animefringe september 2003 / reviews

Gatekeepers 21 Vol.2: The Final Gate
Format: Bilingual DVD / 85 min.
Production: Pioneer / Gonzo / Keiji Goto / Hiroshi Yamaguchi
Comments: Dark, but beautifully executed.
Animefringe Reviews:
Gatekeepers 21 Vol.2: The Final Gate

I'm so glad I didn't have to wait for six individual DVD releases to collect this whole series, as those in Japan were forced to do. Everything in the show moves quickly, but while it's easy to hope for Gatekeepers 21 to continue, I was even more eager for a happy conclusion to the six episode OVA.

When I finally got my hands on the second disc, everything else on my itinerary was shelved to make way for this emotionally charged, brilliant show. Now I only regret that it's over.

Set a few decades after the events of the original Gatekeepers series (available in both domestic DVD and manga editions), things look bleak for the future of humanity. Gatekeepers are humans with the inherent ability to call upon extra-dimensional powers via a rift in reality, commonly referred to as a Gate. The first generation of Gatekeepers (following a team of teens active in the 1960's) possessed its share of drama as its protagonists held back Invaders from another dimension. The otherworldly creatures had the power to convert humans into additional members of their race by bringing out the victim's darker emotions of greed, lust, and rage. More than anything, however, Gatekeepers was a fun and almost lighthearted series.

This is not.

Perhaps the original creators' optimism has been darkened by the recent instability of the Japanese economy or by the horrible acts of terrorism perpetrated upon innocents lately, for Gatekeepers 21 is practically bereft of hope. The Invaders have essentially won, controlling mankind at the highest levels of the government even as the human race remains unaware of their presence until it is too late. Only a small team working for Aegis (a special anti-Invader coalition) has a chance of battling the Invaders, but the chances for success in driving them off are realistically nil.

One of the main themes of this show focuses on Ayane Isuzu's search for a reason to care about herself, and thus, the world. Commanding the Gate of Wind, Isuzu is the only daughter of the now-deceased main character of the first series, and she's all but given up on humanity. An outsider may interpret her willingness to battle Invaders as nothing more than a way to bring pain to humans she sees as worthless. Only when a person consciously surrenders his or her soul to the Invaders can they be possessed, so every newly formed enemy of earth is simply a human who gave up.

This inner struggle of Isuzu seeking her purpose for living is the backbone of Gatekeepers 21, and it presents an interesting philosophical scenario if nothing else.

For a short series, the characters here are very well developed, and each one undergoes noticeable changes as they react to the events around them. Despite being an animated show about extra-dimensional Invaders battling humans with supernatural powers, Gatekeepers 21 can be incredibly realistic at times. Part of the realism is due to the extremely lifelike characters penned by the skilled writers for the show.

The other elements of realism that truly make this show shine as one coherent work would have to be the impeccable animation from Gonzo, the studio behind Hellsing and Vandread. From the character designs to the vivid backgrounds, there's a staggering amount of detail to marvel at as viewers keep up with the engrossing story. CGI is well integrated and used to good but subtle effect. Fight scenes are fluid and a blast to watch, especially when a certain sword-wielding Gatekeeper (named Satoka) makes her appearance. Her battles are nothing less than breathtaking, and if I could watch a show that only featured her, I'd be there in an instant.

Audio is also exceedingly well done, with a true 5.1 channel audio mix for both the Japanese and English tracks. Voice acting (on both tracks) help maintain the feeling of realism even in the midst of the extraordinary events happening to the characters of the show. Thankfully, it never really strays into the dangerous realm of melodrama.

The music is also enjoyable, enhancing the tone of each scene as needed, whether to add excitement or invoke fear.

Extras include a collection of art galleries, sporting the covers for the Japanese releases, conceptual designs, and other images for our perusal. There's also the obligatory inclusion of Pioneer trailers, though I can't say I'm too fond of their all or nothing method of presenting them. Unlike other discs that allow you to select which trailer you'd like to see, you simply are treated to a stream of trailers all at once when you choose the "Pioneer Previews" feature.

This being a short series, I can't give away too much more of the story without ruining it, so you'll have to take my word for it that this is a top-notch endeavor. For more information, feel free to check out our June 2003 issue, which featured the show. With only two discs, it won't take too big a bite out of your wallet, and I'd say it belongs in any anime fan's collection. Not only is it technically amazing, it is a realistic series that doesn't fail to show all aspects of true life - from humor to despair. If it doesn't have you laughing and crying at one point or another, I'd be surprised. Consider this show highly recommended.