to first understand why the first Steins;Gate did.

Set over 24 episodes, the first Steins;Gate series proves itself to be a masterclass of story telling and set up. You spend the first 12 chapters getting to know the main characters. You watch the different personalities mix, and most importantly you see Okabe and Kurisu butt heads. There is humor, comedy, quips, and most of all, amazing chemistry as they mess around with the time machine they created. This helps build attachment to the characters so when the second half of the series rolls around, and Okabe is thrown into the hell of trying to undo their work, you are fully invested in what is going on. It’s a simple, but masterful way of telling a story, and it is the main reason that Steins;Gate is so successful.

Okabe has shed his mad scientist persona in an attempt to move on from Kurisu’s death, but not all ghosts stay buried.

Steins;Gate 0 doesn’t do that, and that, combined with a few other things is why the series doesn’t measure up. Set in a world-line where Okabe abandons his quest to save Kurisu and prevent World War III, we see the aftermath as he struggles to move on with his life and put the events of that summer in the past. Characters grow and change, but it is only a chance encounter Maho Hiyajo and the A.I Amadeus that Okabe finds himself back on the path of time travel, just as World War III looms on the horizon. Throughout the 24 episodes we see the once cheerful mad scientist grapple with his indecision and PTSD, even as things spiral out of control.

Now while this plot is quite interesting, and does stay true to the themes of the series. It is very clear at the start that Steins;Gate 0 lacks any of the chemistry and good humor of it predecessor. Even early on, it was evident that the friendly banter and relationships that were so key to enjoying the previous series are not there. Even Maho, the replacement for Kurisu does not have the chemistry with Okabe that made them such a powerful pair. The secondary characters themselves don’t bring much either, with Mayushi, Suzuha and Daru are pretty much the same, and like I said before, the new characters don’t really do much. This is most notable with Kagiri who feels undercooked and very one-note, slipping more into the role left by Moeka from the last series.

Kagiri is a strange addition to the cast, and never really fully fits in, even after the truths are revealed.

Furthermore the plot of Steins;Gate 0 is extremely difficult to put together, some of which can be blamed on the adaptation. I do not know details, but apparently several arcs from the visual novel were stitched together and key plot points were left out. Even then, the story lacks the foolish simply and frighteningly effective premise (mess with time, then try to fix time) of the former. Instead it’s a mix of sad reflection on the past, events that are never really explained until the end, and filler episodes that made me question if the series was just padding for time. There were moments when I was watching that I had to have the wiki up to get what was going on. A sign that is never good for even the best of series.

However it is not all bad, and I want to state that there is good here. The story’s choice to explore Okabe’s failure is an interesting one and drives home the fact that messing with time, and their stupid experiments leave a major impact. His grief over Kurisu’s death shows the depth of his feelings for her. Mayushi has more to do this time, and helps push Okabe into making the right choices, and even if she doesn’t really gel well, Maho does add a new layer of interest to the group dynamics. The music is solid, the animation true to the first series’ style and the ending really does bring the messy ride together for a satisfyingly conclusion. Despite my feeling throughout the series, I couldn’t help but feel a strong emotional payoff to the final episode.

Maho can’t fill the gap that Kurisu left in the story, but she does her best and does feel like her own character.

Steins;Gate 0, at its heart, is a decent, but unnecessary sequel to what remains a landmark series in my eyes. If I could sum it up in a single sentence it would be this. Watching this anime only made me realize just how excellent and well crafted the first one was. That was probably not the goal they wanted with this anime, and again I can’t speak to the visual novel, but that’s how the pieces fell. If you love Steins;Gate deeply, don’t take my word for it, and go make up your own mind. But if you were lukewarm on the first series, or don’t adore it, then I would suggest staying out of the time machine for this round.

Unless it is for cute girls in cute pajamas. Cause then hop the fucking machine.

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