animefringe june 2003 / feature
Animefringe Coverage:
Gatekeepers 21 - A Darker Look at the Times to Come

Have you ever finished a really good series wishing that you knew what happened after what you saw? Follow-ups to popular shows aren't exactly common in the anime world, though they do occur from time to time. Sometimes, a story is retold, as in the case of the Magic Knight Rayearth OVAs. Other times, spin-offs continue the tale, as in the case of the Bubblegum Crisis-spawned A.D. Police or Parasite Dolls. Gatekeepers 21, however, is a legitimate sequel - set more than thirty years after the events of the original.

Fans that have just begun to read the manga series (now in it's second volume from TOKYOPOP) may be surprised to find out the state of events, however. As I said, thirty years have passed, and the Invaders have won. The Invaders are mysterious entities from an alternate reality. They have the ability to take over humans, and in this series, the effect is very similar to that of an agent possessing a human in The Matrix. The creepy-factor for the event has been increased tenfold, and it's pretty dramatic.

In fact, the entire mood of Gatekeepers 21 is completely different from its predecessor. While the earlier series certainly had its trying moments, it was mostly an upbeat story. Now that the Invaders have won, though, the optimism of decades past is no longer apparent.

While things have changed in some surprising ways, this is an excellent series in its own right. With a darker storyline, this series is sure to attract more mature audiences than the original. There are some obvious ties to the older generation of Gatekeepers, but I'd rather not mention them in order to preserve the mystery. It's more fun to find these things out on your own, after all.

This series was produced by the ever-impressive studio Gonzo, the team that animated the first Gatekeepers series as well as the ultra-stylish Hellsing. As one of the team's more recent productions, Gatekeepers 21 stands out as one of most beautifully animated OVAs out there. Production was also handled with help from Kadokawa Shoten, Pony Cannon, and Imagica.

Not only is the animation impeccable for an OAV, but the sound effects, music, and all other technical aspects of the show beg to be noticed for their extremely high quality. The use of CG is for the most part very subtle and well-integrated with traditional animation, and the character designs are top-notch.

One of the points that make me happy about this particular spin-off is that the manga's original creator, Keiji Goto, is still involved with this project as animation director. This makes it easier to accept the differences in tone between the two Gatekeepers stories, because at least the same crew is involved in both.

So, what exactly is the setup for this show?

Ayane Isuzu is a young girl with a rather pessimistic outlook on life. She doesn't have any friends, choosing instead to spend time with her laptop. In school, she's dismissed as a brilliant but unacceptably antisocial weirdo, and is ignored accordingly.

In the first episode, Miu Manazaru discovers that there is far more to Ayane than she ever wanted to be aware of. In truth, Ayane is a member of the fading Invader resistance group, A.E.G.I.S. Her membership is connected to her ability to call upon Gates - doors to alternate dimensions that give their wielders various powers. Her skill as a Gatekeeper is the ability to command the Gate of Wind.

Miu is also a Gatekeeper, though she doesn't recognize her power for what it is. She can use a Gate - the Gate of Flight - to propel her to heights normally not attainable by the average human. When Ayane discovers Miu's skill, she recruits the other girl by taking her directly into a battle against a large group of Invaders.

The relationship between the two is wonderfully entertaining, because Ayane is a quiet, easily irritated genius, while Miu is a flighty, bubbly airhead. Each is an excellent foil for the other, and it makes for some dynamic character interactions as the show progresses.

Another new feature presented in Gatekeepers 21 is the introduction of artificial gates. Using microprocessors, gate summoning can be performed automatically, adding an entirely different way of battling with gates. While Ayane can open gates on her own, she is at her best when using her laptop in conjunction with her dizzying array of cell phones, tossing them at her aggressors with preprogrammed gate commands.

This is only a six episode series, but quite a bit of action and story is packed into each episode. More characters are bound to enter the fray as time goes on, and soon the connections to the first Gatekeepers series will be made apparent. With some of the best visuals to ever grace an OAV release and an excellent story tied to a venerable series, this is certainly a series worth getting into.