Episodes 1-3

by Theron Martin,

How would you rate episode 1 of

How would you rate episode 2 of

How would you rate episode 3 of

Anime – and, indeed, fantasy media in general – is replete with stories both of real-world characters being transported to a fantasy realm and fantasy elements emerging from a fantasy realm into the real world. This series, in a sense, offers both. It begins with a fantasy army invading Shibuya through an interdimensional gate and, after a fierce JSDF response, sends a JSDF exploratory mission through the gate to establish itself on the other side before the first episode is out. And that is just the beginning of the complications for Youji Itami, a 33-year-old otaku who regards his job in the JSDF as merely a means to support his hobby but soon finds that some elements of his hobby might end up being inseparable from his job, such as being advised by a naked elf girl on how to fight a dragon or encountering a halberd-wielding Goth loli Oracle.

While the presence of the latter two elements and a boyish-looking female wizard's apprentice, combined with Youji's otaku status, might send up some red flags about what direction this is going, the series has actually mostly taken itself seriously through its first three episodes. The JSDF forces operate in reasonable fashion and with sound tactics, almost completely devoid of show-off moves or any dirty-minded playing around; even why the elf girl is naked late in episode 3 is perfectly sensible. (Her wet clothes had to be cut off as part of a hypothermia treatment, as she was found floating, unconscious, in a well.) Language barriers are in play when Youji speaks to local villagers or the newly-encountered girls, battlefield formations on both the fantasy and JSDF sides are practically textbook examples, and battles between the JSDF and fantasy forces unfold like you might expect; even the heaviest fantasy shields are little protection against modern firepower, but a dragon requires bringing out the heaviest artillery. Politics are also in play on both sides; some both in Japan and out are concerned about what, exactly, the JSDF is doing beyond the gate, while the leader of the Roman-styled Empire the JSDF butts heads against on the other side of the gate is not above callously using “scorched earth” tactics (which the aforementioned dragon may be part of) or throwing allied and tribute forces under the metaphorical bus in order to regain his nation's relative power advantage over its tributes and allies.

The feature aspect of the series so far is, of course, the JSDF's military on display, although with the arrival of episode 3 and the introduction of the girls featured in the opener, the “fantasy girl” aspect looks like it will soon become important, too. The male lead being an older, more mature character who is surrounded by capable adults definitely makes a difference here, as it cuts out the immature hotheadedness so often seen in world-hopping scenarios while still allowing his otaku nature to show; Youji is still fully invested in his hobbies, and occasionally discusses them with a subordinate who is also an otaku, but he does not let that interfere with his job despite claiming that he prioritizes his hobby over his job. Given the spate of otaku heroes over the past few years, that's refreshing. The one concern so far is the mostly-matter-of-fact attitude that Youji and his fellow soldiers approach the awful carnage that they encounter, especially given that they are responsible for inflicting a lot of it. If these were seasoned combat veterans then that might be understandable, but at most they have only been involved in one battle prior to episode 2.

The technical merits so far are pretty strong, including the nicely-animated battle sequences against the dragon, though the level of quality and perfection of integration of the CG elements with the regular animation varies a bit. Fan service is more a tease than an actual thing, although some of the dialog does get rather ribald in episode 3. Character development beyond Youji has been thin, but the series seems like it is focused more on grander stories so that may never be a big factor.

Overall, Gate is taking a more methodical pace, one suited to a guaranteed 24 episode run. It does have a prickly side, as it is unquestionably glorifying the JSDF, the actions Japan is taking raises eyebrows concerning treaty stipulations, and episode 2 paints an unflatteringly opportunistic portrait of the American president. That aside, though, it shows quite a bit of promise.

Rating: B

GATE is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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