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.