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The Dub Track
Gatekeepers 21

by Ryan Mathews,
When I wrote last month's column, defending my preference of dubs against those who believe it to be the "wrong" way to watch anime, I was emailed many arguments to the contrary. I'll cover more of them in "The Greatest Letters Page Ever" (link below), but one is pertinent to this review.

Some people wrote that they preferred Japanese voice-acting because the pool of actors was deeper. Although they accepted that there were many exceptionally good dubs, they pointed out that these dubs tended to feature many of the same actors. Personally, I think their argument is overstated — the pool of actors isn't that shallow.

However, as dubbed anime continues to flood onto American video store shelves, there is no doubt that the dubbing industry is undergoing growing pains. While the quality of the average dub continues to inch upward, I'm finding the quality of what had been the better dubs pushed downward toward that average, as ever more less-experienced actors enter the field.

Gate Keepers 21 is a case in point. While not a bad dub by any measure, I was expecting a lot more that I got. After all, this is the sequel to Gate Keepers. That anime received a typically wonderful Animaze dub, one of those dubs that's so smooth and natural, you could believe that the original script was in English. Gate Keepers 21, on the other hand, was recorded at a new studio, with a lot of new actors. It's an uneven dub, sometimes brilliant, sometimes awkward, not bad, but nowhere near the level of its predecessor.

Gate Keepers 21 has a rather bizarre beginning. It's present-day, thirty years after the original series. The secret "invader"-hunting organization AEGIS lies in ruins. What's left of it is being run, curiously enough, by Reiji Kageyama, the first series' main villain. The only other apparent member of AEGIS is Ayane Isuzu, a somber, bitter young girl who appears to be doing her best to look and act like Megane [I think you mean Megumi -- ed], the Gatekeeper who betrayed the team to join Reiji in the first series.

This beginning is so weird that it took until the second episode until I understood that the leader of the "good guys" really was the same guy who tried to kill everyone in the first series. I place a small portion of the blame for this on the dub. The original voice of Reiji (John Yong Bosch) has been replaced. The new actor, Ron Allen (Bart Garsus, Vandread), does a good job of playing a driven leader, but his voice has no hint of the darkness that must still be inside the character. In a scene in the second episode, when he expresses his anger and hatred toward the invaders with whom he once allied himself, I had trouble buying it. That and the fact that Allen doesn't sound anything like Bosch led to confusion on my part as to who the character really was. I fully understand that Bosch might not have been the right choice to play a 45-year-old Reiji, but the change is jarring nonetheless.

Riva West plays Reiji's constantly morbid comrade-in-arms, the young Ayane. She has a low, velvety voice that is perfectly suited to Ayane's consistently dark mood. It would be difficult to imagine a better casting decision. I do have one minor quibble with her performance, however. In a scene in the third episode she visits some relatives, some of the few people in the world whom she doesn't hold in utter contempt. That being the case, I would have expected Ayane's voice to become slightly gentler, but West plays it pretty much the same.

Kay Jensen plays Miu Manazuru, a girl with Gatekeeper-abilities recruited by Ayane to join AEGIS. Miu is a little in shock over the whole thing and is prone to panicking, in a loud and comical way. I'm not being facetious when I say I don't know whether to find Miu's voice cute or annoying. It certainly fits the character. Perhaps Miu herself is annoying, in which case Jensen's performance should be considered dead-on. Whichever is the case, I've decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Lia Sargent plays a dual role, reprising her role as Yukino Hojo, the little ghost girl with snow-related powers who occasionally helped out the original Gate Keepers. She also plays Satoka Tachikawa, a new tough-girl Gatekeeper. Satoka doesn't have enough lines in the episodes I watched to merit a review; nevertheless, it's nice to see Lia Sargent getting a chance to show her range. Sargent became known for a specific cute character voice she first used as Nanami in El Hazard. She would use that same voice, with only slight variations, in series after series that followed. In Gate Keepers 21, you get to hear just how far away from that voice she can get. Yukino is soft and gentle, just above a whisper, while Satoka is the toughest of tomboys. It's hard to believe they're played by the same actress. (For another good example of Sargent playing a non-cutesy lead character, check out éX-Driver.)

Also worth mentioning is Lynn Fischer, who plays the generically-named "Ghost Girl", who floats above the city, giggling and taunting our heroes. Fischer plays her high, sing-song, and smug, nailing the character.

I have a fair amount of confidence that this dub will improve as the episodes play out. Dubs like these, basically good but with serious flaws, always do. But I wish I wasn't seeing as many of these dubs as I am, and especially not from Pioneer, the distributor who first showed me that English dubs could be excellent.

Rating: ** ½ (out of 4)
(Review based on episodes 1-3)

Vital Stats:
Released by: Pioneer
Dubbed by: Media Concepts
Director: Kirk Thorton

Ayane Isuzu - Riva West
Miu Manazuru - Kay Jensen
Reiji Kageyama - Ron Allen
Yukino Hojo - Lia Sargent
Ghost Girl - Lynn Fischer
Satoka Tachikawa - Lia Sargent

Clips: Thanks to Anne Packrat for her audio-editing skill!
And now... The Greatest Letters Page Ever!
Agree? Disagree? Have a comment about a dub, or just about dubbing in general? Let me know! (mathews1 at ix.netcom.com)

The views and opinions expressed in The Dub Track are solely those of Ryan Mathews and do not necessarily represent the views of Anime News Network or its sponsors.

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