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.
Gungrave is the story of two childhood friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell. Reminiscient of the movie scarface, it starts off as a realistic story of living day to day life on the wrong side of the tracks, entering a crime organization, working up through the ladder to be at the top, and the consequences of doing so.
After witnessing virtually everybody they care about being murdered, and barely escaping with their own lives, Brandon and Harry (each for their own reasons) manage to get accepted into the biggest mafia family in the city, known as Millenion.
Somewhere around the halfway point of the series, the sci-fi aspect is introduced, enter Necrolyzation. The ability to re-animate dead bodies creating nearly invincible zombies with enough mental capabilities to fire a gun and follow orders. Although this aspect is complete fantasy, and completely different from the orginial, realistic feel of the series, I do feel like this show manages to pull it off. If you can accept that it is now possible to create zombies.
Years pass and the leader of the "family" as it is often referred is ready to hand over the reigns to a new leader, and this is when the chaos begins with betrayal rearings its ugly head left, right, and centre. The last part of the series follows one characters path for vengeance with a somewhat light hearted ending (all things considered) that really tugs at your heart strings yet makes you feel like everybody did get what they deserve...Unless you're a female character in the show.
It's a strory rich with morals, told at an efficient pace, blending realism with fantasy in a somewhat believable manner, with the right balance of action and all that emo gushy stuff that girls like.
Although it has the odd hickup here and there, the animation in this series is solid, making use of different camera angles, interesting shading/lighting, exciting action/fighting scenes, and sporting some interesting character designs.
Like the Animation, i found the Sound in this series to be solid. Nothing spectacular, but it was definately used effectively to induce the proper tones and feelings with what was going on visually and in the story.
This is probably one of the best series' iv ever seen for utilizing it's characters. The back stories and character development for this series is phenomenal, to the point where I was so connected to most of the characters, that I felt a little bad for even the ones I didn't like when tragedy struck. Pretty much all the characters are believable and you get a good understanding of their personalities as if they were real people. Unfortunately I did have one issue with the handling of a character named Bunji, who i felt would have been better utilized as a last second, and ill fated sidekick to the main protagonist after somehow seeing the error in his ways. But its really a minor qualm, insignificant to the story, and really only a matter of my own opinion.
We All Have Names
Gungrave is one of my favorite anime series of all time. But I wanted to write something different, even though I enjoy it, and point out simultaneously its biggest flaw/my biggest pet peeve about the show. Okay, here it goes:
Bear. Bear Walken.
Lee, Balladbird Lee.
I am Harry, Harry Macdowel.
Brandon? Brandon Heat? His name is no longer Brandon, it's Grave. Beyond the Grave. Beyond the Grave??
Harry, Bloody Harry.
Beyond the Grave....
Next time you watch the series, I'm going to advise playing a little drinking game where everytime someone dramatically lingers or spouts out a name, you take a shot of Jack. Jack Daniels.
You'll be loaded before episode 10.