Anime and Manga

Lets Open the Gate!

I'm finally getting around to writing my review of the anime series Gatekeepers.

This review covers the first four DVDs of the Gatekeepers TV series. This is half of the episodes for the series. I won?t individually review all twelve. Rather, I?ll just talk about the series as a whole and pick out a few plotlines here and there. It?s nice that Pioneer/Geneon has released the DVDs under their Signature Series. This means that they are half price from the originals, which puts them in my price range.

The series takes place in 1969 Tokyo. Japan is starting to recover from the second World War, and is experiencing economic growth. The world has come under attack from the ?Invaders?, a mysterious alien group that appears able to take power over individuals and turn them all into soldiers (all in black suits with sunglasses) for the Invaders? cause (which is a mystery). The public isn?t generally aware of this worldwide invasion, but the world organization AEGIS is fighting them.

AEGIS consists of many special forces teams, including the ?Gatekeepers?, people who are gifted with the power of the Gate. A Gate is a gateway into another dimension that can be controlled by a fortunate few. These gates allow the people to harness incredible power and transform it to defeat the Invaders.

In the opening episode, the AEGIS far-east branch is attempting to smuggle specialized gate equipment to their headquarters. The Invaders are doing everything possible to stop them from acquiring this defencive weapon. They send their main gatekeeper Ruriko Ikusawa, a 17 year old girl, to defend the gate equipment. However, she cannot hold back the Invaders single-handedly.

At the same time, we are told the story of Shun Ukiya, a 17 year old boy from a poor family that is struggling to make ends meet. His father died in a car crash a while ago, and he feels betrayed by a father that was never present even when alive, and never kept his promises. He vows to be nothing like his father, which for Ukiya means keeping his word and never giving up.

Ukiya stumbles into the fight between the Invaders and Ruriko. Although he does not understand what is happening, he recognizes the threat to his mother and younger sister living nearby. In his strong emotional state, his innate gate-ability awakens and he is able to defeat the Invaders. Soon he is recruited into AEGIS.

The Gatekeepers story is shounen (?young boy?). In terms of anime, this refers to anime that is targeted to teenage boys, usually involving lots of action and adventure. This is not to be confused with shounen-ai (?young boy-love?), which is a branch of anime dealing with gay themes, usually written by women for women. That is an entirely different issue for a different posting.

There is indeed lots of action and adventure here for teenage boys. You?ve got a 17 year old boy, whom the story primarily revolves around. Though he gives the impression of not being the sharpest pencil in the box, he more than makes up for it in commitment and fearlessness. This gets him a long way. Neither is he as dumb as he looks. Ukiya?s also got his gate powers and is captain of a worldwide organisation that is a sanctioned law unto themselves. He?s got lots of cute girls that work under his leadership (each having their own gate powers), and he?s got a super fast sports car to boot. Then there?s the fact that he has to spend a lot of his time going around saving the world from alien Invaders. There are obviously many aspects to this storyline that boys will love.

It?s done well, too. The story was story boarded and directed by Koichi Chigira, the directorial force behind the fantastic series Last Exile. These series were both done by Gonzo animation, who are known for their gorgeous anime. More on that later.

The story is told extremely well, with wonderful pacing and timing. There is a lot of humour in the story and between the characters, and there are great interpersonal dynamics, despite the large main cast. The story moves back and forth from one end of the spectrum from seriousness to silliness in appropriate amounts.

For example, in the silliness category ?Let the Bewitching Melody Echo!? (all episode titles are a declaration with an exclamation), the invaders are fought off with a huge stereo system that sends the gate-enhanced music back to defeat them. Another episode called ?Infiltrate the Haunted Female Dormitory!? tells you much about what is going on in that story and it?s told with great humour.

On the other hand, there are serious topics too. All of the characters are flawed in many ways, and these flaws are used against them by the leaders of the Invaders. ?Shake Free From The Demonic Dream!? pits the gatekeeper team against Baron Akuma, who can spin illusions and influence people?s minds. This starts out as an episode where bikini-clad gatekeepers (the girls, of course) are marooned on a deserted island with Ukiya. Shall we say boy?s wet dream? This fantasy turns into a dark story about desire and human weakness and how this can be turned against people by the work of evil influences (the Invaders). The gatekeeper team needs to see through their illusions and understand their inner selves in order to win victory.

?Break Down the Gate of Darkness!? introduces a dark gatekeeper who is allied with the Invaders. This causes Ukiya to doubt himself, because he cannot believe that humans would be on the side of aliens attempting to subject the human race. Ukiya develops many self-doubts that the gatekeepers prey on. Ironically, they also teach him to overcome them.

As I mentioned earlier, Gonzo animation has produced this series, and they?ve done a fantastic job. The characters and scenes are all crisp and vibrant, and the quality of animation is at the level of Disney. Gonzo also uses some computer animation with the drawn animation. The computer animation is visible when present, but done well enough that the two techniques blend smoothly.

The flagship opening and ending songs are very well produced, and they did a nice job of translation, showing Romanji and English subtitles simultaneously. This isn?t always done on opening songs, so it is a welcome addition. The voices are done well, and the English subtitles are nicely translated. There is mild profanity in the subtitles, making me wonder what is the equivalent interjection to ?Jesus Christ!? is in Japanese. I haven?t listened to the English dubbing, so I can?t speak for that translation. (I don?t really want to, since the Japanese vocalizations are so well done.)

The score is not quite as innovative as the animation, I?m sad to say. It?s actually quite good, but there isn?t enough of it. You hear the same bars too often, so it becomes too repetitive over the life of the series. This can be done well, as in "X" (to be reviewed some other time), where sometimes the repetition is used to reinforce a familiarity of what is happening on the screen. Unfortunately, Gatekeepers doesn?t quite pull this off as well as ?X?.

But that?s a niggling point. Having seen half of the series, I am very impressed with it. It holds up under repeated viewings. I enthusiastically recommend this anime. Gonzo has done a great job!

I?m very eager to see the rest of this series!

Mirage of Blaze Anime Review

When I started this review, I had intended to review the anime series Gatekeepers. That will have to come in a later review. Instead, I am ending up reviewing Mirage of Blaze, basically because I pulled it off the shelf and started watching it rather than Gatekeepers.

Mirage of Blaze is a four-DVD set told in 13 episodes. It primarily is the story of two characters: Takaya Ohgi and Nobutsuna Naoe. Takaya is a 17-year old high school student from a broken family with a rather big chip on his shoulder. However, he cares deeply for his best friend Yuiko Takeda. Naoe is an older man that has been spending his time searching for Takaya. Rather, he has been searching for the spirit that has entered Takaya?s body, for Naoe believes that Takaya is the reincarnation of Lord Kagetora, the son of a warlord that Naoe has been charged with protecting.

Naoe, also a reincarnated being, is part of a special guard that exorcises evil spirits from the world. He has been kept busy due to the sudden uprising of the Feudal Underworld, the spiritual world of dead soldiers and samurai that is rising again to try to regain power. Upon finding Takaya, Naoe tries to convince him that he is actually Lord Kagetora, and attempts to enlist his help in exorcising the evil spirits.

Takaya will have none of this, for he has forgotten being Lord Kagetora. As far as he is concerned, he is a 17-year old high school student. Naoe is both relieved and frustrated by the fact that Takaya can?t remember his former self. He is relieved because Naoe and Kagetora have a rather complicated past that wasn?t always pleasant, though Naoe deeply loves Kagetora (and his current incarnation Takaya, for that matter). Naoe is frustrated because he cannot count on Kagetora?s immense power, something he needs to help put down the feudal uprising threatening to erupt into underworld-civil war.

Several clans are also trying to find Lord Kagetora and kill or control him once and for all. These clans are striving to come out on top in the Feudal Underworld and need Kagetora eliminated in order to ensure their success.

As you can tell from the story, it?s all rather complicated. The story packs an awful lot into 13 episodes, and so you really have to pay attention as you are watching. There are many characters, some never appearing on screen, but nevertheless having influence on the behaviour of the characters you do see. Since this is a tale of tribal warfare, there are many political alliances and shifting factions that influence the story.

There is the love story as well, making this anime fall into the shonen-ai category. Although there is an obvious love interest from Naoe to Takaya, there is also a more subtle one between Takaya and his best friend Yuiko. Both young men are bishonen (Japanese ?beautiful boys?), which helps attract a certain audience to this film.

Overall the story is well done, but suffers from the pace of the storytelling. Much commentary is needed to fill in blanks for the viewer, and so the viewer sometimes is overloaded with information, attempting to decipher the dealings and plots. This is the third time I?ve watched Mirage of Blaze and I am now starting to appreciate all the storylines going on. However, this complexity may turn some people off from watching the show.

The animation is reasonable, though some of the scenes with a lot of commentary have faces with only moving lips. This can rob a little bit of life from the anime if overused.

There are stellar parts too, though. The scene where Takaya breaks down emotionally is extremely moving, and you completely forget that you are watching anime. Rather, you are watching a young man that has been pushed to the limit and can no longer be what he was. You can?t help but be moved by this. When you forget what you are watching, and personify the characters you know you are watching a good production.

The soundtrack is well done, though the opening song is uncharacteristically pop-ish for the type of story Mirage is. Perhaps this is to attract a younger audience, but I would have preferred something else.

All-in-all, Mirage of Blaze is a good production worth watching. You may have to watch it a couple of times to get the most out if it.