This is as straight forward as it comes. A gate opens in Tokyo that leads to a paralell world and an army comes through it attacking the citizens of Tokyo. After much political debate the Japanese Self-Defense Force go through the gate and pretty much have things there own way.
Two things you need to know before you read my review. One, GATE contains a fairly awesome fire dragon and a whole lot of lesser dragons in it. That means, I’d probably have watched this regardless of any other points. The second thing is even though its a story done to death, I loved Stargate and while this gate only goes to one location the first 12 episodes at least had a very Stargate feel about them.
This leaves the question of whether or not GATE is any good on its own (and not dragon inflated) merit. To which my answer would be yes and no so I’m going to do a plus/minus review of this one.
Its guys with mostly modern weaponry vs armies with swords and arrows. This means there isn’t any particular build up about which army is going to win a fight so the story focusses instead on individuals and their actions and the outcomes within certain battles. Early on we see whole armies getting mowed down and yet one of the leaders involved marched on and finally launched his one arrow into the enemy midst, before getting caught in an explosion. He doesn’t die and comes back later and is very bitter toward the Empire that sent him and his men to their deaths against a force that could not be beaten. It’s these little incidents and outcomes that I quite enjoyed.
Itami is the main character but he’s just not very interesting. Initially his lazy attitude and general lack of interest in his work is kind of amusing but the writers quickly forget that his catch-phrase should mean something. He only works to support his hobby. He says this, other characters repeat this, and yet none of his actions reinforce this point. After the first couple of episodes other than a few despondant sighs he just gets on about the business of making every fantasy looking girl fall in love with him while solving every issue that’s encountered. It’s not particularly compelling writing or particularly good characterisation. Itami remains pleasant enough and fulfills his role in the story but that’s about all you can say for him.
This show has the best use ever of Ride of the Valkyries. Okay, that might be an exaggeration but this piece of music gets used way too often and in GATE it works superbly as the helicopters approach the city. Even if everything else in this series fell apart, that scene with that music just nails it.
The fantasy girls. Each one (Rory, Tuka and Lelei) start out pretty interesting and then rapidly become just part of Itami’s harem. Lelei fares the best out of the three as she takes on the role of translator and a good part of the second 12 episodes is spent focussed on her as she takes her magic test. Tuka is probably the one who fares the worst overall in terms of characterisation given her mental break-down after the death of her father is dealt with fairly poorly and then she just kind of becomes the blonde-elf in the story. Rory is the one who undergoes the worst character transformation. Admittedly, her entrance was pretty over the top and her character probably wouldn’t have fit in with the group if she hadn’t been toned down but by the end of the second half you are just wondering where that sassy girl who asked that Japanese politician if she were stupid went. That said, the female members of Itami’s squad fare much better. But don’t even get me started on the Princess.
There’s a decent variety of situations faced by Itami and crew. Admittedly, most of them come back to dealing with the antagonism of the Empire but we have them helping refugees, learning to trade, defending a city, rescuing captured prisoners, and quite a bit of politicking. While none of these are really given much depth or drama, they keep the story moving along at a nice pace and prevent the lack of depth from becoming too much of an issue.
This show doesn’t seem to have an end point with the first 12 episodes just kind of stopping more or less mid-story and then the second 12 just picked up, continued for a bit and then stopped (though at least it felt a bit more like we’d reached a climax of sorts). Admittedly, the only real end end point would be if they either left the world and the gate shut or if they conquered it and neither one is a particularly appealing option.
It’s great fun and there’s a dragon in it. A real, fire-breathing, scales like armour, dragon. One of the few actual threats faced by the JSDF.
The second 12 episodes take a turn for the much darker in some of the subject matter (and yet still don’t make the story particularly dark). Essentially, if watching a Prince forcing himself on a bunny girl is going to be an issue, you should just pass on this because they are going to throw this one in your face. And several other events just to prove that the Prince is in fact both a moron and a sadistic psycho. Which is not a great combination.
All and all, I had a great time watching GATE even while freely acknowledging that this is not exactly new territory. The way the series develops (or doesn’t) the charactes is probably my main criticism but I’d happily watch another season of this if one ever existed.
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