Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel were best friends who lived by the law of the street, until one day they picked a fight with the wrong people and their life of freedom was suddenly taken away. With no one to turn to and nowhere to run, the choice to join Millenion, the city's most powerful syndicate, seemed like an offer they couldn't refuse. Now, amidst heartache, tragedy, and utmost betrayal, Brandon must take up the gun and help Harry climb the ranks of Millenion to succeed, in order to protect the people he loves, even if it means killing countless others in the process.
StoryLet 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. AnimationGungrave 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. SoundMusic 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. CharactersThe 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. OverallI 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.
StoryLoyalty. 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.AnimationAnimation 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.SoundThe 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).CharactersWhile 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.OverallIn 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.
One of my personal favorites. I do reccomend skipping the first episode, its makes things a little confusing and gives away some of the story. This anime has a mobster, type of feel for probably 2 3rds of the anime. The characters are great, the story is great, the character development, at times can feel jarring! Towards the end it has more of a supernatural feel. Please please watch, great action, great great great character relationships and development, and drama included. 9/5/10
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