Gate 06 – War is Peace

Title CardForeground: 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.

4 thoughts on “Gate 06 – War is Peace

  1. Totally agree.
    Having a might-and-right onii-sama at a magic high school as protagonist is just bad storytelling, but when the
    invincible protagonist is an actual military it’s worse on so many levels.
    While I doubt this show was meant as propaganda, I can’t help but feel that the disturbingly large right-wing gung-ho subset of Japanese anime viewers is considered by the producers to be a core demographic. And pandering to their sensibilities is a far more repugnant kind of fanservice than any amount of pantsu. I can only hope that other Asian countries are not involved in the storyline.
    After the latest episode it seems we’re in for some full-on first-contact-between-cultures. It’s a potentially fascinating theme and an audacious one for fantasy, and I wish I could look forward to how it unfolds without the misgivings that earlier episodes have given me.


  2. “The thing is, the ‘villains’ of Gate thus far”

    Are the leaders cackling in the background while the soldiers do the work/die on both sides. Fundamentally the show is trying to show the soldiers as decent human beings (for the most part; arguably the raiders are only raiders because their lords sent them off to die and died in their place), and the keystone leaders as total assholes out to serve their own needs. There’s a power balance there that has only been alluded to in the first arc but is likely going to play out further as things go forward.

    “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 don’t know why; the entire sequence is a direct reference to/lift from Apocalypse Now which is arguably the keystone “horrors of war” movie. The author is quite aware of what he’s doing there given that he calls out the cavalry commander from that film by name…


    • Simply referencing Apocalypse Now doesn’t bestow any particular thematic properties. If anything, episode 06 was less about war being hell and more about loving the smell of napalm in the morning. If the original author really was trying to make an anti-war point, then I’d have to accuse him of being tone deaf as well.

      I commend you for trying to put positive spin to the show, and I have no intention of dissuading you from it. From my point of view, though, the angle you speak of simply has not been displayed thus far. ‘Fundamentally’, the JSDF and their allies have been decent human beings. The enemies have been, at best, fodder.


  3. This is mirroring the clash between the Conquistadors and the Aztec culture of the 17th Century, or the more popular anti-war anime of the island culture vs the soldiers of WWII. The JSDF is 21st Century. The Empire is 12th Century. What happens when a technologically superior race meets a technologically inferior one?

    But in this case, the Empire invaded first. With a standing army, along with goblins and little dragons. They came through the Gate into Tokyo the same way the Romans would into Britannia or any other “new” area to conquer. They were repulsed, and then the JSDF came through the Gate. So the Emperor acted more like a Shogun and got rid of his competitors by throwing them at the JSDF, and they were slaughtered. Now the Emperor is using his own daughter and her embarrassing “knights” to recon the mysterious enemy, but the red-headed daughter (get it?) wasn’t as arrogant when she saw the attack helicopters defending the walled city.

    The Emperor is the bad guy here, and I can see him executing his own daughter, and her “knights”, when she returns, out of cries of treason and embarrassment. The JSDF is just going to have to fight all the way to the Imperial Capital to convince the Emperor to stop sending soldiers at the Gate. No one has answered the question Why? Yet. We’re only told of the “holy” Gate and the Emperor’s arrogance.

    Either the Emperor has a magical ace card up his sleeve, or this is going to turn out like WWI with the Treaty of Versailles.


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