GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There (review)

Click this poster to go straight to the first episode, hosted on Crunchyroll.

Itami Youji, First Lieutenant in the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and otaku extraordinaire, is heading to a special otaku event when a magical gateway appears in Ginza and a stream of medieval soldiers and inhuman monsters comes rushing out, slaying all in their path. Using the power of modern weaponry, the JSDF repels the invasion. After declaring the area beyond the gate to be a Japanese territory called the Special Region, Itami is deployed to that area with the mission of forcing the invaders from that other side to stand down for good.

Thus the JSDF fought there, in the lands beyond the gate.

GATE has an interesting premise that immediately grabs one’s attention: a modern military put up against a medieval one. Where a normal show would have had the lone protagonist or group of them struggle against the Empire’s might, this show has the JSDF just cut right through them with firearms and explosives. Anyone who has been frustrated with medieval-themed RPGs will feel quite happy here. Watching an empire that thought it was the mightiest take on a country far stronger than it will give the viewer a devilish glee as that empire’s sense of grandeur is repeatedly humbled.

Unfortunately, that is where the good points end.

The JSDF in this anime is a collective Mary Sue. Almost no one with ready access to firearms is in any danger of defeat. Not once does the Empire figure out a way to neutralize or hinder the JSDF — despite the existence of a town full of sorcerers. The Empire never switches up its tactics to account for firearms. The JSDF is never shown making a serious mistake or doing anything negative. Other countries are portrayed as sinister for wanting to be involved in shaping the world beyond the Gate.

Even as a harem series, the story fails. The elf girls and the mage lack any real personality, and Princess PiƱa Co Lada (yes, that’s her name) and her female minions are interchangeable; only Rory Mercury, the girl in black, had any distinctive character traits. The JSDF has to look good and be invincible, after all, so there couldn’t be any real relationship drama.

Politics is similarly ignored. It becomes a simple matter of the Empire negotiating with Japan over the terms of surrender while a hard-line faction within the Empire wants to continue a suicidal war. The complexities and clashes of a technologically advanced society against a primitive one aren’t explored. There are no land takings or messy decisions. No one has to sacrifice anything of value to continue a political agenda. Everything is tied up neatly.

All that being said, the show does have a certain “so bad it’s good” charm. The battles between the advanced JSDF and the primitive Empire are quite a spectacle, though you start to feel sorry for the Empire after a while. The Princess and her second-in-command act rather silly when they get to Japan, considering gay manga porn to be the pinnacle of art. And you want to see how badly the Empire will muck things up this time.

In conclusion, I cannot recommend GATE, as its flaws outweigh its strengths. However, if you would like to see it for yourself, you can watch it for free on Crunchyroll here, where you will be led directly to the first episode.

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