A mildly controversial new offering from A1-Pictures, Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There is a contemporary action-fantasy series, following the chain of events sparked by the appearance in downtown Tokyo of a mysterious gate, from which pours a hostile force of medieval knights, Roman-style legionnaires and monstrous beasts who proceed to wreak murderous havoc throughout the city centre.
The series begins when protagonist Yoji Itami, a young soldier and self-confessed nerd, is caught up in this carnage en-route to a comic convention, but manages to distinguish himself by helping a number of civilians to safety. Impressed with his actions, Itami is chosen by the government as part of a small expeditionary force they intend to send back through the gate to investigate the world beyond, and determine who was responsible for the attack on Tokyo.
While it bears more than a passing resemblance to the US sci-fi series Stargate SG-1, Gate’s basic premise of the modern army facing off against high-fantasy foes does feel quite fresh and Itami has proven an engaging lead, being a level-headed and refreshingly competent squad-leader. It also gains some definite depth as it goes along, with the ‘other world’ caught up in a complex system of political alliances every bit as tangled as our own.
The eight episodes aired to date have struck a nice balance between the misadventures of Itami’s scouting party and the bureaucratic manoeuvring going on behind the scenes for both sides, but I feel the JSDF (Japan’s self-defence force, effectively their armed forces) are lionised to an almost comical extent, politicians are portrayed cartoonishly at best and the series can occasionally leave a bad taste in the mouth during its action scenes. They’re well enough directed, but the medieval enemy human soldiers have posed only a trivial threat to the JSDF with their modern equipment, and not even our ‘heroes’ have yet shown any remorse for methodically gunning them down in vast numbers – including some who appeared to be fleeing a battle.
The series is also rather quick to emphasise the presence of three fan-baiting female characters (an elf, a witch and a goth demon), giving them pride of place in both the opening and ending crawl of every episode. At the time of writing, there has actually been relatively little in the way of the risque fanservice one might expect, but it remains to be seen whether these characters are just a sop to try and broaden the show’s appeal or if they will have a more important contribution to make down the line.
Despite its questionable morality and uncertain direction, however, Gate has thus far kept me coming back each week. Its biggest highlight so far has been Itami’s attempt to escort a caravan of refugees being chased by a fire-breathing dragon, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited at seeing them try to take the beast on with a rocket launcher. Perhaps it’s no surprise that this is also the only time it’s felt like Itami’s crew was in real danger, but it does show what the series can achieve, when it sets its mind to it.
While I’m not convinced I’ll be sticking with Gate for the long term, I am at least keen to see where it will go next and would recommend giving it a shot, even just for the novelty value alone.