OP: 「GATE～それは暁のように～」 (GATE ~ Sore wa Akatsuki no Yō ni) by 岸田教団 & THE 明星ロケッツ (Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets)
「自衛隊、異世界へ行く」 (Jieitai, Isekai e Iku)
“The Self-Defense Force Goes to Another World”
I wrote in my preview for GATE: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakeri that I was wary of it turning out to be a very jingoistic sort of anime, and there was some discussion in the topic in the comments to the same effect. I based my impressions on the manga, which I read a good amount of in order to write the preview, and while the anime is supposed to be based on the light novel, said to be tamer compared to other versions of Gate, but I suspect that if there are undercurrents they’ll persist no matter the variation. I suppose I should give my opinion on that before anything else. If you don’t want to read about it, feel free to skip the upcoming heading and scroll down to the next one.
Hopefully this is as political as Passerby is ever going to get on RandomC
Full disclosure: as much as I may profess to liking tanks. I’m a pacifist. That means I’m wading into this controversy with a godless left-wing hippie point of view. Also, your personal opinion on this issue is likely to be coloured by cultural differences. I understand that the United States treat their military with a lot more fervent patriotism than we do here in Australia (not that we can’t match it on occasion, especially when a politician needs the hawk vote), whereas in, say, Germany, nationalism has become somewhat taboo.
Now, I’m not going to get hung up on how Gate portrays foreign powers, especially since 1) the anime has so far only shown a fictional American president and 2) all states are amoral manipulators anyway. I’m concerned about some more subtle, and thus more sinister. It ties back to Japan’s current political atmosphere, and the imperialistic ideals that have never really gone away. As Japan feels further threatened by a recalcitrant Russia, a belligerent North Korea and other neighbours over South China Sea, I think fiction like Gate, that celebrate their military and try to justify their use, will become increasingly popular. Fans who are used to similar Hollywood fare where marines are sent to kill all manner of strawmen will probably have less problems with this, but from where I stand Gate is but part of a disturbing trend in Japan. Reasonable minds will differ, of course. To work out where you stand on this, ask yourself: when the fictional Prime Minister of Japan declared the land beyond the Gate as being part of Japan so they could send in the JSDF, did you think it was a dangerous constitutional subversion, or did you think, ‘Hell yeah, go in and kick their arses!’.
The problem with imperialistic urges, and imperialistic propaganda (if Gate indeed has the misfortune of developing along those lines), it’s too easy for higher ideals to be corrupted. If you look back to the traditional colonial powers, they all called themselves good guys at some point. They reach out to these foreign lands in the hunt for spice, and on the way decide to ‘civilise’ the local savages. They deploy extensive hearts and minds campaigns. They think they are doing natives a favour. And what happens? Untold deaths by disease in the Americas, genocide in Australia, the Indian caste system made even worse. It’s a similar story for Japan. Even today, after the invasion of Manchuria, the occupation of Korea, the Nanking Massacre, there are still Japanese nationalists who tout the line that they were ‘liberating’ Asia from Western powers.
Is Gate not a perfected version of this fiction? Look upon our enemy. They attacked us first. They are brutish, savage, even subhuman. They murder our kin and make children cry. We are driving them back, destroying the aggressors. Can any cause be more just? Are our soldiers not heroes? And now should we not sally forth to meet them on their own grounds, to put the fear of our might into their wretched hearts? Note that when they saw the opposing host on the other side of the Gate, they immediately identified it as the ‘enemy’ army. Of course it was.
Even the most positive spin on these kinds of stories end badly. Think of all the sci-fi where an advanced race (humans or otherwise) attempt to uplift some primitive aliens. How often does that backfire? In Gate, they’re waltzing into a foreign land with no understanding of their culture, their politics, or their ecosystem, ready to shoot whatever has been naively labelled ‘The Bad Guys’. How does that end well? Perhaps we should ask Iraq? No, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The Prime Directive is in place for a reason.
Now, I’m not saying that Gate is necessarily going to turn into jingoistic propaganda—they do try to humanise the enemy oh so slightly. And it’s only episode 01! It’s too hasty to judge. But I’ve got uncomfortable vibes from the manga, and fear for the anime. Who knows? Maybe my fears are completely unfounded. But I feel that I had to lay out my point of view for all potential viewers, just in case. And, of course, your own views and tolerance may very naturally and reasonably differ from mine. I’ve but established one case. Hopefully it helps you to make an informed decision on your viewing.
Talk about the damn show, Passerby
This pilot for GATE: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakeri proceeds rather slowly, spending much of its time establishing the premise. Few major characters are introduced save, of course, our reluctant hero Itami Youji (Suwabe Junichi). He’s a shameless otaku who wastes his paycheque on money-sink mobile games. Perhaps you’re sick of otaku male leads in anime by now, and I can’t really blame you, but this one is rather outgoing (especially when trying to bond with his kind) and has occasion for physical prowess. So Youji just happens to be an otaku as opposed to completely an otaku, probably for the sake of connecting him with the sword and sorcery stuff he’ll have to deal with on the other side of the Gate (and, of course, for demographic appeal). I hope you like him, since he has to carry the episode a bit; at this point his future fantasy harem, the more colourful members of the cast in more ways than one, are only hallucinations produced by head trauma. With two cours dedicated already I suppose Gate can afford to take it slow, leaving only these slight glimpses of Narnia to tantalise. If you’re not amused by Youji’s silly otaku ways, though, you can always look to the OP, which like many OPs can be, by design, more interesting than the show itself. I don’t know what’s going on in the ED, though. Trucks do disco? Jumping onto the gay pride celebrations? There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere.
The real entertainment is, of course, violence, which seems to have been toned down for the anime, but implied gore often works just as well as onscreen carnage. Here, the purpose is still served, to frame the first half of the episode like a gritty disaster movie. Props to the weather for being able to switch from cloudy to overcast with perfect dramatic timing. Overall, the extraterrestrial invasion made for some effective scenes (looking pretty good overall doesn’t hurt, moments of awkward CGI aside), if but a bit anticlimatic as the JSDF swoops in and mops things up. Perhaps I’ve gotten too used to Godzilla being immune to bullets. I agree that too often guns don’t get the respect they deserve as terrifying killing machines in anime, but at the same time when it’s guns vs fleshy mortals without guns… well, that’s hardly a fair matchup. Heroes are supposed to be underdogs; there’s no conflict when they’re overpowered. Even in my most derailed D&D campaigns we needed adamantium bullets.
So I’m presuming the point of the show isn’t the orc vs modern armour cagefight, because that’s a sucker’s bet. Instead, in the vein of the RPGs Youji seems to enjoy, there’s a whole new world now, open to exploration and adventure (except, in this analogy, our heroes have already amassed all the end-game equipment so they don’t need to grind the poor mobs). At least, it’s what I’m hoping for, based on the OP/ED. More emphasis on alien wonders and cross-cultural communication, rather than diplomacy from the barrel of a gun. And, of course, the worldwide consequences of a new land suddenly appending itself to our universe (time to throw out Newtonian physics again). As I said in the preview, there are many interesting angles Gate can take. It need only choose to take them.
No plans to follow this show weekly—it’s probably not going to work with my schedule—but Random Curiosity still has Monthly Impressions. They’re open arenas to talk about any shows that we do not on a regular basis.
ED: 「ぷりずむコミュニケート」 (Prism Communicate) by 金元寿子, 東山奈央, 種田梨沙 (Kanemoto Hisako, Touyama Nao, Taneda Risa)