Call of Fame: Gate
What’s it mean to be in the Caw of Fame? The name is a take-off on Hall of Fame, and since crows make the sound “caw…”
Well, I think it’s funny. Or at least mildly amusing. Work with me here!
For a series to earn this “honor,” it has to meet two criteria: the last episode has to have debuted at least a year ago, and I have to like the series. A lot. As in re-watching it over and over.
Please join me in welcoming Gate (a.k.a. “Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There!”) to the Caw of Fame!
Note: There may be spoilers, so please be cautious!
Gate: What’s it About?
Gate accurately portrayed the reaction that even those not in the cross-hairs would have to an attack helicopter showing up in the Middle Ages. Capture from the Blu Ray.
It’s an old fantasy (and sometimes science fiction) trope: a portal opens between Earth and another world. In this case, it opened to a world whose technology was about on par with Earth around the fourteenth century CE. Except this time, no one stumbled through a wardrobe to find it. Instead, an army of humans and beast people stormed through and attacked modern day Japan. Specifically, Ginza, Tokyo’s up-scale shopping district.
The attack overwhelmed the police. They had panicked. After all, how often does a beat involved using your pistol to repel warriors that resembled Roman centurions? Only the actions of one man, Youji Itami, stopped their panic. He helped the police regroup and defend the citizens until the JSDF could bring their helicopters, tanks, and troops into the fray.
Gate is about what happens when the JSDF pushes through the Gate, in force, to protect their country. It’s about a civilized nation trying to protect itself without just massacring the invading soldiers of the empire. Though they certainly did not shy away from using their overpowering force when necessary.
Gate is also about a wildly varied group of people coming together to prevent all out war – because they all knew that if the empire pressed matters, the empire would be obliterated. Gate was realistic enough to portray that as a serious problem for that world, and that was one of the things I really liked about it.
Up to this point, Itami seemed like a run-of-the-mill otaku. Seems he has some skills in hand-to-hand combat, too! Capture from the Blu Ray.
Youji Itami described himself as an otaku. He was also an officer in the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF). We didn’t know it at the start of the series, but we eventually find out he’s not just an officer. He’s a Ranger. And then we find out he went beyond Ranger to qualify as JSDF Special Forces. Which means he’s not just good. He’s stupidly good. In terms of combat capabilities, he’s as close to a superhuman as humans get.
He’s as humble as he is capable. And that makes him interesting to me. If left to his devices, Itami would have read fanfiction, bought Doujinshi, and generally indulged his otaku habits. But he got caught up in imperial political strife on the other side of the gate. Worse, he became attached to some of the other characters, especially Princess Pina Co Lada, Rory Mercury, Lelei la Lalena, and Tuka Luna Marceau.
But you know what? That’s selling him short. He also cared deeply for the squad under his command. Even Shino Kuribayashi, who pointed a machine gun in his face at one point! He was a good man, trying to make the right decisions. Even better, he was strong and capable. I like those things in a main character!
Itami gets his first glimpse of Rory – and he had no idea what he’s getting himself into! Capture from the Blu Ray.
Rory Mercury is the oracle for the Emory, the god of darkness, war, and death. Before I describe why I like her character, let’s get something out of the way: the show portrays her as perpetually having the body of a fifteen year old. I would have been more comfortable with her being eighteen or, even better, twenty-one. Her stated age is around 975, so there’s that. Still, having her in a diminutive form was, let’s say, uncomfortable at times.
Because she practically orgasmed if there were deaths happening nearby. It’s an Emory thing.
That aside, despite being an apostle for the god of death, she was surprisingly warm. As soon as she met Itami, she knew he was something special, even among the JSDF. I think it took her around 30 seconds to decide she was going to keep him in her life – one way or another. And they made an appallingly effective team. What they did (with Tuka and Lelei’s help) to a fire dragon in episode 17 ranks right up there as one of the greatest dragon battles in anime – maybe even in fantasy literature.
And yes, I’m including Smaug in that equation.
And yet, Rory was terrified to go underground. That’s because underground is Hardy’s realm – and Hardy wants to make Rory her wife. Rory is not in favor of that arrangement. Seems that even demi-gods can have a had time.
Princess Pina Co Lada
The first time we met Pina, the emperor seemed to treat her with humorous disdain. That changed over the course of the series. Capture from the Blu Ray.
I wish the series had addressed why the second Princess of the empire carried the name of a rum and pineapple drink. I never read the novel series, so I don’t know if they addressed it there.
Regardless, Pina Co Lada lived in the shadow of her father, the Emperor Molto Sol Augustus. He had condescendingly allowed her to found the Order of the Rose. He had intended for it to be a ceremonial order; she wanted it to be a combat order and trained accordingly. Good thing, too – or the defense of the Jade Palace would have gone very differently!
The Emperor dispatched her and her order to investigate Alnus, the point where the gate entered this world. When she learned the JSDF had established a forward base there, the sacrilege that act represented outraged her. But then bandits, remnants of the Imperial and allied nations’ armies, pinned her down in Italica. Thinking she could trick Itami into sacrificing himself, she contracted with him to defend Italica, but the bandits didn’t attack where she expected. Itami called in air support. It was great fun (for me as a viewer) to see Pina’s reactions as Rory Mercury and Shino Kuribayashi held the bandits at bay, then as the JSDF annihilated all resistance. Those acts left a deep and lasting impression on her soul.
She realized that if the empire did not make peace with Japan, the empire would be no more. That was in episode 6, and that was when Pina’s journey really began. That journey almost cost her everything – including her life.
Lelei la Lalena
This is the most emotion Lelei showed through the whole series – and all it took was her realizing she could go toe-to-toe with the flame dragon! Capture from the Blu Ray.
Lelei is a young sorceress who is already skilled at the start of the story. She’s intelligent, inquisitive, and not at all patient with stupidity – which is why she often argues with her mentor, Cato El Altestan.
Lelei first encountered the JSDF when they helped her village evacuate. They had to get away from the rampaging fire dragon. On seeing the JSDF, she was curious. Their dress and speech were unlike anything she had ever encountered. She investigated but found herself almost stomped to death by a horse that had been driven mad. Only a soldier’s quick thinking saved her.
She felt grateful, of course, but that didn’t account for why she felt drawn to the JSDF. They represented the chance to learn something very much out of her experience. She learned the language so quickly that she became a translator in Alnus, which put her in position to travel beyond the gate – and make a profound impression on the Japanese Diet and population.
Tuka Luna Marceau
Tuka had a rough way to go. She couldn’t adjust to the thought her father had died protecting her. Capture from the Blu Ray.
Itami and his reconnaissance team found Tuka at the bottom of a well. Her father had thrown her into that well as his next to last act. His last act was to burn to death when the fire dragon attacked.
She could not accept the death of her father. While she stayed in Alnus after Itami’s rescue, she tried to keep it private, but she kept looking for her father. She asked for enough food for two; she asked for clothes for herself and an adult male. Rory knew, and so did the doctor in Itami’s squad, Mari Kurokawa. Kurokawa wanted to counsel Tuka, but Itami could not allow it. After all, he had no idea how long the JSDF could stay in that world. Beginning a treatment they could not complete might make things worse.
Unfortunately, that decision set up Tuka to be manipulated by the desperate dark elf named Yao Ha Ducy. That almost ended in Tuka’s death – and the death of Itami, Lelei, and Rory, as well.
Yet More Characters in Gate
Gate is filled with interesting characters who have understandable motivations, even if you can’t root for them (villains are villains, after all). A list of those characters would include:
- Risa Aoi: She’s a manga artist. She’s also Itami’s ex-wife. Gate is not a high school anime; it’s not a kid’s slice of life. It’s about grown ups, and that’s a huge part of its appeal. Aoi is portrayed as a woman trying to make ends meet, but who struggles with deadlines and creativity. The reason she gives for the divorce in episode 9 hit me harder than I would have expected – which was another reason the show is one of my favorites. Her reason was realistic, understandable, and very, very sad.
I really sympathized with Risa Aoi. I’m glad she got to meet Rory, Lelei, and Tuka. Capture from the Hulu stream.
- Sherry Tyueli: She’s this twelve year old kid who understands the political dynamics around her to a degree that put even professional politicians like Kouji Sugawara to shame. She simultaneously kept the hopes for peace alive and triggered a catastrophic conflict – which was, as she knew, exactly what needed to happen.
- Duran: A king of one of the kingdoms allied with the empire, he understood too late that the emperor had sent him and the armies of the allied kings do their deaths – outside the walls of Alnus, where the JSDF had dug in. He passed that wisdom onto Pina, and he even survived to give Itami advice. Though getting to that point cost him an arm and a leg.
The show was filled with interesting side characters, like Myui Formal, a ten year old girl who tried to put a brave face on ruling over Italica. When Itami met her, she looked like she was trying to be brave, even though she had no idea what she was doing. And the fact she had to deal with the twin threat/opportunity of the JSDF’s potential occupation made matters even worse.
That was something I really enjoyed about Gate. There were villains, there were heroes, and there were ordinary people. Almost all of them felt realistic, and almost all of them had motivations I could understand, even if I couldn’t support them (I’m looking at you, Tyuule!).
What I Liked About It Gate
Realistic Portrayal of Those Who Serve
The JSDF as seen through Rory’s eyes were a force for good. On the whole, that matches my experience. Capture from the Blu Ray.
I’ve worked with a lot of veterans in my career. Never veterans from Japan, but veterans from the United States armed forces. That included folks from the Army, Air Force, Marines, and even Army special forces. All of them shared two characteristics:
- They were motivated to find solutions
- They were nonchalant about subjects that made some folks uncomfortable
I saw a lot of that in Itami, Kuribayashi, and most of the cast in uniform. I could boil the first point down to a “can-do” attitude, but it goes beyond that. It’s the ability to break down problems into manageable chunks, then address those chunks. It’s not that people who didn’t serve in the military don’t have that trait. But in my experience, it’s a difference in degree. It’s the difference between “I’ve tried several things and nothing worked” and “I’ve tried several things and will keep trying until it works.”
Yep. It’s a hopeless generalization. But I can only speak from my experience, and that’s what it is.
The other is their attitude to killing and its aftermath. You saw that early in the first episode. Most of the population, even the police, simply freaked out. Itami didn’t. You saw it in episode 8 when Mizuki Kouhara acted outraged that the Itami’s squad had taken no casualties, yet civilians under their protection died during the dragon’s attack. Itami didn’t want to lose a single citizen under his protection. Yet, just throwing his soldiers without adequate weaponry made no sense – to a military mind.
Realistic Portrayal of Military Tactics and Politics
The JSDF’s tactics felt realistic. I’m not military, so I don’t know for sure. But they convinced me! Capture from the Blu Ray.
At first glance, you’d think that the JSDF could just establish a couple of columns of tanks, protect them with attack helicopters, and protect all of them with jet fighters. We actually saw some of that in action during the fighting at Italica. Whenever swords and shields fought with automatic weapons, swords and shields lost.
But a force in the field consumes fuel, and the troops need to eat. Establishing a presence that would support such an attack would take time and funds. Occupying the land you seize takes resources. The presence at Alnus had not had enough time to build up enough provisions for either action. The Japanese government wasn’t willing to allocate the funds. I appreciate that kind of realism.
I also appreciated the empire’s political dynamics. If the JSDF had destroyed the government, the resulting political vacuum would have attracted all sorts of mischief. In another nod to realism, the Japanese government wanted to establish a source of natural resources, which meant they needed a stable political environment. It’s hard to conduct business in an active warzone or even a zone of lawlessness.
The whole subplot of Tyuule manipulating Zorzal El Caesar was another example. That was a satisfying example of political intrigue, which is something I’ve rarely seen a series get right.
The World Worked
Little details like all of the mages attending Lelei’s presentation attacking the assassin make the world feel real. Capture from the Blu Ray.
You might know that I write science fiction/techno-thriller novels, so I know the value of world-building from the inside out, so to speak. Gate gets that right. The world not only feels realistic. It feels lived-in. The way the JSDF’s initial presence plays out, the outrage it provoked because Alnus was a holy site, was just the start. The relationship of the allied kingdoms to the empire felt right. By the time we got to Rondel, I felt like “of course, that’s how Rondel would look and feel!”
It’s hard to understate just how important world-building is. Chris Fox, a writer whose YouTube channel I follow, talked about that in a recent video. Well worth the watch if you’re concerned about the state of modern fantasy.
Many Honest, Emotionally Resonate Moments
A realistic world isn’t worth much if what happens in it isn’t interesting! This is another way Gate appealed to me. Some of my favorites moments, in episode order, are:
- Episode 1: Itami looking over at the bewildered girl at the memorial – when her parents were among the deceased.
- Episode 3: Itami meeting Rory Mercury for the first time – and having no idea how close to death he came!
- Episode 4: Pina’s reaction to Duran explaining the way of the world to her.
- Episode 5: Pina realizing just how little field combat experience she had – and the cost that levied on her followers.
- Episode 8: Rory putting Mizuki Kouhara in her place for trying to denigrate Itami and his squad’s bravery under fire (literally, as they were going against the fire dragon).
- Episode 10: Rory going head to head with three special forces teams and winning handily.
- Episode 12: Yao Ha Ducy’s despair when the JSDF turned down her request to help her people. That was heart-breaking. It made her later decisions completely understandable.
Yao Ha Ducy was a proud, accomplished warrior. Learning the JSDF could not take the diplomatic risk to help her people crushed her spirit. But not entirely. Capture from the Blu Ray.
I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.
There are three things that bring me back to rewatch Gate despite having a crushing anime back-log:
- The characters are a lot of fun
- The animation is really easy on the eyes
- Itami works very, very well as a likable protagonist
The last bit might be the best, though I’m not sure. I like a protagonist who is very powerful, but doesn’t flaunt it. Left to his own devices, Itami would chill out watching anime or reading manga. Throw in a couple of major fan events every year, and the man would be happy.
But threaten his friends, like trying to drive Tuka insane or imprisoning Pina? Then the Special Forces Ranger gets into the act. It got to the point where even officers were asking, “What would Itami do?”
That’s just cool.