86 – 02 – The Two Decisions

Aldrecht, Spearhead’s Juggernaut engineer and mechanic, scolds Shin once again for being so reckless with a piece of equipment for which there are no spare parts…except those from the Juggernauts of fallen soldiers. But relying on such parts isn’t a problem for someone with the callsign Undertaker, who has an entire chest full of names of the dead under his command.

In this 86th district where Shin and his comrades are stuck having to fight for an uncaring republic and oblivious public, the skies are blue and bright, and the grass and trees as green and lush as the other 85 districts of Magnolia, but all that matters is fighting the next battle and coming out of it in one piece.

No doubt used to taking the initiative due to incompetent or disinterested Handlers, Shin deploys Spearhead well before Lena gives the initial order to sortie, and establishes a different kill zone different from the one she chose. Lena trusts an elite processor’s instincts, and the battle commences as a cloud of tiny radar-jamming machines darken the sky.

They provide cover to a host of menacing, gleaming chrome Legion machines, a stark contrast to the rusty, old-fashioned, and very manned—Republic Juggernauts. Honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people inside the Legion machines too, but I don’t think 86 is going in that particular direction.

Instead we get a bad-ass battle sequence scored by the Sawano Hiroyuki, whose reliably epic orchestral bombast calls to mind both greats like Attack on Titan and not-so-greats like Aldnoah.Zero. I’m on record as being down with anything for which this guy does the music; he always elevates it.

That said, the battle is more than awesome music. Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and outteched, Shin and Spearhead prove to be a formidable match for the contingent of unfeeling autonomous machines. The battle is won without any casualties.

86 establishes its structural template of spending one half with Lena and half with Shin, only the reverse of the first episode. Lena’s half follows Shin’s, and we see how calm, quiet, and sterile her experience of the battle is compared to Shin and the other soldiers.

It’s also nice to see her exchange with Shin repeated so we can catch her facial expressions; particularly her reaction to her data transmission snafu she made. By not cutting back and forth between the two in real time, the distance between their experiences is amplified. Pressing the point that Lena’s experience is all theory and Shin’s is all practical, Lena pays a visit to a lecture hall at the academy.

Lena explicitly asked to address the future Handlers, and she starts by debunking many of the lies their professor was spouting. To her, the 86 are in fact human, even if they don’t have silver hair and blue eyes—the Alba clearly being an analogue to the “superior” Aryan race espoused by the Nazis.

Lena is confident her uncle will bail her out of any potential punishment for speaking the truth, but more troubling is that none of the youths seems to share her concerns, while Annette would clearly prefer her friend keep her head down. Lena is spitting in the wind.

She returns to her room and engages in enthusiastic conversation with Shin, and later his entire unit. Many of them still aren’t quite sure what to make of this Handler with a conscience, only that despite being the same age she seems hopelessly young and naïve.

Judging from some of their downcast expressions, it’s almost rubbing salt in the wound that she’s being so nice to them, considering she’s working for the system forcing them to fight and die while denying their status as human beings.

Still…Lena is nice, and kind, and wants to understand and help in any way she can. Just as her nation made the two decisions to create 85 districts for the Alba and one for the 86, she made two decisions as well: first, to be Spearhead’s Handler, and second, to treat them like human beings. She even hopes Shin reaches his combat term limit so he can regain his citizenship and get to do something or go somewhere fun.

I don’t know if Shin smirks because what she said genuinely raised his spirits, or if it’s a grim scoff, as if to say “would you listen to this kid?” All I know is he’s already more interesting than Inaho, and any dialogue with a Handler with ideals and morals must be a pleasant surprise in a world where most surprises aren’t.

86 – 01 (First Impressions) – There but for the Grace of God Go I

Here’s a little story about the term “86” that I looked up after the title of this series piqued my interest: back in the 30s during prohibition there was a speakeasy on 86 Bedford Street in NYC, and when the cops arrived, its patrons would “86”—quickly flee—from the premises using various hidden exits. Since then, 86ing has also developed as a term to reject, discard, or cancel—86ing an idea, and such.

The second and now more common definition applies to the eponymous military unit of discarded humans in the 86th District of the Republic of San Magnolia. Despite national propaganda in the other districts that assures the public that war is now fought by bloodless drones, that’s just a lie: the 86 are very much flesh-and-blood, and they’re dying for a nation that doesn’t know they exist.

The 86 units are led by Processors, who answer to Handlers operating from the safety of San Magnolia’s luxurious military HQ. Major Vladilena Mirizé is one such Handler—and also one of the only ones with a conscience and who feels the weight of the lives at her fingertips. Much of HQ is a den of hedonism, with drunk and carousing Handlers either unaware their decisions cost human lives, or worse: they’re well aware and don’t care.

Lena cares, however. She tries to keep an open and cordial dialogue with her Processors on the battlefield, who thank her sarcastically. In between operations, she hangs out with her researcher friend Annette, who like Lena is following in her late father’s footsteps. One day, Lena is reassigned by her commanding general, who is also her uncle, to command of Defense Line 1 in Eastern Defense Line Combat District 1, AKA the Spearhead Squadron.

Warning his niece—the youngest person ever to rise to the rank of Major—that feigning modesty will make unwanted enemies, the General also informs her that the Processor who leads Spearhead is called Undertaker, AKA Reaper, which is notorious for destroying Handlers, either by forcing them to retire or change units or, in some cases, commit suicide. Lena, insistent she’s no coward, takes the assignment, but not without a generous helping of dread.

From there the perspective shifts to Processor Shin and the 86, of whom we caught a brief glimpse prior to the title card, fighting a battle that was a chaotic storm of smoke, metal, fire, and blood. But during their downtime, the unit of “grizzled veterans” is nothing more than a bunch of kids. Iron-blooded orphans, if you will, seeking fun and joy and love where they can, but also carrying the scars of their ordeal and their lot in life on their sleeves.

The 86 are mustered for a sortie, and one of them ends up seriously injured inside his spider-like mecha. There are no medics, but Shin the “Reaper” puts his comrade out of his misery with a single bullet, cutting a scrap of metal out of the mecha and later carving his name on it—a grim ritual for a leader tortured by loss and the futility of their shared struggle.

That night after dinner when the 86ers are cleaning up and preparing to go down for the night, Shin and the others receive a message in their ears from their new Handler, Major Vladilena Mirizé, cheerfully introducing herself and looking forward to working with them. Shin answers cordially, while one of his soldiers sketches a caricature of the woman he hears: an aristocratic pig in a frilly dress.

It is in this horrifically unbalanced world of haves, have-nots, and One Big Lie that a young man and young woman from different sides are introduced. Will the rumored “voices of the dead” that caused Lena’s predecessors to go mad have a different effect on her, due to her commitment to regarding the 86 as actual living, breathing people?

Will Lena, in turn, show the perennially abused and oppressed child soldiers that not all Handlers are sadistic scum who deserve a fate worse than death? Follow the visually impressive and thematically compelling 86 along with me, and ye shall find out.

Attack on Titan – 62 – Looking Past the Hell

If you like Reiner Braun, you’ll love this episode. If you’re an anime-only watcher wondering where the hell Eren, Mikasa and Armin are, well…you’ll have to settle for flashback cameos for now. When Reiner saw the latest (and possibly last) generation of Titan candidates as his own candidate circle last week, that was a prelude to the episode we get this week, in which the story of his generation of candidates unfolds.

Reiner, Annie, Bertholdt, Pieck, and the Galliard brothers Marcel and Porco make up that previous generation. Back in the day, Reiner was extremely unsure of himself and his talents, much like Falco is in the present, and was bullied by Porco. Marcel kept his bro in check, but Annie is too busy smushing grasshoppers into goo to get involved in the scraps.

Unlike Falco, Reiner towed the company line without hesitation, and the Marleyan commanders valued his loyalty. To Reiner’s shock and Porco’s outrage, Reiner ends up inheriting the Armored Titan. He and the others (minus Porco) end up in a parade, which he leaves when he spots his Marleyan dad. Unfortunately, his dad wants nothing to do with him.

The new Titan Warriors are sent by Commander Magath to Paradis, and on their first night there, Reiner learns that Marcel set things up so Reiner would get the Armored Titan instead of his brother. Like Falco intends to do with Gabi, Marcel wanted to protect his brother and give him a longer life. That morning the group is ambushed by Ymir, but Marcel saves Reiner at the cost of his own life.

When Reiner stops running later that morning, Annie and Bertholdt eventually catch up with him, and he’s a blubbering wreck. Annie has no time for his cowardice and starts to beat the shit out of him, insisting that their new priority should be to retrieve the Jaw Titan and head home.

As she beats him, Annie says both Marleyans and Eldians are a bunch of lying bastards, so who gives a shit, but Reiner rises like a creepy zombie from behind her and puts her in a chokehold. He insists they continue the mission. If they tried to go home now, they’d be fed to their successors.

After this scuffle, we know what happens: Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie attack Shiganshima as the events from Titan’s very first episode are repeated from the Titans’ POV.

The three mix with the district’s refugees and join the 104th Cadet Corps with Eren & Co. We know that story too. Fast forward five years, and Annie tracks down Kenny Ackerman, but is unable to get any info about the Founding Titan (i.e., Eren) from him, and he doesn’t buy that she’s his long-lost daughter.

Annie wants to head back to Marley, certain that the intel they’ve amassed these five years will be sufficient, but Reiner knows better: They don’t have the Founding Titan, which means their mission isn’t complete, which means they won’t be welcomed back.

As Reiner’s memories of his undercover mission on Paradis progress, we see watch present-day Reiner prepare to commit suicide by placing a rifle in his mouth. He only hesitates when he overhears Falco, probably the candidate most like him in his candidate days, discussing his problems with one of the wounded veterans at the hospital (who, judging from his black hair and green eyes, could…could be an older Eren in disguise).

Falco could be one of the last Titan warriors, and he needs all the help he can get from those who served before him. Reiner decides he won’t end his life today. His life might be hell right now, but he’s still able to look beyond that hell to, in this case, the hell that awaits Falco and his comrades. If he can stop them from reliving that hell, remaining alive will have been well worth it.

Attack on Titan – 61 (S4 E02) – One Last Gasp

They’ve emerged from four years of war the nominal victor, but Marley can’t rest on its laurels. The generals are in consensus that their strategic advantage of the Titans hangs by a thread. Of particular concern is the quickly advancing aviation industry. They’re on the wrong end of history, and the entire episode is suffused with that bleakness and weariness.

Reiner actually survived the naval bombardment, but it’s just a taste of what the future will bring. We also meet his comrades Galliard (Jaws, who inherited his Titan from the imprisoned Ymir) and Pieck (Cart). Interestingly Pieck has trouble walking on two feet as a human since her Cart is a quadruped.

Back on his feet, Reiner tracks down Gabi and the other three Titan candidates, much to Gabi’s elation. When the funnel of a passing ship suddenly covers them in shadow, he briefly sees four of his comrades from back when he was their age, including Bertholdt and Annie.

Our quartet of kids consist of two goers-with-the-flow (Udo and Zofia), a True Believer in Gabi, and a Skeptic in Falco. On the train home to Liberio, Gabi is all too happy to accept praise for her prowess in battle and looks forward to being the next Armored. Falco take on that mantle in her place, but not for glory. You see, he simply wants Gabi to live past age twenty-seven. Braun isn’t altogether dismissive of Falco’s attitude.

Earlier in the episode we’re reminded that even decorated Eldians like Zeke and Reiner are still considered Less Than by their non-Eldian leaders, and as such they are not entitled to privacy. When we arrive in the ironically-named Liberio, the Eldian soldiers reunite with their families—one by one we see moments of unbridled love and joy (RABUJOI!)—from people who can use any and all such moments they can get.

Again, Falco zags while Gabi and everyone else zigs. Before joining his family, he checks in on a group of Eldian soldiers who are suffering severe PTSD. The supposed doctor even mimics the sound of a bomb to freak them all out, and only Falco tries to calm them down.

At the Braun family dinner, more praise than food is heaped upon Gabi’s plate, but when Reiner is asked about his time on Paradis with the descendants of the “evil” Eldians who fled there, his response becomes a rant in which he suggests there were “all kinds” of people there, not just monsters. The matriarch quickly insists that the Eldians on Paradis are the source of all “good” Eldians’ problems, and must be wiped off the earth.

At the next meeting of Zeke, Reiner, Galliard, Pieck and Colt (Zeke’s eventual replacement), Zeke announces that they’ll be launching a new offensive on Paradis, with the goal of conquering the island for Marley within a year—which is all Zeke has left in the Beast Titan. Their meeting is being monitored by non-Eldian Marley officials, who pick up on Zeke’s offhand “not in this room.”

As Reiner watches the young candidates spar, he dreads returning to the “pure hell” that was Paradis. But considering how he described Sasha stealing a potato to eat way back when (I believe that’s what he was on about), and his comment to Falco about taking over for him instead of Gabi, what he says to his family and what he believes may be very different. He’s just aware that those who weren’t on that island wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shuumatsu no Izetta – 06

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While most of Izetta and Fine’s scenes this week are kept pretty lightweight, the episode also demonstrates how precarious Eylstadt’s situation remains despite the early success of the White Witch’s unveiling. It also shows the lengths to which the enemy will go to learn of Izetta’s weakness, and the lengths to which Sieg will will go to stop them.

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As Berkman gains access to the Empire’s ultra-top-secret “Division 9” research “workshop”, Elvira attempts to stuff Izetta in a tight corset, then makes her practice dancing with Bianca. Finally, Fine and Izetta “disguise” themselves as townfolk in order to sample some desserts from a cafe Fine used to sneak off to before she was Archduchess.

Suffice it to say, this is extremely reckless behavior during a time of war, even if their disguises were any good (they were not). The episode tries to have Fine pass off their exposure as a good thing, furthering her popular tomboy image and such, but I wasn’t buying it; this whole detour to the bakery was nothing but problematic.

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It’s Sieg who serves as audience surrogate when he says gently but firmly, “no more” to Fine regarding sneaking off into town. She’s not a precocious tomboy anymore, but the leader of a country that still hangs by a thread. One of the frays in that thread is swiftly dealt with thanks to Sieg and his crack counter-espionage team.

That means the death of Jonas and an uncertain fate for the Germanian spy who didn’t gain any information. I enjoyed Jonas as an everyman on the front lines to this point, but unless Sieg was as ineffective at protecting Fine’s interests as Bianca was this week, Jonas’ death warrent was signed the moment the spy knew he knew something.

With one problem taken care of relatively easily, Sieg leaves it to Fine and Izetta, travelling by flying gun on a circuitous route, to persuade the powers meeting in Britannia to do something about the Germanians, preferably before they unveil a secret weapon of their own from Division 9.

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Shuumatsu no Izetta – 05

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Fine’s coronation is also the stage chosen to unveil Izetta to the world, and it’s fun to witness medieval ritual juxtaposed with flashing still and movie cameras of the modern era, just as it’s fun to watch Izetta take care of business, wiping out the modern might of the Germanians with magically enhanced medieval weapons.

The first stage in Eylstadt’s strategy to, well, survive, is to make the world know and believe who and what Izetta is. But neither the Germanian king nor Major Berkman doubt whether she’s real. The king wants her, badly, while Berkman wants to cut Eylstadt’s propaganda off at the knees by identifying and exploiting Izetta’s still-unknown-to-the-enemy weakness.

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While fun, the merging of eras is also jarring, just as it’s jarring to see Izetta unleash hell against the Germanian army in front of cameras, then return to the palace to be praised like a good girl who finished her chores. It’s a lot for Izetta to handle, but she has promised to serve ad protect Fine with her dying breath; she’s not the kind to back down just because things are tough…or weird.

More than anything, Izetta is a witch who has been used dwelling in the shadows and edges of the world. Now she’s the exact opposite: a global celebrity with a fairy tale story so compelling that the people want to believe. Not only does Eylstadt want them to believe, they need them to do so, in hopes of gaining powerful allies against Germania.

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If this is to be merely a 12-episode show, I’m pleased with the generous pacing so far. Not only is Izetta unveiled and placed into immediate use in order to quickly build up her public persona as a magical force of resistance against a no-longer invincible-looking enemy, but the enemy strikes back just as fast, advancing on the Veile Pass – a place with no Ley Lines for Izetta to draw from.

The Germanian King’s adviser Eliot is sure to remind his majesty that the reason they’re invading Eylstadt is to gain supply routes between them and Romulus (i.e. Italy), not merely to capture a witch. This pass is part of that route. As it happens, Private Jonas is assigned to its defense, which won’t include bombings due to a.) the thick fog and b.) the fact the pass is worthless without intact roads to use.

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Sieg Reich and Fine’s royal guards (who are all or mostly female special forces) draw up an intricate plan that serves to hide Izetta’s inability to use magic, by drawing upon stagecraft and showmanship in a battlefield setting.

A dummy Izetta is flown behind a plane, lands on a ridge, and is replace by the real Izetta (refusing to let them use a body double), who must talk a big talk before planted bombs are detonated, taking out the advancing enemy.

It works far better than it should have, thanks to an abundance of luck in both weather and geography. But conditions won’t be so favorable in every Ley Line-less area the Germanians target, so even though Berkman hasn’t found Izetta’s weakness yet, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually.

It may happen far sooner than Eylstadt thinks, thanks to some bad luck: Berkman has a spy posing as an Eylstadt officer who happens to be in the same outfit as Jonas. There’s every indication either he or Jonas overheard Schneider talking very loudly about Izetta’s weakness by a creek.

That’s the kind of carelessness that can lose a war, and I’m not optimistic Izetta won’t be re-captured by Berkman at some point.

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Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans – 17

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As news of the failed uprising on Dort 3 spreads, other Dort colonies’ workers mobilize for war, just as the “Regulatory Bureau” intended. Those workers soon discover their weapons have been rendered useless and the main Arianrhod fleet lies in wait just beyond the colonies to mop up. All Tekkadan can do is watch it all on TV in the space port.

That is, until Kudelia makes a bold decision that changes the course of every iron-blooded orphan under her employ, as well as her own. She can’t retreat and continue on to Earth after witnessing all this. She’s done running; she’s going to become the hope these downtrodden people need. And she’s issuing new orders for Tekkadan to assist her.

It’s been a long time coming, but now that Kudelia fully understands what’s going on, she is compelled to act.

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In a stroke of luck, the crack Dort news team that has been covering the uprising and subsequent bombings is ordered to cease their reporting by the Reg Bureau, determining the reports are not conducive to maintaining public peace and calm.

The news team isn’t particularly okay with that, so when they spot some “workers” sneaking around, suddenly Kudelia and Tekkadan have exactly what they need: a means off the colony, and a means to get her voice out there, to both the workers and masters everywhere.

Orga informs Naze of the change of orders, and while the Turbines can get involved, they give Tekkadan their blessing, and Akihito sorties in his recently-finished Gundam. The Isaribi sends Barbatos out for Mika, who EVAs out alone to meet it.

Naze seems frustrated that he’s so “soft” on Tekkadan, but also that he can’t join such an interesting and noble battle. Mika remarks how amazing Kudelia is, and he’s frustrated too – perhaps he feels he hasn’t done enough yet (even though, let’s face it, he’s done plenty to be called amazing himself).

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Mika stops some of the helpless workers from getting massacred, but is soon challenged by Gaelio and Ein, the former piloting his shiny family heirloom, Gundam Kimaris, which McGillis recognizes, observing the battle from the bridge of his own ship.

Like Barbatos and Gusion, Kimaris has no beam weapons, and is armed with a good old-fashioned spear with which to crunch into his foes. Kimaris is very fast, sometimes overwhelmingly so, but it’s not a game-changer; the combat here remains wonderfully primitive and visceral.

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When Gaelio and Ein notice Mika’s true intent – to shield the news launch – I felt a quick pang of Flay-end-itis, but the Isaribi meets the launch and the crew make it back safe and sound. Akihito and Shino join Mika in battling Gaelio, Ein, and the other Gjallarhorn forces, with Shino re-naming Crank’s Graze “Ryusei-go”, which raises the eyebrows of the mechanics in a funny little aside.

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Mika comes close to taking out Gaelio, but Ein shields him with his own suit, getting damaged in the process. With the main fleet closing in, Gaelio and Ein retreat as their “further intervention will become a problem.” As all this is going on outside, Kudelia Aina Bernstein, Maiden of the Revolution, dons her own armor – her stately red dress.

After contacting Nobliss Gordon (a move that intrigues him greatly), she begins to broadcast using the news team’s camera and feed signal, to tell everyone out there what’s really going on in the Dort Colonies. If she’s to have any credibility on Earth or Mars, she must own the fact that she was here when everything started to boil over, and shed a light on what’s going on.

With her decision to take up the mantle of authority bestowed to her by the powers that be and actually run with it, Kudelia may have just proven to Nobliss she has the potential to becomes something more than a pawn in a plot, and thus is worth more to his goals alive, even if it’s just to continue to be surprised and entertained by what he observes.

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GATE – 05

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This week, we learn that Princess Pina Co Lada’s Rose Knight Order was something she herself created in her youth out of a desire to be a knight and a hero to her people. She gathered other children of the court, mostly girls, and with the help of her knight and protector Grey, whipped them into shape. Seven years later, the order was officially established, but only as a ceremonial honor guard, to Pina’s consternation.

But with so much of the conventional military lost to the JSDF, Pina’s father finally deployed her unit. But her first battle, defending Italica from hordes of bandits (made up of former allied soldiers who fled the JSDF slaughter), doesn’t go so well, as most of the bravest and most skilled town conscripts are killed, leaving her handful of trained knights and a bunch of scared townsfolk. I’d want to stay in my dreams too, as she tries to do until doused with water by the maid.

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She awakes to learn that some people have arrived. She knows not whether they’re friend or foe, but once she gets a look at them, assumes any force with Rory Mercury on their side would have already taken the city, and let them in. Her first interaction with Lt. Itami is slamming the doors of the gate right in his face, but things improve a bit from there, as Pina can’t afford to turn down help in defending the city.

While Pina may not know it, she and Itami are of like mind: protecting the people is the primary concern, even if the JSDF recently killed thousands of her father’s soldiers. Itami defers to Pina’s command, and she places him and his men at the South gate to serve as decoys, where they proceed to simply stand around, waiting for the enemy to return.

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When the battle begins at 3 in the morning, the enemy attacks the East gate, not the South, and the gate falls almost immediately due to their superior numbers, tactics, and a “spirit wielder” on their side deflecting arrows. Pina looks upon the besieged walls as they breach and the bandits pour in with a stunned look on her face, trembling in fear.

It turns out Pina is a lot more green than I’d originally thought. In honorable one-on-one combat I’m sure she’d do quite well, but this is war, something she’s never experienced, and when her carefully-laid plans go awry, she stands frozen, like an honor guard, with the only force that can turn this around all the way on the other side of the city. I’d call for them if I were her.

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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GATE – 03

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The appallingly one-sided battles have ceased for now, as Lt. Itami’s Recon Team 3 embarks on a mission of mercy. After rescuing the unconscious but alive she-elf, they return to Coda Village, which is evacuated for fear they’ll be the dragon’s next target. Among the evacuees are a sorcerer and his blue-haired apprentice, Lelei, who is rescued from a rearing horse by Itami’s troops, who are facilitating the evacuation.

Meanwhile, human vultures gather in the night to take advantage of the vulnerable villagers (unaware they’re being escorted), only to be slaughtered one by one with the scythe of one Rory Mercury, one of this land’s “twelve apostles” who is both feared and revered, and despite her sinister appearance, seems to be on the side of the weak and innocent.

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She’s also the closest thing to a cat-girl Itami has come across, and when they encounter her on the road, he can’t exactly refuse her a lift, though he does insist she not ride on his lap. Inevitably, the bloodthirsty dragon returns and starts laying waste to the convoy, and this is when we get to see Itami’s troops in action against a legitimately challenging foe.

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Itami’s trucks lead the dragon away from the villagers, and the she-elf (who lost her clothes to the medics) wakes up and gets the point across that the troops should aim for the dragon’s eye. They do, and the dragon is stopped in its tracks long enough to fire an RPG at it (after a belated shoulder check, of course). When the aim is off, Rory springs into action, making sure the dragon takes a direct hit. And with that, parties from both sides of the Gate worked together to drive off a mutual foe.

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Still, the damage was done, and many lives were lost to the dragon, but the troops arrange a burial detail and pay their respects before the surviving remnants of Coda Village depart for refuge. They can’t take everyone with them, however, leaving Itami and his team with around a dozen hangers-on, including Lelei and the sorcerer, Rory, and the she-elf. Itami decides they’ll continue to protect this contingent of natives, who may (nay, surely will) come in handy on their coming travels.

This episode showed the JSDF doing less mass killin’ and more un-glamorous but important humanitarian work, protecting and supporting those who would’ve ended up dead without them, and making exotic new friends. You win hearts and minds one heart and one mind at a time, and the compassionate Itami is cognizant of this.

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Life Imitating GATE: Diet Votes to Expand JSDF’s Role

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Rambling observational commentary follows.

The fictional Japanese military of countless anime throughout the years have been typically portrayed as serving in a strictly defensive capacity: only allowing the use of arms if directly attacked. And attacked they have been, be it from terrorists, giant monsters, aliens, or other nations.

In the first episode of GATE: Thus the JSDF Fought There!, it’s the same story: a massive enemy force invades Ginza and the JSDF get their SD on. But what happens next is not only a rare(r) occurrence in anime, but also presaged the movements of the government of real-world Japan: Prime Minister Abe wants the ability for the JSDF to go on the offensive under certain circumstances. He wants a JSOF.

Today, it would seem he got his wish, in a contentious vote that caused opposition lawmakers to walk out and spurred large protests in Tokyo. Polls indicate a small plurality of Japanese are opposed to the expansion. The approved measure means Japan has lost its unique—at least for a country of its size—pacifist stance laid out in its constitution, though many anti-militarist opponents believe this vote violates the constitution.

In any case, the timing of GATE’s airing, and the fact it portrays a modern 2015-era JSDF invading enemy territory and mowing down feudal armies of tens of thousands with ease, adds credence to rumblings that it is veiled pro-offensive-military propaganda, even if the creators and producers of GATE didn’t quite intend it that way. Of course, the timing could also just be a coincidence (if anyone has any insights one way or another, feel free to voice them in the ‘ments).

We’ll continue to closely watch both GATE and the developments in real-world Japan, a country whose constitution “forever renounces war as an instrument for settling international disputes”, but currently led by those who believe the country’s best chance of maintaining security and stability in the region is to amend, if not outright abrogate, that long-standing renouncement.

Whatever your personal position on these developments (and we welcome all viewpoints; it’s a free internet!), they certainly comprise a fascinating juxtaposition of anime and real-world politics.

—RABUJOI STAFF

GATE – 02

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When the JSDF force sets up fortifications around the Gate, the Emperor calls for his tributary states to form an allied army to attack them (joining his Imperial Army), and we see just how effective a woefully-outnumbered force modern weaponry is against a massive army of 100,000+ with nothing but Middle AQges-era arms. None of the troops get anywhere near the JSDF, who wipe out most of the force with artillery and machine gun fire, using flares at night.

It’s a bloodbath, but it seems the Emperor was hoping for one, because it means all of the surrounding nations are now significantly weaker, solidifying his reign (though he too lost thousands of soldiers). The Japanese essentially did his dirty work, but he knows he’ll to deal with them again sooner or later, and so sends his daughter (and leader of her own military order), Pinya (Tomatsu Haruka), to infiltrate the enemy force and learn more about them.

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Frankly, other than the lopsided battles, the first half was a little slow, with an awful lot of time spent in audience chambers and military tents full of old men yelling about stuff. Things pick up in the second half as the POV shifts back to Itami, who is given command of Recon Team 3 and the same basic assignment the Emperor gave Pinya: gather information on the other side.

First, Itami has time to stand amidst the utter destruction wrought in repelling the armies, estimating they killed over 120,000 both there and in Ginza; a figure very similar to the number who lost their lives in the dropping of the first atomic bomb, and certainly the most life taken by the Japanese military since WWII.

Of course, with tens of thousands of armored troops and cavalry charging your comparatively puny garrison, the JSDF’s options were obviously limited. This wasn’t a force that was going to back down, as we see from the badass general launching a defiant arrow at the spray of bullets before getting blown up by a shell.

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It’s a somber moment, but it passes, and Itami shows how he runs a laid back command that borders on unprofessional/disrespectful when he and his buddy Kurata sing lyrics to his favorite magical girl anime. Itami’s is an approach that irks one of the sergeants under his command, the far more serious Kurebayashi (Uchida Maaya, an inspired casting choice considering how big an otaku she plays in Chu2Koi).

Surprisingly, the recon team actually makes a bit of progress, though the first contact with the villages they visit are only shown briefly and wordlessly. Suffice it to say, they’re starting to get a rough estimate of the geography of the region. Before they’re about to camp for the night, they encounter a forest being burned by dragon-fire; a forest they know to contain a village. Itami puts two and two together and assumes a massacre is in progress.

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By the time they arrive, there’s nothing but a charred wasteland to welcome them, along with a nearly dry well, at the bottom of which, to Itami and Kurebayashi’s shock, lies a beautiful young woman with pointy elf ears. Is this maiden a member of Pinya’s order, or merely a villager who escaped the carnage the only way she could? Either way, their imminent meeting will likely represent the first persistent Special Region-JSDF interaction.

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GATE – 01 (First Impressions)

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What is it: “Otaku First, JSDF Soldier Second” Itami Youji is on his way to a doujinshi event when a mysterious gate opens in the Ginza, and an army of warriors and beasts from the fantasy world pour out and start attacking civilians. Itami saves a woman from being killed and further participates in getting everyone to safety before the Police and JSDF eliminate the enemy army.

Itami is promoted to second lieutenant and hailed as a national hero, but is unprepared and undesirous of all the attention that takes time from his precious hobby. But when his unit is chosen to enter the gate to investigate the “special region” beyond, his priorities start to shift as he realizes he may be able to have his cake and eat it too.

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Why you should watch: This show is built around a solid, fascinating, and clever idea: What if your real and fantasy worlds literally collided? It’s also built around a similarly solid and intriguing character in Itami, who could be called the ultimate Japanese Everyman, with the most serious of jobs and the most serious of hobbies.

The promo art and OP spoiled the fact that he was a soldier, but I enjoyed how he not only kept his job and his hobby separate, but at least initially, considered the latter far more important. His genuine distress at not making the doujinshi event, and later interest in the loot his comrade scored since he did get to go, all add a welcome levity that sets us at ease.

That ease is welcome, because things could have gotten very dark, very quick with that surprise attack by an army from the other side of the gate. What also struck me was that, as a real-life solider, Itami and his comrades are far closer to the world of war games people play on their phones, just as Tokyo is closer to the cities in those games, since it has an Imperial Palace where the people can—and do—seek refuge.

Itami’s pal’s line while they’re on their way in—”Think there are any catgirls on this side?” followed by Itami’s assertion there damn well should be—is a lovely microcosm of a great premise.

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Why you may not want to watch: I know this show probably runs on a family-friendly time slot, but the peril of the sudden attack and its aftermath were somewhat undermined by the almost total lack of overt lack of blood or violence. If a force like that were to burst into the middle of a crowded Ginza crossing, it would be a goddamn bloodbath, not anything that could be honestly portrayed with a PG-equivalent rating. Considering the lighter tones of the episode, I guess such a spectacle had to be sanitized to avoid tonal dissonance.

Perhaps more disconcerting, and possibly not a problem for many if not most, is the same problem Franklin and I debated at length with Kantai Collection, only brought into the present: parts of this episode, particularly the bright, shiny glamour shots of military equipment and personnel on the march to the sound of stirring orchestral music, had the somewhat unseemly whiff of…er…nationalist propaganda. Itami himself felt, at times, like an avatar carefully-crafted by the creators to deliver the message “Join the JSDF: Otakus Welcome!” Not that they shouldn’t be (they should), or that there aren’t otakus in the JSDF (there most certainly are).

While frightening, pale, mute monsters stood in for Americans in KanColle, the fantasy horde stands in for any invading enemy force, be it of state or non-state actors, and the entire episode is a flattering commercial for the JSDF, showing them at their very best. Not that they don’t deserve to be portrayed in this light (I’m, generally, a Might-Makes-Right kinda gal, with veteran relations), it’s just that it was laid on pretty thick, and I’m watching an anime, not a JSDF recruitment video.

At the same time, there’s something to be said for an anime military not being portrayed as dependable, virtuous, and capable, rather than the usual evil, corrupt, and/or incompetent.

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The Verdict: As with KanColle, I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt and assume this isn’t meant as insidious nationalist propaganda, because at the end of the day there’s still a very neat premise in play. I’m looking forward to seeing where GATE takes us, and how Itami befriends the real-life elf, sorceress, and gothic lolita he once only saw in media, and briefly hallucinated after hitting a subway pillar.

This was a solid first episode with plenty of exciting action and well-placed humor, and is even able to summon some solemnity, pathos, and gravitas, as Itami is well on his way to no longer thinking of being a soldier only to support his otaku life, but to protect, defend, and avenge his countrymen.

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