The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials


Title: Gungrave
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Madhouse
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 6 Oct 2003 – 29 Mar 2004

Synopsis: His name is Brandon Heat. Or at least it was. Brought back to life after 14 years, he is now Beyond the Grave. With his sudden resurrection comes the interest of the ruthless Millennion Organization and its even crueler leader Harry McDowell, who seeks to send Brandon to the grave once more. But behind this small war is the story of two young men seeking favor with the mafia, the ambition that further united them, and the betrayal that tore them apart.

The Highlights
Dynamic: This is how friendship should be done.
Animation: Brilliant, but cuts too many corners.
Music: Stylish violin solos.
Themes: Overstated, but well presented.
First episode: If you don’t like it, watch the second one.
Pathos: If this anime doesn’t leave you speechless, then there’s something wrong with you.

I really hate Gungrave right now. After positive review upon positive review, I get the feeling that I give them out a tad too easily. I wish I could be a tad more jaded. And then an anime like this shows up and anything less than absolute praise would be an understatement. No anime should be this good. No video game adaptation deserves to even be good. The very pathos that Gungrave manages to tap is so earth shattering, that it’s absolutely frightening.

If one cannot believe that Gungrave’s source material was a third person shooter for the PS2, I wouldn’t blame them. Forgoing a predictable video game style, this anime goes straight for the cinematic. Dialog wise, this is quite the melodramatic anime, and in the best possible sense. However, more often than not, it is the moments that lie in complete silence that say the most. Scenes are initiated by poignant writing (particularly the words of the stoic Brandon Heat), but it is the sound of gunfire and the accompaniment of a sexy violin score that serve as this anime’s propellant.

Considering Gungrave’s subject matter, one would assume the series would be populated primarily by irredeemable scum. In a lesser anime maybe, or perhaps one desperate to distinguish itself. In contrast, this series takes violence and corruption as a matter of fact, letting the story influence the characters, but never define them. Cop out, maybe; however, one can hardly argue with results. Brandon may be a ruthless hitman with relationship problems and Harry, a backstabbing megalomaniac. But in spite of all of that, they are first and foremost human, and nothing that either of them does can ever change that fact.

Though when watching, do not forget that this Gungrave is still a video game adaptation, and thus on principle must be greatly flawed in one way or another. Though the issues here are a result of an overabundance of substance rather than an utter lack there of. As good as this anime is, it is not particularly tight. On a technical level, Gungrave may offer among the most intense gunfights in the medium. But looking past the stylish centerpieces, the bland backgrounds and faceless characters only make it distressingly noticeable how many shortcuts the animation department took.

And of course, there is no addressing Gungrave’s over ambition more than its dreaded pilot episode. In the scope of the anime fandom, saying don’t be put off by this particular first impression is no doubt redundant. However, the episode’s unfavorable impression paradoxically makes the remainder of the series light years better, for non-relativistic purposes. Where episode one creates a dark, detached world that is near impossible to care about, episode two onwards contrasts this perfectly with a setting and characters that forces one to be emotionally invested at the deepest possible level. With each episode, the first becomes more and more unbelievable as the inevitable twist becomes harder and harder to believe.

So what does this all make Gungrave? In line with the cynicism of it all, I would say a video game inspired, mafia centered, science fiction revenge thriller. Though I am not so cynical as to say that this is what Gungrave is about. If anything, it’s the exact opposite of the aforementioned statement. An emotional rollercoaster above all else, Gungrave will play with your feelings before crushing them into a pool of your own tears.

The Rating: 9

Reviewed by: Kavik Ryx

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