Sorry for the late upload folks, things kinda got out of hand. Anyway, on with the show!
And so the Special Defence Force fought (well actually it was more of an outright slaughter, but saying they fought sounds better).
What’s the Story?
One day a gateway to another world opens up in the middle of Japan and suddenly a city finds itself under attack from guys in medieval armour and riding dragons. The invaders are repelled, but Japan is left wondering what to do with the portal. The SDF (Special Defence Force) is tasked with the mission of venturing into the world beyond the gate, exploring it and establishing relations with the locals. Peace isn’t exactly the first thing on the Empire’s mind though.
Gate certainly has an intriguing concept. What would happen if your typical medieval soldiers and fantasy creatures went up against the contemporary military? The answer? Get mowed down like a field of corn. Yeah, it’s not exactly surprising to watch, we have come a long since the days when we used swords and arrows in regular conflict. You really have to feel sorry for the knights and such in the Empire’s army, I’m sure they’re used to the idea of dying in battle, but they usually get the opportunity to get a few swings in first. Can you imagine standing in the lines of battle, watching your mates getting blown up in the hundreds and you’re not even in spitting distance of the enemy.
That’s what I see as one of the main problems of Gate’s first season. After a couple of episodes the novelty of seeing the military lay into these fantasy types soon wears off. Outside of a fire dragon, no one really poses that much of a threat to the SDF, and it’s kind of hard to build up tension when you know the heroes can pretty much walk through the enemy. The anime tries different things and creates scenarios where the stakes a raised a little bit, but you never quite lose that certainty that the good guys will just pull out a gun and shoot someone Indiana Jones style.
The first season was starting to get a little boring for me. I’m sure someone who’s into military stuff would enjoy it as there’s a lot of what I presume to be realistic military jargon with talk about weapons and tactics that are executed with precision and intelligence. That’s another thing though, I don’t know that much about the SDF (except for when they happen to turn up in a Godzilla film), and maybe I’ve just seen too many shows where the military are the bad guys, but the SDF come across as just a touch too infallible and perfect. Everyone’s a good guy, they’re all beyond competent, no one ever screws up and everyone gets along like their best friends. It’s too polished is all I’m saying. If you’re not going to give me any conflict with the enemy, there could at least be some between the friends. Conflict breeds drama people!
Ok, that’s the moaning about the first season over with, luckily the show left me with enough interest to check out the second season, where things get good. The second season is a huge improvement and actually manages to bring in a conflict that has some tension to it. While our main character Itami putzes about with his harem (though admittedly this does lead to an awesome rematch with the fire dragon) the rest of the SDF has set up a permanent base and even an offshoot village in the world around the gate. They want to sign a peace treaty with the Empire, but there are forces working against them. A slave turned advisor seeks revenge for her humiliating defeat at the hands of the Empire by pushing said Empire into a conflict with the SDF. We know that the SDF can wipe out the Empire in a second, but that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid with this storyline. It becomes a political battle with moves and counter-moves as the various factions try to get what they want. It’s a really interesting and genuinely exciting plot as everything spirals towards the inevitable conflict.
It’s not entirely faultless though, Princess Pina didn’t need the slave girl treatment and that sex scene with the bunny girl was beyond uncomfortable. Also most of Itami’s plot lines throughout the arc are mostly there to keep him away from main plot, which kind of makes him feel like a side character in the anime he’s supposed to be the star of (though that fight with the fire dragon is pretty awesome). Itami only becomes relevant in the last episode as he races to rescue Princess Pina.
I’m probably going to have to talk about Itami now aren’t I? I don’t like him. Actually I should rephrase that, it’s not that I don’t like him it’s more a case of, one, I’m not interested in him in the slightest, two, I think of him as less of a character and more a construct trying to be badass. He’s just too good. When he’s introduced he’s meant to be this slacker otaku, who self-proclaims that if it came down to his hobby or his job, he’d put his hobby first, yet this never really comes to pass. Every time it comes between him and his hobby, he drops everything to save people, so he’s clearly in denial. Second we never really see his hobby all that much. There’s a few little bits in the first season, but his passion as an otaku hardly comes across once he’s in uniform. I had to be reminded that he was an otaku when the second series started.
Then there’s the fact that Itami is such a badass that it’s completely unbelievable. He has a whole truck load of distinctions and special qualifications that even the other characters wonder how this slacker moron managed to get them. It wasn’t until the other characters started throwing around the phrase ‘What would Itami do?’ that I realised what the problem was. Itami is Jesus. He is perfect and flawless and will always win, they do manage to drag some personality out of him when he’s being teased or fighting to protect his friends, but it’s not enough for me to invest in the character.
The rest of the characters fair a little better. They’re not nearly as perfect and have just enough personality that I don’t mind being with them, though as we progress to the second series there does start to be just a few too many characters hanging about, meaning that a lot are left undeveloped.
In the end, Gate isn’t a bad anime, but not one that gets me excited either. It’s probably meant for a different audience, anyone who’s into contemporary military, its weapons and its tactics, will no doubt enjoy this a lot more than me. The animation is fairly nice, it’s pretty bright and colourful and represents the motion to a decent standard. The characters are likeable enough though lack some development in a lot of cases (and I’ve just gone through my issues with the main character). The second series is a great improvement and worth a watch.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday, usually.