Loyalty. Friendship. Love. Bravery. Trust.
Greed. Conceit. Betrayal. Hatred. Regret.
What is perhaps most amazing about Gungrave is the anime’s incredibly nihilistic philosophy throughout most of the show. In the first half of the anime, we see the characters striving to build up a metaphorical castle in the sky – an immense, ornate creation with no foundation to support it. In the second half of the anime, we see everything collapsing under its own weight, a house of cards built atop a shaky table.
What should we devote our lives to, if nothing we gain has any long-term substantiality? Each character in the show seems to have a different idea. Some live solely to protect and nurture their sons and daughters, others decadently gorge themselves on the luxuries that money can afford, and still others simply live to kill other human beings. Brandon Heat, the main character in the show, devotes his life to something completely different: the devoted, unwavering protection of his comrades. Everything he does in the anime is motivated by this simple goal.
Whether or not Brandon’s philosophy is actually sound is explored in detail throughout the anime. When friends can turn their backs on you, when loved ones can perish despite your best intentions, and when people you trust the most can betray you, is such selfless, thoughtless, and undying loyalty really the best way to live life?
The answer that this anime comes to may not satisfy some people, but I found the ending of the anime to be an excellent way to finish an already outstanding story. The conclusion marks the end of an entrancing downward spiral; although oftentimes the outcomes of the show are obvious, this somehow doesn’t soften the impact of the characters’ fates. Interestingly enough, this “action” anime doesn’t really focus on the violence of the show at all; although the action scenes certainly aren’t bad, they pale in comparison to the absolutely amazing storyline. However, whether I was watching mindless action or the latest plot twist, I was seldom bored and was often immensely impressed.
Animation tends to be good in everything except for the action scenes. In some (not all) of these action scenes, I felt that they could have been animated more fluidly. I’d recommend that you not watch this anime for its violence, but for its amazingly captivating storyline.
The music is definitely unique, but not really good. I didn’t find it particularly obnoxious, but at the same time I’m certainly not going to download the OST. However, to make up for the somewhat lackluster soundtrack, the voice actors do an absolutely outstanding job (judging by how many famous seiyuu are in this anime, I’d expect nothing less).
While many of the characters feel a little flat (Balladbird Lee and Bob Poundmax in particular felt kind of like unnecessary speed-bumps in the anime’s progression), Brandon’s best friend Harry is amazingly well developed. In fact, there is a lot of evidence that Harry is the true protagonist, as he is by far the most dynamic character of Gungrave. Also, I found the turns that Bear Walken’s character went to be remarkably compelling.
Furthermore, while not particularly well developed, all of the characters are interesting at face value. A lot of supporting characters are in the anime, and I find it amazing that I can still remember most of them a couple weeks after I have seen the show. The main character is not necessarily deep, but I found his stoic nature appealing.
In the end, this series should appeal most to both fans of serious, plot-driven action anime like Berserk and Trigun. The story is gripping, and the action scenes are sufficient. In addition, fans of more cynical, experimental anime like Texhnolyze and Jin-Roh: the Wolf Brigade will enjoy this for the nihilistic themes present throughout. As for me, I think this is a great show that I will most likely revisit sometime in the future.
Gungrave is about two friends, Harry and Brandon, who begin pulling off small jobs and eventually become bona-fide mafia members. It opens in medias res, starting off in the middle of the plot, and then jumping back to start at the beginning. Gungrave then paints us a picture over the course of their lives, showing how the two friends change and how their relationship is tested. Gungrave executes this well with the plot it is given. It manages to be both thrilling and touching, and comes packed with a ton of exaggerated style and some sci-fi elements added in that makes for an entertaining watch.
One complaint I have is that the fighting is mostly dull. Despite being based an a video game, Gungrave's major strengths are its style and its plot, rather than its action. The story had several eye rolling moments for me as well.
For the most part, Gungrave does a fabulous job exploring the characters' emotions and histories. Harry McDowell is someone you will love, hate, and pity. The characters themselves are almost like caricatures, with their images built up until their final moments. They have ridiculous names such as Brandon "Beyond the Grave" Heat, Balladbird Lee, and Bob Poundmax. This is all part of the exaggerated style Gungrave sticks with and, while I can't help rolling my eyes, I secretly think it's all cool.
On the other hand, I felt there was some "plot-control" of the characters (a common fault in many anime); that is, characters sometimes act inconsistently in order to drive the plot in a certain direction (e.g. Brandon and Balladbird Lee). Coupled with all of their dramatic flair, this produces characters that seem inauthentic at times.
Gungrave is male-dominated. There are only three women in the series. Maybe that's because it deals with the mafia, but it would have been nice to see even one strong female fighter.
The animation is good overall, with some flaws. Character designs, derived from the original videogame, are great. There is good cinematography as well. If you pause at certain moments, there are some extremely beautiful, distinctive frames. There are lovely cinematic sequences here and there that swap elegantly from long-shots to sequences of close-ups as the environment is explored.
I felt that quality degraded a bit during action scenes, and it could feel static and dated at times. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the opening and ending sequences, and I enjoyed its style. Overall, the animators did a good job.
I actually wasn't too impressed with the audio portion. I watched the Gungrave dubbed. It was only okay. In particular, when we see Harry as an older man, his voice actor changes and it's very noticeable, and I frequently noticed minor charactors with the same voice actors. There were a number of generic sound effects (e.g. door creaking noise).
The soundtrack was fitting, but average. The opening is boring. I liked the ending. There are occasionally good background pieces, but I found most of the music to be fairly generic.
For an anime based on a video game, I was pleasantly surprised with Gungrave. It's very stylized, the characters are wonderfully composed, and the storytelling is good. There is trust, betrayal, revenge, and plot-twists along the way. The style may not be for everyone. It's dramatic. The fights toward the end are borderline corny, as is some of the dialogue throughout. Nevertheless, I found myself eating this anime up (I finished it in three days), and the characters are still stuck in my head.
Comparison to "similar" anime (SPOILERS HERE)
Gungrave reminded me a lot of Trigun. They share very stylized approaches and tell tales of two friends. They both have "legendary" main characters with big guns and big hearts, sci-fi elements, and lots of gun fights. Trigun is more comedic and cheerful, and maintains a more cohesive and refined western style. Gungrave has a grimmer tone, leaning a bit toward a noir style. Trigun has cleverer fight scenes, while Gungrave has a more epic story. Trigun is also more episodic and has some filler episodes.
Berserk is a better fit for Gungrave. Both are stories of two friends. One friend is super ambitious and willing to do anything to reach his goal. The other friend is physicially stronger but rides the coattails of his friend's ambition. Both series maintain a serious atmosphere, and both start out in medias res, with the first episode beginning in the middle of the plot and then reverting to the beginning. Both have fantastic characters, great stories, supernatural elements, betrayal, and lots of fighting and killing. If you like Gungrave, you'll definitely like Berserk, and if you like Berserk you'll probably enjoy Gungrave.
Every now and then I stumble upon something that looks really good, will obviously not be my favorite, but its fun, it doesnt decline with the story going further and in the end, you feel disappointed. Im talking about Gungrave and Berserk.
I watched it some time ago, dont remember the story perfectly and also the series was not too memorbale, but still, I remeber enough.
It started out well. To be put simply a more or less revenge theme with a lot of flashbacks which are mostly about he rise to power of 2 friends. I liked the background story. How everything turned out he way it is now, what happened to the girl, why are they trying to get her. It was good. But they messed up. In the end, the whole thing turned out to be a supernatural revenge series with one boss-fight after another. The series plummeted into mediocrity. Im not saying it was bad. I watched the whole thing, had fun with it.
Th atmosphere is unicque and strong. Story 7/10
Animation: looks good, not my favorite style, but they worked on it a lot. Good job! 8/10
Characters: I prefer to have cgaracters who are actually interesting. The main character was boring as hell, the girl was insignificant, the main villain was the msot interesing until he gone mad and the best characters: Walken and Big Daddy have pretty minor roles and cant compensate for the others. Yes, we have a lot of feeling at play: loyalty, frindship, etc. But thats not enough. For example: watch Cowboy Bebop, they have the same amount of action, they have more style and even the most minor character is memorbale. 5/10
And finally the biggest letdown: what the hell kindof ending was that. I dont care if you were friend a lifetime ago, hes your enemy now and act like it. The ending was incredibly weak and just plain stupid. It felt like they wanted to finish the series with something memorable that we couldnt guess, they ended up ruining it. - 1 point.
Overall: its not bad, but they missed the chance to make something way better.
Gungrave delivers on the promise made by other bloody stories where the protagonist and antagonist are two sides of the same coin. I would go so far as to say that it succeeds where the legendary Trigun and Berserk (the two obvious influences) came up short. Most of all, Gungrave is an exercise in badassery and timeless cool.
Like all my favorite anime, it is a complete and cohesive package. The story, animation, sound, and even characters all are not the cream of the crop. But they all fit together into one compelling tale. The whole is so much greater than the sum of all elements.
Like Berserk, it is a story about two friends, one with a dream and the other a true fighter. Like Berserk, their determination which made them two halves of a whole and set them on the path to greatness is the thing that led them to enmity and ruin. But unlike Berserk, there is resolution, clarity, and most of all, a very human side to this tale.
Like Trigun, this is a story about one man and his fight. A fight against enemies. A fight against friends. But first and foremost, the fight against himself. The protagonist is determined, capable, and with his own sense of morals. But unlike Trigun, there is a sense of true sacrifice and tragedy, of family, and most of all an admition of the faults in the hero's attitude which gives a sense of realism and drama.
This is a well written tale of the rise from obscurity and into the limelight of two friends and their downfall. Friendship, love, betrayal, hate, creation, and destruction all become woven into the fabric of the story with gentle and subtle nudges at some times and with explicit extremes at others. This story takes what Berserk did and does it better - more elegance and restraint, less angst for the sake of angst, no darkness for the sake of darkness.
Is this a unique story? Obviously not. It builds upon other stories. Does it do it well? An emphatic yes on that one. This takes the stories done before and gives them a polish that they never had. Before anyone points out that this is derogatory - what is widely considered Shakespeare's greatest work (Hamlet) is just a polished version of a Danish folk tale / ghost story, which does nothing to diminish the fact that it is an exemplification of greatness.
That being said, the story is not perfect. There is a lot of reliance on violence, on the characters stubbornly refusing to grow, and on a lot of mafia cliches. Of course in order to circumvent this, the series would have had to have been twice as long and may have paid the price in losing the guttoral edge which makes it work so well. Still, the story is compelling, and a rare joy to behold especially in a series so based on violent crime as the setting.
Animation and sound:
Is it perfect? No. The character designs are good, the atmosphere is magnificent, and the choices of settings (while at times pedestrian) are just right for the anime. The voice acting is good, and at times great. The fight scenes are not spectacular, but somehow that fits with the gritty mafia life.
The backdrops range from the slums where crime is rampant to extravagant mansions of crime lords. The scenery sets the tone where the story can truly shine. Of course, the animation and sound in and of themselves are not spectacular. They are good, polished, and well made. Better than average for sure. But there is no wow factor to make something in particular stick.
That being said, while there are faults at some points and moments where the vibe of the series is inspiring, overall it is well above average but not brilliant. Don't expect anything too creative or outside the box. There are plenty of cliches used, and none of them the best out there.
The two main characters are well developed, interesting, at times decidedly unlikable and at others so intense that it really shines. The point of the story is that of those two. And yet, in and of themselves, the characters are nothing special. This is one of those rare cases where the characters are both magnificent and yet little more than an overly-trodden trope.
The side characters at time add interest and a lot of depth, and at others make you want to cringe. But as this is a story about criminals and people that are not supposed to be pleasant, this is obviously the right choice. While on one side it would have been a great pleasure if the characters were more unique, it is questionable if that would have been a better fit.
Still, the two main characters are what drive this story, and they do a fine job at that. The side characters give depth and humanity. Overall there is a strong cast that makes everything feel right when needed and so desperately wrong at others. Giving them a solid eight out of ten is perhaps the single most rage-inducing choice, because some will absolutely adore them and others would feel nothing for them. But both sides should be acknowledged, as Gungrave doesn't try to be a show to please everyone, it is my way of saying that while in many ways the cast is dull and in others it is utter perfection, in the end they were a good choice for the story.
This is a classic case where all the strong points of the story, animation, sound, and characters work together to create something far more impressive than you would expect. This is a story about organized crime told through a criminal's perspective. This is also a tale of two characters that are inexorably linked. This is, most of all, an anime about a flame that burns to brightly and lasts all the shorter for it.
In the end, I personally found Gungrave engaging to the extreme. It is down to earth where others try to become too fantastic. There is a distillation of a story that has been told and retold throughout history, executed with great care and attention to detail. The imperfections and flaws are both a weakness and a strength, and there is nothing left but to recommend this for anyone who enjoys a core violence in their character driven story.