I’ll take you back to a time when Gonzo was a well-respected studio whose shows all got licensed by virtue of simply being made by them—the mythical year 2002. That’s when Gatekeepers 21 came out, although it was about a year and a half later that the show became one of the oldest fixtures of my on-hold list. I’d caught the tail end of the OVA on TechTV’s anime slot back when that existed and liked what I saw enough that I’d always intended to buy it on DVD. Of course, there were a *lot* of things back then that I’d intended to buy on DVD.
Gatekeepers is an interesting franchise, being one of those from the late 90s/early 2000s that few people seem to remember or care about even though it must’ve done pretty well at the time. In what looks like an attempt to launch a franchise all at once (going by the data I have), it was released as a Playstation RPG, a short manga, and a 26-episode anime by GONZO all at nearly the same time. A couple of years later there was a sequel OVA and novel that I can’t help but feel weren’t the result of the franchise being a success, but of people that worked on it wanting to do more with it.
I say that because Gatekeepers 21 apparently has little to do with the original material, and seems to be a “one man project” to whatever extent anime is capable of being such. Yamaguchi Hiroshi directed, scripted, storyboarded, and even fucking produced the god damn OVA, not to mention it was his own original story. I think it’s pretty safe to say that Gatekeepers 21 exists because that guy wanted it to.
What I find most interesting about Gatekeepers 21 is that I think it got a lot of influence from Boogiepop Phantom/the Boogiepop franchise, and perhaps even some from Serial Experiments Lain. This interests me not only as a fan of those series, but because there seems to be so little that *is* influenced by them directly. I’ve always thought it was odd that those shows could stand out so much at the time they were made, yet not seem to spawn any similar things outside of the other works of their own creators.
Gatekeepers 21 has a lot in common with Boogiepop Phantom visually, thematically, tonally, and even takes some strong directing cues from the other show—all of which are positive aspects, considering that those were strong points of Boogiepop Phantom. Gatekeepers 21 is a lot more straightforward of a story and spells out its messages more directly, which your mileage may vary on how that’s a good thing or not.
That’s where I’ll stop with the comparisons. Another note I’ll add on the production is that I really love this old style of Gonzo animation. They knew how to use budget wisely so that the show always looked really good, even if it never quite jumped into spectacular. The characters are able to go beyond their decent designs and look really good thanks to the animation. Gonzo pulls of some subtle, tasteful fanservice that I appreciated the hell out of—especially from the main character, Isuzu, who was hot as hell to me without the show ever telling me that she should be.
I could find a lot to relate to in Isuzu’s worldview. Her dialog at the beginning of the second episode sums it up well.
“If the world is full of ill will,” somebody once said, “it’s not good to get pissed off at stupid things.” You can’t let stupid things bother you. The strongest in this world are the dull-witted. As I began thinking that way, I heard a voice cheering me on, saying “you can do it! you can do it!” However, that was the sound of my own voice.
Isuzu is constantly confronted with a conundrum: she hates the city she lives in. She hates that it’s noisy, full of liars and idiots, and most importantly, that the city hates her. People treat her like shit for being that weird kid in class, and naturally she’s a bit bitter about it. However, she doesn’t want to hate people. She actually fights all the time to save people from the evil of the city and wants to help those who’ve been consumed by darkness find their way back. In essence, she likes people, but she can’t stand them.
The way Isuzu treats her partner, Miu, is quite familiar to me. Isuzu seems to have a desire for Miu to be someone that she can respect, but chastises or puts her down a lot for her inadequacies. It’s too hard for her to have Miu around and deal with her stupidity, so she pushes her away, even though she’s really hoping that Miu will learn to be a person that she can be friends with.
I’ve treated a lot of people that way, especially people I knew in high school who tried to keep contact with me. There’s no one that I want to hate. If someone has the potential and desire to be my friend, then I’d like to be able to be their friend. But some people just piss me off with the way they think or act so much that I refuse them, scold them, and avoid them. But when they change later on, I’m able to be their friend.
I think it’s pretty sad and lazy of me to be that way, but at the same time, why do I have to be so strong? I would love to try and get everyone to live their lives to the fullest and open their minds and be less stupid, but I can’t save the world all by myself, and I don’t necessarily want that kind of stress to begin with.
People are high-maintenance, and I know, because I am, too. But there are people who I see potential in and want to help, just as others help me. If ghostlightning and lolikitsune didn’t want so hard for me to be a smarter person, then I wouldn’t have learned so many valuable lessons from them. Likewise, there are a lot of people that I know have come a long way because they were acquainted with me (most obviously my younger brothers).
But I don’t need everyone. I’d like to have everyone, but I don’t need them. Some people are going to have to be left out and figure it out on their own. Those are going to be the people who give me the least. One friend of mine that I’ve just recently become close with was one whom I’d been avoiding closeness with because I couldn’t stand his immature side. But then he learned some things on his own, and he and I started learning from one-another and formed a friendship. Yet between us, there’s another friend whom all of us avoid because of his unbelievable immaturity that none of us really wants to deal with. He may one day learn and be a guy we all want to hang around, but right now, the stress of helping him mature (and he has a looooong way to go) isn’t a burden I feel like taking.
Isuzu has a huge burden on her. She has to deal with this hateful, ugly city. She’s human—there’s no way she can go unscathed by this world. Finding the strength not to hate a classroom full of people talking shit about her is strong enough in itself. Trying to turn that classroom into intelligent adults is more than anyone short of a saint could handle. I totally get why, as painful as it could be to watch at times, Isuzu had to push Miu away to retain her sanity, and I’m glad that Miu did learn from everything and manage to become someone that Isuzu could be friends with.
I can’t save the world, but like Isuzu, if I can have a power that puts people back on the right path—if I can be a catcher in the rye—then I’ll be happy to do that.