Review for Gate Collector's Edition
The ‘trapped in another world’ genre has in recent years become a staple of anime. Whether it’s through magical means in a fantasy world, as in the recently released Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, or technological means in an online world as in Sword Art Online or Overlord, it seems you can’t take a step without tripping over another such title. But there’s also a more prosaic version of the idea which to date has had fewer outings in anime, the idea that a physical, two-way conduit remains open between two worlds, that it’s ‘less trapped in another world’ as it is ‘taking a daytrip to another world’. One such recent example was Outbreak Company, which saw a NEET otaku drafted by the Japanese government to export his geek culture to a parallel magical world. GATE has similar underpinnings with its protagonist, but it takes its story in a wholly different direction.
It was just supposed to be a fun trip to Ginza, a chance for Yoji Itami to pursue his otaku interests with abandon. But then a large gate suddenly appeared in the city, and a host of roman looking soldiers on horseback, beastmen, and dragons burst forth to attack and kill all that moved. Fortunately Yoji is enough of an otaku to know his fantasy tropes. Even more fortunately, he’s also a serving member of the JSDF, and steps up to the plate to help safeguard the civilians and get them to a sanctuary, long enough for the military to organise a counterattack.
That’s how Yoji ends up as a hero of the nation, and part of the expeditionary force ordered to venture through the gate, to ascertain the nature of the world on the other side, to find and negotiate with any foreign power there, to make peace and reparation if possible. But there’s a whole lot of politics going on in the background. On the other side of the gate, Emperor Molto sees the superior armed forces of the JSDF as an opportunity to divest himself of political foes, while here, a resource hungry, overpopulated world sees the gate as a doorway to growth, and whoever controls the gate, holds the future in their hands. Suddenly it looks like Japan standing alone against the rest of the world. And Yoji Itami has to walk this tightrope, with only his military training and otaku proclivities to guide him.
MVM are releasing GATE as a Collector’s Edition BD/DVD Combo with 12 art cards and a 74-page artbook. For the purposes of this review, I received only the 5 DVD check discs.
1. JSDF Goes to Another World
2. Two Forces
3. A Flame Dragon
4. To the Land of the Unknown
5. Battle of Italica
6. Ride of the Battle Goddess
7. Princess’ Decision
8. Japan, the Other Side of the Gate
9. Night Battle on Hakone Mountain
10. Hope and Despair
11. A Visitor
12. Itami Might...
13. The Party Begins
14. The Great Quake at the Imperial Capital
15. Tuka Luna Marceau
16. The Flame Dragon Once Again
17. The Battle
18. Rondel, the City of Magic
19. The Dangerous Sisters
20. The Lovers
21. The Dead Line
22. A Princess in Slave’s Clothes
24. Thus They Fought
Remember this is a Collector’s Edition release with both BD and DVD in the box. I only received the DVDs for review and the likelihood is that you’ll be buying the collection for the Blu-rays. If you can’t play Blu-ray yet, and are buying this collection for the DVD, it is time to bite the bullet and get a Blu-ray player. And when MVM release the eventual standard editions, buy the Blu-ray and not the DVD.
GATE’s DVD is pretty awful. The show gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. This takes me back some, as of late we’ve either got native PAL, or we get NTSC discs. GATE gets an NTSC-PAL standards conversion, and in the years since we last saw anime regularly presented this way, it seems the distributors have forgotten how to do them. The image here is soft and hazy when it comes resolution, there is a bit of judder during pans and scrolls, and worst of all, random patches of the screen tend to flicker during playback. It’s watchable, like a low quality Crunchyroll stream on a low bandwidth connection is watchable, and it will do if there is no alternative. But there is an alternative... the Blu-rays. Just remember that if you’re waiting for the inevitable standard edition release.
You have the choice between DD 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese with subtitles and signs locked to the appropriate track. You don’t have to worry about PAL speedup with the standards conversion, which would have been noticeable on the opening theme, but that’s the only plus side I can think of. The audio is fine. I went with the Japanese and was very happy with the actor choices. The music suits the story, and the action comes across well. I gave the dub a try and wasn’t immediately convinced to turn it off. A couple of the discs do suffer from ignominious layer changes. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
The discs present their contents with static menus and jacket pictures. Each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
Here you’ll get the textless credits, and some 15 minutes of promos for the show.
There is also some more comedy in the Animated Comics, little bonus shorts. There are four on this disc, running to a total of 2:02.
Disc 3 has the next set of textless credits.
There’s a Kirk Douglas movie called The Final Countdown, in which a US nuclear powered aircraft carrier from 1980 winds up back in the Pacific just before Pearl Harbour. They wind up having to choose between intercepting the Japanese attack and getting back to the future. I always wondered what would happen if they’d stayed in the past, and we got to see Zero fighters come-up against supersonic F-14 Tomcats. I don’t wonder that anymore, as it turns out that it would be pretty dull, if GATE is anything to go by. Here we get a modern military up against a pseudo-Roman Empire with magical and fantasy trappings, dragons and wizards and the like. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that they aren’t really challenged. And that is GATE’s biggest and most glaring weakness.
I really enjoyed the show at first, the whole clash of two worlds, the technology meets magic aspect to the set-up. Suddenly a portal appears in Tokyo, disgorging an army that wreaks havoc on unsuspecting shoppers and pedestrians, before the military is mobilised and contains the situation with deadly force. One of those pedestrians is Yoji Itami, an otaku who happens to be an off-duty soldier, and whose actions save several citizens. He’s not too well-pleased when he gets commended and promoted for his actions, as that cuts into his otaku time (he’s a man who works for his hobby), and he gets put on a mission back through the portal to show the flag in this parallel world, show that the JSDF isn’t to be messed with, and to pursue a peaceful resolution on Japan’s terms, in that order.
Fortunately his otaku sensibilities are sated when he learns of the magical nature of this parallel world, the panoply of races living there, including furry eared girls, and elves, and gothic Lolita demigods alongside the humans. This culture clash is the most fun you can have with the premise, and GATE milks it for all its worth all through the run. In tried and trusted style, Yoji winds up with a harem, consisting a magic user named Lelei, an elf named Tuka, a princess named Pina Co Lada (yes, really) and a delightfully sadistic demigod named Rory, and they all have plenty of interesting adventures together.
However, you can’t get away from the politics surrounding the show, and any wandering online around GATE will quickly bring up the suggestion that this is a 24 episode long propaganda for the JSDF, an expression of the recent notion in Japan that the nation needs to move away from its pacifist status following World War II and become a major world player again in terms of its defence forces. And it’s that aspect of Gate that renders it a rather dull and unfulfilling show. The JSDF can do no wrong here, they handle every challenge to them with ease, they’re always on the side of right, no matter the enemy body count left in their wake; JSDF soldiers don’t die in this show, they might take an arrow to the knee, but they don’t die, and they never ever lose.
Foreign governments are wrong, the Japanese government is wrong, the Japanese people can be wrong, above all, foreign militaries are weak, inexperienced and ineffective compared to the might of the JSDF. And that’s before we get to the other side of the Gate, where the faux Roman army are cannon fodder, where fire breathing dragons plummet from the sky when hit by heat-seeking missiles, and so on and so forth. Then, when the JSDF hesitates because politics is getting in the way, or orders aren’t forthcoming on time, Yoji Itami is righter even than them, as he goes his own way, or disobeys orders to consistently succeed, and the JSDF wind up scrambling to give him post facto support, because they ‘never leave a man behind’.
It’s so teeth-itchingly triumphant that it begins to annoy, and the end result is that there is absolutely no drama in the show when it comes to the main characters, the JSDF that you are supposed to invest in. Instead you wind up looking for drama from the people on the other side of the gate, and to its marginal credit, the show does at least make the internal politicking of the Empire interesting, and a little unpredictable. You can invest in the plight of the dark elves, or Lelei’s ambition to become a Sage in magical circles.
GATE could have been good; it could have been great if it had made the most of its premise. If the Empire had magical abilities to rival the technological strength of the JSDF, it would have been a) a fair fight, and b) interesting to see bullets matched against fireballs, tanks against shielding spells, and some badass dragons taking on F-16s. But in this series the JSDF are an army of Mary Sues, leaving all-powerful Emperors soiling their loincloths in terror. Thankfully the little picture, the side-stories and character arcs are interesting in GATE, as the big picture is as dull as dishwater.
The show gets some top notch animation, despite its narrative weaknesses, and production values are high. Just make sure you watch the Blu-ray, and not the flawed DVDs.