Character Development Under Adversity in Steins;Gate

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After all he has seen, he can't even put up a brave face anymore

There’s always a expectation that characters involved in time loop stories have to change fundamentally. Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day slowly learned that being spiteful and cynical wasn’t going to get him to tomorrow. Homura in Madoka became more battle-hardened and distant to the rest of the world as her perseverance determined the fate of the world. Those are two completely contrasting ways at looking at it however; one being a Hollywood sanitized story of one man’s quest to see tomorrow with the other being a story about death and the end of the world. Though Okabe Rintarou’s journey in Steins;Gate has much more in common with the latter, I’ve actually been rather impressed with the use of a longer format to create a more subtle change in his character.

The change begins with Mayuri’s initial death in the story. Before hand, Okabe came off as a character low in confidence, never seemed serious about anything, hid behind his alter ego of Hououin Kyouma to hide his insecurities, but at the same time he seemed full of hope and cared about everyone around him. As Okabe makes his way back to the main timeline, he changes a lot, yet stays largely true to himself.

His initial attempts to save Mayuri seemed to just be more out of desperation than anything. As his morale and hope decline, he finally reveals what will happen to Kurisu, who humorously encourages him and thus began the journey backward. Through each journey, he still has enough hope that he has gone back far enough to stop anyone Mayuri from dying. To this point in the story that hasn’t been the case, unfortunately.

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Contrast this end result to her imitation of a mad scientist to...

His Kyouma alter-ego pretty much vanishes, as the emotional toll of his situation leads him to confess to Kurisu that is was all made up. As shown in episode 21, he seemed to need to summon that character just to carry on a conversation with Mayuri, but now he had to put up an act to even try to sound like his normal self. His conversations with Kurisu, which had bordered on mean and taking advantage of her emotional dishonesty are becoming ever more deadly serious. That he reveals his impossible choice to her shows that he cares about her and shows her his own insecurities without hiding behind his alter-ego.

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this, when she is immediately worried by Okabe's response

His actions in undoing Moeka’s message also showed a great internal conflict. He was stuck with the memory of her shooting Mayuri still fresh in his mind, he is still tempted to time leap back immediately after knowing she commits suicide. The internal conflict between Moeka the killer and the Moeka who had not actually done anything continues to exist in his head throughout. Even as she dies, it still seemed apparent that he couldn’t resolve this conflict. Though the desire is there on the viewer’s part to want to see him forgive her, that he can’t do so makes him seem that much more human.

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This was immediately after Moeka's death, the lack of emotion was striking.

There’s still some way to go in this story, and I’d imagine the visual novel source provides a much richer detail to the way his character is fleshed out. However, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m impressed with the growing up process Okabe has had to go through to get to a world where everyone else can live on. Yet, the entire time, he seems to be struggling with the consequences of his actions that only he has experienced and others who hear him explain it believe him because he has earned that trust. Can this type of character development only occur with a longer amount of time?

6 thoughts on “Character Development Under Adversity in Steins;Gate”

  1. I would sum of his development as going from child to adult. A painful journey for him and for most.

  2. “Can this type of character development only occur with a longer amount of time?”

    Probably, at least the way we see it in Steins;Gate. There’s a similarly long passage of time in Groundhog Day (actually, the end result is probably longer than all the time that has passed in Steins;Gate), but because the movie is so much shorter than this anime, that passage of time is implied rather than directly seen by the audience. So Steins;Gate isn’t as long technically, but it feels “longer” and has a sort of impact that the shorter work can’t really match. (Although that’s only part of what Groundhog Day is doing, anyway lol.)

    But, yeah, I’ve been similarly impressed with how the series has handled Okabe’s growth, and in particular how the shades of gray have made him more human, as you write, instead of being there for the purpose of edginess. He’s not totally sure that what he is doing is right for everyone; it’s a selfish impulse on his part that may or may not ultimately lead to a better world. The agonizing feels legitimately painful, as opposed to much angsting seen in whatever.

    1. I believe the time frame in Groundhog Day was about 1000 years, but it was still rather hard for them to imply that. In Steins;Gate, there’s still really no way of knowing for certain how many times he has actually gone back. I do like the times where it’s implied that he went back when he made a mistake of some sort.

      I always find it interesting thinking about what I would do in such a scenario, as if that would ever happen.

      1. A THOUSAND years?! A little over 10 at most.

        And maybe you’d do what Bill Murray’s character did and learn to play the piano, sculpt ice, speak French, throw cards into a top hat, etc.

      2. I believe it was the director who said that the movie played out over thousands of years. It may only take 10 years to work on those specific items to learn and master, though I have doubts about that.

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