What GATE Means to Me

First read this Clickhole article about Bernie Sanders. Yeah, it’s gonna get political, because that’s what my problem is with GATE. It might also get spoilery so consider yourself warned on both counts.

It would not be fair to boil down GATE as a simple power fantasy about Japan and its SDF arm doing what it’s good at doing. But unfortunately there’s not a whole lot to go on in GATE in the theme department. It is a very pure kind of wishful hypothetical.

Unfortunately that sort of thinking also is sort of what Japan’s Asian neighbors find abhorrent about Japan’s behavior during WWII. You can ask the people of Taiwan, for an example, on how they felt about being Japan’s model colony for roughly 40 years. Yeah, model colony. I believe the Japanese can do a way better job as a colonial power than many European countries of the day, too, so this I share with GATE’s SDF author. It might not even be too different than from what you’d get if you asked the hapless farmers and tribals the SDF rescued in the show. Of course, that’s missing the point.

What’s missing from GATE are all the important stuff that sort of spoils the fantasy, basically, just like how a statement is missing in that Clickhole article about propping up puppet dictators. Or colonialism is problematic and inhumane. Or you shouldn’t really write a story where the SDF basically installs a puppet government. FWIW there are some recent movies where the bad guy’s end game is to do this! I don’t think Japan’s public has gotten that memo on colonialism yet. To be fair back then they didn’t have the internet! We’ve long since moved on from it! Maybe Japan’s post-war generation failed to take note on international politics and explained how things work to the Lost Generation because they were too busy building their economy? “Yo guys, but we’ve gone from colonies to just plain dictators that we prop up that serve our international interests, and proxy wars like Syria.”

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Is it okay to pick up girls in a dungeon? The question implores the gap between a dangerous activity and its database-neutered, anime-trope self. And you might think it’s not related to GATE. So maybe I should ask, is it okay for the SDF to install a puppet power in another world? I’m going to say in GATE the anime they actually answered the former question, explicitly, with YES. It might answer the second with YES too.

It’s election season in the USA. I’m following the primaries with half an eye, so don’t ask me anything other than what you can google in the news. But I am still following it with half an eye. Anyone with any kind of a politically-minded history education can see why GATE is built on top of terrible and backwards ideas and assumptions. But yet that show is a lot of fun to watch. It’s like why do bad things happen to good people? Why do terrible theme/politics happen to fun anime?

Why is nobody watching Haruchika? LOL.

Personally, what bothers me the most about GATE is that the SDF never picked on anyone of its own size. It’s one thing, like Overlord, when the schtik is about the gaps, the overpowering difference between Ains and his enemies. It’s another when the SDF are merely representative of Japan’s military might, serving Japan’s self-interests in a way that mirrors its WWII ambitions, by doing the things SDF does, against a bunch of people armed with horses and spears. I suppose here is where reasonable opinions can differ, with the caveat of the latter school of thought would probably accuse the former of being obtuse of the political context. GATE, other than the onsen episode (which is arguably the least realistic episode LOL), never dealt with a world with more than two countries. Its simplicity is infantile, garden variety fanfiction level. It’s not much better than seeing Tanechan’s character half-yiffing because that’s what the script says (and sign me up!).

And to a degree I don’t blame them. The actual politics of Japan’s SDF and its place in the world, its relationship with China and Korea, and the role the US play, are all really complicated. This is on top of Japan’s own “trauma” from WWII and onward, its largely pacificist outlook, and the inner conflict, motivations between the different groups within Japan’s political theater.

Maybe I would have liked GATE more if it wasn’t about the SDF, whose options typically stay within the “militaristic violence” side of things instead of, say, subterfuge or political maneuvering. Say if Japan had a real intelligence agency or something. At least that would been more of a challenge. The story sets up enough of this to make that possible, but nope. It is through and through a fantasy by a grunt-level guy.

Which is fine. I mean in the US we have ignorant people fantasizing about other kinds of nonsense. And that even isn’t the worst part, it’s the ignorance of people who don’t get why fantasizing about that is bad.


One Response to “What GATE Means to Me”

  • jpmeyer

    This will take a few passes but looooooooooooooooooooooool that Vox article. Like it can’t even comprehend of a world without American military hegemony, much less one where that doesn’t exist and everything p much works out. Or that maybe China won’t go around conquering all of Asia unless America shows up and says “Our words are backed with NUCLEAR WEAPONS”. Or that Japan is like naturally warlike and without America basically enforcing pacifism on them they’ll try to recreate the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

    I can kind of grasp Japanese people, especially younger ones not fathoming “colonialism is bad” from the distance now when you look at it in the context of “Well Korea/China/Taiwan are all Japan’s equals now so how bad could it have been?” Then include a comparison of the outcomes of Western colonies with Japan’s colonies and it gets even harder to intuitively grasp.

    Of course where it gets weird is somehow tying that in with a “Let’s do our colonialism right this time” angle, which would require some kind of…guilt? apprehension? about the whole thing. Like it’s one thing to not realize the ideas baked into it are bad if they’re not really ones that you grapple with, but that’s different from intentionally putting in those ideas (in whatever sort of form they ultimately end up taking).

    Like in the end, I think it kind of wouldn’t really matter if the message/theme/fantasy/etc. was like “I wish we could do cool military stuff like everyone else does” or even a more extreme version of that like “I wish we could do cool military stuff like everyone else does, oh and also we’re way better than everyone else too and our military’s dad could beat your military’s dad because we have our YAMATO DAMASHII”, it’s when you go “Actually, the bad stuff we did was good and wasn’t even bad at all” where that trickles up.

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