Foreground: has three kids to feed. Background, far left: was about to quit after this last job to follow his dream of professional croquet.
Episode 06 perhaps encapsulates all of my major concerns about the subtext of GATE.
From what I can tell, most fans of Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakeri have enjoyed episode 06 as this arc’s climax. In particular, I’m aware that veterans of the manga have been looking forward to this big battle scene for quite some time, it being the big Hollywood-style showstopper that’s the high point of any gung-ho war movie. And, like many Hollywood war movies, I think it’s a bit too whitewashed of a portrayal that, at best, does a disservice to the tricky business of armed intervention and, at worst, perpetuates a subtext that approaches dangerously close to the traditional structures of propaganda. In fact, when I was reading the manga for the purposes of previewing the show, gunships mowing down countless unsympathetic foes to a self-scored triumphant orchestra was what really sealed my initial, worrisome impression of Gate. I wrote fairly extensively about my concerns when I intro’d the anime for RandomC, and I emphasise again that’s only my take on it, but since I find myself being unable to be anything but a wet blanket over episode 06 (slightly toned down though it may be compared to the manga), I thought I should elaborate slightly on the topic.
Let’s compare Gate to another relevant anime, one Log Horizon. In that, a bunch of modern Japanese are transported to a medieval world and find themselves militarily and technologically superior to the locals. The difference between it and Gate is that Log Horizon put in a lot of time to, almost exhaustively, discuss the politics and society of their new world and the implications of upsetting the existing balance in place. Gate, however, runs a bit roughshod over the New World. Where Log Horizon‘s adventurers at least sometimes found themselves in delicate positions with uncertain implications, the JSDF of Gate are consistently morally superior. Right and might. They cannot be contested.
The thing is, the ‘villains’ of Gate thus far, such as they are, have been little but strawmen. They are rhetorical punching bags for the JSDF to beat up. The marauding bandits of episode 06 are little more than scapegoats, lambs to the slaughter in more ways than one, offered up as sacrifice by the plot so that the military can have an evil enemy to crush. Gate, it would seem, is less the RPG and more the shallow FPS, throwing faceless mooks at soldiers to gun down without having to ask many tough questions. That’s normally just popcorn fare that can be easily dismissed as crass, lowest denominator entertainment most of the time, but in the face of Japan’s prime minister looking to expand the reach of their military (to protest, including from anime great Miyazaki Hayao), one can’t help but feel a chill wind sometimes.
The narrative of an industrialised power marching into a foreign land and putting the fear of God into the local savages is an old and unfortunate one. And there’s always the same spin that comes out of the aftermath. Something about the white man’s burden. Noblesse oblige. Spreading democracy. In Japan’s case, liberating Asia from Western imperialism. Whatever. The same kind of hubris underpins it all. The tragic thing is, they’re not always born of any particular malice, just an ignorance, willful or not, of greater sociopolitical schema beyond a blinkered view of self-righteousness. I know I’ve made this point before, but again, think of science fiction stories where advanced aliens try to uplift a technologically inferior race. Why are those so often cautionary tales? Why the Prime Directive? Gate doesn’t have much respect for those lessons, it seems, which is a shame because it’s otherwise a solid show. If this attitude was borne from an express hawkish agenda, then all the more unpleasant for a pacifist like myself. What can I say, I think imperialist Japan was ultimately a bad idea for everyone involved. I hope Gate can refrain from pushing it too much.