What They Say:
When a mysterious gate suddenly appears in Tokyo’s Ginza district and begins spewing armed warriors and flying monsters, the world is thrown into turmoil. Although the deadly attack is thrown back by Japan’s Self Defense Force, there’s now a new and entirely unknown land on the other side of the portal, and Japan is effectively at war with a nation on the other side. Determined to secure peace, the JSDF must send an armed force into the Gate, but ogres, dragons and a ruthless Empire populated by elves, humans, and half-animal warriors aren’t the only dangers they’ll face. With the resources of two worlds at stake, the balance of power on both sides of the Gate is destabilizing, and betrayal can come at any time, from any quarter. There, trapped right in the middle of the ensuing firestorm, stands officer Yoji Itami and the JSDF’s Third Reconnaissance Team as they plunge into the GATE.
The audio presentation for this release creatively prepares the audience for each episode via rousing melodies, all encompassing audio effects and strong voice performances available in both English or Japanese subtitled Dolby Stereo 2.0 encoded at 224 kbps. A full classical orchestra selectively establishes the mood via music accompaniments which does not swallow up the seiyuu’s performances, instead allowing them to propel scenes forward along with action oriented sound effects like ever present gun fire, roars of beasts or the screams of dying men. While the constant background music is sometimes blaring, it does keep the action moving, but at the same time does not overwhelm either visuals or actors performances, instead accompanies them as we watch the show unfold. However, you witness the beauty of these scores only when they stop for a moment of silence since they seemlessly blend into the nuances of the show. As a whole, all of these acoustic rhythms fuse everything together to create a rousing sonic scenery, driving the audience forward with optimistic audio drama to steer the emotions of the viewer, allowing them to experience the tension which the studio needs for each episode. It does not compete with visuals but instead incorporates everything as a whole into one inspiring environment.
Even if the accompanying melodies are disconcerting at times, what especially establishes the full emotional vigor of the anime are the defining themes by which mood and general attitude are established and projected to an expectant audience. The hard rock opening declaration ballad called Gate is sung by Kisida Kyoudan and The Akebosi Rockets from Itami’s point of view and steadfastly secures his belief by stating his underlying premise – he wants to protect what he holds dear without compromising his principals. While this song does prepare the audience for the show, it is the closing pieces which brings everything together with unique arrangements. The closing themes for both cours’ are sung by the harem’s seiyuu: Hisako Kanemoto (Tuka Luna Marceau), Nao Tōyama (Lelei la Lelena) and Risa Taneda (Rory Mercury); while this is becoming a trend for most current shows, the heartfelt lilt they put into the songs via the characters’ voices lends a warmth and charm which helps to close the episode by thanking us for watching. In the first cour, Prism Communicate expresses the girls’ delight of being able to explore a new world, but at the same time, they are pleased to have met Itami; and now that they have met their foreign friend, the second cour’s ending song Itsudatte Communication only reaffirms that even if they know their time is limited, that should not stop them from having a good time. All of these songs only confirm this series is not about war between two realms, but a need to create friendships and cherish them, for that is more important than any material resources which they may glean from each other. This understanding of people from two different worlds is what makes this show a delight to watch and stirs strong emotions when those relationships are threatened … no matter what the cause.
This fantastic show is broken down into five disks spanning the breadth of twenty-four episodes, encoded in standard MPEG-1/2 DVD media format and 720×480 anamorphic resolution. The 16×9 aspect ratio playback helps to expand the panoramic views of this series, beginning with the spectacular views of the Ginza and other tranquil locations in Japan but at the same time, when we are transported through the Gate to see the seemingly pastoral surroundings of the Special Region, they are dwarfed by the technological sophistication of the former. While we may be used to witnessing these tranquil and primitive settings within any dungeon crawling anime, this show has the unique advantage of allowing the audience to observe how terrifying it would be if someone with superior weaponry invaded your home. The intimidating sight of the Empire’s so called superior Roman inspired armies army composed of dragons, cavalry, armored soldiers and menagerie of fantastical beasts stomping down the streets of downtown Tokyo is comical when compared to the waves of Green Men followed by Iron Pegasi and Elephants. But the amount of detail which A-1 Pictures put into these two forces only makes these battle scenes all the more fantastical, even if we know only one side will end in a bloody massacre.
However, it is this detail which is noticeable throughout this series, the lack of any discernible violence shown on the screen. Although we may witness an enemy reduced to a fine mist of ground meat by artillery fire, the resultant carnage is not shown directly, viewers only see corpses in shadow strewn across the battlefield. This consideration keeps the nausea to a minimum and the show can concentrate upon the splendid contrasts between the Special Region versus the modern look of Japan; organic tones of stonework castles, houses, and cobblestone streets, life giving flora, dull metallic iron armor and swords and natural clothing fall silent when compared to camouflage uniforms, sky scraping towers of steel and glass, tranquil traditional hot springs and the armory of the JSDF. It is the freedom of nature and pre-industrial technology plus sorcery versus the overwhelming knowledge of science and magic of advanced weaponry – light against darkness. We know what will happen when these two forces collide … light will be swallowed by the darkness unless one side is willing to capitulate to a superior force, or so it seems.
It is within this balance by which the studio encountered problems when introducing an awe inspiring foe called the Flame Dragon. While we may be familiar with this beast through other RPG animation, A-1 Pictures made the strange choice to completely animate this creature via computer generated imagery; although this may seem logical considering the complexity of the monster, why this one came out so dismally when compared to organic winged and metal dragons within the show is a mystery. For both of these examples and probably most of the other repetitive cast within the anime, they wonderfully animated all of these objects, but once they came upon this menace, somewhere along the line the studio must have skipped a few steps. This is a shame since this terrifying creature is the main protagonist within a majority of the show, and yet, they seem to neglect the fact that it came out so atrocious on screen. I was half expecting this draconian to be revealed being a mechanical contraption since they gave it such a metallic sheen versus the others of its kin. While the flying dragons which the Empire rode were shown with subdued midnight hues wearing dull iron armor, this one had an unnatural flickering orange as its main coloring, scales shinning more than even the soldiers’ metallic armor and weapons; and stranger still, this odd sheen reflected light within the darkest of environments, dimmest light sources glinting off its otherworldly armor. Finally, to compound this enemy’s problems, all of this attention paid to its appearance became unnecessary once it was injured, it spurting out all too organic crimson blood. While I can appreciate A-1 Pictures wanting to extenuate its description as being a flying tank, the studio went overboard to show something akin to Mekagojira with a cheap skin instead of portraying an all too mortal creature which could ultimately be defeated. It is a pity that the strongest foe in all the Special Region, which can even level the playing field against the JSDF, has an almost comical presence anytime it appears on screen … this is the way to spoil the mood for any show.
When you first see the box for this collection, you know Sentai Filmworks designed it in mind for projecting the main premise of the show – war. A dark and foreboding background makes a suitable backdrop for the amazing cast portrait: Itami sporting a rocket launcher, Lelei holding her bejeweled staff at the ready, Tuka embraced within the soldier’s free arm and Yao with hand on sword hilt, all claiming the center section, ready to charge into battle, with Rory standing over them, her gigantic halberd leaning by her side, weapons glinting in the vanishing light. But the most powerful image is the sunrise breaking over the horizon on the bottom third, with the rest of the Third Deep Reconnaissance and Surveillance Unit standing in defiance, almost imitating the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now. But the element which seems disguised amid all this action is a shadow cloaked picture of the Flame Dragon hovering menacingly behind Rory; its presence seems out of place since the eye is naturally drawn to the center of the illustration, and with how much darkness envelopes the creature, even with a crimson moon partially illuminating it from behind, unless you examine it closely, you might never notice that nemesis.
The same consideration in decorating the disks are also used within, but with an almost minimalist styling. Each of the five DVDs uses an army green ring framing the outer edge while a pale stone gray background is utilized to emphasize the array of characters which decorates the center. Although Itami is usually the focus of attention for each disk, the selection varies, but always keeps in mind that this is an action anime, allowing for that general attitude to be present upon every piece. So while the disks themselves give you an overall impression of the primary cast, the stern faced actors entice you into wanting to see the anime just so you can understand the meaning behind each person’s personality reflected on the decorations.
It is genuinely appropriate that the primary color for the JSDF, army green, is used to decorate the menu screens for this anime – it gives an impression that the backgrounds are printed upon one of the tanks or other large vehicles. A bright white impression of the logo stands out brilliantly in the upper right corner, while a delightful portrait illustration of a selection of characters decorates the left side, standing out beautifully against the drabness of that dull color. To finish the menu, each catalog of either chapters or selections is backed in black with white lettering and framing, and to emphasize the military background of the anime, the choice cursor is created from white sergeants’ rank stripes horizontally to create an incomplete box, with open top and bottom.
However, as with many other collections from Sentai Filmworks, they continue to repeat the same flaw on these screens by repeating the first minute of opening theme Gate in the background for the primary menu and closing theme Prism Communicate for the submenus; though this may have been done to get the viewer ready for the show with their charming and rousing rhythms, it quickly gets tiresome once it restarts at the end of the cycle. Sentai should have given us an option to turn off the music, but they might not anticipate the viewer to spend much time in these areas since they are driving us away with the endless, if however apropos cacophony.
It appears that Sentai Filmworks made a small effort to create an appropriate omake for this collection, but in the end, it does not do much for any otaku to enjoy this usually skipped over subsection. While we still have the general trailers for Sentai Filmworks’ other properties, clean opening and closing animations, and Japanese promos which are essentially the commercials for the show, the only other point of visiting this submenu would be to see the Animated Comic; however, in reality, they are actually four-panel comic strips based on scenes from the anime which are then read by the original seiyuu. Although they are humorous in their own right, one centered on Rory, two for Lelei and the last nonexistent one for Tuka, they don’t provide much entertainment aside from seeing Gate based manga in the original Japanese. To see the base work in a static form might have seemed like an original idea, but now in afterthought, it might have just been added to take up space on the disk. Too bad Sentai didn’t take more time to think this concept through and give the viewer something more meaningful.
Unfortunately, as in previous menus, the one thing we do get once again is the first minute of closing theme Prism Communicate, echoing in the background. Although I can fathom the appropriateness for the music in the main, why put it in a side section when all other shows have silence? While the melody is pleasing enough, I still don’t understand why put it in a place where most will only spend a few seconds before making a choice – seems like a waste of a wonderfully optimistic tune.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
It is a bright summer day for Yoji Itami as he travels on the subway, nothing else seems to concern him aside from arriving in time to attend what he has been waiting for all year – the doujinshi expo. This seemingly normal thirty-three-year-old is a self-confessed otaku, and his motto is he works only to support his habit, plus if you asked which as more important, Itami would immediately quit his job if it interfered with his hobby. This is his attitude as he gets off the train, headed for Ginza and dreams to collect as many comics as he can within this short day. However unknown to this teetering hikikomori, today his wishes will fall short as a shimmering Romanesque gate appears in the center of the shopping district, no one noticing until it is too late. Once it fully materializes, unseen doors open and from the portal pours forth: soldiers riding flying dragons as they soar into air, an army of men dressed in scale mail on horseback, archers letting loose a barrage of iron tipped arrows and finally hordes of beastly creatures which could only have been seen in nightmares, striding forth confidently into this strange land without any hesitation. They do not stop for anything, storming forward to conquer this foreign country which they know nothing about, with the thrill of bloodlust being all they care to drive them into slaughter.
Civilians scream in panic as they watch others die horribly by the sword, being bitten by every sort of monster, struck in the back by arrows, or roasted alive by aerial flames, but nothing will stop them as they run for their lives. Pandemonium soon ensues as men are cleaved by blades, women break down and huddle in balls for protection and children fall crying, unable to find the parent who is supposed to protect them. Bodies soon litter the streets, attackers passing them by in search for new victims, not caring to loot from this unknown world. It is only now does Yoji begin to see what has been happening outside, even as he tries to research more about the upcoming convention, his training starts to take over. Desperately trying to find a way to the exit, a skyward glance views the first of many draconian shadows passing overhead, but that does not matter as he encourages his first person to run instead of trying to hide. An unnerved police man takes random shots at a high flying soldier until one finally strikes true, only grazing the man before he rushes at the scared public servant. With polished skills, Itami blocks the wild strike from the dagger, holds the invader in a headlock and finishes him with a return blow with the same weapon. Stunned to see someone ruthlessly murdered in front of them, the rescued people stand in stunned silence, only answering after their savior addresses them in a sterner voice – they need to find shelter.
The avenues are filled by impending waves of unfettered emotions, no one knowing what to do until a certain otaku takes charge, only to be barred by procedure; even if are people dying, the police cannot break rules to let anyone into the Imperial Palace, all without callous prior to permission from their superiors. As the shrill ring from a land line breaks the standoff, release is given and massive iron reinforced wooden gates slowly open, allowing for throngs to hurry into a barren courtyard. Itami stands by and watches calmly as hostiles quickly approach, riot control squads beginning to report the status of Japanese forces directly to him as they watch attack copters quickly closing the gap onto their first targets. Sprays of an autocannon rapidly clear the sky of dragons, as the Ground Self-Defense Force surges into the area surrounding the castle, creating an impenetrable barrier allowing nothing through. Once the sector is secure, the massacre begins, copper jacketed rounds begin to pepper the quickly approaching army, their primitive iron armor being no match for these defenders and the threat is thoroughly neutralized. Only once everything has calmed down and the prisoners have been captured does the safety of Tokyo return, but not without massive changes.
Yoji Itami, off-duty Second Lieutenant in the Japanese Self Defense Force, for being in the wrong place at the right time and in recognition for taking charge of the situation and for his deeds of rescuing many civilian lives … is now declared The Hero of Ginza and The Hero of Nijubashi, has thereby been promoted to First Lieutenant. While this might please any other officer, this self-confessed otaku only cares for one thing – all due to the chaos of the invasion, summer doujinshi expo was canceled. As he falls into depression back at the base, the threat of this Gate is assessed within the bowels of the Diet, many confused as to what this new opening will bring in the future; thus under the pretense of gaining retribution for the many lives lost, investigating the threat beyond the portal, seeking new resources and assessing the possibility of peace, finally through many months of negotiations plus a new prime minister, the JSDF is sent in force through the Gate, in search of all these opportunities, but most of all for Itami, to seek what might be on the other side.
What they meet on the other side is not surprising as the JSDF emerges from the Gate: the Allied Kingdoms’ Armed Forces of three hundred thousand men has been sent by the Empire on the premise they no longer have manpower to repel an invading force of under ten thousand. While many leaders of this alliance argue to become the spearhead for what they assume will be an easy assault, the leading man Lord Duran is not so sure. Going against better judgment and ignoring any scouting reports, plans do not change once they learn no Imperial forces will be joining for this confrontation; Duran speculates Emperor Molto only sent his allies to eliminate any opposition in the Senate and therefore cleanse anyone not willing to follow his rule blindly. But this does not matter as the first wave launches with sunrise, throwing themselves against such a pitiful army many thinks will become an easy victory … even marching through a clearly delineated Danger Zone posted by the Japanese. It is this ignorance which spells the end as this premier force does not know what hits them as they watch fellow soldiers and monsters fall like sheaves of wheat, mowed down from distant Alnus Hill by what can only be called sorcery; they stand aghast as arrows of fire bite into succulent flesh, ripping away life from each individual it touches, leaving only death in its wake. However, the worst is yet to come as thunderous roars echo through the morning air, followed by what could only be called fireballs from the depths, striking down upon the ground and leaving nothing but devastation, fallen comrades, and horror in the craters which they impact.
Once the battle ends, of the three hundred thousand which began this slaughter, sixty thousand lies strewn about the battlefield in bits and pieces, unrecognizable for being human or anything otherwise. This equivalence for the victims of Ginza seem of little consequence for their families and those who survive from the Armed Forces know they stand little chance against foes with this type of magic. If they can eliminate the best the Empire can muster plus all their allies have, what choice do they have aside from surrendering? The Senate is divided on whether to give up or forge forward counter to these foreigners, but a few choice words from their pompous ruler and implications of becoming traitors are all they need to follow his lead. However as the JSDF settles in upon a holy site of this world, what can they do aside from wait to see what this small dominating force of Green Men can do against the might of the Special Region.
When I began watching this series, on the surface, it appears to be something akin to a propaganda show, like those from World War II shown to drive support from the people to stand behind the war. Secondarily, throughout the anime you get the feeling this story is also publicizing the prominence of the JSDF almost like an animated recruitment poster, especially when you fully translate the title – Gate: Thus the Japanese Self-Defense Force Fought There! This sort of self-promotion on the surface disguises the true premise of the series as being one of fantasy escapism, allowing dedicated otaku Yoji Itami to live his fondest fantasy, just like many others who love this type of animation and games wish they could do one time of their life; but the unusual component is the protagonist from this genre is usually in his teens, unlike Itami is who is thirty-three and seems out of place especially when we start adding the harem elements of the series. This, in turn, makes him a father figure instead of the normal love interest to the girls, which isn’t a bad thing for this show especially since his attitude does responsibly develop as he matures from an obsessive fanboy, but at the same time never losing the goofy undertones which engender him to the audience.
There is one other minor flaw in this series which is hardly worth mentioning, but it does have some value in noting: language. It is a smart ploy by A-1 Studio to have Lelei narrating the series, in part giving us a connection between the Special Region and Japan since a majority of this show occurs within the former, her responsibility as translator links the two worlds together. However at the same time, it is within this contact they do slip in maintaining a separation between two vocabularies, establishing early they do not speak the same language; and this was taken into account in the starting episodes, but then taken for granted as the series progresses. While this might not be a problem in the entertainment value of the show, there are circumstances where this verbal confusion plays a stumbling block and causes characters to act violently out of frustration, like Yao. However when comical moments are needed, they do use the tourist piecemeal approach of trying to talk and use a dictionary at the same time. But in most instances, the studio ignores this corruption altogether, not delineating when Special Region grammar or Japanese is spoken, allowing the viewer to assume they all have some kind of universal translator just so we can enjoy the anime. So much for all the hard work of learning a new language … why bother if this is going to be the case?
While one can ignore all of these slight weaknesses within this show, the viewer clearly cannot think this will be an ordinary dungeon crawling anime, allowing us to witness the tranquil and primitive settings as within this beloved genre. It is established from the start of this series that tragedy brings retribution, and with it the JSDF will be on the forefront of driving this vengeance into the Special Region; but instead of allowing for grief to overwhelm their actions, the Diet calmly amends their purpose by viewing this as an opportunity to explore a new land for both new resources and possible allies. While this addition of politics to a military propelled show may seem like a bad idea, if you allow for all this intrigue to settle in, it also buffers what could have been a disastrous end for the Special Region. And of course, when any army with vastly superior weaponry decides to invade or retaliate, it could be compared to magic, which is what they showed in the early episodes.
But at the same time, it was enlightening and laughable to see how Emperor Molto and the Empire think they could stand up against these foreigners. This sense of their own self-worth is what all conquered people think when facing greater forces: if they use whatever means necessary, even those which may be repugnant, they can win. While on the opposing side, as Itami and his recon squad explore this new land, all of their actions, no matter how minor they may seem at the time, gradually built consequences until everything touches others, creating a need to help those they inadvertently affected. It is this complexity within the storyline which makes this series a delight to watch, each action can cause a domino effect until they finally collapse into a massive fiasco of unintended repercussions. Then to touch back on the bureaucratic nonsense of other countries, it was disturbing how leaders will also go through any steps to influence what happens within Japan and the Special Region, but at the same time understandable as they are only thinking of themselves and their people; and in an inverse manner, seeing the Japanese government’s struggles within itself is infuriating as weak minded individuals only think of their own short term goals, not caring how others struggle due to their incompetence or a need to save their own political agendas. All due to these shortsighted mistakes or on the opposing view incompetence due to ego or undue influence, we can see that both worlds have their share of individuals who think they know what is best … but in fact, it is their own selfishness in only caring for themselves or an unlikely legacy which makes others suffer in their place. Might does not make right unless it is balanced by restraint, no matter how overwhelming the magic may be it cannot conquer human greed.
Nuances are what make Gate a series that is not a contemporary show, but something special due to the ludicrous if not essential additions to a monumental story of friendship found within an otaku’s mistake one summer morning. The simplicity of an ordinary life can be enchanting for someone who sees everything as a new experience, and the same can be true for an overburdened fan who only works to support his hobby – they both need a change to see the truth behind that purity. Each world offers a view which could never be imagined and now we can witness that beauty with the simplicity of childlike innocence or a jaded appetite. The choice is yours and either path leads to delight.
Japanese Language, English Language, English SubtitlesClean Opening/Closing Animations, Animated Comic, Japanese Promos & Sentai Trailers
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 11, 2017
Running Time: 600 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sharp LC-42LB261U 42” LED HDTV and Sony BDPS3200 Blu-ray player