The original Gate Keepers series ran in 2000 and was based on the game which had a manga adaptation come out not long before the anime. The two-cour anime series is one that I really enjoyed at the time because it came out at the height of the early days of DVD when we were getting a lot of shows licensed quickly and it felt like you were as close as you could be to seeing shows from Japan, at least until streaming simulcasts became a thing. That series ran well and while it’s largely lost to time, it was followed up in 2002 with a six-episode OVA series that shifted the story from 1969 to 2001 and went dark. Like, really dark as it progressed but still sticking to what Gonzo did best back at this point in time in producing strikingly beautiful animation and design work.
The original series had the members of AEGIS dealing with the alien Invaders and their plots to take over the world. The leads in this OVA series are close to the same age as the kids fighting in the original series, weren’t born until 1984. And by the look of the world, progress slowed down a bit to mirror things to how they were at the time. And it also looks like people lost their knowledge of the Invaders, which is an odd hurdle at first. With some of the stunts they pulled in 1969, it’s hard to imagine the public didn’t become more aware of them. But, that’s likely yet another anime inconsistency.
We’re introduced quickly to Ayane Isuzu, a young woman who really resembles Megumi (at least in my mind) from the original series. As a young woman gets accosted by a group of Invaders in the middle of a dark walkway, she appears and uses the technology of the day, the cell phone, and manipulates her Gate power through them, quickly eliminating the Invaders and reducing them to their crystals.
She’s not altogether altruistic in this though. As we see, AEGIS in its current incarnation is being funded by Reiji Kageyama, a very mysterious and darkly clad tycoon. She gives him the crystals, he pays her money for them, and encourages her to work harder to master her abilities. Ayane certainly has enough time to do so as she’s an outcast at school with no friends, and the ire of teachers, as she seems to know everything. During class, you can see her fiddling with one of the cell phones or her laptop as she tracks the Invaders and sets up her programs to provide her with more varying Gate abilities.
Now with a partner and the Invaders becoming more brazen in their goal of world domination, Ayane finds herself dealing with all kinds of new situations that don’t fit into her preconceived view of the world. The biggest thing holding her down is the massive chip on her shoulder over her father, a father who left her and her mother at a young age and eventually died. Her history with that has colored many of her interactions with other people, but also made her almost ideal to coldly deal with the Invaders. This is likely why Reiji finds her just perfect to complement his goals.
One of the most amusing things does happen in this run – the kind of event that you really do wonder why it doesn’t happen more in these kinds of series – Ayane becomes removed from the events that are about to unfold. With the two previous big leaders of the Invaders now in gem form, things have shifted to our mysterious pale blonde girl and her plans for the world. This starts to play out along the same time that Reiji brings Miu into his lair and starts to explain what Ayane is really like and what mission she has knowingly been performing for a number of years. Reiji also talks quite a bit about the darkness that’s overcome the world in the years since his youth and things turn rather despondent, almost to the point where he wants to give up because it’s useless.
All of this is a prelude to the remaining 45 minutes that are not necessarily pure action, but it’s beautifully driven and choreographed end-days destruction with only a few people able to avoid the immediate change. The way all of this is animated is something I simply can’t see being done properly with a TV budget or without the leap to digital animation in the last few years. The amount of motion among the skies is gorgeous and the end tale plays out beautifully.
Gatekeepers 21 has played out much like I wish more of the original series did and almost seemed like it intended to at first, once it got past some of the lighter introductory material. Much of the enjoyment and excitement of the first three episodes is discovering the changes in the world and trying to decipher the why of it all. The wonder of what the kids from the original series ended up doing as they grew up all these years later. As we learn from one of them, once they grew up they stopped seeing certain things, which is a familiar trapping in a lot of manga and anime.
One of the things that most people ask at the end of most shows and books is you’re left wondering what happens next. You want that property to come to a good end but “life goes on” and that curiosity is there to see what happens next. Gatekeepers 21 is that kind of story, where they go thirty years into the future and tell another related tale and tease with hints of what happened to the originals. GK21 also takes an already impressive-looking TV series for the time and gives it the OVA love, resulting in some really gorgeous sequences. There’s a huge payoff in this department with this release, not that the TV series slacked there at all. It continues to be one of the strangely lost gems of the early days of anime becoming mainstream and widely popular.