The long arduous journey of Okabe Rintaro and the dire consequences of time travel has been the focal point of the original Steins;Gate, and later revisited in this year’s Steins;Gate 0. Through the exploration of the beta world line, where Okabe fails to save Kurisu Makise from death, the latest anime goes to deep, dark places before a ray of hope emerges for our tortured hero. It has been quite the trip in Steins;Gate 0, which recently aired its final episode for the series.
When Steins;Gate 0 first aired back in April on the streaming service Crunchyroll, the first few episodes of the new anime already showed signs of promise. Okabe is back but not as his mad scientist alter ego Hououin Kyouma. He discards that persona to bury himself in his college coursework and put time travel behind him in an attempt to cope with the deep trauma, pain, and scars left behind from his many unsuccessful trips in time to save both Mayuri and Kurisu.
Just as Okabe is settling into a relatively quiet and regular existence as a hardworking college student, he finds himself pulled into another situation that threatens to upset the normalcy he carved for himself when he has a chance meeting with Professor Alexis Leskinen and his research assistant Maho Hiyajo, former associates Kurisu worked with. After they both learn that Okabe knew Kurisu, it gives Professor Leskinen and Maho the idea to recruit Okabe to help them test out the Amadeus system, an AI that can be uploaded with a person’s memories and creates a digital likeness of the real person. It just so happens that Amadeus has been uploaded with the memories of Kurisu before her death. The more an initially unwilling Okabe continues to talk to the AI Kurisu, the more he finds himself growing close to Amadeus, which creates emotional conflict within Okabe and exposes an astonishing and dangerous connection Amadeus has in the race to build a time machine that will be the cause for World War III.
For lack of a better word, I called Steins;Gate 0 a sequel of sorts to Steins;Gate in my previous first impressions post. Having seen the anime from start to finish, I no longer really think of Steins;Gate 0 as a sequel. Steins;Gate 0 is its own different show that doesn’t exactly pick up from where the first Steins;Gate ends, but rather shows us another existing world line that works in tandem with the one we already know until it eventually converges to give Okabe from the first Steins;Gate anime all the information he needs to create the variables necessary to successfully get to the ultimate world line, the original happy ending of the first series—a reality where two of the people Okabe cares and loves the most, Mayuri and Kurisu, both live.
Revisiting a story, especially when the original series ended in 2011, is a bit of a gamble because of the high bar the prior anime established. The OG Steins;Gate is almost always a part of most people’s best of lists in anime. The original series ended on a satisfyingly high note with not much left to be told. The release of Steins;Gate 0 proves there’s a new angle to the story we think we know and has firmly become required viewing to uncover the brilliant new insight that ties into the final episode of the first Steins;Gate.
Without going into any spoilers, the ending of Steins;Gate 0 answers one small detail left behind at the end of Steins;Gate. There are also other little nods to the first Steins;Gate in the last episode of Steins;Gate 0 that’s extremely epic and emotional for any diehard fans of the anime, as this Reddit discussion (spoilers abound in that thread) can attest to.
Steins;Gate 0 sees the return of many of your favorite characters from the original, such as Mayuri, Daru, and Suzuha to name a few. But there’s also new faces, like Maho Hiyajo, Professor Leskinen, Yuki Amane, and Kagari Shiina. Among the new characters in Steins;Gate 0, my favorite of Okabe’s newest “lab members” is Maho Hiyajo.
The first time Maho meets Okabe, I wasn’t really sure if I would like the serious research assistant. There are cracks about Maho’s height, making it easy for someone who doesn’t know Maho to mistake her for a child and not a brilliant young woman in her twenties that specializes in neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Then there’s the absence of Kurisu. While Amadeus fills the Kurisu size hole in Steins;Gate 0, Okabe and the viewers know that the AI Kurisu could never replace our beloved “Christina.” Amadeus, while having an uncanny similarity to the original Kurisu, especially when Amadeus and Maho adorably tease or bicker with one another, there is still an immense amount of sadness you feel when you realize that in this world line Kurisu truly is dead.
In a way, it does feel like Maho is supposed to step in to fill the void Kurisu’s death leaves behind. Being very much devoted to the Okabe and Kurisu ship, I was very protective of that couple and I didn’t take too kindly to this new girl waltzing into Okabe’s life. It’s also hard to ignore the connection that could potentially develop into something romantic between Okabe and Maho, which even Amadeus enthusiastically encourages her senpai to explore further. In the end, Maho truly won me over with the close friendship she forges with Okabe and her moments of vulnerability and candor when she opens up about her fears and insecurities about never measuring up to Kurisu’s intelligence.
The episode where Maho uses the analogy of Salieri (Maho) and Amadeus (Kurisu) to compare how she viewed her relationship to Kurisu is one of the standouts of Steins;Gate 0. Maho’s feelings of inadequacy makes her character relatable and easy to connect with. You realize Maho doesn’t hold herself and her own achievements in such high regard, not in the same way she does with Kurisu. The episode highlights another facet of Kurisu’s life you don’t get to see in Steins;Gate and shows another perspective of someone, other than Okabe, who is still mourning and struggling to move past Kurisu’s untimely death. Aside from their shared grief over Kurisu, the bond that forms between Maho and Okabe becomes an important friendship in later episodes when Okabe finds himself sucked back down the time travel rabbit hole and needs someone who will help him rebuild the microwave time machine to enable him to finally reach Steins;Gate, leading to the happy result you see in the original Steins;Gate anime.
I would say Steins;Gate 0 has pulled off an incredible feat of being on par or equal in quality and storytelling to Steins;Gate. While Steins;Gate 0 has the advantage of mostly hitting the ground running because of the established characters and backstory piggybacking off of the original, whereas, Steins;Gate starts off slow before the action and story really get going, it has earned its spot as a must-see anime that should be viewed right after Steins;Gate. It’s a near perfect companion piece for Steins;Gate, if you can get past some minor issues with a few of the new characters not really getting much character development like the other side characters in Steins;Gate have the pleasure of getting. If you’re looking for a strong story about time travel that’s well worth your time and investment, look no further than this anime series.
Reviewer Rating: 9.5/10