Have you ever wondered what would happen if those hordes of evildoers in isekai worlds, with their swords and arrows and armor and forced evil laughter, were ever faced with the might of a modern mechanized military? This anime shows you exactly what will happen! And it is not pretty. For the evil hordes I mean!

This is an extremely unique take on isekai, where not just a single individual from the modern world is placed, usually unwillingly, into a less-modern era world, but an entire state intentionally extends its reach into another world. The uniqueness of this show, as well as some of the awesome military displays, make this show extremely interesting and very memorable. While story and characters and even artwork are just a bit above average, you’ll walk away from this remembering the one-sided victories, and how great that makes you feel!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 8

Before I even dive into characters, I must note that everything in this show is driven by the underlying premise of the show. A modern military encounters a medieval military, with inevitable results. All of the characters are affected by this. Not that it’s a bad thing either, but I think we could all imagine a pretty typical isekai story containing these characters. In such a show, we would get a fairly typical set of storylines for each character’s development. But all of that is cast into a different vein for this show because of how unusual an isekai story this is. The characters find themselves in a very unusual set of circumstances, and it creates for unique characters without adding a ton of development to any of them. I’ll explain more as I continue.

Such being the case, the conceptualization for each character is very good. You have a whole set of typical character types at your disposal in isekai. Along with the very human main character, usually there are mages and fairies and elves and dwarves and demihumans, the fairytale types. This can get a little predictable and resultingly dull, as a handful of these types get together and support each other in their areas of expertise, encountering strong and usually stereotypically delusional enemies along the way. Here in Gate, upsetting all those tropes for our characters is the arrival of this hostile foreign power which none of them can do anything about. So the band that ultimately forms in this anime finds itself faced with sometimes typical adversaries, but by no means do they deal with them in a typical fashion. So as isekai characters, they’ve evolved into something else, something not so easily defined, and therefore not at all stereotypical in their design and development.

The best examples of this are Itami and Rory. They’re very representative of both worlds involved. Itami should be the stereotypical isekai protagonist. Suddenly he’s cast into a new world, and he’ll have to figure out how to get along with everyone, learn new skills, and put together a team, whereupon epic adventures will unfold. Not so here. The authors throw us off right away. Itami is portrayed as a typical otaku type we often see as isekai MCs, but in one important way he’s notably different: he’s not a young male! By his own description he’s over thirty years old! And while such an adult can often be cast into an isekai situation (The Saga of Tanya the Evil, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, etc.), usually they end up younger-ish once they get to that different world. Not Itami! He goes as he is! And not only does he go as himself, but it’s his job to do so! Since he’s part of the JSDF, his work which he proclaims is secondary to his otaku hobbies, he is ordered into the new world! One episode doesn’t go by, and we’re simultaneously realizing this is an isekai anime and that it’s nothing like any other isekai anime we’ve ever seen!

Then there’s Rory. Rory Mercury, the demigoddess, the shinigami, a priestess-type serving Emloy, the goddess of war in this other world. If you had to pick a face for this show, it would be this rouge-lipped, gothic loli’s sneering countenance. So as an isekai character, this type could take two paths. One, she could be an outright enemy of the protagonist. She certainly feels like that kind of character. Or she could join the MC’s group, but as that one person who can’t quite get along with everybody. Instead, another unpredictable outcome occurs. Not only does she join their group and fit in instantly, but she’s as close to Itami as anybody. She’s downright enjoying her role in the group!

Rory Mercury has landed.

But to me, the most unusual part about her is that she isn’t an enemy. Imagine your stereotypical villainess in isekai anime. Now recall Risa Taneda’s (Kaori, Your Lie in April, Ai Mizuno, Zombie Land Saga) voice for Rory. Yeah, that smug, sultry voice belongs to a villainess. The crazed, girlish laughter gets a little annoying, but it’s part of what makes her character memorable. Add to that the red and black we almost always see on villains and the vicious fighting style, and you’ve got one hell of a villainess, even if she’s a little stereotypical. Even this stereotypical character design has a great effect. The first time watching this show, you’re waiting for her to turn on the JSDF, it’s that pronounced. Eventually you pretty much accept she’s on their side, but I remember watching and wondering what setback she might deal to the JSDF if she turned on them. But then she never does. And in hindsight and in subsequent rewatches, I find the fact that she’s a reliable ally extremely atypical. It has a great feeling about it.

There’s a couple of things about this show that drag it down. One is an artwork matter, which I’ll deal with below. The other is the whacky ass names. It takes a few episodes to take Princess Pina Co Lada seriously (side note: Haruka Tomatsu pulls out her imperious voice for this character, and does a great job as usual; well known roles as Asuna Yuuki, Zero Two, etc.) . Try to say Lelei La Lelena three times fast. The Romanesque names of the royals are predictably bizarre for a fantasy anime (Zorzal El Caesar). Two of the Rose Knights are named Panache and Beefeater. I love the attempts at creativity, but at the least it makes you scratch your head in puzzlement, and at the worst it takes all seriousness away from these characters. It’s so strange, particularly with poor Pina, that it casts a little bit of shadow over this show.

I like to complain when there’s too many characters in an anime. However, in this show, it doesn’t bother me. For one thing, you can hardly avoid it in an anime about an army. Also, it’s handled pretty well. You may not remember the names of all the members of Itami’s JSDF recon unit, but you’ll remember the squad as a whole. And most of the military characters we see aren’t central to the story. In the other world, we get a few side characters every so often like Tyuule and Sherry and Yao Haa Dushi, but they have enough impact on the story that you can remember them all individually, while not appearing so often as to induce massive confusion in the viewer. So the large number of characters doesn’t really have a negative impact on this show.

All in all, these guys are all really memorable. Rory is well known in animedom, and rightly so. I know I remember this show distinctly. You know how someone will ask you what shows you’ve seen and suddenly you can’t come up with many titles, despite the fact that you’ve seen probably a thousand shows? This is always one I remember in times like that. That’s the power of uniqueness in these characters!

Artwork

Rating: 6

So this is another A-1 Pictures production. Speaking just about artwork, I associate a peculiar beauty with their drawings. The drawings in such titles as Sword Art Online, Sound of the Sky, and Darling in the Franxx are amazing, and heart-stopping characters like Asuna Yuuki, Shino Asada, Rio Kazumiya, and above all, the haunting Zero Two, are just a little unusual and astoundingly beautiful. However, this time around with Gate, it’s simply the unusualness that I remember the most.

If you recall my reviews of those shows mentioned above, you’ll remember that this unusualness resides in the drawings of the characters faces. For most cases, and particularly those characters mentioned above, the result is an indescribable beauty. In other cases, you look at it and wonder what’s wrong here. Gate unfortunately strays far in that direction. There aren’t any really beautiful characters. Rory is pretty, but she’s got the 1000-year-old-loli thing going on that messes with our perception (at least it does mine!). There’s a fair amount of fanservice in this series, and this could add to the beauty of the characters, but as you know I tend to think of fanservice as a negative rather than a positive when it comes to portraying beauty. Pina is supposed to be beautiful, as are her knights.

But it’s in her character that the strangest part of this artwork is most noticeable. Some of the characters’ faces seem unnaturally long vertically. This is particularly bad with Pina. I’m not sure what the artists were going for here, but it doesn’t end up in a good place. It’s so weird it’s almost unattractive. And while it’s most noticeable with her, perhaps because they style her as beautiful yet end up with this result, it’s present in most characters. It’s a big part of Itami’s design (think Klein from SAO), though it’s not such a bad thing for him. The younger the character, the less you see of this, which is normal, since younger characters always have rounder faces. Rory is the exception to that rule of course, but she’s depicted as younger regardless of her actual age.

So I was noticing this a lot during a recent rewatch of this series. But as I began noticing it more, I also noticed that around the middle of the series, episode 12 or so, you start to see a lot less of this. In place of it, you start to see a much more familiar styling take over. The faces start to look a lot more like SAO faces. While the long faces don’t go away completely, no new characters are introduced with that design, and it only reappears occasionally on current characters. Itami retains his design, but Pina most notably gets a much rounder face. So I can’t help but think someone was becoming aware of this as the show progressed, and brought it to someone’s attention and got this changed. It has its effect though. The artwork feels almost amateurish for a while, or it would if it weren’t for some superlatives in other areas.

I can’t marry both of them I suppose.

Chief among those superlatives are the action sequences. It’s funny, because if I refer back to SAO again, those action sequences are always underwhelming to me. But here, two sets of action sequences stand out. The first are Rory’s fight sequences. I don’t know if it’s her size compared to those she’s fighting or if it’s her relative size to her halberd, or something else entirely, but it’s very engrossing watching her fight. It’s quite a powerful experience. It will prompt some wows from viewers!

Interestingly enough, the other set of sequences I really like are the dragon scenes. Usually I don’t care for dragons in anime. They’re always drawn with very large abdominal sections, which seems impractical for flight and maneuverability and looks kind of silly to me. That usually takes away from the fearsomeness of appearance that dragons are supposed to have (Kobayashi’s friends aside). And while you still have some of that here in Gate, the dragon is extremely ferocious and believably overpowering. It’s so much bigger than everything else in the scene around it, yet the artists do a magnificent job getting good pictures of it in with all the characters moving around it. Whether that’s up close to the characters and some giant part of the dragon is in view or we’re zoomed way out and this towering monster is in the background, it’s all very well done. The episode where Itami and co. finally kill it is extremely powerful. It’s kind of the same thing with the modern military encountering a medieval military. You’re kind of interested in seeing what happens when these people encounter a dragon! Speaking solely from the artwork standpoint, the result is everything you could wish for.

So between the weird faces on one hand but the incredible action sequences on the other, I’m kind of stuck between liking and disliking the artwork in this anime. Those faces are so noticeable, despite the quality of everything else–this is a major production company after all–it unfortunately becomes one of the more memorable parts of this show. I’m glad somebody pulled the plug on this eventually, but the damage is done at that point. Still, if it weren’t for that, I’d be rating this art very highly, so I can’t bust up the whole thing over that. The show is very visually pleasing and stimulating all throughout. Hey, we get to see a dragon blown up by C-4! What more could you want?

Story

Rating: 8

Yep, somebody in the Empire decided it was a good idea to venture into a modern city armed with swords and arrows. And so it begins.

This entire anime is premised on this idea of a modern military encountering a fantasy world military. When I first learned about this show, I was highly intrigued, but a little unsure how the writers would manage this. I was not disappointed. There’s something to be said for watching characters struggle to overcome the odds, but there’s something else to be said for watching the good guys kick some serious ass! And from the moment the JSDF arrives on the scene, there be some ass-whooping the likes of which you won’t see anywhere else in animedom!

The JSDF slaughters their enemies in the field. You’re recovering from your astonishment at the scenes of the battles themselves, and then you’ll hear the Imperial reports. The entire expeditionary force is wiped out or captured. Thousands of soldiers killed at the first several encounters at Arnus Hill. The army-turned-brigands at Italica overwhelmed in a single night at the hands of gunships and a handful of infantry. It’s astounding, and oddly satisfying. I’m not sure why I describe it as “satisfying.” Obviously there’s a lot of dying. But somehow, you feel something like that when you watch the JSDF completely overwhelm this opponent. I think that contributes a lot to the success of this show. It’s a strange sensation, but I think most people feel it watching this.

This premise serves as the entire basis for everything that happens in the show. It gives rise to the various arcs we see throughout. To be based so heavily on a single premise, there’s a fair number of arcs within the 24 episodes. I like how these are handled. Instead of arcs occurring one at a times, they overlap just a little every time. Tuka’s troubles overlap with the dragon issue. Lelei’s adventures at Rondel overlap with the coup d’tat at the capital. Tyuule’s underhanded schemes twist in and out of the plotlines that bring about the Empire’s capitulation. It’s quite cleverly handled. It never feels forced or impossible. And it’s all prompted by the simple fact that this modern military force is here in this stereotypical isekai world. It’s so much fun!

For there to be so little to the story at that rate, there’s so much going on that helps develop the characters and helps us connect with them individually. There’s nothing super flashy about the story, no great plot twists are crazy surprises. But there doesn’t have to be for this to be successful. It’s managing the whole thing with the JSDF that makes it what it is, and the writers do a great job with this.

Overall: 8

Every time I watch this show, I wonder if the whole thing is kind of a propaganda thing for the JSDF. I use that word cautiously, as it has extremely negative connotations, but they’re portrayed in such a positive light that I can’t help but wonder about that. Not that it matters. I know almost nothing about the JSDF in our world, so I can’t comment on whether they’re known as a force for good or not. But it doesn’t matter really for this show. They’re the good guys, and we get to enjoy their actions in that position.

So while there’s nothing superlative particularly about anything in this anime, it’s so unique and so well handled that it becomes instantly memorable. You will be engrossed in the military operations and the fantastic action sequences. You will wonder why Pina has such a weird name, and why so many of the girls wear rouge. You will enjoy every minute you get with Itami and his merry band. You will stare in amazement as a dragon gets blown to Mars and every other nearby planet. It’s just a lot of unique fun, if I can describe it that way.

This anime first aired 2015-2016, yet there hasn’t been a second season yet (you’ll see people describing two seasons so far, but that’s just both halves of season 1). I find that a little curious, as a lot of plotlines are still open at the end of the first season. And certainly this show was popular by all accounts. So you’d think all of that would make for an easy decision for our friends at A-1 Pictures. Well, maybe we have something to look forward to in that regard. I hope so. I guess this theme could get old after a while, and maybe that’s what they’re struggling with. But I have confidence in A-1 Pictures at this point, even after the mess with SAO. I may be alone in my distaste for that S3 anyway. But I stray. I look forward to seeing these guys work through the politics and the battles again, and once more seeing our modern military power run over the bad guys in an isekai world!

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