And so, the anime fought / by shadebug

Have you been watching GATE? It's a pretty fun show like a more realistic Outbreak Company but I wasn't going to write about it because it seems pretty popular so I figure you'll find your way to it. But then I saw an article on Crunchyroll about it and suddenly it was time for a rebuttal.

Check out my rebutt.

Obviously you should read the article but my TL;DR for those that won't is that it's a great show marred by gung-ho military fetishism. For those that want to skip this article too, my reply is that it's a great show.

I'll let you read the original article if you want big details about the characters and plot. All I'll say is that it's about a gate to a fantasy realm opening in Tokyo and the army setting up camp on the other side because what else would you do if a gate to a fantasy world opens up in your capital city? I'll not even begin to question why the author of that article felt it necessary to open with completely unrelated lines of Frost.

Now, now, no need to get all riled up about inappropriate poetry

Now, now, no need to get all riled up about inappropriate poetry

What I will focus on here is the two characters that I think deserve the most attention in this show and those are the fantasy realm and the JSDF (the Japanese Self Defense Force, that is to say, their military). This show is about the clash between the fantasy world and the real world as represented by its envoys, the JSDF. There are individual characters in the midst and they are brilliantly thought through and fleshed out but it's that main premise that is the real juicy bit.

We geeks have a tendency to ignore the obvious when talking about things because the obvious is often no fun. We entertain a discussion of who would win out of Batman and Superman even though we know that the very premise is ridiculous. With GATE we are introduced to the idea that the fantasy realm is Batman: we may love him and think he's clever enough to get out of any pinch with his smarts and his shark repellent spray but the fact is that at the end of the day he's got mediaeval technology and the other side has helicopter gunships. Even the dragons are no match because why would they be? Sure, taking them down with a crossbow or a sword is going to be difficult but there's a reason nobody has used crossbows and swords for a century (yes, I'm aware of that guy who went into war with a claymore; he doesn't count). When you have armour piercing, 50mm rounds being fired hundreds of times a minute, D&D rules suggest that you'll be landing multiple crits a minute and they'll do all sorts of damage. The fantasy universe has no way to fight that.

Pictured left to right: Goliath and David

Pictured left to right: Goliath and David

Having read that, you might think that the author of the aforementioned article was right, that this is a show about how great the military is and how shiny guns are. But it isn't.

Now, if you want shows about the military and guns, there are plenty of those about. I recommend finding the single episode of Catshit One, because it's amazing (not that it's exactly heaping praise on the military either).

What this shows us is what the military really is, a tool of the government. The military is what the government uses to go to places it doesn't understand. It sends the military on peace missions when it can't be sure that the destination is peaceful. And modern militaries have a duty under international law to be peaceful whenever possible, especially the Japanese military.

The problem is that when all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail, and when all you have is a military, it's difficult for everything to not be a target.

The opening episodes of GATE show the fantasy empire sending hundreds of thousands of troops armed with bows and arrows to their death against the exploratory force that comes through the gate (and, initially, against the police and home guard that they encounter when they originally attempt to take Tokyo). They do this out of sheer pride and arrogance for the most part (and other reasons but you'll have to watch it to find out). Multiple kings go into that battle, believing they have a mandate from the gods and turn up to mortars, machine-gun fire and barbed wire. And that last bit is one of those things that you don't consider; even the simplest tools in a modern military's arsenal is devastating against a force that doesn't have the benefit of an industrial revolution behind it.

The military don't turn up to kill people, they turn up to make sure nobody else comes through the gate to kill civilians. They don't want to massacre armies, but they're not going to just watch a cavalry charge at them while they're still building their base camp and defenses.

And then they establish their foothold and they do what they're supposed to do: meet people, learn about them, try to forge alliances with them. It's something that the fantasy world has no concept of. When they save a town from bandits they basically explain the Geneva Convention to them after winning and explain that the bandits are not to be executed or forced into slavery but instead treated humanely. The fantasy world has to come to terms with somebody wielding great power responsibly, something that their kings never did.

So now you're thinking that the article's author is definitely right about how pro military this show is.

But remember, the military is just a tool of the governments that wield it. As the show progresses we see other countries starting to make demands of the Japanese government in the background. They want to see this foreign land pillaged of its resources and they don't think that the Japanese government is doing that. That's not to say that the Japanese government is some sort of saint in all this either. The Diet is shown to be full of bickering career politicians, just trying to leverage the fantasy world for their own gain and willing to use the JSDF or throw it under the bus as they see fit.

How politicians thank people who save a town from a dragon

How politicians thank people who save a town from a dragon

If anything, what GATE teaches us is that the world is only as good as the people in it are willing to make it. If you have good leaders then a military can do good things and if you have bad then it probably won't. What it never tells us is that the armed forces are great and war is the best. It even goes out of its way to create storylines where the military is impotent either because of orders from above or because they know that their actions have consequences. This is a nuanced story about real people in a believably fantasy situation.

I think the show is slated to return at the beginning of next year and I will be happy to see it come back. It's left itself open for plenty of good storylines and they teased what happens when you teach a magician science so I'll definitely be sticking around for that.

So while you go watch what happens when you pit an air-force against siege tactics, I'm off to see what else is on.