Episode 19

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 19 of
GATE (TV 2) ?

Another week, another busy episode of GATE; it even eschews its traditional opening recap to fit more content in. But really, would you expect (or want) anything less from this series at this point?

Last episode started with a focus on Itami and his gang/harem and then moved to the Imperial side of the story in the second half. This time the pattern is (mostly) reversed. With the Emperor incapacitated (but apparently not actually dead), Crown Prince Zolzal makes his move and stages a coup d'etat, then boldly proclaims that there will be war – at least until the Empire can overcome its “defeatism” and regain a stronger negotiating position, anyway. While Pina's second brother flees to neighboring nations to gain the support necessary to theoretically force Zolzal to be reasonable (a move Pina fears will lead to the Empire's land being bitten apart by its neighbors), Pina remains. Her position is safe, since Zolzal needs her for negotiations with Japan once his scheme is complete, but as one scene shows, her influence is going to be limited. She cannot head off a dastardly plan: since the Empire cannot fight the JSDF head-on, they are going to try to whittle away at its support by attacking villages near Alnus, some with goblin bandits (which of course can't be traced back to the Empire) and some with troops disguised as the JSDF. They can't know that this isn't likely to work well, but hey, that still plays into Tyuule's scheme, doesn't it?

Pina has always been an interesting and at least mildly sympathetic character, and this episode only reinforces both her position as the series' best character. Probably no one at the Imperial court holds the true essence of the Empire more at heart than she does, or understands better what needs to be done for the Empire to survive alongside the Japanese presence, and yet all of her diligent work to that end is now being undermined. While she may have been utterly intimidated by the JSDF's show of force, she always had at least some agency, but now she is more helpless and trapped than ever before. She can't afford to be away from Zolzal, and yet can't really do anything, either. She's a smart enough young woman that I have to wonder how long it's going to be before she picks up on Tyuule pulling Zolzal's strings, although two things are working in Tyuule's favor on that: no one would expect a slave to be capable of such manipulation, and she has been very careful not to let any “tells” show. Seeing Pina struggle to fend off calamity, while Tyuule does everything in her scheming power to inculcate it, will doubtless make for a compelling battle of wills over the course of the rest of the series.

And that's hardly the only thread afloat, either. Over in Rondel, Lelei's elder sister Arpeggio gets increasingly perturbed as Lelei's long list of accomplishments comes out, but the breaking point is when Lelei claims that she and Itami have completed the rough equivalent of a common-law marriage – much to Itami's surprise, as apparently some things he took as innocent actions can be interpreted another way in the world of the Empire. Hence she settles things the old-fashioned way: she dumps a bowl of soup on Lelei's head as an act of challenging Lelei to a duel (apparently not for the first time). The result is the series' first true magic-on-magic battle. While it may not achieve quite the level of episode 17's Fire Dragon battle, it is nonetheless a remarkably intense affair involving some slick moves on the parts of both sisters, especially Lelei. Or at least it does until an assassin intrudes at an opportune moment and tries to take Lelei out. Fortunately Pina's right-hand man, who had been sent to fetch Lelei to the Imperial court but along the way had learned about the assassins, is on the scene to take him down. Itami's response to the prospect of also dealing with a legendary assassin is to be expected.

Someone out to assassinate Lelei – whether out of jealousy or whether as part of Tyuule's scheme – is an unexpected but reasonable twist, which is almost as fun as Lelei's continued heightened expressiveness in the face of her sister's pettiness and wounded pride. The elderly instructor character who once knew Rory is also an amusing old bat with her incongruously youthful antics. What she has to relay as part of a decades-old “homework” assignment is also juicy: apparently the reason that there are so many races in the world of the Empire is because every few centuries the GATE on Alnus opens and lets new peoples in. Hence most or all of the humanoid populations of the world originally came from elsewhere, and the Japanese are only the latest bunch to come in and have to balance between fighting and getting along with the existing population. That has some intriguing implications, though the series actually having time to explore them (in light of all of the other things going on) is doubtful. What seems sure is that Arpeggio is going to be around for a while, given that her specialty (minerals) is right in line with Itami's vague mission.

Is GATE now at the point of juggling too many balls in its plot? So far, at least, the series is doing a solid job of managing it all.

Rating: B+

GATE is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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