GATE Complete Series (Cert 15)
5 Discs DVD / 3 Discs Blu-ray (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 605 minutes approx.
Release Date: Collector’s Edition – April 23rd / Regular Edition – May 28th
Cast your mind back roughly two-and-a-half years ago if you will, to a series reviewed on this site entitled Outbreak Company, concerning a young otaku who is given the role of ambassador for Japan to forge new relationships with an alternate fantasy world of elves and similar creatures.
Now extend the scope of fantasy figures to include witches, dragons, demi-gods embroiled in political conflict, turn the peace mission into a war between the two worlds, increase the violence factor by ten and throw in some heavy-handed nationalism, and you have a rough idea of what awaits you in Gate.
33 year-old Yoji Itami, reservist for the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF) and otaku, arrives for a doujin convention in Ginza when a huge gate to another world suddenly appears in the street, from which an army of soldiers and fantastic beasts emerge to attack the city. Itami’s quick thinking and organisation in helping save the lives of civilians earns him a promotion to First Lieutenant of Third Recon unit of the JSDF.
Demanding action, the Japanese Prime Minister sends the JSDF through the gate to the now labelled “Special Region”, with full military back up. Their first mission is a quick and easy success given the modernity and advancement of their weapons. During the melee, Itami discovers a young female elf, Tuka Luna Marceau, trapped in a well and rescues her.
Taking Tuka to safety more denizens appear, including 15 year-old trainee mage Lelei la Lalena, Dark God Emroy Rory Mercury and from the ruling Empire, Princess Pina Co Lada. When the JSDF repel an attack by a Flame Dragon and help save Pina from an attack by an insurgent army, the first steps are taken to enter into a mutual peace pact between the two worlds.
A heavily redacted summary of the first seven or so episodes of the 24-part series based on the collection of light novels from Takumi Yanai, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the sprawling, sinuous story that drives Gate. Originally split into two seasons but with a continuous, episodic storyline, this does in fact play out as a tale of two halves in term of content and tone.
Episodes one to twelve are noticeably lighter, focusing on the world building, establishing the main characters and offering plenty of action amongst scenes of political discussion and otaku pandering via the fantasy females in modern day Japan. For the record, there is the obligatory shopping trip and hot springs episode even if I do begrudgingly concede their loose congruence to the plot.
The change in tone beginning with episode thirteen is immediately apparent via an early scene of Prince Zorzal, Pina’s elder brother, roughly copulating with his rabbit-girl sex slave Thule, former Queen of the Warrior Bunny Tribe forced into Zorzal’s servitude to save her tribe. Having not been seen before, Zorzal assumes the role of main antagonist, undermining Pina’s attempts to broker peace with Japan.
Meanwhile other countries are jealous of Japan for having access to the Special Region and try to strong arm their way to usurping it, the US leading the way with China and Russia not far behind. Interestingly, this doesn’t posit Japan as de facto heroes – the Japanese Diet seems intent on scuppering the JSDF’s mission to save face on the international relations front in a plot development that fails to convince.
So nationalistic pride becomes military pride, framing the JSDF as beacons of heroism, when they cause more needless deaths in the Special Region than any Flame Dragon! One of Itami’s unit, excitable female Shino Kuribayashi, is given free rein to whoop ass in one scene, slaughtering Zorzal’s guards with bloodthirsty abandon and no contrition.
And this is in the name of peace. No wonder Zorzal fears a Japanese take-over and the destruction of the empire. To compensate for this moral discrepancy, Zorzal is painted as a sociopathic tyrant employing pernicious and venal methods to create a civil uprising against the JSDF and Japan, alongside other guilds he plans to double cross once he gains full power.
The early potential of the cultural exchange premise is long buried by this point, and the characters personalities become interchangeable now they’re embroiled in a political sandstorm. Quirky magical abilities aside, any innocence the cast had at the beginning has been supplanted by ruthless bloodlust and bellicose rhetoric, the pretence of peace now one of survival.
Because of the melange of pop-up factions being hastily introduced and underdeveloped subplots involving dubious allegiances, the viewer is expected to keep track of a wealth of additional information to the already heaving almanac from the first half. It is one of those occasions when the action is a welcome respite from the talking and convoluted plotting and not just a convenient distraction.
What can’t be faulted however is the production courtesy of A1-Pictures, who present us with a fabulous looking series of top quality art and animation maintained throughout the entire run. The sound design is hugely effective in transporting the viewer into the heart of the two contrasting worlds beyond the colourful and detailed visuals, whilst the blend of CGI for the vehicles and dragons and the standard 2D animation is seamless.
Character designs are fairly standard for the Japanese cast, but may be contentious for the fantasy females with a lot of the female attire is not overly skimpy but deliberately seeking attention from the male gaze. Cosplayers have gravitated towards Rory’s Gothic Lolita look but this poses a problem in the show since she looks 15 but is actually 961!, spending much of her time trying to seduce Itami.
Depending on how cynical you are towards patriotic flag waving and one-sided political rhetoric, Gate will stand out as a clumsy, chest-beating salute to the Japanese military; put this aside and you have a show that will suffice as a shonen fantasy action series that could have better served focusing on its original themes of cultural cross-pollination.
English Language 2.0
Japanese Language 2.0 w/ English Subtitles
Disc 1 (DVD):
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Ending Animation
Disc 3 (DVD):
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Ending Animation
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black