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Gatekeepers 21
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2003

Format: Anime
By:   Pioneer Entertainment
Genre:   Sci-Fi/Action
Released:   Running on TechTVĂ­s Anime Unleashed bloc
Review Date:   August 07, 2003
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)
"That won't work on me, since I'm ALREADY DEAD!' -- the ghost girl Gatekeeper mocks her attackers.

It seems that when sequels are good, it's often because they're more gloomy and more depressing than the originals. 'Star Trek II', 'Empire Strikes Back', 'Batman Returns', 'The Road Warrior', 'Godfather Part II', 'Phantasm II' (hey, *I* liked it!), all surpassed their prequels by doing things different and darker. So, it's no surprise that this OAV sequel to the rather lame 'Gatekeepers' TV series is a heck of a lot more interesting, complex, and dramatic than the unimaginative original. Even though 'Gatekeepers 21' is a direct sequel to the first 'Gatekeepers' series, it's vastly different in tone and presentation. Whereas the original was goofy and 60's-flavored and brightly colored, the sequel is disturbing, engrossing, and just plain WEIRD. And it's very, very effective.

The main character is Ayane Isuzu, a high school girl with a really short skirt, really big glasses, and a really cynical and bitter outlook on life. Needless to say, I fell in love with her almost immediately. Ayane is the daughter of Shun Ukiya, the main character of the original 'Gatekeepers' series, and that makes her one of the most powerful gate summoners in existence. Even though it's been more than thirty years since the events of the first series, the mysterious alien beings known as Invaders still stalk the Earth, and Ayane's powers make her the most vital operative AEGIS has in this new war against them. Ayane's immense ability is also the source of her bitter angst, however: her gate was inherited from her absent father, who she hates.

Ayane's refusal to use her gate power, though, doesn't limit her at all; instead of her own personal gate, she uses 'Imitation Gates', artificial energy portals summoned through cell phones (she's even got a jacket full of them, like a ripoff-Rolex hustler in New York). But even the destructive and varied effects of her Nokia magic aren't enough to stand against the newest breed of Invaders, so AEGIS has helpfully recruited a few new gatekeepers: the ditzy girl-next-door Miyu, and the firey sword-wielding Satoka. And it still may not be enough to stop the InvadersĂ–

'Gatekeepers 21' is one of the darkest, creepiest, freakiest non-horror anime I've ever seen. Even though it's a direct sequel to the original 'Gatekeepers', it's almost the direct opposite of everything in that original series. The Invaders are disturbing and alien, with lots of Cthulhoid tentacles underneath their fedoras and sunglasses, instead of being goofy. The characters are underplayed and realistic, instead of being over-the-top and cliched. The animation is a lot smoother, and the color palette is a LOT darker.

This much darker look and feel works well for 'Gatekeepers 21', much more than the flashy 60's feel worked for the original 'Gatekeepers', despite its promise. The bitterly antisocial nature of the main character, Ayane, is particularly fascinating. She's more mercenary than anything else, fighting Invaders for the cash it garners her, and angrily rejecting her gatekeeper heritage. The subplot of her antagonistic relationship with her father because she feels abandoned by him is filled with tragic irony, since in the original 'Gatekeepers' Shun vowed never to abandon his family because of what HIS father did to HIM. Making things even more depressing is the bitter ghost gatekeeper, and the disturbing implication that the other gatekeepers are doomed to the same terrible fate if they overuse their powers to contend with, as well. This is not a happy anime.

Kenji Gotoh's character designs and direction really shine here, being a lot more subdued than the way he usually does things, to match the more 'noir' tone of this series. The dubbing is a little less impressive, but its still adequate to bring the characters across to the audience (though Miyu's helium dub voice really tends to ruin the dark atmosphere). At least TechTV left this mostly uncut, letting all the horror of the characters' situations and the disturbing battles they fight come through.

While 'Gatekeepers 21' may confuse a lot of viewers thanks to its sequel nature and short run (it's just six episodes total), it's still worth seeing. Not only does it have an absorbing story, interesting characters, and a dramatically dark and depressing tone, it features a short-skirted schoolgirl in big glasses using cell phones to battle tentacled horrors from beyond. That's worth a half-hour or two of anyone's time!
Anime Editor Kevin Pezzano wonders if summoning interdimensional power portals uses up regular minutes, or night and weekend minutes.

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