(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for GATE. If you do not want to be spoiled, then read no further)
When I went into GATE having not read either the light novel or the manga, I only knew the most basic things about the series. Chief among them being that the main character was an otaku and that the series was about Japan invading a fantasy realm with their JSDF. So the first thing that came to my mind was that it was going to be like Outbreak Company with a bit more of a militaristic bent.
Unfortunately, six episodes in and GATE hasn’t even shown any signs of being that. Instead, what I’ve seen from GATE is a Michael Bay wet dream put into animated form. Explosions pepper the series liberally in a way that the maestro behind Armageddon and Transformers only wishes he could get away with. On top of that, it seems to me like the series is pulling its punches.
Aside from one instance of seeing an enemy commander shown recovering in bed after losing an arm and a leg after attacking the JSDF, this anime has yet to portray any of this in a bad light. At the very least Outbreak Company brought up the question of if it was right to try and “pacify” a foreign realm that Japan was invading with otaku culture like anime and Japanese video games. It made some semblance of a deal out of otaku culture messing with the cultures of the people in that realm.
GATE, on the other hand, has been pretty much just one long as hell promotional ad for the JSDF. Look at how badass they are! They can even kick ass in a realm filled with magic and dragons and shit! Which, really, is hardly surprising at all given the political leanings of the author of the source material.
And even moving away from the lack of focus on the horrors and realities of war and overall tame violence, there’s an even bigger issue at play in GATE, and that is it is completely, 110% devoid of any an all tension so far. Not only are the JSDF vastly techonologically superior, they have the biggest trump card shown in the series so far on their side.
The girl above in the frilly dress is Rory Mercury. She is the apostle of Emroy, the god of death, war, crime, and madness in the fantasy realm in GATE. She swings around a giant, and extremely heavy halberd, and she’s pretty much impossible to kill. Even if the JSDF wasn’t as superior technology wise as they are, she alone takes all the tension out of things.
But when you combine the fact that the JSDF can shooty-shooty-explode their way out of pretty much any situation so far and that Rory can hacky-stabby-slashy her way through any damn thing period, there’s only one way any and all conflicts in this series can go, and that’s wins out the ass for the protagonists. It has gotten to the point where I think our protagonists would be better suited as the antagonists (and hell, from the perspective of many of the people in the fantasy realm, they kinda are, since to them the JSDF are the invading force (which they are, but of course they are pretty much invading in retaliation to being invaded by the fantasy realm forces in the first place, it’s basically a clustefuck situation)) because I’ve honestly kinda of grown bored seeing them kick so much ass. Even famous overpowered characters like Kirito from Sword Art Online was put into dire situations or at least given worthy challenges by foes every now and then.
This is even worse than what was going on in say Aldnoah.Zero, where we knew Inaho would always win. At least he had the question of how he was going to win in his corner, plus people, even just random nameless mooks, died on the side of the good guys in that series. In this series I haven’t seen a single member of the JSDF bite it yet.
When a creative work has no tension, it needs to have something else to prop the work up to keep it from getting repetitive and boring. And currently, GATE just does not do that for me. The majority of the characters, nay I dare say all of the characters barring Itami, Rory, and Pina, have barely had any character development so far, with Shino Kuribayashi, a soldier in Itami’s unit with the same kind of passion for killing as Rory, only just now gaining any development at all. It’s possible that the cast is just too large to give everyone adequate character development, but as it stands right now, the characters aren’t saving the show for me. And I already pointed out earlier that the show lacks any kind of message or theme that I can get behind either.
However, that doesn’t mean I’m writing the show off entirely just yet. It’s going to have 24 episodes total, so that means it has more breathing room and can have a bit of a more slower pace. But I will say this, this show better eventually develop something more substantial than dakka-dakka-dakka Baysplosions galore glorification of the JSDF. Or at the very least start letting JSDF soldiers die. Because otherwise, it’ll end up a mirage; a series that presents itself as being serious and deep, but is really just a shallow puddle.