I flip-flopped between a few scenes for this category, partly because I’m trying to keep my sources diverse for this challenge and partly because I feel like there are a lot to choose from. In the end, I decided to settle on a scene that felt particularly impactful from the anime Steins;Gate 0 episode 8. This is a very recent anime having only aired last year, so if you are the type of person who doesn’t want big scenes spoiled, I recommend you go no further on this one as I will be discussing some major plot points from both the original Steins;Gate and this one. Everything after the below image is fair game. Last chance.
I’ll be completely honest, I’m actually pretty critical of Steins;Gate 0. It’s an anime that I feel I would have been better off having never watched, especially since I consider the original Steins;Gate to be one of my favorites. It was a complete story when it was finished, but I wanted more, because how could that be bad, right? I’ve debated the point every which way with people, but like every good debate, nobody ever changed their mind and we all left convinced we were right.
Now some foundation for those of you still reading who haven’t seen the series. Steins;Gate deals with a version of time travel known as world line hopping. Essentially, there are an infinite number of possibilities that are all happening at the same time. Our protagonist, Okabe, can not only hop world lines (via a device that can send text messages to the past), he can remember information from previous world lines. He uses this ability to save the lives of those closest to him, hopping world lines again and again until he discovers one where everybody lives. Steins;Gate 0 erases that. It’s the story of an Okabe who gives up before finding that line. In Steins;Gate 0, Kurisu, the woman that he loves, is dead. For this Okabe, it is an incredibly painful reality. He had to choose between two people that he loved, and he wouldn’t have been content with either choice.
Unfortunately for Okabe, his choice, his sacrifice, isn’t left untouched. People are still returning from the future in order to mess with his current reality. Okabe must once again hop world lines to fix it all. And here’s where the heartbreak comes in.
Okabe ends up hopping to a world line where Kurisu is still alive and Mayuri is not. It shocks him to see Kurisu there in front of him, interacting with him, arguing with him; it was just like old times. It’s incredibly painful for him, and watching it unfold is nothing short of heartbreaking, especially for those who watched the original Steins;Gate. You know the history of these characters. In the end, Kurisu deduces that she’s speaking with an Okabe from another world line. She is level headed and accepting; she’s a scientist after all. She wants him to return to the world line where Mayuri lives and Kurisu does not. Her reasoning is that the Okabe she has now can barely be called human; the regret of letting Mayuri die killed him. He must return to a future that is more hopeful than that.
All of this is heartbreaking by itself, but it’s the final scene that really sells it (and is my choice for this category). Kurisu composes a text message to her past self and hands the phone to Okabe, but he can’t hit send. Seeing his hesitation visibly breaks her heart. She grabs him and kisses him, bidding farewell with bittersweet tears in her eyes as she sends the message herself. Cut to the past, the moment where Okabe’s actions determines who lives and who dies. Kurisu is sprinting to the lab in order to tell Okabe that she loves him. If he hears those words, she will live. When she arrives at the door, she receives and opens the text message from her future self that reads “Don’t come in.” She bursts into the room anyway, declaring her love for Okabe, but that hesitation is too long and the line that leads to her death is activated once again; Okabe returns to the line where we started.
There are a lot of other layers that add to this sadness that both Okabe and you as the audience experience, such as an AI that sounds like, looks like, and talks like Kurisu in his current world line. It’s a whole rabbit hole that is explored as Okabe grapples with the idea that what he’s seeing and speaking to isn’t actually Kurisu, but a computer program. His desire for her is so strong that at times he can’t see past that simple fact.
As I said, overall I’m not a fan of Steins;Gate 0, but as a fan of the original series, the bittersweet heartbreak of seeing them together again was almost too much to handle; hope is extended and extinguished almost immediately. The impact is heavier when you have seen Steins;Gate and know that yes, there is another way.
That was a little more than I originally intended to write about, but it’s hard to ignore these memories as I think back again on this scene.
What would you consider your saddest anime scene?