GATE’s Nationalism Is Right-Wing Becaus(ry

As much GATE is obvious and per se a nationalistic fantasy about Japanese’s superiority in terms of its ability to leverage the SDF in a fantasy edge(?) case involving dealing with a barbaric & backward group of people (if they can be called that), it still deserves some observation and confirmation that this is the case.

Kuribayashi & Mercury

First of all, the SDF is constantly shown to have a high moral ground not only compared to the ruthless and backwards civilizations they are dealing with, but also there’s a lot of posturing of the SDF as the good guys even when pitched as a faction in a larger geopolitical and domestic picture. The Japanese parliament has different factions and there are some political voices that GATE mentions and shortly slant against, most notably during the inquiry of Rory. There are other snippets from the anime that we see elsewhere, including the onsen showdown between different wetworks teams of various nations. Those are obvious and stick out like sore thumbs.

Well, the question I want to ask is more that does glorifying the SDF per se puts GATE in a place along the lines of other pro-military and pro-right wing stories, and just how so? If you recall JP’s comment here, one wrinkle I have is just how “right” is, say, Muvluv’s Total Eclipse? Yeah, it is very racist, sure, and is conservative with its themes and outlooks, but how does racism equal right-wing? Just like how is GATE right-wing? It’s easier to establish a counter for a pro-SDF stance (as far as fantasy escapism goes) as a liberal work, perhaps. And you could argue that the individuals from GATE’s fantasy world are treated like normal human beings, and not, say, Terra Formar’s roaches. The world beyond the GATE is fanciful (to the degree that exploitation is definitely a motivation for various parties) but what is stopping “bad things” from happening? Is it not the SDF’s own sense of justice in terms of what it (and more importantly, its employees and officers, and arguably not just the SDF but also other officials of the Japanese government who are “boots on the ground”) deems as proper behavior? Is there a time and place to abridge agency of an occupied group? Is not GATE largely positing this hypo for the sake of showing us what happens as result? Where does dutiful intervention of foreign states stop and imperialism begin? Aren’t these questions that Japanese right-wingers wish they get to answer as real policy talk?

Of course, we don’t really expect GATE to really look into that grey area because it is a dose of reality that probably don’t resonate well in some aspects (although the series did remind me how Americans bribed Afghani chieftans with Viagara is, as far as stories go during the post-9/11 incursions), but it did go as far as to make the issue table stakes, to make it seem like an interesting tangent. Maybe someone who’s read the novel can comment.

And it’s really about how someone who isn’t getting a hard-on by all of this would answer the same questions.

To answer my not-as-rhetorical-as-it-may-seem question though, I think for every question GATE posits, it’s easy to think about how another country or political faction or outlook could answer them in a different way. It’s not quite like how, in romcom anime, the protagonist often slips when s/he is in the bathroom with a romantic interest, but there are certainly a number of valid and quality scenarios in which slipping and running into compromising situations are not in the writing. By the same token, is the massacre or show of force always required in dealing with fictional barbarians? It might be a really enjoyable thought exercise, but from the eyes of this American, is that an appropriate response? Or rather, wouldn’t slaughtering a bunch of fictional characters be the place to do it, rather than review what sort of slaughtering that has happened with Japanese soldiers on the right side of a rifle?

[There is a kind of insulting corollary to this, and it is that this sort of escape fantasy is precisely the thing Japan needs for its nationalism as an escape valve of its nationalist instincts? Like how lolicon manga is an escape valve for(ry. Not saying I believe or endorse this view (or many of my other statements in this post), just stating the argument here.]

There’s also a bigger picture issue here. I think the moment you elevate GATE from a fun fantasy exercise into a parallel to real worlds, the arguments against GATE as anything but a right-wing fantasy falls away. As a corollary, this is an inherent issue with a non-Japanese take of the story if we were to come into the story, say, as a member of another nation’s armed forces. How would Americans, or Canadians, or one of the EU countries, or Russia or China, etc… I don’t know, but that could be a good way to highlight just what’s both good and bad about GATE’s choices. I would think many of us, taken on a white-label view of GATE’s politics, will inflect our own politics on to it, and associate its high-handed treatment of the SDF with our own notion of whatever military organization we most closely associate with. And that’s not a bad thing. It also kind of makes it a right-wing thing, though.

Maybe we all can enjoy GATE innatively as what it is, and put ourselves in the protagonist’s starched uniforms. But I think soon some of us would rather make different decisions than he does. Maybe.

And I think that’s the crux of a good story about these kinds of things, harem or not. For the most part we can either enjoy or ignore that aspect of GATE, and maybe that’s enough.

9 Responses to “GATE’s Nationalism Is Right-Wing Becaus(ry”

  • jpmeyer

    I think that the racism in Total Eclipse is actually pretty integral to the work and to the ideology in it because of the alt history aspect of the setting where Japan doesn’t lose WW2. The alt history is probably partly a handwave to give a justification as to why Japan can get to do war stuff again, but there’s also SO MANY other ways you could do something like that, like “because of the EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO MANKIND DUE TO AN ALIEN INVASION they amend their constitution to remove the pacifism clause.” They don’t have to go full-on “Actually, the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is cool and good and we should have kept going with that and the whole fascism thing.” And a ton of imperialist ideology was built on racism (like how the other Asian races are inferior and therefore deserve to be dominated by Japan), so it’s not just window dressing. You can also take the perspective of the European theater here, where then the Nazis get portrayed as like the TOUGHEST ENEMY EVER ENCOUNTERED, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to wanton slaughter like “barely even human”.

    Now I haven’t watched GATE, but from the various links what strikes me here is the complete and utter mismatches arise between trying to reconcile the current Japanese ideal with wanting kewl war shit. It gets funny where it portrays everyone else as ruthless imperialists trying to colonize the place even though Japan is slaughtering enormous numbers of people while also trying to colonize it! Like you’ve gotta seriously dig pretty far down to find people in like England who legitimately (read: not play-acting neoreactionary idiots) would be like “no really, this time we seriously will colonize India properly!” This kinda reminds me of some criticism I read about Silent Service a loooooooong time ago where because people didn’t really know the history behind Japan’s imperial/colonial practices, they missed gigantic chunks of subtext behind things that the reader was interpreting as peacekeeping or non-alignment policies.

    Like I say in the beginning, I think the tell with a lot of these military stories is that they dredge up all those historical ghosts rather than just using existential threats to modern day society. I want to call the latter the “Gamemaster Anthony school of war”: **every character country from every game, comic, cartoon, TV show, movie, and book reality come in with everything for a HUGE party war**

    • omo

      I think your tell is spot on…although it makes me think. Say Aldnoha Zero for example, which is fairly straightforward an opt from the ilks of Gundam or Yamato, which cleaves the war stuff cleanly (although arguably could even be considered more right-leaning in some other ways).

      I think that’s sort of also what I was saying earlier. It’s like there are very clear, obvious choices to go about certain things. If they went about it the way that reflects some historical subtext or in reflection of some policy/political item, then yeah, it’s obvious. And somehow this keeps on happening.

      But at the same time, could we say as a matter of genre of historical fiction, aping actual historical events is part of the schtik? I guess this would NOT apply to Gate or maybe even MuvLuv, but Silent Service that is kind of the point. Harder to say about Kancolle.

    • jpmeyer

      I don’t even mean stuff like Gundam where they come up with stand-ins for everyone to have a play war. Those are a cop-out anyway since you can’t get into the fetishistic detail of the equipment anyway. You can do stuff like Call of Duty does where they more or less you modern countries with the occasional fake one tossed in where it doesn’t really matter, (like make up some random Middle Eastern country where The Terrorists came from so you don’t need to single out a specific real country when the real focus is NATO VS. THE WARSAW PACT BUT RIGHT NOW) without pulling up all that baggage.

      Like GATE could still stick to stuff like FIGHTER PLANES VS. DRAGONS to show how TEH AW3S0M3 the SDF is without needing to colonize the place! Or, I thought of a Call of Duty-esque sort of thing where like ONLY GLORIOUS NIPPON can save the day in the Pacific or something.

      On a different angle, “dude shows up and immediately gets a harem” also has all kinds of ugly baggage with colonialism, but at the same time that’s in like every anime ever so it’s something that isn’t uniquely a problem in GATE like some of the other themes. Almost kind of like Gunsmith Cats or something.

      Kancolle is probably the best example of the tell since it doesn’t NEED to be related to anything real, much less real WWII battleships, and MUCH MUCH LESS real WWII battleships that were involved in war crimes!

    • Sarapen

      If you pause the video of the Cold War map in the first episode of Schwarzesmarken you’ll see that South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines aren’t in the US or Soviet spheres of influence. I checked into it further and it was exactly what I suspected – in Muv-Luv Alternative world, not only was Japan not occupied after WW2, it also kept its territorial gains outside of China. Not only that but the Kurils and Sakhalin were never annexed by the Soviets. Yes, it’s a stealth resurrection of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

  • Steven Den Beste

    The author of GATE was in the JSDF during the 1980’s and seems to have taken this opportunity to vent about a lot of things he personally resented about the experience, particularly political. I don’t think there’s anything more to it than that.

    (That’s the reason the JSDF in GATE is using old equipment: it’s what he was familiar with from his years in the military.)

    • Sarapen

      The things he was venting about were how politicians were stupid and the military and (it was implied) the emperor were the only honourable actors in the Japanese government, which are rather alarming things for a Japanese soldier to believe in.

  • Sarapen

    The escape valve theory is horseshit, though. Seeing problematic values espoused in fiction just normalizes them and leads audiences to think that these views are widely held.

    • omo

      But in this case, the ideas presented are widely held within those people groups. Having it represented in fiction is kind of the point. So it’s not “escape valve theory” but condensing beliefs into a fictional representation. What you said about horseshit is the expectation that it “lessens” the idea, which is not what I’m referring to. Putting it into terms such as GATE gives people a way to critically engage the idea without insulting people directly, at the least.

  • Steven Den Beste

    Unfortunately, with the latest episode the author is venting on his resentment again. Pfui.

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