I’d heard quite a bit of murmuring surrounding Gate pre-season. All I really knew was a vague premise and that it contained pretty heavy nationalistic ideology. As such, I went into the show expecting to disagree with the politics but hopefully get an enjoyable story out of it. Jesus, how wrong I was.
To Gate’s credit, the production and directing is perfectly competent. The opening to episode one builds like a Hollywood disaster flick once the dimensional rift appears, as Itami, our protagonist, slowly becomes aware of the assault on the city, while episode two effectively depicts the clinical decimation of the fantasy armies by the invading JSDF forces. Even my initial anger at watching Itami taking charge of the staggeringly incompetent police forces, seemingly because he had rpg survival skills, was flipped on its head with the reveal that he was actually a soldier. Well played.
Sadly problems start rearing their head as soon as the gate opens and the enemy appears, looking like every cliché fantasy trope you can think of. This might not be a huge issue with some people, but when the designs of the humans in both worlds look realistically proportioned, yet the beastmen look like children’s picture-book illustrations, it creates a too much of a disconnect, leading to a sort of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” effect, where two completely different points of reference are meshed together. It breaks what little sense of disbelief there was.
Still, that’s nothing compared to Itami, the greatest self-insert to ever self-insert. Honestly, I’m surprised he wasn’t just called “your name here”. Not only is he a super otaku who uses his spare time to play rpgs and buy doujins, but he’s also a trained soldier capable of killing people without a second thought. Because why just appeal to the mmo community when you also add the military shooter fandom as another notch in your bedpost? This series could have played the drama straight, but instead decided to focus on a mass of male power fantasy tropes squashed together in the form of a person. At points in the show I had to replay scenes to make sure I wasn’t actually watching a parody. It makes Sword Art Online look like subtle and all-inclusive by comparison.If that was all Gate consisted off I could easily shrug it off and call it a day, but there’s even more insidious material beneath the surface. The humour is both stillborn in execution and incredibly ill-timed, taking place during some of the most uncomfortable sequences. It takes a real lack of awareness to show people being massacred in the streets, as Itami is forced stab someone to death, only to have him exaggeratedly despair over a comic exhibit being cancelled. This happens again later on when a grieving child is literally paraded about like a stage-prop to give Itami an artificial motivation to fight, only to then immediately switch to him joking with his buddy about finding hot catgirls on the other side of the portal. Even the previously mentioned scene showing the fantasy army being picked off at a distant by sniper fire holds no weigh, as there’s no sense of it being considered either a necessary evil or a job well done; the enemy are literally nothing more than moving targets to be forgot about the moment the trigger is squeezed. Not that it’s easy to develop much sympathy for the people beyond the gate anyway, with most presented as such two-dimensional cartoon cutouts that you can almost see the creator’s hands moving them about.
This is where the Gate truly reveals its rotten core. For a series rooted around the casualties of conflict, there’s zero empathy for human (and other) life, whether Japan’s own citizens or the inhabitants the land they’re now subjugating. If anything, the casual, often jovial way it treats the situation comes closer to gleefully wallowing in the destruction around it. At first I thought the show was completely unaware of itself, but the truth is that it just doesn’t give a shit. This is literally the gamification of warfare, using real life politics as its foundation & what is essentially a Call of Duty controversy generated level as motivation. Gate really is like the gestalt of nerd power fantasies, with the military, protagonist and upcoming fantasy girls all serving to promote a selection of fps, right-wing, mmo and harem fetishes, with complete disregard for the principles it supposedly stands for.
There may be technically more incompetent shows airing this season, but Gate is by far the most unpleasant. It’s utterly toxic!