Review/discussion about: Gate: Jietai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
The progression of weaponry is pretty astounding. As Neanderthals, we started off with nothing more than blunt sticks and sharp stones. Eventually we learned about the oddity called the “bow and arrow.” From there, we melted iron to make knives, swords, and javelins. Then came the gun. Then the tank. Then the jet, the submarine, and the almighty nuke. In a relatively short amount of time, humanity has proven their penchant for new ways of killing each other.
GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There!, while not really about the weapons, showcases a wide range of them, from the bow to the gun to the fighter jet. Of course, given the mythical setting, other forms of weaponry exist, such as magic and massive death axes.
And so this makes me wonder something: where will our weaponry be ten years from now? Or in one hundred years? Will we go the Star Wars route, with light-sabers and laser-blasters? Or will we instead come up with a piece of technology that we currently cannot comprehend? At the minimum, I hope there is not an alien species out there looking to invade us with such technology, because as GATE depicts, an assault rifle beats a sword any day of the week.
GATE is Japanese propaganda incarnate.
The Japanese army is intelligent, strong, and merciful. At every possible turn, the Japanese army is placed in a supremely positive light. One second they are creating a brand new village for the other-worldly denizens to inhabit, and the next second has them defeating the American CIA and other foreign intelligence agencies simultaneously.GATE even has blatant examples: at one point, Bozes exclaims (conveniently enough, at the camera), “Splendid! How does Japan elevate even the smallest dishes into works of art?” One does not get more patriotic than that.
Do not be mistaken. This is not a negative. In fact, this is quite the positive. Part of what GATE wants to accomplish is highlighting the disparity between Japan (who represents the normal world) and the Empire (the new world). So, the anime does what one calls “hitting two birds with one stone.” By placing Japan on a pedestal, not only does the show makes its own country look nice but it also achieves the stark contrast it had in mind from the beginning.
Not looking at the more meta aspect of the show, narratively GATE is pretty simple, cliché even. A portal – a gate – opens up to a world filled with cat people, medieval governments, and dragons. People exploring an untapped world is nothing new, though the way in which GATE approaches the concept is slightly different.
The narrative has some focus on conquering and murder. A giant, fire-breathing dragon decimating an entire clan of elves and the prospect of rape should the battle be lost are parts of war that are definitely present. But what the narrative mainly focuses on is the “gentler”, the more civil side of war. Saving civilians, diplomatic exchanges, summits between the warring states, the formation of alliances, and paying respects to the dead. Again, the anime does this partly to put Japan in a favorable light but also partly to showcase that war is not constant death, destruction, and despair. That despite the atrocities war brings, people still try to find the silver linings.
Interestingly, one of the anime’s weakest aspects is the world-building. Yes, the show gives small details in regards to Rory’s religion, how their senate works, and the names of various locations. Yet, the Empire, this brand new and almost unbelievable world, never feels like a world. Civilian interaction is rarely shown. Magic is hardly talked about. The differences between a regular elf and a dark elf are not discussed. These and other details are admittedly small, but they add up quickly.
So quickly, in fact, that the show seems to (once again) favor showing the normal world more so than the new world. In a show about this new world and the differences between it and what people are used to, ignoring the world-building is a blunder. Though there is a trade-off: GATE regularly shows its new world characters – Tuka Luna, Piña, Rory, and so on – in the normal world. Rory getting scared on the subway or Piña appreciating “art” get back at the disparity that the anime had always been striving for.
A problem that GATE has that is difficult to explain away is its tendency for sexual content. For instance, the show relies one-too-many times on the “a female should offer her body as payment or apology” card. This prevalence of sex – be it Rory’s advances or dressing up the women at a local mall – does not fit among the war, politics, and action taking place, no matter how appealing Tuka Luna looks in fashionable clothes.
But to be fair, GATE is not that concerned about anything else other than the cute, otherworldly women and the Japanese propaganda motif. In other words, the anime does not have much of a thematic presence. And for what the show is – an action anime blending the old and the new, the regular and the magical – it does not have to be much more than that.
GATE does this weird, but welcome, thing with the presentation of some of its scenes. Usually when a pair of characters are speaking or the show wants to depict multiple, previous scenes simultaneously, the anime goes into panel mode. Four square panels, two rectangular ones, etcetera. This accomplishes a lot at once. One, the audience gets a clear view of the speakers talking to one another, giving the anime more chances to show off its art. Two, the presentation feels like a newspaper sharing today’s news. Given the military motif, presenting the anime as if it were some daily news feels right at home. Three, lastly, and most importantly, the paneling creates that sense of disparity. Seeing Itami and Piña on opposite sides of the screen at the same time is a nice and easy way to showcase the contrast between the normal and the new worlds.
As for the rest of the art, the anime – due to focusing more on the normal world – has lush scenery replaced with skyscrapers and military outposts. Besides a castle, a makeshift town, and some country roads, the Empire is not shown all that much, contributing to that missing world-building feel.
Where GATE shines brightest are its character designs which do feel as if they come from an alternate world. Yao Ha Ducy’s caramel-colored skin, white hair, and yellow eyes make her out to be the exotic beauty that she is. The elvish Tuka Luna in modern clothes achieves more disparity. Rory dons her signature black-and-magenta dress. Lelei’s blue and pale-green design match her cool, unemotional approach to life. In (nice) contrast, Itami, Shino, and the other JSDF members are given seemingly plain designs. Though in this context, “normal” works better than “plain” because the whole point is that the new world is different. So, though normal, these designs contrast with the gaudier ones, continuing GATE’s focus on disparity.
Actual animation remains relatively high throughout the season. Eye and hair movement is present, as are subtler animated sequences such as a floating water bubble and slaps to the face. Given the constant military action involving tanks, guns, and jets, the characters moving around in a believable manner was a nice sight to see.
The cast of GATE is huge, but that is somewhat to be expected when two contrasting countries go to war with one another.
At the forefront is Itami who, unfortunately, is handled poorly. In the beginning, he is characterized as a hobbyist, or colloquially an “otaku.” He loves anime, manga, and doing as little as possible. Circumstances force his hand, earning him a promotion and, consequently, some loathing for the situation he is placed in. So at the start, Itami is not a man with a mission but instead a man looking to avoid as many missions as possible.
Then the show starts to get underway. At this point, Itami becomes the self-inserting character he was destined to be. He is very kind to everyone, no matter what. He always chooses the best, most positive route to solve the problems at hand. And, of course, he is surrounded by beautiful women. When the anime starts taking this direction for his character, for whatever reason the show forgets about his earlier characterization. It is alluded to occasionally – his buddy who is also a fan of anime and manga plays the role of “remind the audience that Itami loves this stuff, too” – but the frequency is so low that one does not associate his character with the traits he supposedly had in the beginning. The result is that Itami’s character starts to make less sense the more GATE progresses.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with his ex-wife, Risa Aoi. She is a paltry addition to the cast but she ruins Itami’s character further. Risa argues that Itami does not understand what truly matters. For him, he was seemingly oblivious to Risa’s feelings when they got married. He decided that the “insurance money” would cover her if anything ever happened to him; not the most husbandly thing to say. This is peculiar because Itami does seem to understand what matters most. He is a celebrated soldier, he has his heart in the right place when dealing with others, and he still supports and cares for Risa. Most contradictory of all is his stance on Tuka Luna. He does not find it wise to force her out of her delusions since they cannot “be her pillars of support forever.” That is quite the mature and understanding thing to say. Altogether, GATE definitely tries to make his character deeper than what he appears to be, but fails in doing so.
Now, there are a few counter arguments. Itami’s words on Tuka Luna can be seen as wrong, not caring. Not helping the woman to get better and basically ignoring the problem is not that caring of a decision. His love of anime-related material over practically anything else, while not as prevalent of an idea, is yet another trait of his that makes him presumably out-of-touch. Or this has nothing to do with Itami and everything to do with Risa. Perhaps she misconstrued what he meant in the sense that he wanted to support her in the only way he knew how. If Itami is not as contradictory as Risa makes him out to be, that is a step in the right direction. Yet that would still leave him as the same, kindhearted Itami; a stale character.
The rest of the characters are just as subpar. Starting with Lelei, she is arguably the worst. She is a pupil in the art of magic and she seems to have an intriguing background based on her nomadic lifestyle, but the anime never goes into her past. She is quickly pushed into an interpreter role, after which she does little else. Tuka Luna is nearly the same. Besides the death of her father affecting her both emotionally and mentally, she barely has a place in GATE’s first season. In fact, after she is integrated into the JSDF, she is nearly forgotten about entirely. Even Rory, the girl that the anime puts on a pedestal, is not without faults. Her religion and demigod status are talked about in passing, but like many of the characters, barely anything else is known about her. She is around more than the others, so the viewer gets to see many more sides to her: her playfulness, her craziness, her logicalness, and so on. Still, she is not terribly complex since the anime was more concerned with having her orgasm on the battlefield as opposed to expounding her person.
Piña is by far the best written character of GATE, though that is not saying much. Her own past is divulged and she actually has a presence throughout the season. She, more than anyone, represents the Empire. She acts as the mediator, she has political connections with her own people, and her status as both a princess and as a leader make her more well-rounded as a character. While she does not change much, she at least has a better foundation than the rest of the side cast.
For all of the characters, one has to concede that this is just the first half to GATE (after it was supposedly meant to run as a full-cour as opposed to a split-cour). Meaning, some leniency should be applied since it is expected that the direct continuation will explore everyone more. Though given that the setup for many of the characters fell flat, it is difficult to justify the overall poor execution completely.
The opening theme for GATE follows that nationalistic feel. It is empowering, the final choir and surprisingly uplifting vocalist filling the listener with adrenaline. While not necessarily a militaristic song, the instruments – especially the resounding drums – give the track a lot of impact. If nothing else, the song is fun to listen to, matching the entertainment that the anime usually strives for.
The ending theme, on the other hand, is off-putting. Almost disco in presentation, the combination of techno, funky beat, and strange sound-effects hardly has a place amongst the military and medieval motifs. Now, that is not to say that the ED is poorly executed. Switching the vocalists is a nice touch. The song, despite its feel, is relaxing. And the repetition in some of the lyrics makes the track fun to (try to) sing along with. So, while the ED is sorely out-of-place, it still manages to be a well-crafted song.
Voice acting performances in GATE are likewise well-done. Risa Taneda as Rory gives the overtly sexual woman quite the sensual voice. Haruka Tomatsu as Piña gives the tomboy more of a husky voice that fits the warrior without taking away from her princess vibe. Nao Touyama as Lelei is as nonchalant-sounding as possible. And Junichi Suwabe as Itami, while not particularly noteworthy, uses a laidback voice that fits the character well-enough.
Finally, the rest of the original soundtrack is filled with both fantastical and militaristic pieces. Bells and drums for nighttime raids. Violins and trumpets for passing moments of tension. Cultural ensembles for that foreign feel. While the OST is nothing impressive, these tracks, alongside the other orchestral and village tracks, create the right atmosphere for GATE throughout the season.
After getting through this one, I cannot say I hate it, but I cannot I say I like it, either.
My favorites in the show were easily Yao Ha Ducy and Tuka Luna, though that is my libido talking more so than my brain. I also got a kick out of Piña and Bozes, their antics and fascination with the normal world bringing about some funny scenes. Piña’s constant confusion of which world was which also had me chuckling. Lelei could be funny, too, especially when the anime used her for her deadpan delivery and for her “…she says” interpreter interjection.
As for Rory, I am split (here, my brain beats my libido). On the one hand, I find her annoying. I cannot take her evilness seriously and her ridiculous laughing gets on my nerves. That is sort of the point – the dichotomy of her psychotic and attractive qualities is meant to be alluring to the audience. On the other hand, she has some nice moments, such as at the summit where she puts the irritating speaker in her place or when she attempts to seduce Itami at the retreat. So Rory can be fun, but if I had to choose between her and Yao Ha Ducy, I would pick the dark elf every single time.
The action as well was not that captivating. This mostly comes down to the problem of gun-centric skirmishes not being all that fun to watch since not a whole lot happens when two or more people are fighting with guns. The JSDF versus the fire dragon was about as cool as it got action-wise, but even then watching bullets and rockets take down a massive, flying beast was not that entertaining. I got a lot more joy out of the simpler, slice-of-life moments. The small stuff like Risa pinpointing Itami’s tastes in the getaway van and Yao Ha Ducy mistakenly excited to be taken in for questioning. These moments had nothing to do with the military action, but they were the ones that I found most entertaining.
When the anime was not focusing on the women or the action, everything else was moderately engaging despite the show dabbling in both comedy and drama. Specific scenes, such as Rory feigning innocence when she meets Yao Ha Ducy for the first time or during the battle of Italica when the helicopters were approaching to the tune of “Ride of the Valkyries,” are ones that made the show at least somewhat interesting. But the majority of the time, the content of the anime made me feel, like I do towards Rory, ambivalent.
GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There! does not do a whole lot, at least in this opening act. The lack of proper world-building, the lame characters, and the infrequent engaging content do more harm than good. Yet the paneling and the flavorful sound make up for some of these issues. To put it metaphorically, this first half is a dull blade: it works, but it could work better.
Story: Fine, Japanese propaganda leads to disparity and fun, yet the lack of world-building and unnecessary sexual content are notable problems
Animation: Good, cool paneling technique, okay art, nice character designs, above average actual animation
Characters: Bad, Itami is a subpar main protagonist, Lelei, Tuka Luna, and Rory are subpar side characters, with only Piña having strength
Sound: Fine, good OP, okay ED, okay OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, Yao Ha Ducy and Tuka Luna need more screen-time, some fun and interesting moments exist, but Rory’s presence can get grating and not every sequence is entertaining
Final Score: 5/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3