Life in Tokyo is continuing much like it always has in recent years. People are working, shopping and dining just like any other day. For otaku Itami Youji, it’s a special day with a doujinshi event. Itami has built his entire life around supporting his hobbies and nothing will stand between him and this event. But everything changed when the
fire nation Empire attacked. A new mysterious Gate (ah, there it is) has appeared downtown and an aggressive army poured through with the obvious intent to conquer. The only problem is, their technology appears to be on par with the Roman empire and they are swiftly quelled. Now, it is Japan’s turn to respond. Spoilers ahead.
Japan quickly sends the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) through the Gate to establish a base and gather intel. It just so happens that our otaku protagonist Itami is part of this deployment, and he soon finds himself on the other end of the Gate counting the days until he can return to his normal life and hobbies. But before he can do that, he joins the JSDF in their objectives to ensure the security of Japan, establish a political relationship with locals, and figure out what kinds of untapped resources are available in the now dubbed “Special Region.”
When I was looking into this show and deciding if it was worth watching, I read a lot of low score reviews (something that is surprising to me after having watched it). Most of the reviews shared several common complaints that can be summarized in three points.
The Show is “Too Pro Military”
This point seems to be the one present in nearly all complaints. The military is depicted as a force that is benevolent and all-powerful. They seemingly never stumble or make a wrong decision. Even when their actions are called into question by the Japanese National Diet, they always come out victorious. A situation where the JSDF could lose doesn’t seem to exist and no situation appears to be dangerous, whether it is within the Special Region or when up against foreign special forces from the United States, Russia and China while protecting the Gate. Some reviewers went so far as to call it “right wing propaganda.”
While I can agree that it does remove some (certainly not all) of the suspense from the show, overall the representation of the JSDF did not interfere with my enjoyment. To start, you can hardly fault the country who creates anime for making their own military look like the good guys. In fulfilling their duties, the JSDF are efficient, precise and unified. They use these to not only protect Japan and it’s citizens, but also to provide for local Special Region refugees (that their presence did not cause), establish talks and a peace treaty with the local government, and establish commerce between the two nations. It may be an idealized showing of how the military operates, but I could hardly classify it as propaganda.
And while the JSDF never loses a fight in the Special Region, it should be noted that they’re fighting against a society with the technology and combat knowledge of the Roman Empire. While the locals would be effective when fighting traditional battles, their armor and tactics are no match for modern day weaponry.
The Protagonist is “Too Perfect”
There is no denying that the character of Itami Youji could be described as “golden.” He is your classic all-around nice guy who can do no wrong…MOSTLY. While he certainly does make mistakes and have his flaws, they are hardly large enough to tarnish the character and actions of the seemingly untouchable military poster boy. He rescues those in need, springs into action with little or no hesitation, and has a moral compass with a seemingly omniscient perspective of the world and it’s problems. To top it all off, he wants none of the credit and just wants to get back to reading his manga and living his life as the self-professed “lazy ant” in the colony.
As a result of all of this, everyone is seemingly drawn to him in one form or another. He is a bridge to communication and prosperity with the locals of the Special Region, especially in the beginning when everything is first getting established. The unit that he commands a unit that accomplishes several large humanitarian efforts during a crisis caused by Special Region monsters and men. Itami is the man to rely on when you need something done and don’t have the time to fight the bureaucratic red tape.
His close knit party of friends eventually consists of a powerful set of Special Region citizens, including the demi-goddess of death, a human mage with the talent of a prodigy, and a faerie-born forest elf. Combined with his tactical unit from the JSDF, there seems to be nothing they cannot accomplish, including defeating one of the regions most dangerous foes, a bloodthirsty Fire Dragon.
It is precisely all of these reasons that make Itami enjoyable to watch. Again, I can see how this could be a legitimate complaint, but his actions aren’t enough to stir me into getting bored with him. It’s enjoyable to watch a protagonist who genuinely wants to see justice for those around him while selfishly excited to get back to his hobbies. He’s not an arrogant character with lofty morals who preaches at everyone about his good deeds; he simply wants to do his job and go home. He faces genuine crisis and works his best to resolve things without conflict wherever possible. He was created to be a likeable but not overbearing protagonist, and in this case, it works.
The Show “Panders Too Much to Otaku”
Complaining that a show about an otaku protagonist panders too much to otaku interests seems even more ridiculous than expecting a show about the military to not portray the military positively, yet here we are.
Admittedly, this show will appeal greatly to the anime fandom’s nerdiest nerds. It’s a fantasy world where the protagonists greatly overpower their enemies. It’s filled with exotic species such as elves and dark elves, cat-people, bunny-people, dragons, goblins, magic, grand set pieces and goddesses. Due to our protagonists golden personality, many of the exotic women want a piece of the Itami pie (though it hardly counts as a harem like many people are saying; there’s a distinct difference between what is happening in GATE and what happens in actual harem anime. Let’s just all agree that just because more than one woman is interested in the protagonist, it’s not automatically a harem fantasy).
A lot of the humor in GATE comes from Itami in the form of otaku jokes and “freakout” moments between him and a fellow otaku army member. From the outset, it’s very clear that all of this is flowing naturally from the very otaku personality from our protagonist, so of course he’s going to obsess over it from time to time (it’s normal otaku behavior; look it up). Because of this, it’s really hard to see it as a valid complaint. If those kinds of jokes and attitudes bother you, there are plenty of anime out there that do not incorporate it and I encourage you to look elsewhere. Every show will have it’s audience and it sounds like this one isn’t yours.
Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable anime over both seasons. And while there is clearly more story to tell, they ended the second season in what could be called a satisfactory ending if they never have the opportunity to work on it again. If you’re looking for a fun anime with adventures in another world that aren’t sparked by truck-kun and his antics (and don’t mind the points I mentioned above), I think this is a very enjoyable show with lots of fun action and dialogue to enjoy.