Gungrave

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sothis's avatar By sothis 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.
10/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
badazz5001's avatar By badazz5001 on Oct 12, 2009

The mafia in American cinema is always in my opinion incredibly unrealistic. Ether they depict them far to harshly such as in early 20s block busters like or are in my opinion far to kind to them in classics like the godfather.  But every so often a piece of art depicts them realistically without to much romantic heroism but not to much despicable villainy. Gungrave is one of those rare occasions. The story revolves around two young juvenile delinquents Brandon heat and harry McDowell. After tragedy strikes them they both end up joining the crime syndicate known as millineom and end up working with the infamous crime boss big daddy. In what results is an incredibly intelligent and emotional journey throw organized crime and there different experiences and mindsets to it. The story is well told and is filled with emotion and well thought out scenarios. Absolutely nothing done in this amine is unnecessary . Every frame event twist and every turn is done to help tell this brilliant story as a whole. The animation in this anime is brilliant and incredibly detailed. The use of light and shadowing is brilliant and helps insight emotion when need be. This series has incredible voice acting in both the sub and the dub so i cant really recommended just one. Also in sound t eh opining and ending themes to this series are a pleasure to lisen to and completely fit the mood and themes of the series. All the characters are superb and well taught out and all have there own motives and complicated past's. I only have one complaint about this series and that is the first episode. Ill be frank the first episode does not make any since unless you have seen the rest of the series. But it holds it purpose mainly so you dont go what the fuck later on in the series. But even thow the first episode is preempt bad the ending more then makes up for it and is in my opinion the best ending to anything i have ever seen. I can not recommend gun grave enough and give at a 10 out of 10 and my highest recommendations. And plese mind my spelling :) I know it sucks.

10/10 story
10/10 animation
9.5/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
ZorroMeisterZ's avatar By ZorroMeisterZ on Jun 6, 2010

Okay now this is something I haven't seen in a while. a good strongly story driven anime.

Strangely enough though many people know it by the video game, most of the interesting stuff takes place in the 'before' stage. Seeing how the characters got to their respective situations.

The action isn't to be sneezed at either and it actually goes the route of trying to keep realism in view if not in focus..

 culd go on and on but all i can say is WATCH IT!. You will thank yourself.

8/10 story
8/10 animation
5/10 sound
9/10 characters
8/10 overall
chaoserver's avatar By chaoserver on Feb 22, 2010

This is a spoiler free review written after two full viewings of the subbed series and one of the dub.

STORY 8/10

Keep in mind a few things when regarding my 10/10 rating for this series. The first and most important is that the first episode is unforgiveable in the sense it is essentially a copy and paste from one of the most lackluster episodes later in the series, and furthermore the most difficult segment to understand. But worse than that it gives away details of twists that would otherwise serve as huge surprises, which also means as the series kicks off you immediately realize where things are headed. I would go so far to say that you must skip the first episode as the first and more important step to get the full 10/10 story that is absolutely here. On that note if you watched the first episode in horror and disregarded the series, dont.

The second, also important step is to be aware this anime was based off a video game, which of course is never a good thing. This holds true to Gungrave, as there are noticeably out of place low quality scifi elements, and two particularly out of place "boss fights" which without spoiling anything bring down the characters involved. Ugly scifi filler elements also plague the third disc and the second half of the series, but the writers keep it to as little as possible given the atrocious contents of the game they had to work in.

If any anime has ever powerfully conveyed an emotion, it is Gungrave's delivering of nostalgia.

This begins with the first segment, watching our primary characters Brandon and Harry grow in a rundown and nameless city. It is not a pretty place, and I am sure if the first episodes were longer the word hell would end up coming to mind. Unideal characters abound in this city of humble beginnings. We see all of the characters personalities here and are only to assume they have always been that way, which makes the noticeable transformations very powerful. The story itself becomes very much like a gangster flick like scarface ect. with great pacing. After we have met many characters, all of which serve a distinct purpose, the story gets heavy, and you will find moreso than the beginning that you are watching a very tragic anime. Once the first wave of scifi elements has hit you, your appreciation for one of the best discs of any anime will blow you away, where the characters reach their respective heights and the second half of the anime begins.

The anime does take a dive in quality, allowing for the two previously mentioned ugly boss fights. But this is only for a moment and you are promptly made to forget all of the moments that let you down, as one of the most memorable climaxes kicks in.Yes there is action throughout the series, some good, some mediocre, but the last handful of episodes has the perfect blending of the action with the story, especially the last episode which is probably the most unique ending that maintains immense quality. As nostalgia sets in as the credits roll, you will find only dissapointment that no anime other than perhaps Berserk can impact you to the same degree.

ANIMATION 7/10

While the animation is not say, on the level of a studio ghibli production, you will never find yourself staring down a jarringly ugly scene. Action is fluent and a few are put together exceptionally well, while the majority stands at good, and a few are poor if only because of the antagonists involved. At times, especially during key episodes the animation is kicked up from good to brilliant, with particular attention to detail and symbolism. Certain generic scifi elements are animated in a less than ideal way and are the main reason Gungrave does not have excellent animation in my eyes. If you like bizzare scifi, perhaps it will fit just right with you though.

SOUND 8/10

Nothing wrong here to be sure. Some don't enjoy the intro, but it does pretty well to set the mood, which is more about character than action. The ending however is great, it fits the series and transitions excellently, even if after a horribly depressing episode(it is very upbeat). The voices in both version are suitable and fit the characters, and sounds are on key. You won't be running to download the soundstrack but it definetley is solid in all regards.

CHARACTERS 9/1O

This is where Gungrave shines, the primary characters develop gloriously, from their introduction, through their upcoming, to the climax. The characters all have their realistic strengths and weaknesses, that go hand in hand with their motivations. I am sad to say that two pretty solid characters fall apart in terms of quality, one makes a weird at best transformation and another that is explained poorly. That aside the character's development all works to and is wholly involved in the ending. It is hard to discuss this in detail without ruining one of the best animes, but I will say that the interactions between Harry Macdowell, Brandon Heat, Big Daddy, Bunji, and the rest of the syndicate are some of the best I have seen, not exclusive to anime!

OVERALL 8/10

The amazing characters playing out the terrific story all comes together in the amazing spectacle that is Gungrave. Few other stories would be able to make me forget the game inspired scifi garbage but Gungrave does so and also ties for my favorite anime of all time. Skip the first episode and sit back to enjoy a one of a kind experience.

10/10 story
7/10 animation
8/10 sound
10/10 characters
9/10 overall
vivafruit's avatar By vivafruit 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.

9.5/10 story
6/10 animation
6/10 sound
7.5/10 characters
7.5/10 overall