Yōji Itami is 33 years old, an otaku who is addicted to dōjinshi (self-published) manga, and an unenthusiastic member of the Japan Self Defence Force reserve. One sunny Saturday afternoon, Yōji is in the Ginza district of Tokyo to attend a dōjinshi convention when a strange portal appears, disgorging an attacking army of soldiers equipped with medieval weapons and accompanied by dragons and other fantastic creatures. Without really meaning to do so, Yōji uses his military skills to rally the police and the JSDF units guarding the Imperial Palace, who manage to hold off the attackers until reinforcements arrive in overwhelm numbers and turn disaster into triumph. For his actions, Yōji is proclaimed a national hero and promoted; but it is only afterwards that he discovers the sting in the tail:  he is to be sent through the still-open portal as commander of a scout unit. Once on the other side, Yōji and his colleagues discover a strange, parallel world – one whose medieval level of technology is compensated for by the existence of magic. Along with humans, elves, dwarves, cat-people, bunny-people and various other sentient species exist, ruled by a vast Empire that is surrounded by various tributary states. Battles follow, in which the fire-power of the JSDF expeditionary force overwhelmingly prevails; but as Yōji and his team get to know the locals, they become embroiled in various misadventures that are part of the complicated political manoeuvrings surrounding the peace negotiations between Japan and the Empire. And as if Yōji didn’t already have enough on his plate, he attracts the attention of various local women: two elves, a mage, a demigod, and a royal princess…

Based on a series of illustrated novels by Takumi Yanai, Daisuke Izuka and Kurojishi, and produced by studio A-1 Pictures, “Gate” appeared on Japanese television across two series between July 2015 and March 2016. Animated in a vibrant mangaesque style that closely follows the character designs of the original novels, the series combines graphic combat violence with political intrigue, anarchic humour and sexual innuendo. Yōji is an archetypal hapless accidental hero, but his character has depth and carries a certain ironic humour given its grounding in his otaku nature and his genuine goodness as a person. The various female characters from the parallel world are all stock manga/anime fantasy tropes, even if they are given character traits and backstories that make them a little more interesting. Unfortunately, the other members of Yōji’s squad are not as fully fleshed out as they might be and essentially remain background figures. Likewise, the story misses an opportunity to explore questions of international politics and the issue of colonialism, given that it graphically depicts the technology imbalance between the two worlds and hints at the pressure being placed on Japan by the US and China to open up the parallel world for exploitation. Dismissed by some critics as a “boy’s own” propaganda piece for the JSDF, “Gate” was nonetheless popular with viewers, and is an enjoyable tale underpinned by a fascinating premise, even if it fails to adequately explore the deeper issues implicit in the encounter between two societies with vastly different technological capacities.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2020. All rights reserved.