Reviewby Mike Crandol,
DVD 7: The Shadow
Reiji Kageyama's evil agenda is revealed, and only the characters are surprised. Megumi discovers his secret following a televised youth conference conveniently interrupted by Invaders, and finds herself in his power. Meanwhile the other members of AEGIS are enjoying their New Year's holiday at the Ukiya household, where Yukino forms an unlikely bond with Shun's little sister Saemi. The brief rest is soon interrupted when the Invaders take Ruriko's father prisoner. It seems that Kaiser Kikai and Count Akuma are not dead after all...
Gatekeepers is about as typical an anime as there ever was: a mostly-female group of high school kids with superpowers, transforming vehicles, and a giant robot defend the world from evil aliens, but are more concerned with fighting each other for the affections of the hapless male leader of the team. There are a few twists to the formula, like the 1960s backdrop, but this story's been done before. It's done well, however, and anime fans will likely find Gatekeepers to be a fun bit of mindless entertainment.
There are lots of great little touches sprinkled throughout this series, but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The show can't decide if it's an action/comedy or a parody of action/comedies, and has one foot firmly planted in both. Given Gatekeepers' reheated premise it probably should have gone straight for parody; the ridiculously over-the-top moments are easily the series' high-points. Every TV show should begin with the cast shouting the overly-long episode title at the top of their lungs. The million secret passages scattered throughout the school are a nice touch, and the character of “Big Boss”, a regular joe who somehow convinced AEGIS he has superpowers, is hilarious. But things aren't quite kitschy enough, and when the tone gets more serious Gatekeepers becomes just another action anime. The 1969 setting is a largely wasted comedic opportunity; there's really no reason the show couldn't take place in the present day. Where are the Godzilla and Gigantor jokes?
That said, the stories are deftly executed and the characters are well-developed, even if they are largely archetypes. Shun, Ruriko, and Kaoru are your run-of-the-mill anime love-triangle, and Reiko appears to be the long-lost cousin of Excel Saga's Hatchan. But the show finds ample room to humanize its cast in these episodes and still gear things up for the impending series finale. Reiji is revealed to be the Dark Gatekeeper, no surprise since he's standing with the villains in the opening credits, but the subsequent actions he takes are a welcome twist in an otherwise predictable story. Sandwiched between the two episodes detailing his plot is a character-centric installment in which the entire team goes to Shun's house for the New Year. The interpersonal highjinks that ensue are again typical anime material, but it's the kind of stuff that endears the cast to the audience and separates good anime from bad.
Artistically Gatekeepers is pretty solid. Keiji Gotoh draws round-eyed anime babes like no one can (visually and thematically the show is very similar to Nadesico), and the CG vehicles blend nicely into their cartoonish surroundings. The only weak spot are the villains: Kaiser Kikai and Count Akuma look and sound like rejects from Giant Robo's Big Fire, and the Invader drones all bear an uncanny resemblance to Vinny the Robot from Spaceballs. The animation quality is average for a Studio Gonzo production, and the music is your typical late-90s anime soundtrack. Another chance to make use of the vintage backdrop with a campy retro score is lost on the bouncy techno theme song and bombastic incidental music.
Dub fans will have a field day trying to pick out all their favorite vocal performers; Gatekeepers is a veritable who's who of American anime voice actors. Yet strangely enough for all the talent present the English version is nothing to write home about. It is not a bad dub.…everyone does a fine job but it's almost as if the cast are bored with the material and aren't giving it their all. On the flip side, the Japanese cast members turn in some very strong performances. Naoko Takano breathes a lot of life into the tomboy Kaoru and her awkward attempts at femininity make her the most likeable of the characters. Chiemi Chiba is also thoroughly convincing as Shun's 10-year-old sister Saemi.
The disc itself is well produced. The menus are very user-friendly and the standard extras include alternate ending sequences and production art, but one wishes there were more episodes on this release. As four and five-episode discs become the industry standard Pioneer steadfastly sticks to its three-episode release format, spreading the 24 episodes of Gatekeepers over 8 volumes. This entertaining but unremarkable show might have been well worth picking up in the nine-episode installments Bandai used for Outlaw Star and Silent Mobius, but it's hard to recommend shelling out $200 + bucks for such a middle-of-the-road series.
Jaded otaku may find Gatekeepers too derivative to enjoy, but the formula is tried and true, and it works. It is at least worth a rental if you can find it, and if you don't have a representative of the high-school-supernatural-action-romance-comedy genre on your shelf yet it's as good a bet as any.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C
+ likeable characters in a wacky action-adventure anime
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