* Be forewarned: This post is full of SPOILERS for the Steins;Gate movie and series. *
Every now and then something comes along that really resonates with you and simultaneously warms your heart even as it’s breaking it in two. The Steins;Gate series, and now the epilogue film Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu (translates as Steins;Gate: Burdened Domain of Déjà vu) is one of those powerful stories for me.
The Steins;Gate series was a remarkable achievement in the way it wove together such a complicated story, fabulous characters and yet still managed to provoke such a strong emotional reaction from its audience. In my mind I always refer to it as a masterpiece in storytelling, though I know it is not without its flaws. But flaws or not, it made a lasting impression on me and I’m not sure it’s possible to love it more than I already do.
Which brings us to the movie follow-up that helps tie things together neatly with a bow, and confirmed my love for this series a thousand times over. Is the movie perfect? No, but it makes the series all the more emotionally resonant with such a sweet and heartfelt send-off, and I couldn’t have asked for more.
So why do I love this movie so much? Maybe it’s partly because I’m currently trying to fill an inexplicable hole within myself, but also because it tackles a lot of weighty and heady issues in a way that connects not only on a cerebral level, but also an emotional one.
It’s a story about how the erasure of one man’s very existence forms a hole in the lives of those who were around him, constantly reminding them that something’s missing or that something’s no longer right with the world, even if they don’t know what it is. How does one fill that hole when they can’t figure out why it’s there? And if and when they do, what risks to themselves and the natural order are they willing to take to correct it? Are they willing to negate the sacrifice one person made to achieve the current reality for their own selfish gain because that’s what their heart wants even when they know that logically it’s not right?
These are the questions put to Kurisu Makise when Rintarou Okabe, the man she loves, simply vanishes from the timeline as though he never existed.
At the end of the Steins;Gate series, Rintarou Okabe managed to enter the Steins;Gate world line (so dubbed by Okabe) by undoing all of the timeline changes he had caused through the D-Mail technology of sending email messages into the past and thereby changing past events and altering the future, with only Okabe remembering how the world once was due to an innate ability within himself that he refers to as Reading Steiner. In the process, he also managed to prevent the deaths of his childhood friend Mayuri Shiina and the woman whom he had grown to love, Kurisu Makise, as well as preventing World War III in the future by eliminating all traces of time machine technology from the world. Not bad for a day’s work.
But tampering with time comes with a price. Okabe’s journey through time was only initiated due to the murder of Kurisu, so a world in which she and Mayuri both survive simultaneously is an anomaly. The Steins;Gate world line wasn’t meant to exist. As a result, the world line is unstable, primarily because of all of the strong memories that Okabe alone carries from the other world lines, causing him great difficulty in remaining on his current world line and instead jumping to the “R” line that so closely intertwines with this Steins;Gate line. Thus Okabe vanishes before Kurisu’s eyes, leaving her with only vague memories that he ever existed in the first place.
I could never adequately explain why this film resonated so strongly with me. Some things just connect with you because of what you may be going through at the time, or even things you’ve already experienced in life. Not everything will affect everyone the same way. Despite that, I feel compelled to make an attempt at an explanation, if only because perhaps it will help me work through it. So introductions aside, here are the themes that really struck a chord within me and why I’m having such a difficult time clearing this film from my thoughts:
The Science Of It All
I’m fascinated by the notion of time travel and the idea of multiple dimensions and timelines running parallel to each other. I’m practically obsessed with it, even if the complexity of how it all theoretically works makes my head hurt just trying to wrap my mind around the possibilities. If you were to ask what superpower I would want, without a second’s thought I would say the ability to manipulate time. So it should come as no surprise that a show about time travel and all of its potential consequences is right up my alley.
While the Steins;Gate series focused on time machines, it also presented us with the idea of sending byte size messages into the past via phone that could then be used to alter events, creating a whole new world line as a consequence. Okabe and co. then build upon that idea to then transmit memories as data to one’s past self, which is how Okabe is able to relive the same few days over and over again without physically aging.
Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu presents us with Kurisu’s theory on the nature of déjà vu, as the title might imply. Déjà vu is theorized to be the result of an overlap between short term and long term memory caused by temporal misplacement, and as a result we believe we’ve seen something before when in reality our brain is tricking us because of a filing error. Kurisu’s theory, given the realities of the Steins;Gate universe, is that those déjà vu moments are actually a result of people remembering similar occurrences from another world line, as she believes that feelings cross world lines. In essence, it’s the mild version of Okabe’s Reading Steiner ability. Whereas Okabe remembers everything from other world lines, and if we are to infer from his glimpses of world lines never presented in the series proper, even events he personally hasn’t experienced, the rest of the world only experiences these memories as fragments, or what’s known as déjà vu. An event or image seems familiar because it happened to another “you” in another world line. In this sense, Okabe’s enhanced Reading Steiner is actually an anomaly of an ability shared by all of humanity.
It’s quite a fascinating idea, and the key to anchoring Okabe to the Steins;Gate world line, but I’ll get into that more later on.
The Missing Cog
What makes the movie all the more powerful is the idea of something being missing from the world. There’s a hole in everybody’s lives, and while all the players are vaguely aware of it, they don’t know why. Only Kurisu just barely remembers Okabe himself, though she can’t even remember his name the first time he disappears. Instead, she’s left adrift in a world that somehow doesn’t feel real to her. As she states, “a restless urge to recall and the temptation to forget everything to achieve peace of mind were clashing constantly.” It’s just so heart-rending. Kurisu even notes that to cease to exist is a fate crueler than death, because at least in death the person is remembered by those they leave behind; not so when no one even knows you existed to begin with.
How the movie handles this is both fascinating and heart-breaking at the same time. The will of Steins;Gate is apparently to stay the course without affecting what has already transpired. As a result, the lives people lead have not changed, there’s simply a missing cog to explain the rationale for why they do things. People that shouldn’t have met or associated with one another without Okabe to bring them together are still acquaintances in this new time line. Daru Hashida becomes the founder of the Future Gadget Lab in Okabe’s absence and even creates all of the same wacky gadgets he and Okabe invented in the original world line, yet for some reason Okabe’s Lab Member 001 identification is intentionally left open while the Mayuri, Daru and Kurisu maintain their 002, 003 and 004 numbers respectively. Mayuri buys Dr. Pepper, Okabe’s drink of choice, every day thinking that someone will drink it even though no one currently existing particularly cares for it [best use of product placement ever by the way]. Daru hacks into SERN, something Okabe had requested he do back at the beginning of the series, yet he can’t explain why he had the notion to do so. Ruka Urushibara continues to train every day with the “Sumidare” sword Okabe gave her, yet when questioned by Kurisu, he can’t recall who gave him the sword or the idea to train in the first place.
It’s interesting to see the profound effect that Okabe had on the world and those around him, yet it’s sad to see how large a hole he leaves by not existing. I could truly empathize with Kurisu when she breaks down in tears after watching Okabe disappear for the second time right before her eyes, given that her Reading Steiner ability has become stronger, while the world in front of her changes in a heartbeat and no one remembers the man who was literally standing right in front of them and even dropped the open Dr. Pepper container onto the floor as he slipped out of reality. To Daru and Mayuri, that was just an unexplained accident; no one had ever been standing there to drop it.
And on a related note, this film really knows how to punch you in the gut. Just as Kurisu is about to tell Okabe that she loves him, she’s cut off mid-sentence by his disappearance, and just like that she has no memory of what she was just about to say and to whom.
Character and Sacrifice
Despite all of its scientific jargon and the time-traveling theories being bandied about, this movie is at its heart a love story. It’s the story of how tragic lovers Rintarou Okabe and Kurisu Makise manage to find their way back to one another while standing on equal footing.
What truly makes this love story resonate are the characters at the center of it. Romance or tragedy means very little if you aren’t invested in the affected characters. Steins;Gate has never been one to disappoint, and this movie only served to remind me why I love Okabe and Kurisu so much. While I had registered Kurisu as 7th on my list of favorite anime females, this movie pretty much solidified her a place in my top 5. The chemistry between them is palpable, and every interaction between them is beautiful and moving, with a lot of the credit for this going to the amazing voice talents behind these characters.
While I was a bit disappointed that the movie starts out with Okabe and Kurisu not having even spoken or emailed in a year since they shared that kiss in episode 25, upon further inspection it makes sense. It’s important to remember that Okabe, because of his heightened Reading Steiner ability and his solo travels through time and across world lines, is the only person in the entire world that remembers all of the harrowing events that he and his friends went through. To everyone else, those memories are fragmented and feel more like dreams than reality. As a result, Okabe is forced to bear the burden alone because no one else would understand. His life is loneliness, even when he’s surrounded by friends.
Call him arrogant, stubborn, selfish or even a fool, but you can’t deny that Okabe is a noble soul; he saved the world, his childhood friend and the woman he loved and yet not a single soul remembers or is aware of it. The world keeps on moving forward as though this was how it was always supposed to be, while Okabe just continues to be the fool Hououin Kyouma in the eyes of his colleagues; its a role he willingly plays to prevent them from ever knowing the full truth.
So from his perspective, how is it fair to tell someone you love them based on memories that person never experienced? How can the other person feel comfortable knowing someone else has access to their inner thoughts and feelings based on conversations and occurrences that they don’t recall ever having happened? We are reminded of this when Okabe gives Kurisu the fork and spoon set that she had wanted so she could have her own silverware at the lab. It’s an incredibly sweet gesture, and something she legitimately wanted, but this version of Kurisu never expressed that desire to Okabe. How can a relationship stand on even footing when one person has an uneven advantage over the other, when one person has shared experiences with the other that they do not? Okabe knows this, and this is why he is hesitant to express his true feelings.
Okabe is the observer while the rest of the world are the players. He knows the truth of the world and everybody’s fragmented memories. It is only in becoming an observer herself that Kurisu could hope to stand on even ground.
Kurisu, on the other hand, struggles with the very nature of time travel and multiple world lines, because as a scientist, she perceives that it should be theoretically impossible. This becomes ironic later as in this world line, once Okabe disappears, it is Kurisu who creates a time machine in the future, not Okabe and Daru. As a result of being unable to wrap her mind around this idea of multiple selves with shared memories, as well as being unable to properly relate to Okabe given how much more about her he knows than she about him, she has trouble being honest with herself and her feelings. As Daru dubs her, she is the Tsundere Queen. As a result, the two just constantly bicker with one another instead of expressing to the other how they truly feel. It is only in her incredibly cute drunken moment that we see her express her true self, snuggling up on him and getting upset that he seems reluctant to accept her advances.
For better or worse, Okabe already went on his journey in the series. This movie is all about Kurisu taking her own journey of self-discovery.
That doesn’t mean that Okabe doesn’t prove his mettle here, however. Okabe willingly plays the part of the sacrifice here, and whether he is selfish or not, we are reminded of what makes him such an amazing person. When Kurisu jumps back into the past to prevent his disappearance, he reprimands her for doing so. Just as Kurisu did before, resolving Okabe’s emotional tug of war between saving his precious childhood friend and the woman he loves by encouraging him to return to the original world line where she will ultimately die, Okabe takes the self-sacrificing path of allowing himself to cease existing. Because in his mind, his only goal was a peaceful world in which Mayuri and Kurisu are both alive, and if the price to pay for that is his own life, he’ll gladly accept it. Changing the past would cause a change in world lines, shattering that peace he worked so hard to achieve, and as a result only cause Kurisu further pain each time she fails, and ultimately could cost her her humanity, just as he almost lost his own when he repeatedly and obsessively tried again and again to prevent Mayuri’s death, finally doing so only by sacrificing his friends’ dreams in the process. Changing the past always affects something else, and never in a way that’s convenient for the time traveler.
And in accepting Okabe’s wishes, Kurisu herself must sacrifice her own happiness by choosing to actively forget him, something she can’t easily do now that she has become an observer of him as well, her Reading Steiner ability slightly enhanced as a result. She no longer experiences simple déjà vu, but rather a lifetime of perpetual loneliness, something we learn to be all too true from time traveler Suzuha Amane when she reveals that Kurisu built a time machine for the express purpose of changing the past but that she doesn’t have the resolve to actually use.
It’s a tragedy of profound proportions, and a testament to the strength of character these two have to do what they perceive to be the right thing.
Love vs. Logic
But denying her own feelings and desires is not necessarily the right thing in this case. Kurisu’s struggle is one of heart versus mind. The latter part of the film is her inner struggle to come to terms with which one is more important to her: the scientist or the human being with a heart. In her heart she wants to save Okabe, but as a scientist and in keeping her promise to Okabe not to mess with time, she denies her true feelings, allowing logic to dictate her actions. Suzuha even explains to her that in the future it was Kurisu who created the time machine that Suzuha uses to travel to the past, only it becomes clear that Suzuha stole it, because Kurisu specifically banned all from using the time machine, herself included. It’s sad, because it means that restoring Okabe to the world line had become her life’s obsession, and yet her stubbornness constantly prevented her from doing anything to change things. Suzuha hoped that the younger Kurisu would be more true to her feelings, but she finds that she is just as stubborn. Always the scientist and the tsundere.
Ultimately Suzuha forces her to choose between her feelings and logic, and in doing so, Kurisu decides to risk it all to save Okabe. In the end it’s all about following one’s heart.
In order not to affect the world line, future Kurisu had theorized that creating a powerful memory within Okabe that only exists in this world line would prevent the past from being changed while also serving to anchor him to it and restore his existence. Unfortunately, the biggest problem for Okabe is that the experiences he had on the other world lines were incredibly traumatic, leaving a deep impression in his memory that would be impossible to forget and hard to overcome with a stronger memory. Additionally, if feelings cross world lines, how is one to create a powerful memory unique to this particular world line? With this in mind, however, Kurisu travels back to 2005, right before the event when a younger Okabe saved his friend Mayuri from her depression after the death of her grandmother by taking on the mad scientist Hououin Kyouma persona and insisting that she was his “hostage” so that her depression couldn’t take her away.
But Kurisu fails the first time around, almost getting Okabe killed, and it is at this moment that she truly understands the powerlessness that Okabe had experienced and the painful burden he shouldered alone. As Okabe warned her before, so long as a time machine exists, people will use it to go back to change the past again and again until they get it right, and such a thing could ultimately cost them their humanity as their failures to set things the way they wish wear them down.
This notion actually raises another interesting point that we often take for granted. Because we cannot change the past, we can move beyond painful memories, tragedies or regrets and look forward to the future. But if one has the means to change their regrets, they’ll never be able to move on until they get it right. But there’s always going to be a cost, whether to one’s self or at the expense of others. Much as the idea of being able to manipulate time sounds tempting, it is not something that should ever be done.
As a result of finally coming face to face with this reality, it takes Kurisu a while before she steels herself to try again, determined now that she finally has something she wants to protect and something worth living for.
In the end she encounters a “lost” younger version of Okabe at a rainy train stop, and in an interesting twist of fate, it is she who tells him the story of mad scientist Hououin Kyouma, a man perceived as a fool to all but who secretly protected the world and all those dear to him without ever receiving any acknowledgment because his actions were never known by anyone. Young Okabe thinks it’s a sad tale, but Kurisu assures him that she thinks it’s wonderful. She then proceeds to give him a very tender but brief kiss, his first ever, before sending him on his way to his life-altering encounter with Mayuri.
What I really loved about this unfolding of events is that it’s a direct call-back to episode 22 where Okabe and Kurisu share their “first” first kiss (since he jumps world lines, they’re technically all first kisses for her). In that scene, Kurisu points out that a first kiss is often such a romantic and memorable event that it imprints itself as a strong memory in the Hippocampus. Of course, Okabe points out that she assumes that was his first ever kiss, which it wasn’t, though he acknowledges his first wasn’t very romantic and therefore not greatly memorable. Technically his first kiss was most likely the fake one he forced on Moeka Kiryuu. But now, in this world line, Kurisu has overwritten his previous first kiss and given Okabe a powerful memory by giving him the kiss in addition to telling him about Hououin Kyouma, the alter-ego he will embody that will have a profound impact on the world. Additionally this was all stacked on top of an already memorable event he shared with Mayuri.
The nice thing about this is that it manages to tie both Mayuri and Kurisu into one key event from his past, which is a nice touch in that not only are both ladies extremely important to him, but it was his Sophie’s choice of having to decide between which of the two live that laid at the heart of the series’ climax. It just seemed aptly fitting.
The one thing that didn’t make sense to me, however, was at the end when Kurisu is talking to the younger Okabe at the bus stop. In the middle of their conversation, the rain suddenly stops and we see a seemingly-younger looking Kurisu clearly wearing a different outfit sitting next to Okabe. Near the end of her tale about Hououin Kyouma, the rain returns and she’s back in her original outfit. Does this mean that part of this event happened in another world line and the kiss at the end was the unique factor to this world line? I’d think that to be the case except I can’t figure out how a younger Kurisu would have known about Hououin Kyouma, since he was originally Okabe’s invention and she only knew about him because of her experiences with Okabe in the future.
So does that then mean instead that a younger Kurisu is simply what Okabe recalled in his memories because the will of Steins;Gate is such that an older Kurisu in the past would defy all laws of physics and logic since a time machine should no longer exist in this world line? And if that’s the case, then why are we shown both versions of Kurisu at different points in the conversation and why does the weather change? If anyone could shed light on this, I’d greatly appreciate it.
In case you couldn’t already tell, I really, really loved the Steins;Gate movie. It totally lived up to my expectations, perhaps even exceeding them. I even had my friend in Japan pick me up an import copy of the blu-ray, which I’ve never done before. Admittedly, I did think that the ending felt a bit rushed and could have been improved with a few more minutes running time. It was a bit of a let down that we never got to see Okabe re-ingratiate himself with his fellow lab members, or that there was no kiss or frank confession of her feelings from Kurisu, especially given how she had been unable to say it earlier in the movie and how she specifically mentioned when she traveled into the past that she never had a chance to tell Okabe how she felt. But what we were given was perfectly satisfying, and the symbolism of each of them crossing over the lane divider in the street in order to represent the two of them crossing over into each others’ worlds was probably the more fitting end the director wanted (see header image for reference); they truly understand one another now and can stand on even ground. Besides, we’ve always known Okabe’s feelings, we saw them share a romantic kiss earlier in the film and Kurisu pretty much makes her feelings clear by telling him that no matter what world line he disappears to, she’ll always find him and that he’s never alone; she’ll always be watching over him just as he has always watched over her. Well, that and her smirking response to end the movie that she’ll never take back his first kiss that she gave to him when he teases her about it.
Though now that I think about it, I do find it slightly amusing that while Okabe and Kurisu have now shared their respective first kisses with one another on the same world line, they didn’t actually occur at the same point in time. How many other people can boast such a claim? Ah, the wondrous incongruities of time travel… El Psy Congroo.