This site may be called “The Ranting Gamer”, but that doesn’t mean I have to do only gaming things, right?
Gate is one of the first somewhat less-than-mainstream anime I’ve watched – that is, an anime that hasn’t quite diffused into general awareness (like Pokémon or Dragon Ball or One-Punch Man); by some of my friends’ definitions, that makes it one of the first “proper” anime I’ve seen. For those unfamiliar with the series, Gate is about a gate opening in modern-day Ginza that leads to another world filled with early medieval-era and fantasy-like technology, magic, and creatures. The allied armies of this world launch an unprovoked attack on the Japanese, and so Japan counters by sending the Japanese Self-Defense Forces through the gate. The entirety of the series is about the technologically superior JSDF exploring the new world.
Now, there are a number of things I really liked about this series. I do enjoy A-1 Pictures’ style, having first experienced it in Valkyria Chronicles. I’m not the most knowledgeable about anime in general (I really only started watching last year), so I can’t make comparisons with any other studios, but there’s just something about the way A-1 does its soldiers and military technologies that really appeals to me.
Of course, the premise has to be promising, and Gate pretty much has that on point. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked the question of what would happen if you took modern technology against an ancient army (I recall one genius coming up with bringing an AA-12 and a Sit ‘n Spin) , and Gate makes all of my testosterone-filled childhood dreams come true. The Battle of Italica, in particular, was some spectacle – especially with the 4th Combat Unit and their use of Die Walküre as a reference to Apocalypse Now. No matter how silly things became, no matter how dumb the medieval troops appeared to be in charging men with automatic rifles, I thoroughly enjoyed watching JSDF kick ass.
The series also handles character development fairly well; or at least, it does for characters that actually receive development. In particular, I noticed how as the show went on we started seeing through Itami’s carefree and slacker nature, and how underneath his exterior he’s actually willing to put others ahead of his own well-being. Furthermore, the characters themselves are likable. Each has their own unique quirk or tendency that defines them, and each brings something unique to the table. Granted, many in the main ensemble of characters (the 3rd Special Recon Team and most of the other-world party members) remain fairly stagnant in terms of how we as an audience perceive them, but at least they aren’t boring.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where my personal good points stop. As much as I enjoyed watching the show and watching what was essentially the best kind of RPG in an anime form, I had to acknowledge all of Gate‘s silly points.
For Gate really is silly. I’m not entirely sure whether one would praise its relaxed view on combat and its almost parodying of the age-old idea of disparate forces, or if one would criticize the blatant disadvantage of the home forces and the lack of tension introduced. I don’t understand why the soldiers of the Empire kept insisting on fighting the SDF; as far as I can tell, there were a grand total of three Japanese casualties (not counting the three kidnapped before the occupation), only one of whom was wounded in combat with the Empire. There’s a certain limit to how much one can watch a single soldier open up on a large group of unfortunate, unsuspecting plate-armored troops before you start wondering whether all of these battles are just eye candy (in most cases, that’s pretty much what they are. Not that I’m complaining, though, honestly). There’s also the question of whether it’s glorifying the JSDF too much, but I don’t think that’s really important. After all, how often do we lionize American special forces in movies and video games?
We also have many, many plot points that really need to be explained or closed. For example, what happens when the gate closes again? What was the emperor’s real plan? Why are the natives okay with having an occupying force on their lands? There’s a lot about this series that makes no sense. Perhaps such discrepancies are discussed in the manga or the novels, but the anime leaves many questions opened.
For all of its flaws, though, Gate is still an enjoyable experience, especially if you realize that its initial seriousness very quickly gives way to comedic and humorous moments. I think it’s important that you don’t try to consider it as a gritty, desperate depiction of combat, despite what the marketing media wants you to believe. It’s essentially just like a teenage boy’s fantasies of guns versus swords with elf girls and magic thrown into the mix – without gravity and just for fun.