Youji Itami is a self-professed otaku who'd gladly prioritize his hobbies over his work, though his dedication is put to the test when a gate appears in the middle of Tokyo, from where an army of orcs, goblins and other fantastical beings pour out and start attacking the people. During the crisis, Itami saves many lives and keeps the troops somewhat up to date, and for his actions, he is given a promotion and a place in the forces tasked with entering the gates and surveying the area on the other side, as well as setting up a defense perimeter.
I usually make it a habit of not getting very political in my reviews, mostly because I carry very little interest in politics in general, but also because I don't think it's my place to lecture or argue. For the most part, keeping to that standard have been easy, as anime in general tends to stay away from politics as well. And even if it did, it's been easy enough to just ignore its angle and take it for what it is.
As such, GATE isn't the first anime I've watched that puts national politics on its program, but it's definitely one with the strongest sense of a political angle, easily recognizable due to its blatant, almost hilarious lack of subtlety. You can probably lay a lot of things at GATE's feet, but to the show's credit, you'll never be confused about where it stands.
Itami might come across as a bit of a slacker at first, but for all his complaints, he does not shirk his duty. Obviously, he is in the show to be an everyguy anyone can relate to, but also admire... in a sense. He's not so admirable that people feel they have to rise above their station to compare themselves to him, but he also never goes against an order when given -- well, very rarely anyway. While he's rather obviously the main character, he doesn't really dominate the screentime either, which is a good thing, because the supporting cast of GATE is quite frankly enormous. Almost literally an army upon itself, from fellow soldiers to politicians, and furthermore, the new world provides a large variety of beings on its own, elves and animal people aplenty, as well as its own human race.
As such, Itami quickly finds himself in the company of three ladies from the other side. Two of them are refugees of sorts: Tuka Luna Marceau is the sole surviving members from an elf village that got razed by a huge, red dragon, while Lelei La Lelena is a scholar who studies under an old sorcerer who came into contact with Itami's group during an evacuation. Tuka lost her father in the dragon attack that razed her village, so she spends half the show in denial and some of the remainder in... well... you'll see. Lelei, however, is quite in control of her faculties, and wastes no time picking up and learning what she can from the new guests of their world. The team is also eventually joined by Rory Mercury, a demi goddess under the world's god of death, war, crime and madness. While this sounds bad in theory, Rory isn't the kind to attack the defenseless and weak, instead choosing to focus her attention on the ones that do. She seems to be well liked by the children, though her looking like a 15 year old girl (despite her real age of nearly 1000 years) might play some part in that.
I'd like to talk about the rest of the character too; I really would. But I shudder at the thought of how long this review would become if I did. Granted, like most shows with ginormous casts, most of the characters that get any significant screentime in GATE tend to be divided into groups and given a cursory personality package, which is fine. If I may give this show one major prop is that it's very good at including most of its characters in a naturay way that makes it feel like nobody is necessarily left out, even if they aren't all given the full personality development treatment. Even if you only get to see them once or twice, you'll usually get some semblance of an idea of what kind of people they are, and thankfully, most of them avoid the "unflattering caricature" treatment.
Which brings us back to the politics. See, while GATE is mainly a fairly straight-laced meeting of fantasy and modern science adventure, the show occasionally delves into a rather blatant nationalistic bent. This can be seen the most easily during some of the political meetings, where the actions of the almost squeaky clean representation of the millitary is called into question by blindingly obvious caricatures, which is just the first of many such meetings. Not that all of them are opposed to the politics, necessarily; you will also see some of the leaders of the other countries in the world, like the US, who more than anything would like some of that otherworldly pie. What binds them all together is their unflattering portrayal in GATE, hence my comment about the show's complete lack of subtlety.
Adding to that dearth is the portrayal of the JSDF itself, in that the show almost downright worships them. While I appreciate the more realistic approach to the topic of guns vs. swords as opposed to the romanticised one -- as well as the topic of ancient fantasy armies vs. a modern army with full millitary ballistics at their disposal, including tanks, mortars, choppers and jet fighters, not to mention the tactics that makes all this work. The show doesn't really make it clear whether it thinks the actual JSDF is like this, or if it was meant as more of a representation of an ideal. However the other characters in this show is presented, every single member of the JSDF are, without exception, honorable and professional, which goes very much in tandem with their overwhelming might in the face of almost every single enemy they face. Yet, for all their might, they're almost caricaturishly pure; in what has to be the most laugh-inducing scene, the JSDF later offers medical aid to a city in this fantasy world, and we see the local prostitutes complain among themselves that the JSDF members refuse to accept their services. GATE is more or less a love letter to the JSDF, and, to some extent, Japanese imperialism. Granted, the anime does tone this aspect down, which is amazing in its own right, because that means you have to watch the scene with the Japanese diet in episode 8 and wonder how much blatantly worse it is in the novel. And that's not even the last time the show gets kind of disrespectful about its opposition. But the millitary itself?
Sounds about right for this show, I guess.
GATE isn't quite as kind to its main character, Itami, though. Whether that has anything to do with his status as an otaku is a bit up in the air, but GATE seems rather eager to put him in (mild) harms way. Aside from losing out on the big event he really wanted to attend in the first episode, his contributions to the show tends to follow the old harem construct of "being at the girls' mercy" more often than not. As much as he complains about it, though, most of it merely means he'll be looking after them instead of doing what he'd like doing. He does occasionally receive some mild verbal abuse from his fellow female soldiers on account of being somewhat otaku-like, which is a bit uncalled for, but the worst of it comes from Shino Kuribayashi. She gladly verbally AND physically attacks him with little to no provocation and spends a surprisingly short time wearing out her welcome, the low point being when she points a loaded gun right at his face while drunk, demanding answers for another one of her ridiculous personal offenses. I was happy to see her role minimized in the second half, and kept strictly to more serious pursuits whenever she turned up. (I.E. Fighting in battles, which is really the only place where she excels.)
As a fan of 80's action movies, though, I can certainly appreciate the showing-off of millitary hardware, and I can also respect the show for not dancing around the issue when it comes to warfare casualties and the level of violence one can expect. The show isn't necessarily hyperviolent, but it brokes no argument about the fact that people die en masse in skirmishes, and while this is less of a problem in modern warfare, it still falls within the specifications, given that the JSDF are fighting what looks like roman armies. Despite this, it can sometimes be a bit hard to watch the JSDF basically lay waste to entire armies of people; most notable in the beginning, but also some episodes in where an Apache lays waste to an invading force with frightening efficiency. (On that note, I was a bit surprised that the jet fighters used in the show are F-4 Phantoms; granted, some of them might still be in use, but it's an old fighter jet by today's standards.) Whether you consider it a downside or not, the JSDF isn't often facing much of a challenge, so most fights tend to be rather anticlimactic. All a part of the love letter, I guess.
The show seems quite feminist-friendly too: one group of supporting characters is a female group of knights lead by one of the emperor's illegitimate daughters (concubine mother.) While she carries quite possibly the most ridiculous name in this show, maybe even ranking among the top ten names from any anime period -- her name is Piña Co Lada, and no, I'm not making that up -- the show treats her character quite seriously. Granted, at the beginning, she'll basically come across as a shill for the Japanese, but she and her order of knights are presented as a serious group of knights who face sexism on a daily basis, which the show portrays as... well, sexist. I can get behind that, at least, and it's actually one of the bigger pleasures in this show to see both her and her knights really come into their own later in the show, even if it comes with a rather... odd personality change in one of the major players.
It might also come across as a bit... haremish too, since Itami gathers around himself a small group of female followers, though I'm not sure if it really qualifies as one, since all the girls gather around Itami for various reasons. Lelei is the most studious of them all, so her curiosity extends a bit beyond Itami himself; he's merely the source she chose for answers to her many questions. Tuka might look like a shoe-in for main love interest merely by being a gorgeous blonde elf girl, but, due to the circumstance of him being the commanding officer of the group that rescues her from the well of the ravaged elfen village, she looks more towards him as a replacement for her father, a complicated situation that takes on a few stages as the show goes along. Rory is the only one who is openly flirting with him, which is more in line with her personality more than anything else, and in another turn of an otherwise common trope, her interest in him might very well be strictly sexual. Which is a BIT iffy, since she looks like a 15 year old girl despite being nearly a thousand (as mentioned earlier.) My point is simply that, despite being surrounded by girls in a fairly regular basis, there's really only one woman who shows any kind of romantic inclination towards the guy, which is Risa Aoi, a doujinshi artist with a bit of an antisocial streak. She's also Itami's ex wife, though their marriage was more one of convenience, as she could live off the economical support given to all wives of soldiers. In a surprisingly endearing sequence of events, we learn that the two divorced because Itami had apparently offered her the money she'd receive "in event of his death", and while she didn't mind receiving the economical support given to wives of living soldiers, accepting payment upon his death was not something she was willing to accept.
GATE is a dense show; it never feels rushed, but there is a lot of things going on and the many facets and alliances in the show shift all the time, so you'll never really get bored with it. In a weirdly practial way, the overwhelming power of the JSDF compared to the forces of the world they ventured into means that fights, while anticlimactic, also won't take up too much time. The show is quite well animated, so battles looking awesome is not uncommon at all. There were some awkward sequences regarding the aforementioned F-4 Phantoms, but that was thankfully a one-off instance. The fire dragon is probably the creature in this show that looks the "worst", which is to say it still looks pretty good, and represents the biggest challenge to the JSDF at large due to its size, intelligence and sheer hardiness. Granted, this is partially because they're following the law of the land and won't send large forces into "enemy" areas willy nilly, which would basically be a declaration of war in any world. That, coupled with the fact that it is presented as a very dangerous and cunning being for a creature with animal intelligence does allow for a rather exciting adventure.
At its worst, GATE does become a little full of itself, like American movies of old so expertly parodied by Team America: World Police. Again, the anime does reduce the amount of national pride from the novels, so don't worry; GATE is probably a tolerable watch for most people, even if the caricatures can be a bit obnoxious at times. You might guffaw a bit from some of the representations among the JSDF's political or national opposition, but at least the rose-tinted look at the JSDF isn't too bad as long as you look on it as an ideal rather than a representation. GATE is fun and exciting enough to be worth a watch, and seems well researched enough not to come across as stupid in any way. The show even surprised me with a startingly good explanation for this seemingly stereotypical fantasy world our lovable troop of soldiers are thrown into, and while the show seems to round off on a satisfying degree, it still leaves itself open for more, should the fancy strike us.
Part classic fantasy, part mild millitary propaganda, all fun. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: The body count alone makes this show somewhat unsuitable for young people, but there is also talks about repaying debts or settling disagreements with their bodies among some of the ladies. One of the characters in the last half is also clearly seen using and abusing a female as his own personal sex toy; not directly, but the implication is clear enough. There is also some relatively mild and infrequent fanservice that shouldn't really bother anyone.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital stream on Crunchyroll, Japanese with English subs.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
GATE © 2015 A-1 Pictures, Bandai Namco Entertainment.
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