Should You Watch 'Divine Gate'?: Episode 1 Winter Anime 2015 Review

Divine Gate art.
Divine Gate art. (c) Gung Ho

Divine Gate is an anime from the winter 2015/2016 season based off a smartphone game, and it’s doing nothing to elevate its source material. Episode 1 of Divine Gate crams a patently video game-style world set-up together with an excess of tragic backstory, a few character designs that feel Straight Outta Digimon, and the somewhat simplistic, moralizing feel of a Saturday morning cartoon.

Of course, not every anime has to revolutionize the art form, and it’s clear from Divine Gate episode 1 that it intends to tread a well-trodden path. But based off my watch of episode 1 of Divine Gate, I don’t recommend adding it to your queue even as a simple guilty pleasure. Here’s why:

There’s nothing new here.

Have you played a J-RPG in the past twenty years? Watched any anime whatsoever, even just half of a Pokemon episode while babysitting your niece? Seen the cover of a random manga as you walked through Barnes and Noble, stepping carefully over a huddle of enraptured pre-teens? Then you will recognize the world system of Divine Gate and half the characters.

There are ways to play with tropes, to enliven them and make them great by playing them straight or subverting them. However you do it, though, you need to add depth or at least the promise of depth. In episode 1, Divine Gate gave us a shallow look at a whole bunch of characters, all of whom slide neatly into a familiar anime trope and none of whom seem to be trope-breakers. “Crazy guy.” “Sad boy.” “Peppy girl.” “Energetic boy.” “Mysterious leader.” I was shocked to discover upon rewatch that the mysterious leader’s hair was not silver, but a pale blonde instead.

I’m not against being confronted with an array of tropes. But if the whole plan is to give us a series of familiar character types set in a world that mixes and matches antiquated video game tropes, there needs to be some reason for us to sit up and pay attention. Most series would fill that void with an attempt at humor, but Divine Gate episode 1 scarcely tries that, too busy with its own overwrought narration about tears weighing heavy as rain in one’s heart. Its rare gags miss the mark.

As shallow as the plot is, it’s barely comprehensible.

Divine Gate suffered from an interesting dilemma familiar to me as a fan of fantasy and sci-fi. The world is complicated: it drops term after term on you. Adapter. Divine Gate. Nontron. Driver. World Council. World Academy. But the bewildering profusion of unfamiliar terms give the world an ultimately false impression of depth. You can throw out all the sci-fi-esque words you want, but nothing can hide the lack of a plot that feels grounded in any kind of reality, even an alternate one.

The flimsy, smartphone game plot holds that when three worlds merged, six powers became available to humanity. The chosen who wield this power are called by the Divine Gate, which grants wishes. Apparently everyone wants to get close to the Divine Gate because it grants wishes but no one has ever done so and returned. A council exists; an academy with a wide age range of youngsters exists; and it’s all in the future, judging by the Best of ‘95 CG that’s sprinkled around. That’s… it. Oh, and the one guy killed his abusive parents. Very sad.

No show reveals all its secrets in the first episode, but usually you do want to learn what those secrets are. For me? Not this time.

The world and characters seem so flat, I don’t think this series will have anything to say in the end.

The thing is, not every series needs to have something to say. You can just have a fun, light series. But if you want a fun, light series where kids attend a magical academy to master their magic powers, you maybe don’t spend half the episode’s runtime on the emotionally abused and neglected kid who can’t think of anything but his own sadness because he killed his parents.

On the other hand, if you want a series that examines what happens to a young person who has survived abuse and trauma on such a level, you maybe don’t include a little flying pet creature that adds “bon” at the end of all their sentences. You wind up undercutting your own intentions and end up with a flaccid, confused episode 1.

On top of that, there’s a strangely disquieting shallowness to the pain depicted in Divine Gate. For example, why would you introduce your world’s creation myth in a scene where a crazed adult man violently threatens a terrified schoolgirl? Why make a young girl’s pain literally just the background to your info drop? It’s hard to make pain feel visceral and real when you open the show by using it so cheaply.

In short, should you watch Divine Gate?

No. Life is short. Watch good anime.

None of this is to say that Divine Gate is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad anime. I have seen far, far, far worse dreck in my day. But I’ve also seen way better, and I just don’t think there’s a point in persisting with an anime that seems so mediocre and unoriginal on every level from concept to character to art direction and animation. Even the music’s middling-to-bad; when a 70s-era sax crooned soulfully in the background of a Council scene, I had to repress a snort.

What should you watch? Well, Prince of Strides was pretty good. But if you’d rather make up your own mind, you can see Divine Gate on Funimation’s website here . The simulcast updates Fridays at 9:30 AM EST. You can watch some trailers for the show below, too:

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