Japanese Soldiers Explore A Fantasy World In GATE

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

Hey, want to see a group of soldiers fight a dragon? Of course you do.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

GATE is an anime about a mysterious gate that appears in Tokyo, allowing in legions of medieval soldiers who then start massacring the helpless civilian population. Amidst the chaos, Itami, an off-duty member of the Japanese Self-Defence Force (Japan's not-quite army), manages to save a large number of people by hiding them behind the walls of the Japanese Imperial Palace. After the JSDF arrives in force and easily dispatches the invaders, it is decided that the only way to be truly safe is to take and hold the far side of the gate.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

Now seen as Japan's greatest modern war hero, Itami finds himself in command of his own unit that is sent through the gate to explore a world of elves, magic, and dragons -- though he'd rather just stay in our world and watch anime.

Much of the comedy in GATE is built around Itami's status as a reluctant hero. Itami does the bare minimum as a soldier. To him, it really is just a job to fund his hobbies. As he and his squad explore the fantasy world, he pontificates on -- among other otaku questions -- whether cat girls exist in this new world.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

That doesn't mean he is untalented, however. While often silly when not in a crisis situation, he proves to be not only a good soldier but a strong leader as well. He just prefers to do the bare minimum he can.

But what makes Itami most interesting as a character is his main skill: He knows when to fight and when to run away. Throughout the series we only see him fight battles he thinks he and his squad can win. There is no cowardice nor bravado in his actions -- he knows what has to be done and if it can't be done, no use dying for it. This makes him easy to root for.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

The first few episodes of GATE center on the idea of Itami and his squad as strangers in a strange land. They know nothing of the lifestyle or politics in this world -- as the only contact so far has been in battle. Of course, Itami is the perfect person for a scouting mission into this new world as there is nothing he would rather not do than fight. He basically uses his squad to lend humanitarian aid to those they come across -- which in turn is great PR for the army.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

It's interesting to see how Itami's actions change the world by the end of this season. What was once only the JDSF military base becomes first a refugee camp and soon thereafter a major trading hub. From there it becomes a city all its own, catering to the tastes of both worlds and becoming a symbol of cooperation between them.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

On the other side of the equation is the empire that sent its army to invade Japan in the first place. Its medieval soldiers still believe they can defeat the Japanese. It isn't until the imperial princesses, Piña Co Lada (yes, that's really her name), sees the JDSF fight up close that she realises the truth: Her people have already lost, they just don't know it. Thus her story is one of politics as she goes from a princess with no place of any real power in the empire to one of the most influential people in it -- trying to save her entire civilisation from its suicidal belief in its own superiority through conquest.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

Piña is not the only denizen of the fantasy world that makes Itami's acquaintance however. Over the course of the story he finds himself bound to three women from beyond the gate: Rory Mercury, a demi-god and high priestess to the god of war and death; Tuca, an elf and the sole survivor of a dragon attack; and Lelei, a genius apprentice mage who is the first to realise that our world's knowledge of science can take magic to a whole new level.

Each has a different kind of relationship with Itami. Rory sees him as a companion warrior -- and potential lover. To Tuca he is a surrogate for her dead father -- even as she refuses to accept that her father is truly gone. And in Lelei's eyes, he is a good man and friend who is her gateway to knowledge from another world.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

After spending time seeing how Itami acts in the fantasy world, the series reverses the situation as Piña, Rory, Tuca, and Lelei travel to our world. While this portion of the story is filled with both great comedy and dramatic, character-defining moments, it also exposes the series' most unintentionally hilarious flaw: it's hyper-patriotic propaganda.

The Japanese government in GATE, though having finger pointing issues of its own, has good and righteous people at the top, ready to fall on their swords to do the right thing. The Japanese army in turn is not only expertly trained but can easily dispatch the best that the US, China, and Russia have to offer -- at the same time, even.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

In fact, the US and China (and to a lesser extent Russia) act as one-note villains in this segment of GATE. America is shown as pretending to be Japan's friend while blackmailing its leaders and planning to drain the fantasy world of natural resources. China, on the other hand, wants to move a large chunk of its population through the gate to counter overpopulation. All three countries even send armed soldiers to abduct the women from beyond the gate during their visit to Japan. Between the one-note stereotypes and the lack of any kind of consequences for literally invading Japan, it all comes off feeling more than a little silly.

Japanese Soldiers Explore a Fantasy World in GATE

All in all, the first season of GATE is relatively strong. It has a good mix of action, politics, and fantasy with characters who are genuinely enjoyable to get to know. And while it does have some issues with patriotic propaganda, it's still a fun ride -- especially if you want to see a group of soldiers fight a fire-breathing dragon.

GATE aired on Tokyo MX in Japan and can be watched for free and with English subtitles on Crunchyroll. The second season of GATE will begin airing in January 2016.


Comments

    I loved this anime. It is an anime i have always wanted. See what would happen if a modern military force met a medieval civilization. Watching the amazement on their faces as they see what choppers/Planes/tanks/Guns can do. Pina's realization that they are fucked if continue a war against an unknown foe.
    The anime follows the manga very closely. I'm excited for the next season if it stays close to the manga as shit get awesome. Japan bearing it's fangs to the empire in their home turf, showing them what happens when you fuck with the Japanese people. The manga gets a little bit darker, i hope the anime follows on.

    Last edited 18/11/15 5:23 pm

      Totally agree with you my friend, probably my favourite of last season and I can't wait for more to follow. As you say it does stick to the manga extremely well and the reviewers concerns about "hypernationalism" basically stem from that which you can't really help, its the mangaka's views. Oh and GATE also had the best OP of the season as well, and the same band is doing the 2nd cour's OP which is great

      I gotta admit, one of my favourite parts was at the press conference and they found out Rory's and Tuca's age

        That shit was awesome. Her face when she had been defeated at the Diet conference.

    Nationalism freaks me the hell out. When you're willing to make the mental contortions to allow your government to be a bunch of heroes and yet proclaim all others as obviously evil manipulators, I just wonder how you perceive the world

    Hey, want to see a group of soldiers fight a dragon?Only if it's better than Reign of Fire. I have GATE in my queue but this article has made me think about pushing it up the list further. It also makes me want to see Those Who Hunt Elves.

    ah good to hear there's a second season starting shortly. Finished very quite awkwardly.

    Yeah, for those wondering, January is when this picks back up again

    Loved this show, only 12 episodes so went way too quickly

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