Part of what makes Steins;gate 0 such a treat is that we get to see our beloved characters interacting with one another as friends. While the original series showed how this group came together as one (at first, there were pockets of friends, mostly associated with Okabe), by this season, there’s one massive group, a living organism of friendship which even absorbs a few new members.
But even with such a big group of friends that isn’t so Okabe-centric, not all is well. Throughout the season, and especially into the second cour, cracks have begun to show.
It’s a bit of an unexpected turn. In first series, the friendships seemed pretty perfect. In the most horrible and painful of situations, Okabe feels utterly alone but finds that he’s not—his friends are there beside him, especially Kurisu. It’s weird to say that season one showed a best case scenario with all the pain Okabe suffers, but it does, both in terms of the world line and in how relationships develop. Who wouldn’t want to have such a wonderful group to depend on?
Of course, that kind of friendship may be unrealistic—at least it feels that way for me. I’ve always struggled to develop deep, lasting friendships, the kind where you turn to those people when you’re suffering, when you need someone to talk you off the ledge or to cry to. I find that I often turn away from friendships before they even really begin, preventing something superficial from becoming something deeper.
But even if I’m the cause, I still feel hurt in not having the connection I desire. For instance, I recently had a birthday and every time that day comes around, I feel disappointment—are shallow declarations of “Happy birthday!” on Facebook all I’m worth, especially when I’ve given so much to others? I can’t help but fall into that woe-is-me mentality.
I feel like Steins;gate 0 gets me in that way. The friendships in that series are starting to fall apart. Most recently, the rock solid relationship between Mayuri and Okabe has hit a wall. There have been hints all series long that things were headed this way with Okabe almost always telling Mayuri that he can’t make time for her, and now making plans to move away when the two have been together their whole lives. Mayuri seems to be relatively okay losing Okabe to another woman, but she’s not okay losing him as a friend.
Okabe lets these relationships drift. He’s less perfect than the mad scientist of season one who, despite all his quirks, was incredibly heroic. Dark Okabe isn’t so heroic. He gave up. He became depressed. And he’s now willing to seek our personal satisfaction and happiness without giving a thought to how it affects those close to him. In other words, this Okabe is very, very real.
Still, despite all the corrosion in this typically well-oiled friendship machine, I imagine by series end all the friends will once again come together (despite some very heavy downers, to say the least, in recent episodes). It might be more sloppy (think of Daru punching Okabe), but that’s the true nature of friendship—its often messy.
A couple days after my birthday, I had a few friends reach out to me and chat, and I felt a desire to explain to them how I felt. They both empathized with me and we had good conversations, and I left them feeling encouraged and happier, and realizing that I do have important friendships in my life, perhaps far more than I realize. We’re just all messy people, myself as much as anyone, and while in that messiness there is pain, there’s also love.
featured art by NORD | reprinted w/permission