The original series
They are anywhere and everywhere- mysterious invaders who blend in with society right up until the point where they turn violent and launch attacks on unsuspecting humanity. The only line of defence against them is AEGIS, an organisation dedicated to locating and sending out “Gatekeepers”, people with special powers who can combat the invaders. After discovering his ‘Gate of Wind’ ability, high school student Ukiya Shun joins the Gatekeepers alongside childhood friend Ikusawa Ruriko, where he is tasked with defeating the invaders whilst searching for new additions to the team.
Set in 1969, tj han’s beloved Gatekeepers is a perfect example of the days when things were simple and uncomplicated- much like vintage sci-fi show UFO and its ilk, the story revolves around an alien threat who is attacking humanity for unknown reasons, and the secret organisation that inevitably defeats them week after week, with some anime-style special powers thrown in for good measure. It certainly can’t be said to be particularly innovative or original; instead, this is the comfort food of anime- simple, tasty fare that fills you up without venturing too far off a set menu.
Within this framework, we see all the usual staples- generic enemies of the week, a villain who hates humanity due to an incident in his past, the “Enemy Mine” episode where the bad guy shows some humanity and so forth. It could so easily have seemed old and tired, but whether through nostalgia or sheer simplicity, instead it proves to be just good fun.
Unsurprisingly, Gatekeepers also sticks to tried-and-true territory when it comes to the characters; Shun is the typical hero with destined powers greater than anyone else, whilst the other Gatekeepers comprise a typical harem for him- the healer-type childhood friend, the smart yet bitter meganekko, the sports prodigy, the ditzy rich girl, the spunky Chinese girl and the enigmatic lolicon who is of course older than she looks. Minor and supporting characters are equally stereotypical, consisting of everything from the irritating little sister to the deskbound AEGIS commander. Character development is equally limited and predictable, but since this is entirely within the expectations set by the series, it’s just another facet of the solid, enjoyable nature of Gatekeepers.
As an early Gonzo series, Gatekeepers doesn’t have the ‘style over substance’ look of its later efforts- instead visuals are solid with attractive character designs from Keiji Gotoh of Nadesico, Sorcerer Hunters, Kiddy Grade and Hyper Police fame. Background music is standard fare, with an energetic opening theme and a calm ending theme.
Set in 1999, the 6-episode Gatekeepers 21 (I’m not sure where the 21 comes from) is a darker, more modernised version of the series featuring the next generation of Gatekeepers. As often happens in post-series OVAs, attempts are made to explain things that weren’t covered in the original, resulting in something that loses all the straightforward fun of the TV series and replaces it with something more convoluted and less enjoyable. Where Gatekeepers doesn’t try to be anything more straightforward light entertainment, Gatekeepers 21 attempts to be more sophisticated, but the result is that it can’t stand out from the pack- especially with its low episode count forcing a rushed pace and overly convenient conclusion.
As with its predecessor, Gatekeepers 21 depends on a standard cast of characters, this time featuring a withdrawn and antisocial lead, a popular girl and a bold fighter alongside a couple of older and wiser faces from the original series. Again, there isn’t much in the way of development, although in this case the excuse is that there just isn’t time for doing anything more than briefly fleshing out the characters.
Visually, Gatekeepers 21 is predictably an improvement on its predecessor, with a darker, slicker look that reflects an increased budget and a time skip of thirty years. Music is much the same as the original, albeit with some new OP and ED themes that are in keeping with the style of their predecessors.
Although Gatekeepers 21 takes itself a little too seriously, the original TV series is good fun that manages to be enjoyable whilst completely avoiding any accusations of originality. It may not be priority viewing, but it’s a great choice if you just want to kick back and relax.