Steins;Gate 0 runs a tricky balance between being darkly depressing and being happily cheerful. It’s a balance that the original show rarely had to deal with, given that most of the darkness did not arrive until mid-season. But with Steins;Gate 0, the series begins with tragedy. There is no time to set up happy times for the juxtaposition. All that exists is suffering.
The setting of Steins;Gate 0 makes the the lighter moments all that more impressive. Remember, Okabe has had to watch his friends suffer and die repeatedly and now is spending time conversing with an artificial intelligence that is based on the love of his life who he accidentally stabbed to death.
And yet Episode 3 manages to grant Okabe actual moments of happiness, where we as the viewer can get lost in the lighter moments of the show. For instance, I laughed aloud when during the Christmas party the professor comments on how attractive Rukako is before Okabe mentions that Rukako is male. And Okabe’s conversations with AI Kurisu are just precious.
Let me quickly run through the plot of Episode 3. Mayushi plans a Christmas party with her friends while denying any relationship with Okabe. Okabe continues his conversations with AI Kurisu, though reluctantly. He invites Maho and the professor to the group’s Christmas party where he spends most of the night on the phone with his fake AI girlfriend. Mayishu sees Okabe on the phone and assumes, based on the conversation, that he’s talking to a girlfriend. Maho then shows up to remind Okabe that Kurisu is dead and the AI is fake, causing Okabe to break down.
The episode is filled with light elements, from AI Kurisu teasing Maho to Suzuha accidentally attacking her mother at the surprise party. Yet the happy moments are contrasted heavily with Okabe’s eventual breakdown at the end of the episode. When Maho reminds Okabe that Kurisu is actually dead, the illusion of happiness that was built up during the episode comes crashing down. All of Okabe’s jokes and flirting with the AI Kurisu are stripped away to nothingness – merely a shadow of reality.
The last moment of Episode 3 was one of the strongest in the season. In one instance, Maho reminds both Okabe and the audience that, despite appearances, nothing is OK and nothing will ever be OK. Okabe can go on all of the group dates and he can build a connection with the AI Kurisu and he can party with his friends, but Kurisu is still dead. Okabe’s suffering still happened. And it will always be there in the background. In fact, the episode hints at this early on by showing Mr. Braun as a happy landlord, despite him being the guiding force behind a killer and a man who killed himself because of Okabe’s actions – a scene that is replayed in Okabe’s flashbacks at the end of the episode.
The pacing problem in the show is also conspicuously absent in this episode. Unlike the prior episodes that attempted to force a dramatic end at an otherwise banal moment, Episode 3 ends perfectly with the Maho scene. In fact the entire episode feels built around creating just enough enjoyment to give the Maho scene at the end some serious impact.
As a final note, Steins;Gate 0 seems to be leaning a bit strongly into the harem style of the original game. While both Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate 0 have Okabe surrounded by pretty women, the harem aspect of it was muted in the original. Sure Rukako wanted to date Okabe, but that was merely a side story with the main plot centering around Okabe’s connections to Kurisu. Yet in Steins;Gate 0, it is made very clear that Mayushi, Maho, and AI Kurisu all want some Okabe action and actively notice when he is not spending time with them. It does not detract heavily from the show, but just feels a little out of place, especially with Mayushi suddenly caring if Okabe has a girlfriend.
Steins;Gate 0 - Episode 3
- Genuinely fun moments at the Christmas party
- Genuinely depressing ending with the reminder that Kurisu is dead
- AI Kurisu feels like a version of Kurisu that doesn't hate Okabe on sight
- Leans more heavily into being a harem anime
- Suzuha avoiding her mother still makes little logical sense and is also fairly uninteresting