Gate – Episodes 8 & 9

So here it is, the nationalistic overtones that I was warned about.  The politics of Gate aside, what really bothers me is that the show has lost it’s narrative.

The Good:

If there has there ever been a main character that is divorced in an anime I have seen, I don’t remember it.  The break up was caused by Itami choosing duty over his relationship, which adds another layer to him.  In episode 8 we find out that he is Special Forces, and in 9 we find out he is friends with the defence minister.  However, the failed relationship tells us more about the man and his priorities.  Frankly, the “Itami is really a badass” shtick is getting old.

The Bad:

Itami is the only one we are really learning anything about.  What was an interesting group dynamic has morphed into a more traditional harem show.  The girls are mostly replaceable side characters.  This is an unfortunate turn in the story, and the series has become the Itami show since they returned to Japan.  The last two episodes have been bloated by unnecessary scenes.  The Diet scene in episode 8 was pointless, except to show that at least the perception of our politicians as grandstanding idiots is something the US and Japan have in common.  Still, contrived as it was, the dressing down the Diet member received (did it have to be a woman?) was somewhat satisfying.  The shopping scene in episode 9 was similarly pointless.  If you needed filler you could have made the dragon battle last longer a few episodes ago.  Even better, you could spend some time on fleshing out someone other than Itami.

The Ugly:

Ah, politics.  The Diet scene aside, the interesting political message was the show’s statement about the Japanese Military.  I found it interesting that with Russia, China, and the US all playing close attention to what was going on with the “Special Region,” only the US has taken military action.  The commentary that the US raiders didn’t expect the Japanese units to “be this good” was ridiculous.  US Army Special Forces helped Japan form their SFG.  They are well aware of how well trained they are.  (They are well trained, by all accounts).  Somebody apparently has a complex.  The Japanese generally trusts the US, and do not trust China, so I thought this was an odd plot choice.  Any country with a decent military force would be deadly on their home turf, so I viewed the message as “we are just as good as you” and not a declaration of Japanese superiority.  However, I can see how some would take it that way.

Gate has lost its way at the moment.  There is plenty of room for good a story here, but wasting time on sideshows (I can’t even call it filler) and petty nationalism is not helping.  Gate is running out of time to tell a compelling story this season.  Hopefully, they’ll stop messing around and get serious..

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Gate – Episode 7

Now we know the answer (in case there was any doubt)

Gate mostly took a break from any serious storytelling or characterizations this week to have some fun with the new world. Yes, Sergeant, there are indeed catgirls. In fact there are catgirl maids.   I’m really surprised at the reaction or non-reaction that the show is getting from review sites and blogs.  Theron Martin is doing the review for ANN, which generally means that all people are expecting from the show is going to be the pantsu shots.  This week, though, Gate does indulge its pervy side a bit.  This was harmless enough, and not nearly as creepy as Rory’s orgasmic response to the violence in episode 6.  The one thing we did learn was the Itami is Ranger qualified.  Japanese Ranger School is based on the US Ranger School, meaning that, even in military circles, Itami is a bit of a badass. (the other notable anime character that was a JSDF Ranger is Batou in Ghost in the Shell).  Obviously, next episode will treat us to everyone’s reactions to modern Tokyo, and hopefully we will get a little plot as well.  Things has been a little light on story lately.

Caution, Mini Rant:

Something that has bothered me about the reactions I have seen online to the show, is the number of people talking about military fetishism or labeling it propaganda.  As a veteran, I find this really irritating.  Gate has actually been pretty light on military details.  There haven’t been any of the kind of technical breakdowns of tactics or military equipment that would have a military otaku drooling, and the motives of the Japanese government have been ambiguous at best.  What Gate does seem to show is a modern military conducting itself in a professional manner.  The JSDF depictions in Gate could easily be Australia, Canada, the US, France, or any number of countries.  I am getting the impression that people feel that the show is portraying the JSDF soldiers in too positive a light, and that pisses me off.  The soldiers in Gate thus far, minus the silly Apocalypse Now references, have acted very similar to how my unit acted in Kosovo.  I am not sure how they really expect the JSDF to act.  They aren’t going to rape and pillage their way through the newly discovered world, they are professional soldiers.  Whatever bias is at play here, it stinks.  Its hard to read stuff like that and not respond emotionally the way I would if someone said “That depiction is off.  That character is way too well mannered to be (insert race here).”

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Too – Episode 13 and Season Review


Disclaimer: The first part of this post is going to talk about the final episode, so if you are worried about spoilers and just want my overall review of SNAFU Too, please scroll down.

Episode 13: So it’s halfway into the summer season and I am just getting around to discussing the last episode. While it’s true that I have been busy, it’s also true that I have been putting this off a bit. As much as episode 12 was a fluff ball, this episode was heavy.

Imagine Yui’s dilemma: You like someone, but they have been burnt in the past and won’t open up to anyone.  Over the course of a year, you manage to stay close enough to this turbulent and sometimes abrasive personality that they finally start opening up to you.  Unfortunately, at almost the same time he starts showing an interest in spending time with you, you also notice some awkward chemistry between him and your best friend.  Your best friend, for her part, is another awkward social disaster who also can’t make her own decisions. You’ve been holding things up a bit because you feel bad for her, but you liked him first.  You’ve been waiting for almost a year for him to open up and now he looks like he may be falling for your friend.  So what do you do?  Well, you need to stay true to yourself and that’s what Yui does.  She sets up one last day together.  A nice three way date to the aquarium.  After savoring their friendship for as long as she can, Yui does something she nows might smash it to pieces. Looking serious and trembling, she gives Hachiman her homemade cookies and gives Yukino an ultimatum.  “If we each find out how the other feels, I don’t think we’ll be able to stay the way we are.  So this will be the last help we give.”  In other words, Yui isn’t going to hold back anymore. If Yukino isn’t going to try to get closer to Hachiman on her own, Yui isn’t going to keep giving her space. “If I win, I’ll take everything.”  After Yui asks if that is OK, Yukino starts to cave, as Yui knew she would (that’s why she says it’s unfair).  Hachiman steps in and says that Yukino has to make her own decisions.  Yui knew he would say something and in doing so he saves the girls relationship for the moment.  It’s a beautiful scene, but is also just “kicks the can down the road.” Nothing is really resolved here.  Yui likes Hachiman and Yukino likes Hachiman.  Hachiman likes them both.  The only thing that has changed is that Yui isn’t going to prop up her friend anymore and help her take the heart of the guy she loves.  Yui has told her that she is giving her cookies to Hachiman, whether or not Yukino has the guts to give him what’s in her bag.  And then ED starts.

This is the problem with this season, and it was the problem of the first season as well.  The show just stops.  This isn’t an ending.  It is doubtful whether we will ever get an ending.  Perhaps someone is planning a movie or something, but it doesn’t seem like there is enough left in this story for another whole season.  If this was supposed to be an open ending, it was a very unsatisfying one.  Another issue is that the final scene was very open to interpretation.  I’ve given my impression of the scene, but there are other explanations that also have merit.  That kind of ambiguity is a sour note to end the show on.

Season Review:

The way the season ended was really a downer for me. SNAFU Too spent most of the season being good or even great, but the last scene was convoluted. Even worse, it didn’t actually wrap things up in any way. “Everything will be different now, but we aren’t going to show you that, because the show is over.” What they did they largely did well. Things did get a bit rushed in the last few episodes, and that was even more aggravating considering that they were rushed to fit in this non-ending, but the quality if the show is still high. I like this show and I really want it to be good in the end. A well done ending will elevate this into a contender for one of my all-time favorites. As it stands though, it’s just a very good show. That might be good enough if the potential for greatness wasn’t so strong with this one.

9 out of 10

The State of the Service Club:

I already gave my interpretation of the ending scene. So here, taking the LNs into account is where I think things stand.

Hachiman is opening up to the idea that Yui likes him. I don’t think he loves her yet, but he is open to dating and spending time alone with her. He is also crushing on Yukino. Yukino’s big advantage over Yui is that she needs him. That’s powerful stuff. The two are so awkward though that it’s hard to see a way forward for them.

Yui‘s gambit placed the ball squarely in Hachiman’s court, so what she will do next is a bit of a mystery. Despite her declaration, I have a hard time imagining what her going all out to win Hachiman’s affection will look like. His verbal rescue of Yukino was a setback, even if she expected it. Given how awkward he gets when Iroha toys with him. It is hard to imagine our protag holding out against a sustained effort by Yui during a date.

Yukino has a lot on her plate. In addition to her family troubles, she has to be aware of her feelings for Hachiman at this point. To avoid heartbreak, she will have to move forward and be honest with herself. She can’t rely on her best friend for too much help, as she is a rival for the affection she desires.

Iroha is the wildcard. She’s a cute girl with a crush on Hachiman (I think it’s fairly obvious now) who is comfortable enough and direct enough to make a move at any time. She might make a move in response to Yui or Yukino or she might not. (in volume 10.5 of the novels, which wasn’t adapted, she cons him into taking her on a date.) Even if the other girls were content to keep things as they are, she will provide the pressure to keep things moving.

What I Am Watching, Summer 2015 Edition

Gate

I realize that my military experience colors my assessment, but I am really enjoying Gate so far this season. In fact, it is the only new anime I am following closely. Here is why.

Depictions of modern soldiers tend to fall into a few distinct categories: Badasses, Goofs, and Mopes. There is an element of truth to each of these, but for the most part soldiers aren’t that different from everyone else. Lt Itami and his crew touch all the usual military tropes, grizzled sarge, goofball, overeager, caring medic, etc. without making them seem like caricatures. This is refreshing in any medium, but is particularly surprising in anime, where traits are so often exaggerated.

Spend any amount of time in the army and you won’t feel like a badass. Trying to be a “Hollywood” style toughie will get you called out in a real military unit in heartbeat, because those guys get people killed. Goofs, while they exist, do not get the kind of free reign that shows like MASH or other military comedies might like you to believe, because they also can get somebody killed. Mopes also exist, but that “brooding presence commenting on the futility of war” shtick is generally reserved for the kind of downtime that most shows stay away from (for good reason, it’s boring as hell).

There is a flipside though, that most shows never touch on. The army is full of geeks. I could always get a game of Magic the Gathering in the barracks and during any given downtime, a group of guys in my Company would be watching anime. I remember once being completely bewildered by a conversation in the motor pool until I realized that the two guys in question were discussing an MMO video game.  Geeky guys with a military fetish that get picked on in school join the military in droves. Itami and his driver are some of the most realistic military personalities I have ever seen on screen.

This solid foundation holds the rest of the show up.  The goth loli, perpetually blushing elf, and background political scheming have yet to materialize into something really interesting, but I am enjoying the recon team’s adventures in the strange land enough for now.  Hopefully the rest of the series will strengthen some of the weaker links.  Gate has a lot of potential, but even if it doesn’t reach great heights, I give it high marks for it’s down to earth depictions of a modern military unit.