Episode 13 exemplifies why Steins;Gate as a whole is such a successful series; combining solid character interaction and a semi-realistic science fiction plot. The home grown, accidental nature of their time machine is something that hasn’t been so well addressed since a similar situation in the movie Primer (The situation being the development of the time machine, not the situations that arise because of its creation. In that respect, the two are different beasts). This development of a real, working time machine is nicely enveloped in seemingly one-off conversations between the characters; cementing their relationships in our mind while also just being genuinely funny and well-written.
This all came to a head in episode 12, where Mayuri, a seemingly insignificant character, was killed, sending the male lead Okarin into an emotional frenzy. In episode 13, we learn that all of “Hououin Kyouma” was actually developed for Mayuri following her inability as a child to deal with her grandmother’s death. When Okarin feels that Mayuri is slipping away from him, he grabs her from behind, quoting a television series that they had watched together, declaring that he’ll play the mad scientist holding her hostage. Until this episode, I had thought that Mayuri represented the heart of the operation as the only person who could keep “Hououin Kyouma” grounded enough to stay as Okabe Rintaro. However, she also happens to be the reason why he developed his alternate persona; for as much as Mayuri’s world revolves around Okarin, Okarin’s world revolves even more around Mayuri. Were it not for Mayuri, Okarin surely would have never thought to attempt to build a time machine in the first place.
Keeping this idea in mind, the series takes a depressing turn when said time machine becomes the source of all of their problems and Mayuri’s demise. Honestly, the emotional overload of watching Mayuri die repeatedly completely distracted me from several sticky situations that this episode gets itself into, speaking once more to the successful emotional impact that Steins;Gate is able to deliver thanks to its excellent character development. While it holds its audience captive, the viewers are more willing to overlook key logic flaws that may arise. Thus far, the series has made it a point to go back in order to address and explain all of these reasonably. Hopefully, it will continue to do so, distracting us by placing our favorite characters in dire peril in the meantime.
The main situation that needs to be address here is that Okarin “time-leapt” within the same timeline, which was a feat that the rules of Steins;Gate had previously established as impossible. With the D-Mail, he was able to jump world lines, supporting John Titor’s theory of time-travel. Now, with the time-leap machine, he is somehow able to transmit his memories along the same timeline instead of continuing to leap between world lines. This may have something to do with why Mayuri’s death is seemingly inevitable; however, it does open up a whole other can of worms regarding the series’s explanation of time travel. Obviously, he’ll have to use the D-Mail to actually change anything, which will jump him into another world line.
Another, more interesting question, comes from episode 12, but is continuously hinted at through this episode as well; who is Mayuri at any given point in the series? The beginning of episode 12 finds her speaking with Okarin many years in the past in the middle of a barren wasteland. She says that she’s searched for Okarin though many different world lines, and explains that she is one of many Mayuris, and also, the original Mayuri. If somehow, Mayuri is a time-traveler as well, who is she at what point in time during her various scenes in the series? Her every appearance is now in question. In addition to this, she had told Okarin in episodes prior that perhaps she has been his hostage long enough, and had remarked that she felt as if they were growing apart. Initially, I took this to mean that she was accepting her death, as if she had already known about it through time-travel; however, now I’m wondering if it didn’t mean that she wanted Okarin to drop the persona of Hououin Kyouma once and for all.