by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Last episode I had said that the series seemed to be setting up for its next big story arc. While that does seem to have been the case, as this episode certainly lays a lot of groundwork, it does not move into it swiftly. Given that the series is going to be taking the Fall 2015 season off before resuming for the Winter 2016 season, though, that's fine. Even though it ends on more of a feel-good note than any kind of cliffhanger, it raises a couple of new questions, firmly sets its direction, and provides plenty to anticipate for the next season.
The bulk of the episode involves the troubled efforts of Yao Ha Ducy, the sexy dark elf introduced last episode, to make contact with the “Green People” and convince them, on behalf of her clan, to go after the Fire Dragon. As she quickly discovers, though, the Green People only speak a few words of her language – definitely not enough for her to get her point across. A few wannabe-muggers later and she gets picked up by MPs, who arrange for Lelei to translate for her. As promising a development as that seems, her hopes are crushed when the JSDF commander declares that they cannot do anything because the Schwartz Woods are in another nation, so sending in the army necessary to take the Fire Dragon down would create all sorts of Big Picture problems in addition to needlessly endangering their soldiers. (That Itami got called upon to testify before the Diet over battling the dragon previously also weighs on the minds of leadership.) Afterwards the idea is raised to her that Itami might do it anyway, but the problem with that is that Itami is currently bound for the capital.
Nearly all of the story's significant players to date also get their moments, though Rory – after being featured so heavily the last few episodes – only appears in one shot. Lelei uses principles of chemistry from Japan to enhance her magic, which somehow seems exactly right for her smart, practical-minded nature; for a girl who is practically expressionless, she has been defined remarkably well. Tuka, who is apparently managing/clerking at the women's dorm, gets to meet Yao at the end of the episode, but her reaction suggests no particular tension between her type of elves and Yao's clan. Pina secretly meets Itami before he approaches the capital, supposedly to get some more BL manga delivered to her, although the end of the episode also reveals that she has her own agents engaged in spying every bit as much as Japanese intelligence does. She seems to be scouting out Itami and using the bunny girl maid from Italica to do so, but to what end? Meanwhile, her female underlings are really getting into processing and translating the BL manga and a group of JSDF higher-ups have an interesting discussion about how they would handle the Fire Dragon, though they also conclude that the best and safest way to do it is also impractical under the circumstances.
Maybe the biggest impression left by this episode is a hard push to put Itami front and center in the story again. With the exception of the first episode he has usually felt more like a major ensemble player than the actual protagonist of the story, but boy, does the latter part of this episode pitch him as the go-to guy. How would Itami tackle this fight? Would Itami tackle this fight? What are Pina's motivations behind Itami being a major person of interest to her? The slogan for the last half of this episode is essentially WWID: What Would Itami Do? That is not necessarily a problem, though, as Itami seems ideally-suited for having events swirl around him rather than being the driving force behind them.
The final episode also shows a bigger flash of the humor element in the series and finally reveals that the bird girl's name is Mutie. Technical merits also remain high, although the Phantom jets never feel like they have all that much power and grace to them. And once again, the translation matter comes up only as a means of storytelling convenience, leaving viewers to assume that various major characters have become completely fluent in the language of the other side in only a few months' time.
On its own, the season's final episode is solid and entertaining without doing anything spectacular. Taken as a whole, the first half of GATE is a practical-minded affair which revels in, and has fun with, mixing fantasy world elements and sensibilities with modern-world technology and ideals. It scores points for mixing politics into the scheme but loses them right back for its clumsy and sometimes obnoxious way of handling them, and also bites into its practicality with an emphasis on otaku-pandering elements already pre-existing in the fantasy world. It has likable characters at its core but in some cases (especially Tuka) does not do enough with them; this is not a major criticism, though, since the breadth of the story does necessitate limitations elsewhere. And yes, it does aggrandize the awesomeness of the JSDF to no end, but again, does it really do that any worse than Hollywood movies which aggrandize some branch of the U.S. military? And the series does, at least, filter out a lot of the ultra-nationalistic and racist crap which was apparently present in print versions of the story. Strong technical merits and pleasing character designs (but really, blue lipstick for Yao?) also make it one of the season's better-looking series, too. Overall, that makes the first season a success.
GATE is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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