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Review: World enough, but not time.

I recently finished watching the anime Gate. While an overall enjoyable show, it does have its flaws. I've been thinking about it now and then since finishing, and two problems in particular keep bugging me.

The story begins when a gate from another world appears in Ginza, a shopping district in Tokyo. After repelling the incursion of ogres, dragons, and centurion-like soldiers who came through the gate, the JSDF mounts a counter-invasion and sets up a base on the other side of the gate--in the "Special Region." From there, the JSDF encounter all manner of monsters and mischief, usually either slaughtering it with their military might or wowing them with the superiority of Japanese culture--but more on that when I get to the second problem.

This constitutes the first problem, which is mostly amusing: Basically, the series is about as masturbatory an exercise in Japanese pride as any I can imagine. Well, actually, I can imagine more extreme cases, but the series gets pretty heavy-handed at times. At turns, it predictably glorifies the JSDF in particular and Japanese culture & heritage in general as the best bestest to ever best at bestfulness. Seriously.

As the JSDF import Japanese culture to the backwater Special Region, the reaction to Japan's wares and customs is pretty uniform. When introduced to Japanese cuisine, men and women of the Special Region alike moan and squeal orgasmically about how divine it is; awed by its crafts, enamored of its shops, charmed by its customs, they can't get enough of Japan's marvels. It's as though these know-nothings had never before experienced such delicate sensations as polyester or gluten, as fine confections and porcelain. Ultimately, this motif is more annoying for being stilted than for being overly prominent; it's more repetitive nuisance than cloying gimmick.

More pointed is the exaltation of the Japanese military forces. The JSDF obliterate in seconds any opposition they face, be it slaughtering a couple hundred thousand troops or beating up an arrogant prince. The might of the JSDF is evidently unparalleled. But actually. In a way, the glorifying is counterproductive: The ways and means by which they overpower every opponent both says a lot and not very much. They use tanks against calvary, machine guns against centurions. If I'm supposed to be impressed by the JSDF's successes, I'm a bit appalled at the use of excessive force and underwhelmed by the "challenge" instead.

Even gimmicks and war-crimes considered, the show is really quite enjoyable. I had fun watching it. However, such enjoyment plays into the show's biggest problem. (That is, problem #2.)

The show falls short of itself. The series promises a lot--elves and magic, political intrigue and manipulation. With side plots ranging from assassination attempts to jealous gods, there's a lot of world-building to explore. But the show ends somewhat abruptly without realizing even half its potential. I really wanted to see them catch that master assassin who turned impressionable people into his psychological puppets; I really wanted to see the demi-goddess tell her former "lover" (a goddess) that's it's over; and I really wanted to see the "evil" bunny woman continue to manipulate the empire into ruin with her clever cat-and-mouse game.

But, for whatever reason, it was all cut short. I'm sure there's an explanation, but frankly that doesn't make this weakness any less deleterious. I'd rather never have dealt with the assassination plot at all than have been so tantalized and disappointed, and so on.

This brings up a couple of questions about how we enjoy the media we consume. Can one still enjoy something that's ultimately disappointing? I think, as evidenced by my comments, that yes, one can; one just enjoys it less or differently (a note of bitterness in place of satisfaction). Oh well.

In this case, the show was fun, and I enjoyed much of it, but I certainly would have enjoyed it more if these plethora of possibilities had been explored lovingly rather than abandoned abruptly.


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