When I’m not blogging about Japan and anime, I’m usually hanging out on J-List Twitter, Facebook or Instagram pages, interacting with other fans and discussing anime. Sometimes I see discussions among fans that surprise me and make me want to write about them here.
GATE is great. Go watch it. pic.twitter.com/ey1VXyWogM
— J-LIST 🎅 (@jlist) December 8, 2019
The other day we posted a tweet showing some Christmas art from GATE – Thus the JSDF Fought There!, a popular isekai anime that pitted Japan’s military against a society of medieval elves, dragons and other magical creatures who poured through a magical gate that just happened to open in the middle of Tokyo. It follows Yoji Itami, a member of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, an anime otaku who just happens to end up at the center of a harem of cute waifus from the magical world, including an elf called Tuka and a sexy demigoddess named Rory Mercury.
While this is generally a popular show, I was surprised to see some negative replies in our tweet, which could be summed up as
- GATE is a male power fantasy trip of wish-fulfillment
- The show glorifies Japan’s military
- The show glorifies Japan itself, painting it as super-competent politically compared with the bumbling actions of the U.S., China, and Russia.
My take on the GATE Anime
Since it’s founding by the great American writer Mark Twain, of all people, the isekai genre has really taken over the anime industry, as popular as harem, idol and mecha genres have been in the past. There are light-hearted isekai shows like Konosuba or Outbreak Company, serious character-driven offerings like The Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and even ecchi other-world stories like Zero no Tsukaima or How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. Some shows, like The Saga of Tanya the Evil or GATE, add a military element.
Do isekai shows represent escapist wish fulfillment for fans? Absolutely, and their enduring popularity is strong enough that I feel it’s somehow elemental, something we should strive to study and embrace rather than criticize. The isekai story-telling vehicle might even be comparable to Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces, which boiled down the most famous stories of human mythology into one basic story pattern, which both Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter follow perfectly. Incidentally, these kinds of escapist stories apply to female fans exactly as they do for male viewers.
In a lot of ways, the GATE anime was a standout isekai show because it took all the normal elements you expect to see in the genre and added an interesting political layer, because if an interdimensional gate opened up in the middle of Tokyo, other nations would obviously take an interest in it. Of course, the writers paint their own government as being more competent than they might be in a real situation because that’s the context of this uniquely Japanese story. James Bond and Doctor Who do the for the British government because that’s the context those stories are set in.
Military Themes in Anime and Other Media
There’s a genre of anime that’s called jieitai anime or “Self Defense Force anime” because it focuses on Japan’s modern military and provides interesting content for all “military otaku” in Japan, and, if they choose to tune in, around the world. Here’s a shortlist of anime and other media with strong military themes
One of my favorite anime series ever, Zipang tells the story of a modern Japanese destroyer that gets teleported into the middle of WWII, where it must fight both the U.S. and Imperial Japanese Navies to survive. Their greatest foe is an IJN officer named Kusaka who’s taken on board the ship from the future and reads all the history books there, and tries to use that knowledge to set up a truly unbeatable Japanese Empire.
A gritty side story about what the fighting was like on the ground during the One Year War, Gundam 08th MS Team is a treasure for Gundam fans and military aficionados.
If you like hard military themes in your eroge, consider trying the Muv-Luv series, which started out as a visual novel but has an anime and many spinoff games.
In the live-action arena, there’s a long tradition of Japan’s military getting transported back in time and participating in the famous “Warring States” period as in the Sengoku Jietai series. And at its core, the Godzilla series is a story of the many battles between Japan’s military and the fiercest monster imaginable.
What’s your opinion of the GATE anime? Are you a fan of military themes in your isekai anime? Discuss it with us on Twitter!