Well, it happened. Like the original series, Steins;gate 0 has been on a steady rise, getting a little more heartbreaking each episode, a little more uncomfortable, a little more edge-of-your-seat, but never really slamming me with the feels—not until now that is. Episode eight does it. Boy does it do it.
Warning: spoilers ahead for Steins;gate and Steins;gate 0.
The Rintaro of Steins;gate 0 lives in a worldline where Kurisu has died, unwilling to make the choices to save her as he did in the original series. It profoundly affects him—he has PTSD from the events that occurred, both the many deaths of Mayuri and the final one for Kurisu, and he can neither live with what has happened or what he’s done. However, a terrifying and new opportunity comes to Rintaro that seemingly has to do with Amadeus, an A.I. representing Kurisu: he slips back into the alpha world line, where the opposite is true, where Mayuri is dead and Kurisu is alive.
And here, once again, Kurisu proves to be Rintaro’s greatest ally. Part of the brilliance of the original show was the depths of pain we experienced along with Rintaro, who while surrounded by many friends, is all alone in experiencing Reading Steiner, and who thus alone must carry the burden of trying to save his loved ones (and failing time and time again). But in the most trying of moments, he finds that he is not alone. Kurisu shows herself to be more more than tsundere who aids Rintaro’s experiments and functions as a quasi-love interest—she becomes the motivating factor in pushing Rintaro to make critical decisions that end up saving everyone, both his friends and ultimately the world.
What’s amazing in episode eight of 0 is that we get this shifting perspective and get to relive episode 22 of the original series in a sense, but from Kurisu’s perspective, and we more fully understand what her decision to push Rintaro costs. We know that it costs her life, but now we more fully comprehend what she knows—Kurisu is sacrificing purposefully, giving up both her life and her love for Rintaro.
Or perhaps she isn’t giving up her love. Maybe what she’s doing is expressing it in the most wondrous way possible.
Kurisu’s sacrifice is immense, but she willingness does it out of love for Rintaro. Kurisu understands how Mayuri’s death has destroyed him, and will do what it takes to give life to him again. Even as she’s choosing the path of her own destruction, even as she presses the “send button” to make sure she won’t be overcome by her love for him and ruin what she plans, Kurisu continues to be strong, taking Rintaro to Mayuri’s grave, encouraging him with strong words and the wherewithal that he lacks.
But its a facade—the kiss she gives him and tears rolling down her cheeks as Rintaro again shifts timelines shows that Kurisu knows exactly what she’s giving up, reemphasized by that powerful scene of her running to confess to him that ends the episode. But despite all she loses, Kurisu chooses to do it all anyway.
How profound that love is! Kurisu gives everything and receives nothing in return. She doesn’t even get credit, a pat on the back, a thank you, because she can’t receive words of praise from Rintaro; she needs him to value Mayuri more in this moment. That’s astounding to me, as I sometimes can’t even make the most minor of sacrifices without expecting credit, without demanding it.
And so, through a time travel sci-fi series that’s all about cliffhanger moments and mad scientists, I’m reminded again what love is. Love is giving without receiving in return. And it’s a love worth reaching for (like Mayuri reaching for the sky). It’s a love worth dying for, the kind we all wish we had. It’s the kind we all can have if only we’re willing to give.
Featured illustration by NORD (reprinted w/permission)