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