Gungrave

Reviews

sothis's avatar By on Aug 6, 2005

Story
Let me just start out by saying that if you have watched one episode of Gungrave and then put it down, thinking it was a ripoff of another well-known series (which I won't name, for spoiling purposes), or just didn't look interesting, think again. Granted, I usually don't base my opinion on a single episode, but there are surely a lot of you out there who have done just that for Gungrave, and know exactly what I'm talking about. Read this review with an open mind, and realize that the episodes which follow are VERY, VERY different in plot. Also, I would suggest not reading many (if any) reviews or commentaries on this series, because I think there is a lot that can be spoiled. That being said, my review might sound a bit wishy washy because I am going to try to not spoil at all, so keep that in mind.

Gungrave takes place in an undisclosed town that feels and looks like somewhere in Europe. We can tell from newspapers and dates that it chronologically begins sometime around the late 1930s, though I don't feel that the buildings, cars, or surroundings would give you the impression of that naturally.

The meat of the story is about Millenion, a famous syndicate. This means that a large chunk of the series is based on things like cold blooded murder, illegal activities, and general gangster behavior. Although this isn't necessarily a subject I usually enjoy in movies or whatnot, it still managed to be gripping and interesting for this show. Without spoiling, I will say that the second half of the series has a very different sort of focus. Though it deals with the syndicate very heavily, it also has a sci-fi or supernatural sort of feel. Seem like an odd combination? Perhaps so, but it was flawlessly merged in this case.

At it's core, Gungrave is an epic journey that two best friends take together, as they enter a new (dangerous) career, and find out what it takes to get to the top. Though very based on plot, the story is centered around character development in all forms -- mostly with Brandon and Harry. True, there is a great deal of plot, but it ALL revolves around Brandon and Harry, and their friendship. We see them change from day to day, we watch their transformations, and we watch it all in suspense, waiting for the climax that we know is sure to happen. That's part of what makes Gungrave so amazing, the anticipation. You know where the story is going (you'll know what I mean once you start watching), so you make all sorts of guesses as to when/how the situation will occur, or for what reason. I can think of one real life movie that does this same strategy, but I don't think it would be appropriate to mention. There is nothing flawed about this storyline, at all. Even the ending was a perfect conclusion to an epic 26 episode ride. Some stories have a way of engraining themselves on your brain because of how amazing they were. Berserk comes to mind for me as one example, and Gungrave is easily a new one.
Animation
Gungrave is moving in pretty much every way. But the two things that stuck out as making specific scenes very disturbing or real, were the music and the animation. Since this is the visuals section, I'll start with the latter. As opposed to some newer series with solid, vivid-colored character designs, Gungrave ofted for the grittier, more realistic look, with many lines making up facial features, faces that look chiseled, etc. My favorite character design was definitely Brandon, who looked strikingly like Brandon Lee in The Crow, or Amon from Witch Hunter Robin. Other characters were very unusual, such as Bob Poundmax, looking like something from an old Archie comic book, or Balladbird Lee, with only slits for eyes that never actually opened. Since we see the characters grow over the course of a decade or two, the character designs change as well to reflect the age. Bob (who constantly is eating chicken) grows fatter and fatter. Harry's hair and face show their age. Brandon begins to look less like a street punk/rocker, and more like a slick, hardened professional. These dynamic designs help you to get a feel for how much time has passed in the series.

Background visuals were great, ranging from the broken-down look of the city on the hillside, to the expansive skyscrapers, to the commonly shown orange-red of the sunsets.

But the best part of the visuals was definitely the unique way the animation helped to tell the story. Many camera angles were used as transitions between conversation points, or fights. There were also some scenes that were incredibly powerful, based on things you might not notice at first such as clothing colors, shadows, or placement of objects. So many subtle things are scattered throughout the series, that it's easy to miss them. Think of Cowboy Bebop and how uniquely the story is displayed, and that's how Gungrave comes across as well. It's a little of Bebop mixed with Gunslinger Girl, Witch Hunter Robin, and Hellsing. It's like they took the best of those worlds and combined them to make up this animation style.
Sound
Music can be presented in two major ways in a series: there can be a select number of title tracks which are repeated during the series, perhaps in slower or faster speeds, or remixes, OR there can be a wide variety of tracks that are played at different times throughout the series. For the former, Stellvia comes to mind as being a series which pulled this off well. Gungrave definitely is an example of a series which pulled off the latter superbly.

There are easily over a dozen different tracks, each with a different instrument. There are a plethora of violin/orchestral pieces, sometimes with electric guitar wailing mixed in, a very odd jamacian steel drum piece, a church organ gothic sounding track, to saxaphone ballads that sound like they were taken right out of The Crow, and many more. With the exception of one scene with the steel drum track, each of these was always placed at the best of times to make the story more effective. And really, that's what the big issue is: that the music made the series very, very effective. Near the end there are some very tragic scenes, and the music they chose to play just shoves the knife in your heart even deeper, making the depression factor raise ten fold. I found it very surprising how heartbreaking the music could make events be. Also, usually if a series has music that isn't in your face all the time, it is seen as a bad thing. In this case, the music being a background element was a good thing, allowing you to enjoy the story, but also still being there to hear it.

Voice acting was superbly cast, with the exception of Balladbird Lee. I always felt like his voice did not fit with his appearance at all. Everyone else fit the role perfectly. Since each character was shown at different points in their lives, the voices changed accordingly, always in a positive way.
Characters
The crux of the series is definitely based on character development. In the foreground are Harry and Brandon, who grow up together, struggle together, and rise to the top together. Their friendship is extremely deep and loyal, and you have no doubt that they can survive anything, as long as they remain friends forever. Even sub characters have a story, and you become empathetic towards them. Some characters, like Balladbird and Bob, are important sub characters, and you watch them grow and change just like Harry and Brandon. Then again, they don't have a great deal of back story, but it isn't necessary. Other characters, like Big Daddy, Maria, and some of the other executives don't have quite as large of a role, but still are presented in a way that you feel empathy towards them.

Some characters change for the better, some change for the worse. It is the changes for the worse which tug at your heartstrings, especially with so much death and violence in the series in general.
Overall
I rarely give a 10 score, but Gungrave absolutely deserves it. The story is compelling and engaging, and is shown in a way that not only spreads out character development and actual story, but also makes you feel badly for the characters. As well as being a drama, many aspects of Gungrave are very much a tragedy of the worst kind, and unless you aren't paying much attention to the series, you *will* feel happy, sad, and angry at events. The animation is fantastic, and because of the unique camera angles and choices of imagery, it makes the story that much more exciting. The music is a visual treat which always enhances the story as well. All in all, this greatly deserves a perfect score. I couldn't think of anything that I disliked about the series. Rather, I walked away very melancholy, but happy at the same time, because the story was complete at the series end, and was so moving that I couldn't help but think about it afterwards. Only a few series like Berserk have had this effect on me, and I think it will for you too.

So, give this one a try. Just remember to get past episode 1 and then make a decision, no matter how much you don't like the first episode.
10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
vivafruit's avatar By on Apr 12, 2007

Story

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

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.


Sound

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).


Characters

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.


Overall

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.

9.5/10 story
6/10 animation
6/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
quacker's avatar By on Sep 5, 2014

Story

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.

Characters

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.

Animation

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.

Sound

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.

Conclusion

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.

7.5/10 story
7.5/10 animation
6.5/10 sound
8/10 characters
7.5/10 overall
Hajime's avatar By on Sep 24, 2010

One of my personal Fav's here, I cant say exactly what it is, just that a story has never been so…godfather like to me. Shows the story of 2 young men climb there way to the top of the mafia (Millenium) one for power and glory, the other for love. Then their spiral into seperate lives, to ultimately lead to a sad and devestating end, simply amazing, they say it was based off a game...but seriously, unlike every other game, this one makes you wonder

10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
ParaParaJMo's avatar By on Mar 13, 2014

Based on the cult PS2 title by SEGA and Red Entertainment, this anime is an alternate retelling of that respective title which I own a copy of, and you can get it for like $5 at Game Stop. The anime tells the origin story of the main character, Brandon Heat, who is later re-named Beyond the Grave, and his best friend, Harry MacDowell. The organization of the presentation of the story feels as if it was perfectly structured as a 3-act play, each with its own unique theme and gimmick. Act 1 you can label as a story about rags to riches in which Harry and Brandon are teenage small timers just trying to survive. Act 2 is about how the duo is trying to establish themselves, and make it to the top of the mafia. And Act 3 is an epic conclusion about betrayal and redemption, which speaks for itself. But throughout the duration of the anime, the idea of family and loyalty will always be a consistent theme.

Even though it’s centered primarily around two characters, I felt a good majority of the characters had their own unique presence and contribution, and really made the themes and messages felt realistic and powerful. 

What of course also stands out is Brandon’s characterization that comes across as cliché. In the original game, Brandon never speaks, and the anime is very true to this for the most part. Brandon is still quiet in nature, but with little words he says, it still gives a lot of what goes on inside his mind (of course through narration) and you truly see him start from being an innocent boy, to a contemplative man but yet still maintains his unique surface qualities of being quiet, but yet shows enough emotion to give the audience an idea of what goes on through his mind and find a way to relate to him. 

And of course another feature with this whole mafia gig are the weird sci-fi elements. I felt it wasn’t really forced in a way that having sci-fi traits seemed out of place. But the nature of the sci-fi is what makes it bizarre, but yet unique and original. I don’t want to get into the details of that since I would also have to reveal spoilers, but it does add a unique kind of flavor that doesn’t turn you off from the series. The sci-fi part is properly introduced but I felt that the setting such as how far in the future it takes place which will be revealed which will conveniently make sense to make it work. Granted the anime will reveal what year in some parts it takes place in that will make it feel like it makes sense, but I think the anime should have established it from the start, and not 2/3 into it. 

What also attracted me to Gungrave was the fact that Nightow Yasuhiro, the creator of Trigun, was the creator of this product as well. Obviously, some elements from Trigun are in this anime as well. Such as the design of Brandon’s guns are quite similar to Vash’s, and Brandon’s coffin gun is of course influenced by Wolfwood’s cross gun. But despite having the same creator, there are some distinguishing differences as well.

In Trigun, Nightow-sensei’s style was more kid friendly and generic, while in Gungrave, his style for the character designs are more edgy and mature which perfectly suits the nature of the story. For the most part, despite the time the anime takes place in, the architecture is quite modern. Though as the series progresses, there are vehicular designs that appropriately reflect the scientific and futuristic elements this anime has. And of course, I like how the anime approaches the aging of the characters throughout the duration of this anime, which I can’t ignore. It does it pretty effectively. 

And before I get into the action, I’d like to talk about Brandon’s costume design. I must say it is pretty bizarre, but hey, in his situation by then, what the hell, huh? I think it’s still pretty cool, and really matches his artillery in a complimentary way in that sense, I guess. The action is pretty intense as well. For the most part, it’s just gun violence that does get pretty brutal, and does have some martial arts action as well that isn’t really exaggerated until things start to change into the sci-fi part. If you’ve seen Trigun, then you know what to somewhat expect, but this time, the main character will kill. 

Even though I always associate Imahori Tsuneo’s name with his use of guitars, which was prevalent in Hajime no Ippo and Trigun, but hearing the way he composes this anime totally changed my opinion of his talent. The guy knows how to create an appropriate atmosphere with the elements this anime has with a sad blues and jazz kind of feel. Along with the presentation of the animation, I thought his music also brought a noir feature this anime has on all acts in this anime whether in the mafia or sci-fi moments so his presence brought an overall appropriate touch to virtually all scenes that had music. 

The voice acting in the Japanese version I thought brought the noir feel to the anime as well, and utilizes most of the voice talent from the original game which was in Japanese. I tried watching the English dub, but it didn’t give me what I was feeling in the Japanese version. Personally, I feel overall the dub isn’t worth watching since there was no dub in the game to begin with to give me some expectation of how it could work. If you’re the kind of person that prefers dubs at whatever levels, I still say it’s good enough for you. But if you’re someone who prefers straight up Japanese no matter how good or bad a dub is, I felt the portrayals in Japanese were best. I felt watching it in English just didn’t have the same level of seriousness that the Japanese had and kind of felt more like a dark comedy, which I feel Gungrave isn’t. I really like how in the Japanese version, which was also done in the English version was how they did Harry’s voice throughout the duration it takes place in. In his younger years, he has a voice where he sound really easy going and sarcastic like Spike from Cowboy Bebop, but when he’s old, he’s as evil as Mori in Flame of Recca. And Brandon was appropriately played by a big favorite of mine as you all know, Seki Tomokazu, who is no stranger to playing quiet and somewhat isolated characters such as Miyata in Hajime no Ippo. 

Well, all I can say is if I had to put this anime in a nut shell: try to mix Scarface, The Godfather, Versus, the Yakuza PS2 games, Skullman, Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, then you got this anime. Speaking of Versus, I can actually imagine Kitamura Ryuuhei doing a live action version of this movie, and I could imagine the leading role from that movie playing Brandon. I say anybody who likes those animes, games, or movies individually will certainly enjoy Gungrave and you don’t have to be a fan of all of them just to watch it. Heck, anime fans in general who have no experience with what I described or even the original game despite some significant changes will probably love it. As you can tell from this review, I think it tells an excellent story with characters and themes we can all relate to despite its edgy underworld setting.

9/10 story
9/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
9/10 overall