Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel, two friends so close they could be called brothers, receive an abrupt and violent reminder one fateful day of how appallingly merciless the world around them can be. Their whole lives before then were simple and easygoing, consisting largely of local brawls, seducing women, and committing petty theft to make a living and pass the time. What they failed to realize is that in this cruel world, happiness is fleeting, and change is inevitable.
Enter Millennion, the largest and most infamous mafia syndicate in the area, which accepts Brandon and Harry into their ranks and starts them at the bottom of the food chain. Harry has ambitions to ascend the ranks and one day replace Big Daddy as the supreme leader of Millennion, while Brandon only wishes to support his friend and appease Big Daddy who has taken custody of the woman Brandon loves.
Based off the third-person shooter video game under the same name, Gungrave is an epic story of friendship, betrayal, and avarice that spans the course of several years, ultimately tying back to the gripping and foreboding first episode, all the while building up to the story's thrilling conclusion.
Gungrave, an anime with so much mafioso stylistics, with so much grit, with so much bravado oozing in every scene, that a panel consisting of Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino & Martin Scorsese would find themselves salivating from the mouth upon viewing it... well at least for the 1st 15 episodes anyway. If you're a fan of mobster flicks then this will be just what you're looking for. For the 2nd half however it all depends on if a Terminator revenge/monster mashup movie hybrid sounds like a good idea to you, I wish I was kidding when I said that. But I implore you, don't let that deter you from watching this, the compelling character complexity and air of maturity found common in mafia movies was still there from beginning to end and was more than enough to carry the show.
It's safe to say that in order to fully appreciate this title one must suspend their disbelief for the supernatural elements in order to embrace all of the good content it contains. If you've had the pleasure to have watched Berserk then this anime follows a similar pattern in terms of story execution and character interaction. But unlike Berserk, Gungrave is a self contained story that leaves you with a conclusive ending and not the infamous cliffhanger that the aforementioned is notorious for.
The 1st half of the story functions like a platform buildup of sorts, giving us the proper motivations of the characters and hints of foreshadowing for things to come in the 2nd half. Where this show deserves credit is this buildup itself. Nothing feels like it was just there to steer the plot, we as viewers see the beginning of the "snowball" effect as it gradually grows so it doesn't feel shoehorned in later. Anyone familiar with a mafia flick should be aware that the cast is quite extensive and in order not to go on for a lengthy period of time I'll only be talking about our two main characters, Harry and Brandon.
Harry can be summed up in just a few words: ambitious and cutthroat. He's the charismatic guy that always seem to have a appetite for more, which constantly places him and his companions in a "tight squeeze" for the lack of a better term. On the surface he appears to be just a stud who wants to have fun, but as the show progresses we can see that facade slowly crumbling away from a series of life changing decisions that pushed the dormant animosity within him. This gradual chain of events that brings upon a change in him paves a way to explore a multi-layered character that contains a great amount of depth. Something I believe the script writers deserve praise for. He's not a man that's easily pegged in a 1 sided viewpoint, but rather one that gains dimensions as we gradually see his metamorphosis.
Brandon, despite being a 1 sentence per episode kinda guy, provided great insight through his narrative role in the show. He too changes as an individual as the story progresses. Although we get nothing from him at face value, the brief monologues and his internal moral strife help establish his characteristics and drive. Brandon isn't as complex as his counterpart in terms of motivation, instead all he really wants is the power to protect the ones he cherish. He's nothing rare in terms of storytelling in a overview but they executed his role well. What really makes him as a character interesting is his bond with Harry.
Brandon & Harry's relationship is a rare dynamic and a well crafted one at that, second only to Guts & Griffith's from Berserk. It's handled with such maturity that it becomes eerie how plausible it is at times. It's the kind of comradery that's so strong that it becomes a delicate walk on a tightrope, where the slightest push can become fatal. And it shouldn't have to be stated but that's where the heart of the conflict lies. It's ironic but in the end both men became a monster in their own right. This is how you properly execute a "2 sides of the same coin" gimmick.
The rest of the cast is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each character adds a much needed element to the show. Some becoming embodiments of a certain theme such as loyalty, while others become common mobster stereotypes. They're nothing incredible on a stand alone analysis but becomes the heart of the show when looked at in a overview.
Alright, now that we're done talking about the sentimental stuff on to the awesome sauce that is GUNGRAVE!
This anime was made back in 2003-04 and it blows my mind how much love and effort was placed into it. The attention to detail and action fluidity even trumps shows that are coming out today. But then again that's to be expected when you have Madhouse making it, their reputation precedes them and this was no different. The art and design is very similar to that of Trigun and to no surprise Yasuhiro Nightow made them both. This artsytle draws heavily on western influence and it shines through with every scene. Everything is well detailed and the characters all have their own unique features.
This anime is chalked full of "rule of cool" and awesome action set pieces. Everything have substance and weigh to it, making for an addictive watch. From the over the top shoot offs to the later monster battles, there's never a dull moment to be found.
The soundtrack was very diverse and well placed, drawing heavy inspiration from jazz, swing and blues. With guitar pieces that were accompanied by a violin to the more upbeat heavy base guitar and trumpet, It was all rich and saturated in every moment, sucking you into every scene on screen. They also did a good job setting the mobster atmosphere and tone throughout. A very enjoyable and praise worthy addition to the show.
Be warned this is a manly man's show that'll cause you to grow hair on your chest and one that I'll remember for years to come. But that doesn't change the fact that it takes alot of the substance it established and squandered it. The mobster theme is still there throughout but it takes a backseat for the 'shoot em up' carnage towards the 2nd half. Thankfully it offers a great payout with the final episodes and despite the miss comings it was a show I thoroughly enjoyed.
As a whole Gungrave was a good show that was hindered from being better. More doesn't necessarily equal better, something this show could of taken lesson from. The character complexity and real world mobster setting would have been enough to make this an instant classic but due to the unneeded supernatural elements it was greatly hindered. Despite that it's one I still recommend, just make sure you approach it knowing that it doesn't stay fully grounded in reality.
I'll make you some recommendations that you can't refuse (sorry could't help it lol):
Berserk: The main character relationship are extremely similar in progression and they both start off realistic and slowly becomes a part of the supernatural. The biggest difference is the setting itself, but when stripped of that they become very compatible and similar.
Trigun: Other than being created by the same person and sharing similar art design themes, the 2nd half of Trigun plays out identically to Gungrave. There's more comedy and the content is treated more lightly here but fans of one might enjoy the other.
Black Lagoon: take out all the character depth and leave all the over the top "shoot em up" elements and you'll essentially get this. A more brainless popcorn flick than anything else, if you just want the action of Gungrave then this is the go-to choice. They also play out in a similar setting and contain supernatural elements as well.
Darker than Black: This is a loose recommendation but both contain organized crime syndicates and our main character is also a man of little words. A more of a mystery setup with x-men characters but still one you might find enjoyment in.
Hellsing Ultimate: Just for the raw carnage, monster elements and "shoot em up" action flick setup. Like Lagoon this one is simply a action flick without character depth but what you'll get is a bloody and easy to watch ride. read more
Based on the cult PS2 title by SEGA and Red Entertainment, this anime is an alternate retelling of that respective title which I own a copy of, and you can get it for like $5 at Game Stop. The anime tells the origin story of the main character, Brandon Heat, who is later re-named Beyond the Grave, and his best friend, Harry MacDowell. The organization of the presentation of the story feels as if it was perfectly structured as a 3-act play, each with its own unique theme and gimmick. Act 1 you can label as a story about rags to riches in which Harry and Brandon are teenage small timers just trying to survive. Act 2 is about how the duo is trying to establish themselves, and make it to the top of the mafia. And Act 3 is an epic conclusion about betrayal and redemption, which speaks for itself. But throughout the duration of the anime, the idea of family and loyalty will always be a consistent theme.
Even though it’s centered primarily around two characters, I felt a good majority of the characters had their own unique presence and contribution, and really made the themes and messages felt realistic and powerful.
What of course also stands out is Brandon’s characterization that comes across as cliché. In the original game, Brandon never speaks, and the anime is very true to this for the most part. Brandon is still quiet in nature, but with little words he says, it still gives a lot of what goes on inside his mind (of course through narration) and you truly see him start from being an innocent boy, to a contemplative man but yet still maintains his unique surface qualities of being quiet, but yet shows enough emotion to give the audience an idea of what goes on through his mind and find a way to relate to him.
And of course another feature with this whole mafia gig are the weird sci-fi elements. I felt it wasn’t really forced in a way that having sci-fi traits seemed out of place. But the nature of the sci-fi is what makes it bizarre, but yet unique and original. I don’t want to get into the details of that since I would also have to reveal spoilers, but it does add a unique kind of flavor that doesn’t turn you off from the series. The sci-fi part is properly introduced but I felt that the setting such as how far in the future it takes place which will be revealed which will conveniently make sense to make it work. Granted the anime will reveal what year in some parts it takes place in that will make it feel like it makes sense, but I think the anime should have established it from the start, and not 2/3 into it.
What also attracted me to Gungrave was the fact that Nightow Yasuhiro, the creator of Trigun, was the creator of this product as well. Obviously, some elements from Trigun are in this anime as well. Such as the design of Brandon’s guns are quite similar to Vash’s, and Brandon’s coffin gun is of course influenced by Wolfwood’s cross gun. But despite having the same creator, there are some distinguishing differences as well.
In Trigun, Nightow-sensei’s style was more kid friendly and generic, while in Gungrave, his style for the character designs are more edgy and mature which perfectly suits the nature of the story. For the most part, despite the time the anime takes place in, the architecture is quite modern. Though as the series progresses, there are vehicular designs that appropriately reflect the scientific and futuristic elements this anime has. And of course, I like how the anime approaches the aging of the characters throughout the duration of this anime, which I can’t ignore. It does it pretty effectively.
And before I get into the action, I’d like to talk about Brandon’s costume design. I must say it is pretty bizarre, but hey, in his situation by then, what the hell, huh? I think it’s still pretty cool, and really matches his artillery in a complimentary way in that sense, I guess. The action is pretty intense as well. For the most part, it’s just gun violence that does get pretty brutal, and does have some martial arts action as well that isn’t really exaggerated until things start to change into the sci-fi part. If you’ve seen Trigun, then you know what to somewhat expect, but this time, the main character will kill.
Even though I always associate Imahori Tsuneo’s name with his use of guitars, which was prevalent in Hajime no Ippo and Trigun, but hearing the way he composes this anime totally changed my opinion of his talent. The guy knows how to create an appropriate atmosphere with the elements this anime has with a sad blues and jazz kind of feel. Along with the presentation of the animation, I thought his music also brought a noir feature this anime has on all acts in this anime whether in the mafia or sci-fi moments so his presence brought an overall appropriate touch to virtually all scenes that had music.
The voice acting in the Japanese version I thought brought the noir feel to the anime as well, and utilizes most of the voice talent from the original game which was in Japanese. I tried watching the English dub, but it didn’t give me what I was feeling in the Japanese version. Personally, I feel overall the dub isn’t worth watching since there was no dub in the game to begin with to give me some expectation of how it could work. If you’re the kind of person that prefers dubs at whatever levels, I still say it’s good enough for you. But if you’re someone who prefers straight up Japanese no matter how good or bad a dub is, I felt the portrayals in Japanese were best. I felt watching it in English just didn’t have the same level of seriousness that the Japanese had and kind of felt more like a dark comedy, which I feel Gungrave isn’t. I really like how in the Japanese version, which was also done in the English version was how they did Harry’s voice throughout the duration it takes place in. In his younger years, he has a voice where he sound really easy going and sarcastic like Spike from Cowboy Bebop, but when he’s old, he’s as evil as Mori in Flame of Recca. And Brandon was appropriately played by a big favorite of mine as you all know, Seki Tomokazu, who is no stranger to playing quiet and somewhat isolated characters such as Miyata in Hajime no Ippo.
Well, all I can say is if I had to put this anime in a nut shell: try to mix Scarface, The Godfather, Versus, the Yakuza PS2 games, Skullman, Cowboy Bebop and Trigun, then you got this anime. Speaking of Versus, I can actually imagine Kitamura Ryuuhei doing a live action version of this movie, and I could imagine the leading role from that movie playing Brandon. I say anybody who likes those animes, games, or movies individually will certainly enjoy Gungrave and you don’t have to be a fan of all of them just to watch it. Heck, anime fans in general who have no experience with what I described or even the original game despite some significant changes will probably love it. As you can tell from this review, I think it tells an excellent story with characters and themes we can all relate to despite its edgy underworld setting. read more
For me this anime, with no exceptions, is the greatest of all time. If you haven't seen this, don't be put off by the fact that it was based on a video game, because this is a unique experience, and something you can't miss.
While the action in the show is plentiful and exhilarating, the action is not the be all and end all for this show. The story is deep and touching. Love, hate, greed, betrayal, it's all there. You will see the entirety of these men's lives from beginning to end. You watch as they go from nobody street thugs to top dogs. And let me tell you the ending is wonderful. When I say that, I don't mean it's a happy ending, because it isn't. It brings closure. No cliff-hanger. No ending that leaves you with nagging questions of "what just happened?" The ending was so good that I must admit, I did cry a little. Yeah, I know, I'm a guy and I cried.
It's hard to convey the greatness and epic-ness of this anime without telling you too much, so just watch it. You won't be disappointed.read more
Let me start out by saying this......I'm not into this type of show. I love shoujo anime [and now manga], I also like shounen-ai stuff and I'd say it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll watch just about anything with bishounen. So if someone were to tell me about this show, Gungrave and all I had was his word-of-mouth to go on then I wouldn't have bothered watching it. The only reason I watched it was because they used to play it on Tech TV [now G4] back when they used to be a cool TV station and they played anime on the weekends @ midnight. I remember they used to play Gad Guard and this other show, Gungrave. Frankly, I was mesmerized by this show...simply because this story was that good. It had me hooked and I watched it religiously every weekend but I never got to see the ending so I bought the series and even one of those giant wall scroll posters, I loved the show that much......this coming from a person that's a self professed yaoi fan-freak that mainly watches shounen-ai and all other shoujo-type anime. So if I can like this show, I don't see how anyone else can't. What's not to like?
I liked the art in general, but I had issues with the overall character design. The guys' bodies were too big, they're always too big...so big that it seems disproportionate to their heads. Big arms, big shoulders, big chests, big ripped abs, stick legs and tiny head. And I'm not talking about the orc-men or whatever they were called no, this is Brandon, this is Harry, this is Blood War, Bungee and the rest. This happens all the time, not only within this series Gungrave—no—this is somewhat of a phenomenon occurring with all of shounen anime in general. But speaking of the orc-men mutants, how is it that they can get all big and mutated, bust out of their shirts bust out of their shoes.....but the pants and belts stay in tact, WTF!!! Other than that I had no issues.
The art was definitely shounen with all the bold, heavy lines and bulky silhouettes but even so there was this hint of a more grown-up aesthetic to the art that speaks out....”This ain't no little boys' cartoon.”
This is one of those shows that will always hold an indelible spot in my mind because of the music they used for the OP and ED. The OP theme is a melody aptly named “The Family”. There's no singing, it's just a jazz-like piece on keyboard [I think] but either way it's very cool sounding and mellow. I also liked the OP sequence that went with it; the gritty filmstrip effect used for the flashback to the days when Harry and Brandon were young but you also say elements to their dark side in the OP as well.
The ED I liked strictly for nostalgic reasons. I wouldn't say it's a spectacular song but it suits the show nonetheless and with the ED sequence with Harry and Brandon running towards the sunset......well, that speaks volumes [since nothing anime is coincidental, they have to plan it before they draw it].
The show was watched in English and they did one helluva job!
The only term I can think of for this show is.....badass! But not just badass, It's Tarantino badass. Scorsese badass! It's a little bit Good Fellas, a little bit Reservoir Dogs, a little bit God-Father. Some people may not see it as such because of the zombies and mutants and whatever but that's only if you allow yourself to become distracted by that. I admit it's pretty hard to ignore a bloated 500 pound helicopter mutant zombie-dude firing skull faced torpedoes out of his big belly, but it's just a fight scene....and a fight scene is just a fight scene. Just like when Uma Thurman went ballistic with her sword against Go-Go Yubari, Lucy Liu and the rest of the Krazy 88 gang in Kill Bill, awesome as it was it was just a fight scene.
The real art is in the storytelling and the flow of the narration. Gungrave starts in the middle, rewinds to the start of everything then goes back to the middle of the action and ends at the climax. It's not nearly as confusing as it sounds, Pulp Fiction was more confusing. With Gungrave, the story may have also been out of sequence but it was very easy to follow. One of the main reasons for it being easy to follow was that it was told from mainly one perspective which was that of Brandon Heat—the main character. Mika, another main character that really doesn't show up till the 2nd half, does the introduction as well as the narration for the latter part of the series.
Brandon Heat is supposed to be all cool with his badass big machine guns a blazing and eye-patch and killer cosplay outfit but the truth is you can't help but feel sympathetic towards the guy. It's like you feel protected with him next to you with his cold stare, quick moves and big guns but also you get the sense that he's this really meek and sensitive guy that's really the one that needs protecting. You just want to reach out and hold him and tell him everything is going to be OK.........well, I guess you can't if you're another guy, but you get the idea. Tho I don't think he's the type to care if the guy is Harry or even Big Daddy....ha-ha, that's the crazy fangirl in me coming out. Not that it would require a great stretch of the imagination, mind you, the devotion Brandon has for Harry [and vice-versa] is pretty legendary.
Harry is as beautiful as Brandon is profound. Harry dazzles with high-wattage smiles, designer suits and fast cars. I love his dark hair, piercing blue eyes and square jawline, the man is a shark....a very beautiful and deadly shark. He's no doubt a ladies-man, but say what you will....a piece of his heart belonged to Brandon, and that's why they held so much sway over each other. I call this “The Straight-Guy Crush Syndrome” it's a phenomenon where two dudes, even tho they are not gay, they kind of hold the other guy's balls in their hands due to unforeseeable emotional reasons, making each guy...the other guy's bitch. That's the long and short of it. Harry and Brandon's relationship with each other.
Gungrave also has one helluva supporting cast, take your pick, there's bound to be a favorite for you in there.
Worth it or NOT?
It goes without saying, if you don't already own it....go out and buy it! If you liked Bebop then you'll like this one too and if you didn't like Bebop.....well, I don't wanna know you! read more
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