Episode 21

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 21 of
GATE (TV 2) ?

After taking a narrower focus last episode, GATE is back to splitting its time amongst multiple plot threads. In fact, differing personnel packages at no less than five different locations get their own screen time here, and one location even involves the activities of two entirely different groups. That means that, once again, there is a lot of plot going on.

Sadly, the franchise's uglier side – i.e., its penchant for taking potshots at individuals and/or groups in the real world who might not be sympathetic to the JSDF – also rears its head as part of all of this. While the sniping has apparently been toned down dramatically from the original Web novel, that attitude still creeps through from time to time, and one segment of this episode is a golden example of that. It happens in one of the episode's least important segments, albeit the one which also shows us what happened with Noriko: she's apparently being employed as a press liaison when journalists visit the other world (as they are now). Didn't expect that, but it seems fitting. Her conversation with a particular journalist is the issue here. He is utterly convinced that what the press is being shown is just a fraud disguising the true situation, and so he is determined to get to the bottom of the matter in the name of making sure the JSDF is answerable to the public. Fundamentally speaking, there's nothing actually wrong with that, as military organizations have, indeed, historically been documented as hiding shady practices beneath a pleasant veneer. However, its portrayal here comes across with a nasty edge, much like the Diet politician back in episode 8. Soften that reporter even a little, such as by making him skeptical but not outright hostile, and this would have played much better.

On the (unintentionally) amusing side, the disappearing male knights from the beginning of the Jade Palace confrontation last episode have suddenly reappeared in earnest. Not only that, but they are the ones exclusively shown fighting and dying, even though the background grunts and battle cries are mostly female and female knights are shown afterwards with scuffed-up armor. I'd be tempted to read some less-than kind interpretations into that if it wasn't for the fact that female characters have been action stars in most other major action sequences in the series. Still, it's a weird enough discrepancy that it merits a meme being made about it. That all of the male knights are old is also a significant and interesting point, as it firms up the notion that Pina's knights are composed of individuals that would be outsiders in a traditional military. I would love to see that have some consequences down the road, though it does also explain why they are so personally loyal to Pina.

But those two bits are only a small part of what's going on here. Sherry becomes more and more likable by maturely insisting on not turning away from the battle; she feels that being exposed to such ugliness is her responsibility as the person whose actions led to it. But while the knights do successfully hold their ground, they stir up the trouble for Pina that they feared. Her getting summoned before Zorzal over this is wholly expected, as is her getting detained for refusing to back down. (And wasn't that slick how the animation team managed to slip in a little fan service there? Just how often has Pina been shown in the bath?) The regular army, rather than just Zorzal's thug squad (I'll get back to them), being sent in the second time around, definitely ups the stakes, especially with Senator Casel also apparently having been rescued and claiming status as Sherry's guardian. Meanwhile, back in Japan, top politicians try to arrange an excuse and permission for military intervention, which is a dicey proposition because of how it could be spun by the press. That seems to be in line to happen by the end of the episode, so we should be seeing some more JSDF vs. Imperial action next episode.

But that's still not all. We also get treated to several foreign officers getting escorted around Alnus Hill, and Itami's group actually gets into action this time, too. They have returned to Rondel to get Lelei her doctorate (and she's driving the vehicle now, which is cute) and must use trickery to fend off an assassination attempt. Gradually the full extent of the Pied Piper mentioned last episode is being revealed: he/she is a master manipulator who connives others into doing his dirty work, and his/her actions seem to go beyond just assassination; information flow control to a sophisticated level is also involved, and that makes Itami suspicious.

So there are a lot of interconnected wheels turning right now, which makes me wonder how they will be able to get the story to a reasonable stopping point in only three more episodes. Still, a wealth of story is more satisfying than a dearth of it. Also – and I neglected to bring this up last week – the historical nod the last two episodes is intriguing in its appropriateness despite its specificity. The historical Oprichnina was a state policy instituted in Russia by Ivan the Terrible in 1565, which eventually involved the creation of a secret police force and the rounding up and exiling or execution of numerous nobles on questionable conspiracy charges – in other words, the exact circumstances we're seeing now in the series. Its agents also did use dark cloaks, dog head motifs, and brooms, so the reference is clearly intentional. A bit of extra effort like that is always welcome.

On a technical side, the animation is disappointingly limited for a significant battle scene and the way the battle sounds fade out while concentrating on Sherry and Sugawara felt incongruous. Making up for that, though, are some strong musical choices. This isn't the series at its best, but it still makes for a good story overall.

Rating: B

GATE is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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