Steins;Gate 0 – Mid Series Anime Review
Synopsis: A divergent continuation of the original Steins;Gate ending, Steins;Gate 0 explores an alternate worldline where Okabe abandons time travel. While attempting to forget past traumas and get his life back on track, he meets an AI that re-opens old wounds. (Official Crunchyroll Synopsis)
Mid Series (12 Episodes) Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Steins;Gate 0 purports to contain a darker narrative, one mired more so in Okabe’s own personal failure than the original allowed for. This timeline is one where everything is on a path to go permanently wrong. While Steins;Gate 0 often nails that presentation, crafting a suspenseful thriller even people more lukewarm on the original can enjoy, it is not without its greater missteps.
Despite this series existing in the ‘bad timeline’ where Okabe failed to save Kurisu and perhaps has even failed to prevent what will ultimately culminate as world war three, Steins;Gate 0 is hesitant to commit to that darker tone at all times. Afraid audiences might find the series too dour and depressing, frequent interruptions in the narrative occur, where side characters frolic with joy and silliness that goes farther than merely giving the audience a break from 0’s oppressive atmosphere. Slice of life shenanigans and fan service smash through the building tension, damaging the flow of developments and building threat by pulling us away from it all to have some tits juggled or girls be cute. It’s frustrating for anyone not nearly so enamored with the original run, and the greater cast, making these moments feel like out and out pandering to the die-hard fandom.
Ignoring this criticism of mine, Steins;Gate 0 is otherwise strong, and even when a sequence or two sours me, I find myself yanked back into appreciating this more atmospheric alternate story. Perhaps it helps that Steins;Gate 0 currently feels more focused than the original. Where as Steins;Gate proper attempted to keep each of the side characters as major components to the ongoing narrative, 0 is less ambitious, or even harem driven. Steins;Gate 0 seems content to keep the story on Okabe’s own internal, emotional struggle, and new comer Maho’s turbulent feelings concerning Kurisu and her death. Together the two act as the primary focus for these first twelve episodes, keeping many other characters more so on the sidelines than before, at least for now. All the fan favorites continue to play a role, but never get that singular episode focus like in the original, often instead left to carry certain plot elements in the background or on the sidelines, or provide that your ‘mileage may vary’ fan service.
This said, the series does begin to veer a little off course approaching Mid-Season, becoming distracted with a sub-plot involving an amnesiac new girl. Although that subplot seems gradually ready to tie into the main plot and feels less a distraction, and more a major development, the further we get in.
Going back to Okabe, his internal struggle is a powerful one, and anyone who’s faced doubt, regret, and fear at compounding mistakes or what might have beens can understand how he may become paralyzed into inaction. Maho’s own sense of self-worth, gradually coming more so into play as the series continues, feels intriguing in its own right and has quickly placed her as my favorite character in this alternate run. Steins;Gate 0 does a solid job of tying these characters’ emotional arcs to the plot at hand, giving more weight to Steins;Gate 0’s narrative than in the early episodes of the original.
Not only is the character focus tighter and stronger, but the twists and pacing continue to be on point. Ignoring the intrusive moments of levity that outstay their welcome more often than not, each episode furthers the story to a significant degree, keeping 0 moving at a brisk pace with development after development. Yet at the same time the series never rushes, never cutting much needed character introspection. Like the original Steins;Gate, 0 feels altogether a higher quality product than any of the other blank;blank anime adaptations to date.
Overall Steins;Gate 0 has a lot to love, even as someone who never entirely fell in love with the original. The frequent moments of levity that interrupt the strong pacing and building thrills are annoying, but not enough for me to feel like the series is all that worse off for it. What’s here, despite flaws, is still an excellent companion piece to the original and makes for one of the stronger anime this Spring.