Binged: GATE

Well, this was a definitely different take on the Portal Fantasy Troupe.

Watched On: Crunchyroll
Binge-ability: Fun. One step away from being an A in my books.
Spoilers: Minor
Overall: B

Beginning: Episodes 1-4

GATE starts with an interesting concept that initially captured my attention. When a mysterious gate appears in the middle of Tokyo it opens a connection between our world and an ancient fantasy world.

It starts off strong with a lot of action from the moment the gate first appears and a mini battle that throws modern day Japan against creatures from beyond the gate. This strong first episode shows us just a hint of the creatures that reside in the new world (Orcs, dragons, and knights), as well as the capabilities of our protagonist Itami.

Itami is a member of the Japanese Self  Defense Force as well as an Otaku, which makes him an interesting character to study. His leadership and strong decision making is one of the things attributed to helping Japan win their first encounter against the beings beyond the gate, propelling him into a higher position when the JSDF finally goes over to the other side. However, this is the only time we really see Itami in the role of an active hero. The rest of the time he still proves himself by having a good heart and thinking outside the box, but he is also concerned with the latest Comic exhibit and upgrade to his phone, and takes a lazier approach then appropriate for an Officer in the military.

The first four episodes are some of the strongest GATE has to offer as they focus on introducing the viewer to the new world in beautiful action sequences and battles. One thing that may make or break the beginning of this series for some viewers is how incredibly pro-JSDF it is, this is especially clear in these first episodes as the anime glorifies new modern warfare against the more archaic system used by the mysterious new world.

It’s over the top explosions, firepower, and complete domination of the fantasy world (which is never given a name) is nothing more than one giant JSDF commercial but the juxtaposition between the modern day military and that of the Gate world is one of the most fascinating features of this anime that opens doors just begging to be explored throughout the rest of the series. The effects of military occupation, how warfare changes over years and imperialism are all heavy topics threaded into this series.

Middle: Episodes 5-8

Roughly around the middle of the anime is when the military battles come to a close and the series focuses more on world building and characters. A good choice considering Michael Bay taught us all that there is such a thing as too much explosions.

This middle grace period introduces us to the cast of colorful female characters, three of which prove to be Itami’s trusty guides into the new world. Rory an apostle of a war god, Lelei a young wizard, and Tuka the lone elven survivor of a dragon attack. Each three fits some archetype of stereotypical harem girls while still maintaining personalities that I found refreshing. A good sign considering Gate is an anime that walked the line of being something that isn’t quite a Harem anime but maintains the possibilities.We’re also introduced to the Princess of the Gate world’s Empire, Princess Pina Co Lada.

 With the cast full of colorful women, I couldn’t help but notice how the characters of the fantasy world are all distinct with bright hair colors, outfits, and eyes while the people from our world are more natural in their designs. True to real military design, many of the male SDF characters look the same. It is hard to think this wasn’t a conscious decision meant to affect our interest in these fantasy characters. They are new, shiny even, and mysterious just like the world they inhabit. While the people more familiar to us appear drab in comparison. I also have to give it to GATE for giving us a somewhat diverse cast when there are hintings that the new world characters are bi or even homosexual.
 The middle is definitely where GATE does its world building both in the fantasy world and outside of it. There are plenty of great moments where we see the new world through the eyes of Itami and the members of his squad and then the reverse as they introduce our world. Thus, the middle was one of my favorite parts. At it’s core GATE is a portal fantasy genre, meaning it is about a group of modern day people traveling to a different world. I’m a sucker for this genre and love when it has time to address things like culture and how the two worlds see each other. GATE does all of this only from a military point of view, which hit another soft spot for me.

End: Episodes 9-12

I found myself highly immersed in the world of GATE but the one thing I would complain about wasn’t the pro-military message of the show but rather the highly political plot line that carried it to the end.

 The last couple episodes of the show were riddled with the politics both in the Japanese government, the military, and other world countries (China, America, and Russia.) Gate works hard throughout the beginning and middle to build up complex issues happening in the fantasy world only to put them aside for the more mundane problems of modern day society. Politics are pretty boring in real life so dealing with them even in the fictional sense can be just as exhausting, the story line wasn’t the right one to end the first half of the series on. For me, this slow moving tempo at the point in the series where things should be ramping up is what brought GATE down from an A to a solid B.
Luckily the political story line ties up by the end and the very last episode introduces the beginning of another action plot in the form of a dark elf looking for help to take down a dragon. It’s a hint of the same adventure that captured us in the beginning of the series and I am looking forward to see where it goes when GATE continues. However, as bright as this point is it was still a disappointment not to have much resolved by the end of this 12 episode run.

It gives hope that we’ll get back to the thing that made Gate a great binge watch to begin with. GATE can also be watched on Hulu, and will be returning for a second season in 2016.

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