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At the end of the first cour GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There remains an interesting series that I have a number of concerns about. On the other hand, some of those concerns may indicate a nuanced approach to some difficult issues.

Content warnings for discussion of sexual assault, and post-traumatic stress apply. There are also spoilers ahead.

The Focus

Episodes 8 Japan, Beyond the Gate through to 10 Despair and Hope shifted the story to Japan, and the political ramifications of the Gate back on earth. Episodes 11 Visitor and 12 What Would Itami Do? set up the story arcs for the second cour, and don’t really serve as a finale per se[1].

Along the way are a few areas where it’s surprisingly difficult to read the author’s intent[2].

Strawman Political, or Establishing Human Rights?

The key sequence in Japan, Beyond the Gate is a hearing in the Diet into the JSDF’s conduct in episode 3 Fire Dragon.

The Diet member shown asking the questions is very much a Strawman Political – she clearly hates the military, jumps to conclusions, and is essentially presented as a liberal idiot.

And yet…

The entire scene is structured on an assumption that the inhabitants of the Special Region are fully entitled to human rights and the protection of the JSDF, that a failure to protect them is something that the Diet should take an interest in.

During a rewatch to complete this review I was having an extended twitter conversation with Alan Zabaro who views the entire sequence as being much more militaristic, and right wing. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with his position, but he does make a number of valid points[3].

Princess Pina’s No Good, Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Month

This is the running gag in my group of friends to describe the sequence from episode 6 Ride of the Valkyries through to about Despair and Hope. Basically the hits keep coming for poor Pina, and by the end of it Pina is determined to end the war between the Empire and Japan.

The biggest problems there will be dealing with her father and the Senate. We haven’t seen Emperor Molt[4] for a while, but Pina is definitely getting started on the Senate and doing well so far with assistance from the Japanese Foreign Office.

Pina is definitely the highlight of the 2nd half – feisty, intelligent, way out of her comfort zone[5], and determined to push through to a fair solution.

It must be said that although Pina is considerably more moral than her father[6], she is still approaching this from the perspective of a feudal noble, and probably has some more adjustments to make when dealing with a modern nation state.

There’s a concern, also expressed by Alan, that the permanent base established by the JSDF represents a permanent conquest of part of the Special Region. This is an unfair basis for negotiations, especially given the ability of the JSDF to crush the Empire should Japan choose to do so[7].

The negotiations in the second cour should get interesting, and indeed seeing Pina operating within her comfort zone of politics is one of the highlights of the last two episodes. Pina is a very smooth operator indeed.

The bit with Pina and her knights becoming Yaoi fangirls is hilarious. That Pina uses it for good effect in the negotiations is part of the fun.

Rory, Rory, Rory

Rory Mercury is an interesting character, but also one that has difficulties with boundaries.

Rory is near immortal, albeit within about 100 years of ascending to god hood, and there are some fascinating scenes in Despair and Hope where she says that demigods don’t die, and then corrects it to demigods can’t die. The tone of voice for the correction is chilling. This is a character that is convincingly alien in her outlook, and yet remains (mostly) sympathetic.

It possibly provides an explanation for Rory’s predatory behaviour towards Itami in that Rory may be seeking to remain connected to the world through Itami. This is not, however, an excuse: Rory’s conduct at the end of episode 9 The Hakone Night Battle, the start of Despair and Hope, and again in Visitor is way over the line of consent. It has to be classed as harassment of, if not sexual assault on, Itami.

I hope that this isn’t repeated in the second cour, or is resolved in a way that involves Itami’s understanding and consent. Because as it stands I’m increasingly uncomfortable with Rory as a character.

Tuka’s Post Traumatic Stress

Tuka is not handling the loss of her father well.

Or at all really.

Tuka is very firmly in denial, and Itami’s group simply don’t know how (or if) they should handle it. Particularly when they see her wandering around town every night looking for her father.

Certainly the medic of the group, Kurokawa, wants to intervene but Itami shuts her down. If the intervention breaks Tuka, is Kurokawa in a position to continually support an immortal elf with a shattered mind? And what about when they withdraw[8]?

This seems surprisingly harsh on Itami’s part, but I can sympathise to an extent. When playing with a person’s heart or soul, you need to take responsibility for what you start. I’m hopeful that the second cour will address some of Tuka’s issues when the fire dragon is dealt with.

Idiot Ball, Idiot Ball, Wherefore Art Thou Idiot Ball?

The idea of another elf, a dark elf, coming to seek help from Itami (specifically) and the JSDF (generally) to destroy the fire dragon driven off in episode 3 is a good one. It extends the world, provides a possible avenue for Tuka to accept reality once the thing is dead, and adds some more political complexity[9].

But why did it have to be Yao Ha Ducy?. By the end of What Would Itami Do? I hold out faint hopes that she’ll become a worthwhile, or at least sympathetic, character in the second cour. Certainly the scene with Lelei in the café is beautifully written and handled.

Before then the Idiot Ball handed to Yao makes her just painful to watch[10], and the fanservice driven poses really don’t help.

Oh, and boobs don’t work that way[11].

Rape Culture Commentary, or Nudge Nudge, Wink Wink?

There have been recurring mentions from multiple female characters of the downsides of war, particularly for refugees or the losers when towns are sacked. Yao adds the possibility of needing to seduce “the men in green” in order to get their assistance against the dragon.

I’m honestly not sure what to make of these. On the one hand it’s possible that these are intended to be critical, to make the viewer think about the use of rape as a weapon of war.

But there’s a very real chance that these are intentionally salacious references with an overtone of “isn’t that funny”. When I watched GATE with friends in Canberra, the group was split on that, and most were uncomfortable to some extent with the repeated references. If it is intended to be critical, then complaining about is like being tired of hearing about rape culture generally. In other words: tough. Learn to live with it, and maybe do something about ending it.

If it is salacious in nature, then I hope it gets dropped in the next cour.

The problem I have is that, combined with some of Rory’s behaviour, I’m tending towards the latter.

The Continuing Verdict

Whatever else can be said of GATE, it never bored me, it stood up to multiple rewatchings, and it stimulates a lot of discussion. That level of engagement is relatively rare in anime (or anywhere else).

Despite, or possibly because of the flaws, GATE is definitely worth watching and I’m looking forward to seeing the next cour early in 2016.

I’ll wrap up with the first ED, which I quite like:

[1] And if they were a finale I would be scathing about those episodes.

[2] Noting that GATE was adapted from a series of light novels written by a former member of the JSDF.

[3] I’ve essentially started following Alan because of the disagreement, and the polite tone we both managed during the conversation. See! It is actually possible to politely debate things on the internet, on twitter even!

[4] Thankfully given that Molt is a fairly casual mass murderer.

[5] I nearly said league there but that really wasn’t fair. It’s true at the start, maybe, but Pina adapts quickly to her changing world.

[6] Which as noted previously isn’t particularly hard.

[7] It should be noted that given the civilian casualties of the first episode it would probably be hard for any government of any persuasion to resist securing both ends of the gate.

[8] It’s interesting that Itami is assuming that they will be withdrawn. Whether that’s en masse or as part of the normal cycling of units/personnel through military postings is unclear.

[9] By having the Fire Dragon attacking an area outside the Empire, which opens the SDF to risks of war with yet another nation. Something they pass on fairly quickly, much to Yao’s horror.

[10] Although, to be fair, Rory’s behaviour towards Itami in Yao’s first scene doesn’t’ help.

[11] Yao isn’t the first example of this, Pina and Bozes have had their fanservice laden Escher Girls moments, but Yao is certainly the most egregious in the show so far.