Okabe has been in a relationship with a beautiful genius. He has a remarkable group of friends. And he’s traveled through and across time. And yet, I don’t envy him—I don’t think of any of us do. As he remarks in episode five of Steins;gate 0, the year is almost over, but it wasn’t a short one for him. In fact, it was literally longer than anyone else’s as he relived moments time and time again, seeing his loved ones die. He’s now struck with the trauma of those events, compounded by the weirdness of Amadeus and the guilt given him by Suzuha.
In fact, Steins;gate 0, as much as it is a sci-fi mystery, can be seen an examination of PTSD. Right from the beginning, Okabe tries to move on and be “normal” (which is weird in itself because the “normal” Okabe is really his strange mad scientist persona). He sees therapists and tries to live like other men his age, but he can’t escape the past—Okabe continues to be haunted by Kurisu’s death and by experiencing Mayuri’s demise so many times.
PTSD seems to be a hot topic in anime these days. If you remember, Subaru experienced the same sort of thing in Re:Zero, though as Kaze remarked, it’s not done entirely well: “He’s entirely cured because a cute girl confesses to him…that was perhaps the dumbest solution ever.” And apart from anime, PTSD remains a hot button topic in our society—it has moved from being a buzz word to becoming a part of out consciousness.
I had a talk once with a veteran who is very close to me, and he expressed a disappointment at how often PTSD was being diagnosed. Paraphrased, he said that many soldiers were experiencing it, but some used it as an excuse. There certainly does seem to be a tug and pull, particularly in regards to the military, between the tough guy, greatest generation mentality that refused to treat PTSD, refused to even talk about it, and a younger generation that is more open and sensitive to it (maybe to a fault). Which all reminds me of Violet Evergarden, who is going through PTSD as well after exiting her universe’s version of WWI.
Throughout the series, Violet is not only learning to grow as a human—she’s also trying to work her way through the pain of being violently separated from Gilbert. She reacts in a variety of ways, even sometimes outwardly expressing her frustration and sadness through screaming and crying, actions very unlike her. But as she gives to others and learns to depend on them in return, Violet is able to work her way through the pain and find some level of peace.
Okabe is not there yet—he’s right in the thick of it, suffering and relapsing and struggling. But for all he’s been through, Okabe has the same advantage as Violet—he is surrounded by friends that truly care about him. He has community, one that’s authentic enough to know when something’s wrong with him and willing to reach out.
I don’t have anyone in my family that has had to deal with PTSD, but I know someday, I will have people around me who have had to deal with trauma, or at the very least, people who are struggling mightily. Friends of mine have recently loss family members, for instance, and while that doesn’t necessarily bring forth the same symptoms as PTSD, my reaction is the same—it is, at least, if I want to be there for them, if I want to reach out and love them. In either case, I must sacrifice and love the hurting person as best I can, better than I can.
But that level of care doesn’t start when a death occurs. It doesn’t begin when someone returns from war. Suzuha couldn’t reach out to Okabe if she never had supported him previously—she can calm him down because she’s invested in life already. She has an authentic, caring relationship with him, and even though she and Okabe are awkward around each other because of significant spat they’re having, the love and respect they have for one another hasn’t left. It can’t—it’s built up through time and experience and isn’t so easily tossed aside.
And so it is with us—do you want to be there for your loved ones when they go through pain and struggle? “Being there” starts now by being present in the joy and hardship before the tragedy and pain. Build that community now so that it holds strong when the worst happens and it’s needed most. Loving now means loving then, preparing both the giver and receiver for the worst when it comes, and making us, as caregivers, ready to support our own mad scientists when a Kiryu Moeka inevitably walks through the door.