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Divine Gate Season 1 Review (ディバインゲート)

Doomed for Disaster. How did they get it so wrong?

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Divine Gate leaves an unsavoury taste for both newcomers and fans of the game, mainly due to a disjointed story, surface level personalities and failing to capture any meaningful connection, conclusion or any kind of reprieve over an agonising 12 episodes. The common world showed potential, only to be left a barren shell that frames the very little action we get to see. With clichés littered throughout the season, it overpowers any originality that arises, especially in what is an interesting take on the humans vs gods uprising.

At times too many ideas felt shoved in a short space of time, while other times pace and progression is sluggish, ultimately impairing Divine Gate’s storytelling. The climax reveals are predictable and underwhelming that any kind of shock and awe attempt falls flat from start to finish. How could Divine Gate get it so wrong?

jaan, 2016
mar, 2016
Directed By
noriyuki abe
natsuko takahashi
mobile game

divine gate, adapters and our protagonists

As someone new to the universe with no prior experience with the mobile game that spurred an anime adaptation, it never really gets off the ground. We’re drafted into the cyber-mech world but with all of it’s futuristic and mechanized developments, expose cracks that separate society and where poverty lingers. It benefits those in good standing, while leaving those behind the social curve. The opening cues supporting protagonists Midori and Akane, adapter’s who posses elemental abilities that represent the world council to keep social order and peace. A stranger onboard goes crazy, going on a violent spree and sets the carriage ablazewith his fire abilities. Suddenly a boy in blue with blonde hair steps in, putting a stop with his water ability inside a ‘battle zone’ system borne from the magic of the divine gate.

The boy is known as Aoto and is squared in the crosshairs of Midori and Akane, intriguing curiosity before he leaves without saying anything. Introductions to these protagonists are developed over time, filling in missing blanks as we uncover more about the world council, the powers that be at the top of the organisation and the truth of the Divine Gate.

The bottom line is there’s a gate that is supposed to grant any one person’s wish and grants the power to remake the world, with different figures like Arthur, the World Council, and our protagonists having different ideas on what they wish for. One to remake, one that drives fear to maintain order and another to grant wishes to change the past. Some references to so-called Scandinavian Gods who also wield drivers and possess powers far higher than humans lay down their wrath as humans shouldn’t step beyond their pace in the hierarchy. These Scandinavian gods are thrown in out of nowhere like a grenade, dipping in and out without any real backdrop. You constantly think ‘who are they?’

arthur and knights of the round misfire

If you’re familiar with historical legends, we see Arthur and his Knights of the Round overseeing an academy for gifted individuals to train as adapters. They are more naming references than anything as their adaptations are more fantastical and a seemingly easy way to build familiarity within a short space of time. Newcomers may find their presence confusing within Divine Gate, and that’s not addressed the more we lean into the story, leaving only more confusion around them. Divine Gate’s biggest weakness is how it tries to establish these characters, as we see very little screen time of the Knights of the Round, their weaponry ‘drivers’ reserved only to a few sequences and shoehorned cameo of ‘drifters’ that do nothing to the story. Everything just feels rushed, incomplete, shallow and forgettable by the end of it.

For all the hype around Arthur as he leads the Knights of the Round towards the Divine Gate, he’s never given the spotlight to show his power, allure and Excalibur driver, instead offering a cryptic, secretive personality. It’s a poorly executed writing device that detaches us from the journey, creating more confusing holes than the suspense it tries to create. Rethinking about it and how off the target they undelivered with Arthur hurts my head.

if they look suspicious, they probably are

We then get to the super suspicious looking characters, which as you guessed, are suspicious and end up creating problems for our dear protagonists and ‘king’ Arthur himself. There’s a fascination with the Divine Gate as Arthur aims to destroy it, with the Knights of the Round as collateral in their perilous journey to it. Oh and remember the vanity name references? We get more of those such as Shakespeare, Othello, Loki, Oz and Santa Claus but not as we know them. It just feels random, out of place and more for naming gimmick than anything.

For all their wacky outfits, they are the antithesis of good villains

Loki is the main villain orchestrating a combination of betrayal, despair, tragedy and peril, all for the fun of it. He’s sadistic in taking pleasure from human despair. The Blue Christmas episode is perhaps what offers some kind of cohesive story which et us feel some connection to Aoto and the mystery surrounding his brother and his parents, but everything else are just a mashup of ideas tugging in different directions which ultimately leaves an explosion of ‘what the hell just happened?‘.

And if like me you’re hoping for redemption at the end – to make up for all of it’s shaky build-up – Divine Gate fails to provide any kind of satisfying resolution. It’s anticlimactic of the highest scores as it cops out and bails on the story and what we’ve seen over the episodes. It begged more questions, not in an exciting cliffhanger, but more on Divine Gate’s failure to communicate clearly what it wanted us to know. Things just felt clunky.

Are there any redeeming parts? The small fighting sequences that involved the Knights of the Round, Arthur, Aoto, Akane and Midori were pretty cool, showing us what they can all do. But there’s just far too much dialogue than needed and as a result, missed opportunities to flesh out pivotal moments that fans and newcomers could enjoy more of.

a barren common world

For all of it’s skyscrapers, futuristic elements, flying robots, high-speed trains and cyber-infused civilisation, the world of Divine Gate is pretty barren or at least depicted to be. The Adapters academy within the World Council HQ (pictured) is supposed to be trimmed with gifted candidates, but instead narrowly focuses on the trio of Aoto, Akane and Midori with supporting casts reserved to bit-part roles. They end up forgettable with no meaningful role to push the narrative besides level-headed Ginja intentionally devoid of any personality.

The grandeur is an illusion to how lacking the atmosphere is. It’s almost like these are the ONLY characters within the academy and the knights of the round, leaving no screen time for the lower ranks and day-to-day operations of the world council. Speaking of the world council, they give me organisation XIII vibes from Kingdom Hearts, but more cryptic and again, assigned to the shadows that govern social order which aren’t explored at all.

divided gate more than anything

Overall, I didn’t know what to expect of Divine Gate, but it started off ok. It brought in different ideals, backstory, plot, characters and the vibrancy of the world over time, but lacked any progression in the slow pacing and failed to offer much going from there. Things failed to materialize, with the build-up reserved only at the half-way mark and still there were too many questions marks for comfort. Some characters didn’t need to be there and were fillers, more for the vanity than as a device to drive the narrative or emotional connection.

By the end of it, Divine Gate’s offered closing to Season 1 was incomplete, overwhelming with little context given and a climax which for all of the sacrifices made, hugely misfired in a U-turn of the century. If you’ve got time on your hands and would like an anime to pass by the time, Divine Gate isn’t the one. There’s little you need to invest in the universe and for that, you get little in return. Some action, some glitter, some fanfare, but nothing more than that. It’s no wonder why there’s no Season 2 in the pipeline and disappointingly instantly why there may never be one. It’s a shame as Divine Gate looked like a hopefully anime which offered plenty of interesting touchpoints, but it’s simply a case of trying to do too many things all at the same time.

Divine Gate offers a glimpse into a promising world, marred by a disjointed story, shallow depth and tries to shoehorn different characters, personalities and relationships with a loosely woven thread, wrapped in messaging and themes that sadly fail to convey clearly to viewers.
Cool 'driver' weapon designs
story around Aoto was interesting
vibrant, colourful animations and burst action
Lacks wider atmosphere and soul
Hard to connect to characters and emotive scenes
Clunky, messy writing that's all over the place
Cliche, predictable and unresolved
Noticeably rushed to fit within 12 episodes