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The Winter 2016 Anime Preview Guide
Divine Gate

How would you rate episode 1 of
Divine Gate ?
Community score: 2.9

What is this?

After the Divine Gate opened, the world was thrown into chaos. Humans, fairies, and demons all converged onto one plane of existence, no longer bound by their respective kingdoms, and six elemental abilities were spread across the youth of the new world. Now known as Adapters, these young warriors are gathered at training academies to serve under The World Council in the ongoing effort to maintain peace and stability. Akane and Midori are two such agents (with the powers of wind and fire), soon to be joined by the mysterious water-wielding Aoto with a troubled past. Together, they dream of a possible reunion at the Divine Gate, where one wish can be granted, no matter how impossible. Divine Gate is based on a mobile game and can be found streaming on Funimation, Fridays at 9:30 AM EST.

How was the first episode?

Hope Chapman

Rating: 1

It's hard to say if Divine Gate is the worst show of Winter 2016 so far. (One of the worst, though? That's easy to say!) I think that largely depends on if you find glorious incompetence or boring pointlessness to be the stronger poison. Still, at the very least, Divine Gate definitely wins the booby prize for worst writing of the season so far. What an absolute disaster of a script!

Other critics have already had a blast tearing apart the labored "crawling in my skin, in the rain, in the dark, in the cold" monologues that follow Aoto around, but their ridiculousness just can't be overstated. His melodramatic self-loathing is so powerful that he needs an extra character (a creepy albino child, naturally) to pop up in his head and deliver more middle-school poetry when he runs out of tortured metaphors to make on his own. This isn't the first time I've seen a tragic anime backstory where the hero is so unloved by his guardians as a child that they feed him cold soup and dry bread in a dumpy shack. Every time I see this pathetic excuse for a sob story pop up, I wonder why why why does anyone think it would be dramatically effective? It's like a joke! It's the kind of thing you would see in a hacky anime parody, right down to the single tear running down the little unloved boy's cheek. You would never play it straight in an actual anime series...unless it's Divine Gate, I guess!

Rage of Bahamut Genesis shocked anime fans when it turned a mobile phone game into a genuinely engaging story, but needless to say, it was a glaring exception to the rule. Divine Gate has all the passion and polish of a toy commercial, with a too-convoluted and barely-explained plot, horrendous dialogue and bald exposition, phoned-in low-budget action scenes, and maybe just enough laughable histrionics to make for a good hatewatch. For my part, I've seen Divine Gate's particular patch of so-bad-it's-good elements executed with more enthusiasm in other shows, so I can't even recommend it for irony purposes. Video game adaptations have a habit of being the most unwatchable kinds of anime, and I'm afraid Divine Gate is just another faux-glossy dud of a marketing ploy to heap on that trashpile.

Lynzee Loveridge

Rating: 1.5

Well, here's a different kind of cheese to round out the first two shows of today! If Pandora in the Crimson Shell was high-energy cliché cheese than Divine Gate is meandering, emo cheese. I listened to Aoto recount how his parents made him live in a shed while his little brother was doted upon for his special powers and he was ostracized by his classmates for allegedly killing them. He waxed poetic about how he hates being rained on but obviously this is symbolic of his self-loathing since he can't bother to use an umbrella.

I think the last time I sat through an opening episode that tortured its protagonist this much it was when Haruka lost her mom, and then all of her friends because of her psychic powers, and then the episode was rounded out with someone killing her dog in The Trouble Life of Miss Kotoura. That turned into a comedy eventually, which to be fair, so does Divine Gate albeit unintentionally. In between brooding Aoto's flashbacks and eating his sad ramen we're greeted to other predictable cheese. There's the demon terrorist breaking out the world-building dialogue when he tells a horrified captive on a train about the Divine Gate and its wish-granting powers. There's the Power Rangers-level color-coded magic users with their elemental-based personality types. The fire users wear red and are hot-headed! The wind users wear green and are fast! The depressed Aoto wears, wait for it, blue and controls water!

All the special magic kids attend a special magic academy where they train with elemental fairies and are watched over by a circle of adult users named after Knights of the Round Table. The Divine Gate seems to be the groups Holy Grail of sorts. All the elements that make up this show are so predictable that I'm comfortable enough making grand sweeping guesses on plot twists. Aoto's super spoiled cruel brother with powers? Totally burned down the house and is alive somewhere, raring to come back to duel. I'd go so far as to guess he's Arthur but the ages don't really line-up.

This is a by-the-books magic teens action show. The writing is bombastic and unapologetic as it tries to squeeze emotions from the audience, yelling “Look at how SAD Aoto is, you CARE about his SADNESS.” This is character development that should be saved for a few episodes in where Aoto's managed to form some kind of relationship with his new comrades and the audience by proxy. Then when we find out why he's been so brooding and closed-off it carries some kind of emotional weight. That would require nuance though, something this show is very obviously not interested in.

Nick Creamer

Rating: 1

As far as over plot goes, Divine Gate's first episode is slow, archetypal, and boring, but otherwise unexceptional. It follows the classic Sasuke-style tortured youth Aoto as he refuses to go to a special school for people with magic powers and monologues in the rain about his sadness. Nothing about this plot will surprise you if you've seen other shows with Dark Flame Master-style emo leads, and you'll likely just be annoyed waiting for the show to get on with whatever it's actually going to do. The aesthetics also don't really thrill in any direction - the show has some nice color work and distinctive shadows, but the character designs aren't particularly interesting, and there's not much animation. The one thing that really sets Divine Gate apart is that it has possibly the worst writing I've even seen in any anime.

That's a bold statement to make, but Divine Gate really does have the cred to back it up. The first episode opens with two straight minutes of the most maudlin, purple poetry imaginable, as Aoto mutters about the rain filling up holes in the street, but not being able to fill up his heart. That sad-sack self-description is followed by him describing every other lead character in treacle-tones, like he's introducing the cast at his adolescent poetry jam. And then, after Aoto's awful monologues mercifully cease, the show switches directly to a man taking hostages on a train, who then proceeds to monologue worldbuilding exposition directly to his hostages. It's not even “look at my surprising powers” exposition - it's “as we both know” worldbuilding, delivered from a maniacal terrorist to a terrified passenger. It's an almost breathtakingly bad idea capably matched by inept execution, a fair summation of the entire episode to come.

Those astoundingly bad early minutes are a particular “highlight,” but nearly every scene of this episode impresses with its distinctively poor writing. This whole episode is structured around people with magic powers attempting to get Aoto to join their special school, as Aoto himself complains about the rain and thinks about his dead parents and feels sorry for himself. Characterization here is handled through details like Aoto putting ice cubes into his ramen, because as his spirit-double tells him “just like your cold heart, you can only eat cold food.” Yes, that is an actual line from this episode. No, it is not an uncharacteristically egregious one. No, I also don't have any idea how any of this was written, published, or adapted into animation. “Just as rain does not fall forever, time does not flow slowly, either” says one character in an assumed attempt at profundity - but when you're watching Divine Gate, time can flow very slowly indeed.

Consider how bewilderingly bad the writing is, I can't truly recommend Divine Gate to anyone, but it sure was “impressive” in a certain way. If you want to see just how tortured a metaphor using rain to represent sadness can get, maybe check it out. Otherwise stay far, far away.

Theron Martin

Rating: 1.5

Review: Divine Gate is trying to pitch itself as a darker version of your typical super-powered (in this case elemental magical powers) academy series and boy, it never lets you forget that. From the outset the first episode is almost relentless in its use of heavy, darkly-shaded artwork. Colors often seem toned a step or two towards black, shadows are deeper, weather is endlessly rainy (which is, of course, also a metaphor for the way one of the main characters feels), and lighting in many scenes is conspicuously dimmed in ways that you do not commonly see in anime except in horror-tinged scenes. On many occasions I had to resist the urge to crank up the brightness settings on my screen. The result is an oppressive feel that director Noriyuki Abe and Studio Pierrot crew were no doubt aiming for, but it is taken to almost laughable extremes.

Of course, Abe's track record (Bleach, Flame of Recca, GTO, Tokyo Mew Mew) is not one loaded with skillful use of subtlety and inference, and that definitely shows here. Erased’s (adult) Satoru is every bit as morose a character as Aoto is here, but he is actually interesting in his depression whereas Aoto is the kind of character that you wish someone would just put out of his misery. The strokes used to portray him are like using a paint sprayer for fine detail work. He has to put ice cubes in his food because he was never fed hot food, flashbacks to his past show that he was forced to live in a rundown guest house separate from parents who doted on his brother, he goes around claiming that rumors about him being a parent-killer are true and lamenting about rain in a hole in his heart - you get the idea. The series opener (which for this episode is used as the closer) indicates that he is, indeed, going to eventually team up with chipper, green-themed Akane and red-themed Ginji (so I guess that makes Aoto blue, given his water powers?), so perhaps they can turn him into something personable. Right now, though, he is just a drag on the show.

Beyond that, the setting seems like a hodgepodge of mythical and magical elements thrown together. Cast choices are borrowed from a plethora of other series where teenagers seem to run the show and adults are not present except in crowd scenes and nothing is particularly interesting about the mythology established so far. And surely I'm not the only one who couldn't help but think of Fullmetal Alchemist with that whole business about the mystical gate? This one is going to have to do a whole lot better than what it has so far to even maintain interest, much less draw viewers in.

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