GATE and Eating the Menu

“Intellectualisation creates a gap or lack of rapport between you and your life. You think about things so much that you get into the state where you are eating the menu instead of the dinner, where you value money more than wealth, and are generally confusing the map with the territory.” – Alan Watts



Princess Pina ate the menu. In episode five of season one, she assumed the task to defend the city of Italica from a large band of marauders. Her personal guard, the untrained citizens of Italica and the JGSDF 3rd Reconnaissance Unit were the only forces she had immediately available. The rest of her Rose-Order Knights were a day’s march away, so her immediate objective was to hold the city until relief arrived. Her plan was to have the lightly manned 3rd Reconnaissance Unit hold a significant portion of the wall, and to entice the marauders to attack apparent weakness. The JGSDF would bear the brunt of the assault, and Pina’s knights would finish off the weakened enemy. The enemy did not cooperate with her plan, and the battle quickly turned into a disaster. Only the arrival of the JGSDF air assault unit prevented the fall of the city.

Imagination is central to both fiction and military planning. Both require an individual to create a world in their mind, establish rules for that world, clarify each player’s objectives and then draw results from the ensuing conflict. How well a person can create an imaginary world has a direct impact in how well a story is received or how well a plan is at dealing with its problem. It is because of these similarities that fiction proves to be a siren song to military planning, because you’re supposed to eat the menu in fiction but not in military planning.


In fiction such as GATE, the author creates a new world and its people. The world in GATE and its characters spring from the mind of Takumi Yanai. It is the author’s ability to dream of worlds and ideas that allow for the creation of the stories we enjoy (or not). A military commander operates in a similar manner by imagining Soldiers maneuvering around a battlespace. An enemy course of action is concocted, and a plan to counter that action is developed. Both the story and plan are a pretty little box in the creator’s mind. A box where the creator moves and arranges the pieces in the ways that they desire.


The pitfall with pretty little boxes for military planning can be summed up in one sentence, “There is no substitute for victory.” Wars and battles are won in reality, but sometimes commanders lose sight of reality by being consumed in their own personal fiction. A commander who tries to bend reality to fit their pretty little box is doomed to fail, just as a man who tries eats a menu to sate his hunger. The Battle of Little Bighorn, Operation Barbarossa, the Battle of Midway and many other historical examples show what happens when commanders set optimistic goals by rejecting the parts of reality they don’t like.


To be fair to Princess Pina, the defense of Italica appeared to be an unwinnable situation. The possibility of the city holding out for a day without relief was slim, but Pina’s poor planning and commanding insured that that wouldn’t happen. Her plan relied on too many assumptions, and was too inflexible to deal with a thinking enemy. Pina is prone to despondency or hysteria when faced with harsh reality.  She did nothing to try to stabilize the moral of her Soldiers and just watched her men die. Her hysteric reactions whenever she learns of the true power the JSDF possess is used for comedic effect, but it also shows a serious personal flaw that makes her a terrible leader. It is a shame Pina’s ability to train and organize an army does not translate to her success on the battlefield.


Zorzal provides a much clearer example of a person eating the menu. He is always far removed from the action. He orders his men to fight and die while he stays at the royal palace. As Head of State, it is not wrong that he avoids battlefields, but he never accepts the power advantage of the JSDF in spite of the clear evidence from the field. In the throne room, Zorzal knows he is the most powerful man in the Empire. He knows no enemy can stand up to his might. He knows he can win. It is only when reality literally busts in with the JGSDF that what he knows is proven to be fiction, and is forced to abandon the capital because of it.


From a meta perspective, GATE is problematic. The author Takumi Yanai falls into many of the traps that have resulted in the most disastrous campaigns in history. He over estimates the capabilities and behavior of his own people, the enemy never adapts, nothing in a plan ever goes wrong, his people never make mistakes, the local population will love his side, everything is simple, and I could go on and on. These traits are also a sign that the story is wish fulfilling, and point to its lack of quality. The danger of stories like GATE is that they lead to bad decisions when we believe them. The wish seems possible when you write a story that allows it.


It is extremely fortunate that GATE is fiction because there is no way reality would ever go that well. The lack of plausibility in GATE is a mark of the story’s overall poor quality. I’ve already mentioned in depth my views on the ideology behind GATE, but I feel the need to say GATE will not cause Japan to invade other countries. GATE is a fan-fiction that a publisher decided to publish and an anime studio decided to animate. It has the flaws that one would expect, but that doesn’t really matter. A work’s quality does not determine what effects it will have. GATE is compelling because it attempts to answer some serious questions, and it is troubling because of some of the conclusions it reaches. I loved watching GATE because it created a world I loved to think about. The new world being worth the cost of GATE’s problems is up to personal taste.


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