If I learned anything from anime, it’s that a childhood friendship is basically an invitation to future romance. This is a truth gathered from Love Hina, Skip Beat, Nisekoi, and…just about every other anime in which there’s a road toward such a relationship. But in the Steins;gate anime series, things work a little differently. While it’s true that the childhood friend doesn’t always end up with the MC (see most of the above examples), Steins;gate goes one further: there’s barely a even a hint of romance between Okarin and Mayuri; the focus instead is on a relationship often neglected in anime: friendship between the sexes.
And the special relationship between Okarin and Mayuri is expressed in Steins;gate 0 as much as the original (spoilers ahead). Mayuri is always on Okarin’s mind. He values his other friends immensely, too, but Mayuri is on a different level. In episode four, he just has to know who her future husband is, for instance. Even further, at one point, when Okabe thinks he’s jumped world lines and that Mayuri has died, he almost completely loses it, rushing into the Future Gadgets Lab with a desperate expression on his face. He just can’t lose her again.
I think the uniqueness of their friendship can’t be understated: there is real development regarding this relationship. In fact, I would go as far as to say this: while there’s a heavy focus on Kirusu in the original series (and toward the feelings that develop between her and Okabe), the heart of Steins;gate is in the friendship between Okarin and Mayuri. The series, after all, become most engaging during its middle portion when Okabe sees her die and goes back in time to try to save her, then goes mad from the endless cycle. And even in Steins;gate 0, though Okabe has “failed” to save Kurisu, there seems to be this sad sort of resignation about that failure, with the feeling that he at least saved Mayuri, and while he’ll be depressed and broken the rest of his life due to Kurisu’s death, he can at least live on. Without Mayuri, that may not even be an option.
For all the things I love about Steins;gate, that friendship—how meaningful it obviously is to both Okarin and Mayuri—is perhaps what I love most. It’s why I tell Holly, my cohort at Anime Pop Heart, to keep at it, to make it up to episode 13, because the power of that relationship makes the series scintillating when it’s taken away and Okabe fights to save it.
And more than that, it gives me hope. In fact, I wish my world lines had somehow lined up and I could have watched Steins;gate when I was younger; maybe it would have helped me understand the value in guy/girl friendships. I was that guy—and there are a lot of us—who had lots of “friendships” with girls, but who was always looking for something more, who developed each of those friendships partially because I thought it could lead to romance, that I could somehow in some drunken moment cash in on my friendship deposit and move the relationship toward what I really wanted.
It’s disgusting, but it’s what I thought. Relationships and sex were always on my mind. I saw women as less than human—if I couldn’t use them to get ahead, I was looking at how I could use them for pleasure. And in viewing them this way, I was doing one of the worst things a person can do to another—I dehumanized them.
Okarin, who is like any other guy (well, as much as a mad scientist can be), shows us a better way. He shows us that people are more than what we can use them for. And it doesn’t start when his friends are put in dire situations, which would have certainly changed how I viewed them, too; he loves them well before that. He cares for Mayuri for who she is long before she is victimized. She is in every way his friend—only his friend, merely his friend, and entirely his friend.
I forgot, or didn’t value, what friendship meant and how much more important it was than temporary pleasure. I chose not to see how valuable these people are. But after growing up some, I’ve come to know that, too (mostly through the hard lesson of learning to love my now-wife as a friend first—but that’s another story), and I’m glad I abandoned that point of view long ago, since in blindness I was always looking for something that I didn’t need, while missing that which I did, the kind of love we give each other when we’re at our best.
And that’s a choice even a mad scientist would have no problem making.