I haven’t done one of these posts on a currently airing show in a while. It’s been a strange time for me that I don’t really want to go into great detail about, but I think I’ve needed to write something, anything for a while. I haven’t watched a lot of shows this season, but since the majority of the season had shows I wouldn’t watch without pirating or funding one of the worst people in the world I could feel better from a moral standpoint. That’s enough about me though, so I will move on to the rest of the post.
Gate is a show that I was initially hesitant about. The potential political problems with the plot and the worldviews of certain characters that I had heard about made me think that it would be comparable to Mahouka. That would mean that it would involve supporting a protagonist who is a psychopath about killing people in cold blood while getting the attention of all of the women. Gate only has half of that.
The series begins with Itami in Tokyo on his way to buy some doujins at an event. The “gate” that is the driver of the story appears in Ginza and out come guys on horseback and armor with some other people riding flying dragons. Since most civilians don’t anticipate an invasion by people looking like they came from a new Hollywood fantasy film with a budget of hundreds of millions, there was gawking, then deaths and widespread panic.
Itami intervenes in the best way possible and calms the situation down while the Self-Defence Forces (SDF) forces arrive and defeat the invaders by having superior military technology. Then he comforts a young girl who lost both of her parents in the action. In the aftermath, the audience is re-introduced to Itami Youji, First Lieutenant Itami Youji of the Ground SDF.
A couple years later Itami is part of the first wave of SDF forces that will controversially enter the gate and I think I was already believing in him as a character at this point. He’s the closest thing to Legend of the Galactic Heroes‘s Yang Wen-li in that he is a reluctant hero who is well suited to military life, but would rather be doing anything else. Itami is also willing to do things that he feels are morally correct or will save lives without regard to the command structure of the military like taking in refugees. He also has opinions that are problematic for those above him. Is he as good of a character as Yang? Not a chance, but at least it’s a better effort than most versions of this kind of protagonist lately.
Colonialism and the SDF
In the 4th episode, Itami and another office named Yanagida have a conversation about what the new world means in relations to Japan’s status in the world. Japan is first to be able to have access to new territory with the natural resources that come with it and the potential issues that come with being cut off from the rest of the world. It’s going to be so easy for the SDF as well to just roll over the native people.
This is the exact point where the military’s role in this show becomes interesting. After the second World War, Japan had a newly rewritten constitution forced upon them by the Allied forces. It was written in English then translated into Japanese after all. It included a section that renounced war, Article 9 which reads:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
(2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
This language was adopted in 1947, and it had real meaning for oh about 3 years when war broke out in Korea. That language has been reinterpreted to allow the SDF to exist, to allow them to help on foreign peacekeeping missions and in a recent move to allow them to fight alongside allied nations if one of them is attacked. The thing is that this section of the constitution has always been popular with with most people in Japan, but very unpopular among the elected officials who want Japan to be a “normal” nation.
I look at the actions of the SDF in going into the gate as basically rendering them as “self-defense” in name only. Nothing else had come through the gate in two years, so it wasn’t as though there was an imminent threat. It’s an invasion really. After setting up a base at Arnus Hill in the other world, the other nations in the “special region” attack them. Attack in as much as what can be expected for guys with swords and using bows and arrows can do against modern military equipment and tactics. That ended up being 120,000 units lost without anything coming close to harming the SDF. It’s a number that’s massive in terms of deaths in modern combat (but more common in the type of combatants they were going up against).
With the death toll being so asymmetrical, there’s something that feels wrong about the events at Arnus Hill.
Something I have been surprised about has been the depiction of politicians in the series. As most people who live long enough to realize this, Gate has pretty much decided that everyone in charge of a nation is pretty much a self-serving asshole. While the Empire’s ruler was using the SDF to take care of his internal enemies, back on Earth some important things are happening.
Early on, the American President in this series was depicted in stereotypical fashion stating that the military would have entered the gate yesterday and conquered. Then we have the Chinese leader coming in and saying that Japan is going to have to share their new shiny territory. Domestically, there’s already been a change in Prime Ministers since the last one felt that invading was a good idea and used up all his political capital. His replacement just pursues the same policy anyway because that’s just how single-party democracies work anyway.
Another aspect of this can’t really be glossed over, and it’s taking the views of these politician’s views from the outsider’s position that I hold. China’s president moaning about how China deserves this new territory and the Americans saying they would just invade are just caricatures of these nations. Anyone in a real position of power would be much more nuanced that taking positions like “let’s take all the resources” because while “taking all the oil” could be a populist campaign slogan, those people don’t get to rule because of it. The SDF’s role in all of this is a problem too since it seems to take on the role of an excellent military that would be so much better if it were just funded properly by politicians and those protesters at the beginning are so ungrateful too.
Gate is ultimately going to be a show I worry about for the balance of the few paragraphs above. It’s hard to simply insert myself into the role of typical late-night Japanese otaku who would be watching this when I come from a Western background having studied a fair amount of international politics and history. I’m probably going to struggle to be fair on this show in the end. I mean I could always just forget all of this stuff and watch Itami go around a new world with his harem of an elf, wizard and gothloli tank with my brain turned off. However, I might as well just rewatch Outbreak Company if I want something like that.