Listening to: GATE～それは暁のように～ – Akeboshi Rockets (GATE OP)
This review is free of major spoilers, in the interests of being helpful to those who are considering watching the show in question.
“If you asked me which I’d choose–my job or my hobby–my hobby takes priority.”
I didn’t pick up GATE until just after its final episode aired, but when I began watching it, I ended up sprinting through every single episode and coming to the end within three days. Accordingly, I can’t really speak for the pacing of the show, but… well, it was one wild ride, and one that was definitely worth the time.
The story kicks off when the Ginza district of Tokyo is attacked by an otherworldly army, led by dragon-mounted knights and men in legion-style armor. Itami Youji, an off-duty lieutenant of the Japanese Self-Defense Force, helps to coordinate the evacuation of Ginza before the remainder of the JSDF shows up to push the enemy back. For this, he is promoted to First Lieutenant. Three months later, when the JSDF enters the Gate to secure a foothold in the so-called “Special Region,” Itami is put in charge of a recon unit with the purpose of communicating with the locals.
Itami isn’t terribly happy about his promotion–after all, according to Itami himself, his job takes second priority to his otaku lifestyle. However, he decides to make the best of it, and as the occupation of the far side of the Gate goes on, he comes to be known as a hero, both to the Japanese and the people of the Special Region.
The cast of GATE is a fairly large one, as might be expected from a show with military themes. Itami stars as the typical unlucky everyman, but he manages to make the archetype interesting with his dedication to saving the greatest possible number of lives while simultaneously slacking off. His rise to being admired by SDF and civilians alike is as genuine as it is unlikely-seeming. On the other side of the Gate is the Imperial princess Pina. Her mindset is explored throughout the show–self-doubt about her own leadership abilities, determination to succeed in the negotiations with the SDF, and a surprising (and amusing) fascination with Japanese culture.
The other characters, although not quite as fleshed out, are also entertaining to watch. Kuribayashi’s love of close combat wins her the admiration of Rory Mercury, a priestess of the god Emloy who is known as “Rory the Reaper.” Kurata, the driver of one of the armored cars, is as much of an otaku as his superior officer, and joins him in a sing-along of a magical girl anime’s opening theme. Even the minor characters have their moments, whether it’s the helicopter pilots’ insistence on blaring “Ride of the Valkyries” during an airstrike, the Japanese Minister of Defense basing the callsigns and signals for a Special Op after the Fate series, or one of Princess Pina’s knights developing an obsession with yaoi doujinshi (which she emphatically calls “Art!”).
When I initially began watching GATE, I expected a fairly standard adventure, with cute girls and elements of fantasy. While both of those things are certainly present, GATE is much deeper than it initially seems. Later episodes delve into the political implications of the Special Region’s appearance: the USA wants to exploit its natural resources, while China wants to found settlements on the far side to alleviate overpopulation. The political machinations of the Empire are also explored, with some favoring war against the invading JSDF and others counseling caution. At one point, an official inquiry is launched by the Japanese government to investigate reports of civilians killed by a dragon.
GATE also touches on the troubles of reconciling two such drastically different societies. The initial assault on the Gate goes about as well as could be expected from horsemen armed with swords and bows assaulting a network of trenches, machine guns, and barbed wire. Later on, the economic side of things is also explained, with goods such as pliers, pens, and carabiners being sent over to trade with the people of the Special Region. Throughout the whole process, the SDF takes care to act with caution and respect to the natives, which is certainly refreshing considering normal colonization practices.
The music, written by Yoshiaki Fujisawa, is quite well-written. Its most standout moments are during the combat scenes: the initial attack into Ginza, the assault on the fortifications, and the SDF’s first encounter with a dragon. One of my favorite moments, however, was the incorporation of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” during an airstrike, indicating once more that many of the SDF soldiers are geeks at heart. The music coordinates well with the action scenes, making them that much more epic. Both the opening and the ending are an enjoyable listen–though at the breakneck pace that I watched the show, I rarely made time for them.
The animation is almost universally attractive: bright and cheerful during scenes of exploration or humor, dynamic and fast-paced during the battle scenes, and grandly sweeping during wide shots of the city or countryside. It also serves to highlight the differences between the SDF–who look professional and competent in their uniforms–and the soldiers from the Special Region, whose uniforms and appearances are more of a mixed bunch. The intersection of the two different aesthetics is quite entertaining to see, especially once the two groups begin more frequent interaction.
Unfortunately, what has been released of GATE so far is only the first half of a planned 24 episodes. I’m looking forward to January, when the next season starts… until then, I’ll have to find something else to occupy my time. Though waiting is painful, I look forward to seeing what this series comes up with next!
To rate this anime, I accidentally became a national hero. As a result, my opinion of television is now given much more weight than it probably should be.
Rating: 4.2 out of 5
Ruling: GATE is an enjoyable ride from the start to the finish, packed with entertaining characters and a surprising amount of philosophical depth. Look forward to the next season!