One of the most frightening and melancholic conflicts in time travel stories that Stein;s Gate perfects is the idea of retaining memories from other timelines (or alternate worlds), while everyone else around you acts as if those events never happened. Because they didn’t, for them. Moments of desperation in life-threatening situations, gone. Raw, down-to-earth moments between characters who have been antagonistic towards each other, now opening up with eyes longing for answers into the other’s mind, gone. But Okabe remembers. He remembers all of it. And as Mayuri puts it; that is sad.
It doesn’t become apparent how significant and powerful the opening is until you pass a certain point in the series. And after you’ve reached it, every time the opening plays you feel the weight of it all; from the impressively suggestive visuals to the solemn and somber music and song. It becomes more nuanced and intelligible as time goes on. And the further the series progressed the more impact each new dilemma Okabe was faced with had.
Some of my favourite scenes are the more comfortable ones with the characters behaving in fun ways; Okabe and Kurisu lab coat pose being a top candidate. These more easygoing scenes early on do a good job of setting up Okabe’s character development for the more serious and tragic moments later on. Seeing a melodramatic character like Okabe go through such an intense change in personality is tragic, but also satisfying by the end.
How the problems are resolved and the plot pieces fit together is so gratifying, that the more powerful and emotional moments wouldn’t have been nearly as effective had it not been for the grounded designs, great characters, clever writing, and compelling direction. From episode thirteen onward, each scene afterward I felt was phenomenally well-done and masterfully executed with care and attention to detail. Like the episodes spent with Suzuha leading up to a heartbreaking outcome. Or the scenes where Okabe tries to hide his concerns and unease and put on a brave face, essentially pretending to be his old self. His moments of desperation feel passionate and menacing, and at times agonizing to watch. Seeing him undergo tragedy after tragedy, constantly bearing hardship and psychological pressure becomes sharp and painful after you’ve up until now, observed him be nothing but extravagant in his speech and behaviour.
The psychological repercussions and emotional insight into each of the characters and the experiences they shared across the various timelines is handled so well that it all feels incredibly meaningful. Kurisu’s tragically mistimed love confession twists the knife on Okabe (made more literal near the end), when he had just hit enter to go back again. After following Okabe through his troubles and tragedies for so long, you sympathize and wish him an end to his suffering to the point where you feel the raw emotion of his failures and lament and feel like you’re standing in his shoes, unsure of what to do, uncertain of where to go. Until Mayuri’s heartfelt slap of encouragement snaps both you and Okabe back to before, when you had hope and an air of confidence.
I felt that same slap earlier when other characters began recalling memories from their alternate selves. Before, I was Okabe and felt isolated from the other characters after his time leaps; knowing things that happened that had not happened for them, experiencing things with them that can never be re-experienced, and having to continuously explain to them what has occurred and what keeps transpiring. Then Kurisu became a shoulder for both me and Okabe to rest on, despite not being able to recall all the horrors Okabe has endured, she still believes and empathizes with him. It felt safe and serene with her around to support Okabe. Their relationship had depth and charm to it, that I’m not sure if I’ve seen anywhere else.
No longer did either Okabe or I feel alone. And with the fear removed and a rejuvenated sense of purpose, hope felt renewed for some befitting closure. The disheartening effect of travelling across world lines trying to fix everything and prevent everyone from dying in conjunction with the daunting prospect of remembering experiences that no one else will faded with the loving embrace and warmth of an encouraging, loyal companion. Makise Kurisu, Okabe and I owe you our hearts, as well as our heads.