What if Okabe abandoned his mad scientist alter-ego and became a normie? What if he ditched the lab coat for stylish black clothing, joined his university’s tennis club, and went out on group dates, leaving the Future Gadgets Lab behind? What if Okabe remained on the Beta world line and never saved Kurisu after all? Steins;gate 0, based on the visual novel sequel to the original, posits Okabe in that situation, and as might be expected, all is not well. Besides dealing with grief and impending war, something new is on a the horizon to challenge Okabe, a scientific development sure to play a role in future events, and one that is an embodiment of the specter that haunts him.
Steins;gate 0 occupies a real strange place for me: I want to see it badly, because I love Steins;gate, but I also wish it hadn’t been made—do we really need an unnecessary sequel to such a tremendous series? And do I really want to hurt that way again? And boy, the hurt comes in this episode, and it comes early. Okabe is trying to live a normal life, but he is struggling with PTSD after all he’s been through (while being unable to share with those around him, except for Suzu, who still feels there is hope). The initial episode itself, in fact, kind of matches this tone, at once attempting to be normal but also compelling us to remember Kurisu’s death and the fact that this timeline will not end well. It’s a bit uncomfortable (I felt weird laughing at the humorous bits), which is a good thing as the feelings of the original series were immediately evoked.
But there are some new elements nearly eight years after the original series aired. The characters are given slight redesigns—in particular, Mayuri, always an odd-looking character, looks a lot better and Suzu’s design makes her feel more like the fighter she is. We also have new characters. The appearance of Daru’s future wife is a shocker and a lot of fun, while a “legal loli” appears as well and is apparently knee-deep in the conspiracy that will surely develop ahead (she is researcher involved in an A.I. technology called “Amadeus,” based upon Kurisu’s research).
But the best part, the best part of the first episode of Steins;gate 0 is something I already mentioned: for all the superficial changes, the additions of new characters, and the different world line/story line, the series feels the same. A new director is involved, but the screenwriter from the original remains and the voice actors have returned, helping the continuity. Everything fell into place nicely, and that’s a good sign to this anxious heart. I’m hopeful Steins;gate 0 will continue the legacy left by its predecessor and be an add-on to one of the great anime of all time, rather than a sequel we all choose to forget.
Steins;gate 0 can be streamed on Crunchyroll.