GATE – 21

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Pina’s Rose Knights fight, bleed and die, but ultimately prevail against the initial force of Gimlet’s cleaners, seeing as how the latter aren’t equipped with plate armor and aren’t exactly great fighters. Sherry, wasting no time demonstrating what a badass she is, stands and watches with unblinking eyes the violence and death she knows is of her making (though I wish she and Sugawara had retrieted within the Palace, lest, say, a stray arrow find one of them).

The knights managed to keep Oprichnina at bay and protect the embassy this time, but a bigger, tougher force will show up eventually, and they’re going to be woefully outnumbered. This leads the officials responsible for the diplomats’ safety to beseech a minister for authorization to rescue them, along with the pro-peace refugees.

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The civilian politician is, well, like pretty much every civilian politician in GATE: a weak weeny who is waffling about doing the right thing because he’s too concerned about his own career and upcoming elections.

He has reason to worry: Alnus is full of press and military officials from all over, and he doesn’t want to look weak. As if the waffling politician weren’t enough, we also have a self-important journalist who has a low opinion of the noble SDF, and makes no bones about his journalism not being totally objective, since at the end of the day it’s a business.

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Meanwhile in Rondel, assassins make another attempt on the lives of Lelei & Co., only they are foiled by Itami’s stuffed beds and a flash grenade. The assassins are far from pros, but they are representative of the M.O. of someone called the “Pied Piper”, who exploits those who are easy to convince of huge plots and conspiracies and lies; in this case, young inn employees were told Lelei & Co. were impostors and murderers.

The key, then, to stopping these attempts on Lelei’s life is to figure out who this Pied Piper is and take him out. At the same time, Rondel has learned through recent messenger of Team Itami’s exploits with the Fire Dragon. In particular, Lelei is lauded as the one who finished it off, furthering the Imperial position that a human and Imperial citizen get the lion’s share of credit for the feat, which doesn’t sit right with Lelei (her word for it is “nasty”).

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Because the Jade Palace-protecting Rose Knights are under Pina’s command, it isn’t long before Zolzal “kindly requests” that she order them to stand down, promising no harm will come to the diplomats (but making no such promises for Casel or Sherry). Naturally, Pina refuses, and attempts to set off for the Palace to see what’s what, but then, in the least surprising move yet by the Acting Emperor, he places Pina under arrest. Frankly, Pina should have sneaked out of the Capital ages ago.

With a force of Imperial regular army—the Rose Knights’ own comrades—over one thousand strong at the Palace gates, the situation is about to explode. So it’s a relief that the civilian minister finally gives the go-ahead for a rescue mission.

Like Sugawara last week, his professional training gives way to his humanity, and he makes the better of two bad choices. There were going to be consequences either way, but at least this way he won’t be sitting back and twiddling his thumbs while his diplomats are slaughtered, along with what’s left of the pro-peace movement.

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GATE – 20

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I often groan at GATE episodes that mostly or wholly omit the core gang of Itami & Co., but that’s a bit unfair, knowing that GATE is about more than just one man or one group’s adventures, but about an entire sprawling world of multiple races, political affiliations, and ideologies.

This week may have felt more like a Sherry & Casel spin-off than the GATE I typically like, but it was nonetheless a strong and surprisingly moving episode that gave the current political troubles and Japan’s involvement (or lack of same) a smaller, human scale.

Under Tyuule’s manipulation, Prince Zolzal has passed extraordinary laws and raised a paramilitary force called “Oprichnina” to oppress all pro-peace actors in the Empire. Among those is Senator Casel, who hoped to find safety with Sherry’s family, but are soon set upon by Orpichnina “Cleaners” led by the sniveling Gimlet.

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Sherry leads Casel out of the house, and her parents proceed to burn it down, presumably dying in the process but covering the escape of both their family’s and country’s futures. Of course, Tyuule is on the scene and aware of Sherry and Casel’s movements, and uses her porcine assistant to get the two to “dance for her.” Not sure why Tyuule is micromanaging things to this extent, but I do know her evil smirking is getting old.

Sherry, despite being only twelve years old, doesn’t show her fear as she finds herself out in the world with people after her and an adult senator to protect. She haggles with a villager for food and secures a room at the inn, but the only way they’ll both be safe is if they can reach and gain asylum at the Jade Palace, a territory that is technically Japanese soil by treaty.

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They get to the boundary of the de facto embassy easily enough, but are met by Princess Pina’s knights, who relay the Japanese diplomats are unwilling to harbor political dissidents at this time, thanks to a hard line from the ministry back home that doesn’t want to look weak or further embolden Zolzal by harboring doves. Even Sugawara, whom Sherry is in love with and truly believes she’ll marry someday, won’t let his personal feelings interfere with his diplomatic duties.

The Japanese refusal to accept Casel means as soon as Gimlet arrives with his Cleaners, they arrest the senator and prepare to take Sherry into custody too. It’s hard to watch her come so far, with so much childish faith in her shining Japanese hero, only to be turned away right before the finish line, and into the jaws of those who have already destroyed her family and likely have nothing good planned for her.

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At the same time, while I despised Sugawara as much as he probably despised himself when he refused to act, I also appreciated his duty to his country. People can’t just disobey orders all the time. I thought this would all come to a heartbreaking end, with Gimlet’s grubby mitts all over an increasingly pathetic Sherry screaming for Sugawara’s help.

Turns out, Sugawara couldn’t abandon Sherry to a horrible fate. He orders her brought over to the Japanese side. This obviously led to the desirable outcome of Sherry being safe (in exchange for Sugawara promising to marry her after all when she comes of age), but GATE doesn’t pretend such an action wouldn’t have messy consequences.

There are knots and kinks in this particular fairy tale: Just as Sherry’s parents gave up their lives to get her out, Sugawara may have sacrificed his career and complicated Japan’s position to a potentially disastrous extent to save her. He did something he didn’t have the authority to do. Zolzal and Tyuule wanted nothing more than to stir the shit with Japan, and Sugawara’s heroism did just that.

The Vice Minister, who previously respected his decision as a diplomat while loathing him as a man, is forced to reverse both positions: condemn his actions as a diplomat, but laud him for being a decent man who couldn’t let the screams of a child go unheard.

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GATE – 18

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For abandoning his original mission, Itami is stripped of his command and suspended for two weeks by his immediate superior (the chain is the chain), but he’s also awarded a number of commendations both from the MoD and the local powers who benefitted from the defeat of the Fire Dragon. He also apparently owns Yao Haa Dushi now, which is…interesting.

He’s also given orders to “investigate the Special Region’s resources”, which is basically carte blanche to do whatever the heck he wants (which isn’t all that different from how things have been up to this point). With this new/old power, he has Lelei practice her driving skills as they head to the academy city of Rondel.

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There, Lelei prepares to appeal to the academic authorities for a mastership, which means dressing the part. This requires interaction with the hyper Grand Master Mimoza, but Itami, Rory, Tuka and Yao also end up meeting Lelei’s sister, Arpeggio, with whom Lelei seems to have a strained relationship, at best.

I must say, the transition from the resolution of Tuka’s dilemma to Lelei’s arc seemed a bit…abrupt. It’s also a bit laughable how regularly Itami escapes punishment for breaking protocol. For a show that glorifies the JSDF, a force of thousands working as one, both GATE and the force are awfully forgiving to a single soldier who always acts on his own, simply because it always seems to work out.

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Anyway, that’s all we see of Itami & Co; the rest of the episode is spent with the crew in the capital, including Sugawara, who is being constantly hounded by the 12-year-old noble Sherry, who has fallen in love with him and is committed to being his future husband.

This would be annoying, except that Sherry exhibits wisdom beyond her years, understanding what needs to be done for Japan and the Special Region to achieve peace (though a senior diplomat is clearly concerned with Sugawara’s relationship with the girl). Meanwhile, Prince Zolzal is frustrated with the apparent progress in peace talks, while Tyuule, now allowed to wear more than a burlap shift, continues to barely restrain her contempt for the shitbag.

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The night Pina and Zolzal’s dad emperor Mort (quite the foreboding name) welcomes the Japanese diplomats bearing POWs from the initial attack on Ginza (people Zolzal knows by name), Tyuule’s latest scheme is set in motion. It’s a pretty simple scheme: she poisons the wine the emperor drinks to toast to peace.

With Mort dead, Crown Prince Zolzal is now emperor, and it’s pretty clear from what we’ve seen that he’s not at all up for the job. Of course, that’s just fine with Tyuule; he’ll press for an all-out war against Japan and the JSDF – a war he can’t possibly win – and in his foolhardiness and the arrgance she built up in him, he will hopefully destroy himself and his empire, giving Tyuule the revenge she’s sought all along.

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GATE – 14

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Here I thought the earthquake would be a major calamity for the Special Region, utterly unequipped to deal with a natural disaster that does plenty of harm even in modern Japan. But it’s “only a 4 or a 5”, by Itami’s reckoning, as he and Sugawara weather it calmly while Pina and her maid are shaking in their nighties.

The quake passes, but Pina knows she’s not the only one of her people who was scared shitless, so she rushes to the palace to meet with her father, bringing Itami and Sugawara along.

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Their coridal meeting is interrupted by the arrival of Prince Zolzal, who wastes no time at all confirming what a woman-hating creep his is by bringing in Noriko, a Japanese hostage from when their armies invaded the Ginza. Noriko looks as beaten-up and beaten-down as the bunny chief from last week, but Itami and Shino waste no time rescuing her from Zolzal’s clutchs and doling out swift punishment.

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When Zolzal orders his men to attack them back, Itami steps back and lets Shino take care of everything. She bayonets all approaching fighters, then guns down those with shields (the bullets go right through them and their primitive armor).

We’ve seen Shino-As-One-Girl-Wrecking-Crew before, but having her do her thing in the middle of the Imperial throne room sets a new high for audaciousness. It’s also never not fun to watch her go on a spree, even if, again, I’m not so sure SDF protocol is being followed here.

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But while it’s fun, and I’m glad Zolzal quickly gets his just desserts for all the shitty slimy stuff he’s done (and I’m sure he’s done much more we’re not privy to), and Shino’s fists carry with them all the manifest despair and loathing and suffering of Zolzal’s victims, being brought down upon him, it’s also a bit, well, easy. 

I mean, of course this guy is a loathsome little shitstain, and of course when someone actually fight starts whaling on him, he crumbles into a crybaby.

But I’m going to call this scene exactly what it is—Tarantino-esque revenge porn—and while I considered Shino’s actions justified (if a little over-the-top), it would have been more satisfying if there was a little more moral ambiguity to the exchange. The stark black-and-whiteness sapped the scene some of its power.

Interestingly, it’s Tyuule the bunny chief who stands between the prince and Itami, begging the LT not to kill her abuser. I’m thinking perhaps she has her own plans for him, plans for which she’s endured much suffering, and they won’t work if he’s dead. I look forward to the time she can repay him for everything he’s done, but with her people’s safety to consider, she’s playing the long game.

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The Japanese government acts swiftly upon news of Japanese hostages in the Special Region – by bombing the Imperial Senate, sending the message that they’d better release the others if they don’t want to lose anymore buildings.

We learn of the existence of another brother of Pina and Zolzal’s—Diabo, which sounds kinda like “diablo”, only he seems like less of a devil than Zolly…though he may just be better at hiding it. Zolzal also calls his sister a traitor, opening up the possibility he takes her prisoner, stripping her down and beating her, as is his M.O. with captive women.

They have a little chat about how Zolly knows he’ll be named emperor over Diabo, even though his father won’t actually give up all his power. Tyuule’s presence by his side and in his bed is starting to make more sense if she is indeed plotting against him, it’s best to keep your enemies close. And as we know with that tan elf chick who hasn’t shown up yet (Ducy), the warriors of other races resolve to do whatever they can to protect their people.

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Mochizuki Noriko is brought back to base and her injuries are treated. You can feel the traumas she endured in her eyes and the sound of her voice (not sure who the seiyu is, but she does a fine job); but also her relief and joy at being free, something she probably gave up on when she was one of Zolzal’s sex slave. But her troubles aren’t over; it’s heavily implied her family was killed in a Special Region raid while they were distributing flyers about her disappearance. Talk about a rough hand to be dealt.

And speaking of those missing family, Tuka spends the entire episode looking for her father, though again we only see her for a couple of beats. Next week’s episode is titled “Tuka Luna Marceau”, which bodes well for getting her more involved in a show that for the last two weeks has seriously snubbed her, Rory and Lelei.

However, I see that it did that for a pretty good reason: to remind us quite unambiguously that the SG isn’t just some charmingly primitive fantasy land. It’s brutal, and cruel, and dark, and sometimes the only way to deal with it is by knocking out a couple of its teeth.

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GATE – 13

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After a brief stop at Princess Pina’s diplomatic banquet where she and Sugawara prepare to negotiate with various ambassadors and senators, in the episode’s first few minutes we’re subjected to her brother Zolzal having rough sex and slapping around a captive bunny warrior girl, who doesn’t seem that into it.

I know, the show wants to quickly and categorically establish that this guy is scum, but there’s this thing called subtlety. There’s also a thing called boredom, and it exudes from the shallow, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil bad guys like Zolzal.

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Finally meeting Pina’s awful brother makes me sympathize even more she has to be this guy’s sister, after all. As far as I can tell, she’s the only good member of the whole rotten imperial family. As for Zolzal liking the Japanese food and leaving the banquet as quickly as he arrived with a hefty supply in tow…what, was that meant to humanize this abuser of women?

I must say, if we have to deal with this guy on a regular basis, I’m not going to be happy. I can understand Pina’s reluctance to kinslay, but can’t someone accidentally blow him up with a mortar or something?

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Anyway, the JSDF is finally in the capital now, with a small presence in the red light district. They managed to blow away one of the largest gangs, apparently keeping the others away with intimidation, and are distributing health care, including birth control, to the prolific population of half-beast sex workers.

Some shows are slice-of-life; but it would be more appropriate to call GATE slice-of-society, in particular a coming together of two totally different ones. Most of the time, that’s enough to hold my interests.

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But still, with Itami on the periphery and the trio of Rory, Lelei and Tuka barely in this episode, the show put one a hell of a handicap on itself. The episode wasn’t well-served by any frames in which Zolzal appeared, nor any discussion involving the Emperor nor the goofy Japanese politicians back home (ok, we get it; civilian leaders are feckless cowards).

But I’ll admit there’s still much for the JSDF to accomplish, and their progress may be undermined by an impending major earthquake, forewarned by the beast-women who apparently have the same sixth sense that causes Earth animals panic just before a disaster.

Then again, it could also be an opportunity for the JSDF to shine—not as an unstoppable military juggernaut that no power in the special region can ever hope to defeat—but as a force for good.

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