In Brandon Heat’s life, there is nothing more important than his friends. To protect the ones he loves, Brandon and his best friend, Harry MacDowel, join the powerful crime syndicate Millenion. Within a few years, they become two of the most respected members of the organization, but just when it seems Brandon could finally be happy, he is betrayed and murdered. Yet, by some strange twist of fate, he is brought back from the grave and now has a score that can only be settled with guns blazing.
summary by Gatts
Highs: Amazing characters; compelling plot; music
Lows: The first episode; overly farfetched at times
When it comes to anime based on video games, most end up being major disappointments, but Nightow Yasuhiro’s Gungrave manages to be a great improvement over its Playstation predecessor. For players of the game, the anime actually explains what the heck was going on, but there is no need to have played the game to enjoy it. The series stands on its own as a powerful, character-driven tale.
The first episode of Gungrave can easily give people the wrong impression. Quite frankly, this episode is the worst in the entire series and makes it seem like nothing more than a subpar action anime. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth; after the terrible beginning, the series quickly becomes a powerful Mafia drama full of intrigue, action and revenge. The character development is just amazing. Characters not only visibly age, but they also evolve and mature. Brandon Heat goes from being a silent, awkward thug to a confident mob hitman, and this transformation is completely believable. Even the main villain is hard to dislike because his motivations and relationships with others are so fully realized.
The second half of the series is very, very different from the first half, though. In fact, the change is so drastic that many people will no doubt be turned off by later episodes. While the beginning is a fairly realistic story about two best friends working their way up the ranks of a crime syndicate, the second act is full of characters being brought back from the dead, bizarre transformations and supernatural creatures. This change in style may come as a shock, but the high quality of the early episodes is maintained throughout. The captivating plot continues all the way up to the series’ gut-wrenching finale.
Don’t let the first episode fool you. Gungrave is a great anime. The action is intense and the plot is captivating, but the characters are what really steal the show. This is easily one of the highlights of the 2003-2004 anime season.
Highs: Gripping tale with equally engrossing characters
Lows: Starts off on the wrong foot
Game-to-anime conversions are generally subpar, and if that isn’t an understatement, I don’t know what is. Leave it to none other than Nightow Yasuhiro, creator of Trigun, to turn a mindless third-person shooter into a riveting story about the evolution of two best-friends-turned-enemies.
And what better place to show friendship than in the Mafia. Where everyone is considered family, organized crime is given a new face than what is often stereotyped. However, Gungrave isn’t really about the Mafia; it transcends that and is, in fact, about protecting and betraying. This sets the stage for Brandon and Harry, two street punks who join Millenion for their own reasons and work their way up the syndicate’s hierarchy. These best friends are thrown headlong into situations that forcibly change them in little ways, be it a friend’s death or killing another man. As the cast expands to include major executives and up-and-comers in Millenion, each episode sheds new light on every character. Indeed, this anime is captivating and compelling because its focus is on its characters and the tale they weave.
Or the quick version: the ending had me in tears, and I’m not the type of person who cries over plastic characters and a nonsensical plot I can’t connect to. This alone speaks volumes.
However, Gungrave doesn’t start off on the right foot. The first episode is akin to being pushed into a cold swimming pool on a hot summer day; it’s a shock, to say the least. It’s understandable that the intention was probably to spur the audience’s interest, but the opposite is accomplished. Nothing is explained at all, everything occurs all at once, and it all looks like a bad Hellsing spinoff… until you watch the rest of the anime.
Before watching it, I thought that Gungrave was going to lack substance, but it turned out to be one of the best game-to-anime translations ever made. If you’re looking for quick entertainment, search elsewhere; here, you’ll only find a well-crafted narrative that’s raw storytelling at its best.
Highs: Perfectly developed drama and characters; good action in perfect dosages
Lows: Sterile surroundings; too much reiteration
Some of the most powerful dramas can come from friends growing into enemies because of moral dilemmas. To make it work, a lot of time needs to be spent developing the bonds and convictions of the two main characters. There also needs to be a connection between the viewer, the protagonist and antagonist in the story. Gungrave does just that. Characters repeat their convictions a littletoo often, perhaps… but with superior voice-acting, everything can be forgiven.
Even if it was a dark omen for fans of storylines, the first episode of Gungrave must have done its job as a pilot because the anime seems to benefit from a pretty nice budget. The animation could not be smoother, filler is almost completely absent and characters are nicely designed. Every detail is perfect…
… but something just does not add up. From a bird’s eye view, Millenion’s city does not feel alive and believable. Extras are rare, buildings are plain, streets are silent… the music does a nice job at filling the voids, though it is the little details that build up an ambiance and immersion into an anime. Do not be discouraged, for all that means is that you are absorbed into Gungrave for different reasons.
Like a modern-day Berserk but with a fulfilling ending, the slow but steady development of characters and well-choreographed battles make it hard to wait between episodes. Of course, this series would have been much shorter if those characters did not talk as much before shooting someone, but that’s just part of the fun.
Gungrave can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.