Mark Watches ‘Steins;Gate’: Episode 18 – Fractal Androgynous

In the eighteenth episode of Steins;Gate, Okabe asks something difficult of Ruka. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Steins;Gate. 

Trigger Warning: For discussion of cissexism, transmisogyny, misgendering, trans panic

I can tell that the show tried here, that they wanted to paint this story as something that is tender and admirable. It is sweet at times, but it’s also so jarring because the show also can’t really figure out how to address their own character. Based on what Ruka has said in past episodes, it felt clear to me that she was a trans woman and that she wanted to use the D-mail to help herself. And while I’m going to leave the bulk of this up for discussion—I really do not want to position myself as an expert on this—I did want to include some thoughts on the execution of this character. Because of the way Ruka is referred to throughout this episode, and due to the title itself, I get the sense that being trans wasn’t even on the writing team’s radar. Do they view her as being androgynous in the original timeline? If so, I feel like even that is still a limited view of the subject, one that’s supported by how frequently the other characters misgender Ruka and openly discuss her “biological” gender. 

The aim of this episode, then, is to grant Ruka a final wish before she undoes what’s happened here. And in a weird twist, she remembers the other timeline. Is it only the folks who experienced D-mail world line shifts who can do this??? That’s the only thing I see in common between Okabe, Feyris, and Ruka! Anyway, in exchange for giving up this timeline, Ruka asks Okabe to be her boyfriend for a day. It is, as I said, sweet at times, but it’s so WEIRD. Okabe’s initial reaction is… not great? He immediately misgenders Ruka—there is no interpretation of her in this world line where she is not a woman!!!—and is horrified at the notion of going on a date with her. And throughout this episode, no matter how nice Okabe ultimately is, there’s still this quiet element of Okabe feeling awkward because he still sees Ruka as a “guy.” I think the show mostly buries this in the awkwardness of Okabe going on his first date, but I couldn’t ignore the dynamic regardless. 

I mentioned this on video, but Ruka’s unrequited crush feels like a harmful trope. I am not sure of the name or if it’s even a thing? I can only approach this as a queer man, and I know that I often feel uncomfortable by stories where a queer person has some horrible unrequited love for a straight person. That’s certainly not the same here, as I believe Ruka is a woman in all world lines, and thus, that makes the conflict here less about Okabe being straight and instead, it’s his discomfort with Ruka’s identity. Is there a trope like this that trans and GNC folks dislike, too? I also felt strange once I learned the backstory of how Ruka and Okabe met. In that scene, Okabe defends Ruka, telling her to be herself, that it doesn’t matter if she’s a guy or a girl, but then, later, it does matter? I got the sense this was missing the mark, but I am gonna bow out now and leave this up to people better qualified to talk about it. 

My discomfort over the way Ruka is addressed lasted most of the episode, and like “Made in Complex,” I also couldn’t escape how sad this felt. Ruka got to live her dream, to feel true to herself, and she’s being asked to give that up in order to repair the world. In her final day, she just wanted to entertain a fantasy. In a sense, Okabe granted her that and let her feel a last burst of happiness before he undid the D-mail himself. It’s hard not to feel distressed for Ruka, who was asked to sacrifice so much. I understand why it is important in the grand scheme of things, but it still hurts. 

The video for “Fractal Androgynous” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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