The hook for Steins;gate 0 is that it takes place in a world line where Makise Kurisu is dead. She has not been rescued. There is no happily ever after. And while the Amadeus A.I. is both a device that moves the plot forward and gives the audience the Kurisu fan service we so desperately need, it doesn’t replace her character. Her “replacement,” rather, is Maho Hiyajo, the new genius girl / love interest / slight tsundere who once supervised Kurisu and is, at the series start, visiting Japan to work on Mozart.
The problem with Maho, though, is that she’s not as captivating as Kurisu. She’s not as smart. She has messy hair and has no particular sense of fashion. She’s not as attractive. Okabe is concerned about her, but his world doesn’t revolve around Maho like it did with Kurisu. She can’t fill the place of Kurisu because she’s just not good enough.
Maho understand this herself: she has stated as much continually through the first cour of Steins;gate 0. The analogies are strong with this one, too, as it’s very purposeful that the A.I. program imitating Kurisu is named Amadeus, the middle name of Mozart and the name of an Oscar-winning film. Amadeus was a unique biopic because the title character was in a supporting role; the main character in the movie was Antonio Salieri, an older composer who is very good at his job—someone whom we might even call a genius—but who is not Mozart. No was ever was or has been, after all, but Salieri can’t move forward with his “mediocrity”: his jealousy turns him mad.
Steins;gate 0, thus far, has been more moderate in emphasizing this relationship, with only the name of the A.I. unit hearkening back to the film. Instead, Maho’s relationship with Kurisu is more nuanced and gentle (perhaps like the real relationship between the historic composers). There’s certainly envy there (in episode 11, Maho explains how she tried to crack Kurisu’s computer to help her legacy, at first, but later continues out of jealousy), but Maho isn’t prone to Salieri’s brand of madness—she’s a kind soul. She loved Kurisu and it hurts her almost as much as it does Rintaro to know she died a violent death (in fact, Rinato makes Maho promises not to try to go back in time to save Kurisu when he tells her about the time machine, realizing the depths of Maho’s love toward her). There is a rivalry between Maho, the mentor, and Kurisu, the protege, but in the older one’s mind, it has more to do with how kind the latter was and a desire to be more like her.
I sometimes felt the same as Maho when I was younger. Always told that I was very smart, I put all my value in my intelligence, but as I grew older and learned that there were many people around me who were smarter than me (sometimes by leaps and bounds), I started to feel inferior. These days, I largely put those feelings at bay,, but there are still times when I get overwhelmed by what I lack and what others have, and it can be downright depressing—even more so when I realize I’m not Maho. Even if she’s not brilliant enough to develop time travel, Maho is still a genius. I’m not that. Nope…I’m not Maho or Salieri. I’m just me.
My mind and my heart know better, but when these painful realizations hit, it sometimes takes outside influence to take me out of a funk. I get validation from those who love me and especially—when I’m willing to turn his way—from my faith in Christ. Maho receives validation from Rintaro, who treats her with kindness and respect throughout their relationship, who shows her love by considering her someone worth bringing into his inner circle and by telling her she does matter. She is important.
The truth that we do matter is so vital; it’s something we must remind ourselves of when the world tells us the lie that we aren’t Kurisu, we aren’t Mozart, we aren’t even some composer or scientist lost to the winds of time, that we are nothing. And for some, the struggle is real, it’s daily, it’s minute by minute. For of those of you dwelling in that place, I hope that you’ll more immediately and constantly understand that you are loved, for I I know it’s not easy and that the inability to live up to expectations—even when we don’t have to—and the worthlessness we might feel can be a heartbreaking place to dwell.