Gungrave: anime review – Gangsters and zombies

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Review: Gungrave is a typical gangster story with elements of science fiction thrown in. It follows Brandon Heat and Harry McDowell through their rise and fall in the biggest and most powerful syndicate called Millennion. The mixture of sci-fi elements, especially the undead, may sound strange initially but thanks to the powerful drama this anime manages to conjure, the series overall is a success.

The first half of the series focuses on the Brandon and Harry’s ascend to power in the organization and establish their relationship and characters. Brandon is an old fashioned good guy; quiet, honest, loyal and extremely skillful. He joins the crime syndicate because of Harry and he wants to be closed to his lover, Maria, even though she is clearly beyond his reach. He became the boss’s favorite because of his loyalty and skill. Harry, on the other hand, is very sharp and ambitious. He is the kind of person who would do anything to achieve his goal. He rises in the organization because of his intelligence and his unmatched ability to manipulate people and money. He eventually becomes the most powerful member of Millennion and then the power consumes him.

The tragedy begins when Harry decides to overthrow Big Daddy, the syndicate’s boss, but Brandon choose to side with Big Daddy. Brandon is murdered by his own best friend. Later, he returns from the grave using Necrolyzation technology and the anime enters the second half; the retribution part.

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Ultimately, Gungrave is about how nothing lasts. Things change all the time whether you like it or not; friends turning to enemies, families falling apart, the powerful becoming the powerless, people die and never come back. It is heartbreaking. To represent this theme, the anime moves rapidly forward. Between each episode, several years has passed and the characters look older. Harry’s character is the best example that represents this idea. We see him rises to the top and eventually loses everything. There is one scene around the final part of the series in which Harry, in his youth, stands in front of a mirror contemplating about his past, his foolish ambition and the length he has gone to fulfill it then he sees his own reflection in the mirror as an old man and reality hits him hard. This is one of the best moments in Gungrave. Other examples include the orgman which are once regarded as invincible but during the end, they are easily defeated by newly developed ammo.

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The characters in this anime are very well established. Harry is the most interesting character but my favorite one is Brandon. I do not usually like typical or conventional characters but Brandon is an exception because he is admirably and incredibly good and quiet and unpredictable. He never says why he spares Harry and even helps Harry after what Harry has done. When he finally explains that it is because he just cannot shoot his friend, I was utterly stunned. He is such a fool, an admirable fool. Gungrave’s story is very compelling and there are plenty of cool and exciting action scenes to please most viewers. The animation and music are great for its time.

Nevertheless, some viewers may complain about the sci-fi element of the story. The theme about necrolyzed human and zombie-like monster may look out of place for some people. But I had no problem with this since it didn’t interfere with the main storyline and I think it makes Gungrave stands out from other gangster anime. Conclusion: Gungrave is one of the best animes I’ve seen so far. I regret waiting so long before start watching this series. Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Rating: A

Facts

Title: Gungrave
Genre: action, crime drama, sci-fi
Released date: October 6, 2003 – March 29, 2004
Episode: 26
Director: Toshiyuki Tsuru
Animated by: Madhouse Studio

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22 responses to “Gungrave: anime review – Gangsters and zombies

  1. This show looks sick and I’ve wanted to watch it for some time now.

  2. Gungrave is not just about burying emotions and relationships after they’ve died. It is about digging them up, bringing them to light, and finally laying them to rest. A truly great anime that’s worth a watch. ^^

    • Oh, I never really thought of it that way. I always perceive it as a revenge tale but thinking about the last episode, you are quite right :)

  3. I was unsure of if I wanted to see this series. It looked cool, but overall reviews of it (that I read) were mediocre. I think I’ll try it out soon.

    • I recommend this one especially if you are into serious action anime. And I have to warn you that the first few episode may be a little slow. :)

  4. Hmm, that does sound very compelling. All I’ve heard was that it’s pretty hardcore action, with its mixmash of zombies and mafia characters. Pretty commendable if it manages to be compelling between all that. I’ve played the ps2 game, and that didn’t seem too story driven; just a lot of zombies, explosions and bullets. Not that I got all that far in it though, my bootlegged version of it had no sound during the cutscenes so that killed any semblance of story for me ^^;

    • I never played the game. Well, I hardly play any game anyway -_-. When I started watching this anime, I didn’t know the series was based on a game. I wonder if I’d have watched it at all if I had known that. I’m always kind of skeptical about game adaptation.

  5. Oh damn! What a timing! I watched the first episode yesterday and was wondering whether I should continue it or simply drop.. As it seemed to be another hard Anime 90% about feelings and 10% about action with an immortal main hero.

    Your review – even though I read all the spoilers in it – convinced me to continue it after all.

    • I believe that you’ll like it and I must apologize for the spoilers. Sometimes they slip out and I often forget the put in the warning x_x

  6. Gungrave has always been one of my favorites.

    This was the first series which made me realize how much one can feel for characters in an anime. I was never the type to enjoy a good drama, especially when it comes to animes. But Gungrave really changed that. Even before the Necrolyzation arc.

    Probably because I was still young then. But I really felt attached to Brandon. Probably due to it’s crazy amount of episodes spent on character build-up.

    I remember being in school and all I could think about was how the latest episode of Gungrave would turn out…

    Cost me some papers I think. Lol!

    -.-”

    If Now here there then was my first mindfark. Gungrave would be my second.

    • I wonder who could actually hate Brandon. Excluding the necrolization arc, Gungrave is very powerful emotionally like Now and Then, Here and There though Gungrave contains far less despair. ;)

  7. Ah, this brings back memories of 2005. Sick ending song that I only listen to in the warmer weather.

    I liked the way the story developed and showed the after and then the before. I can’t say I liked the last episode very much though. I mean, it was a weird friendship above all things kinda twist. I mean, ugh, weird because he was after the damn guy the entire show.

    • The ending sure is weird. I think it would be better if they reconciled in the end but Brandon killed Harry anyway because that’s what he set out to do. That would be a great tragic ending :)

  8. Wow loved that series myself :) I watched it quite fast because i always wanted to know !!!
    My first impression was also “What the ? Another super zombified hero back from the grave who’s gonna kill all the bad guys and grab the lady” but it wasn’t like that at all ^^ … well he do is a zombified hero lol
    The story line is so thrilling. Great you did a review because it worth to be known and watched.

    • Surprising number of people have already watched this show. I just found that out after publishing this review. Well, some times I can really fall behind others -_-

  9. I loved this anime. Harry was the most interesting character for me. His charisma far outshines Brandon’s skills and linear thinking. For me, I actually sided more with Harry’s motivations in the show than with Brandon’s characters, even though Brandon is the protagonist.

    Anyways, I’m one of those viewers who complain about the sci-fi elements. I think the anime would be even better without muddling the mafia themes with sci-fi stuff. I would’ve liked it even more if it ended after the elevator scene.

    Of course, I still love it a lot though even with the sci-fi stuff.

  10. aquabluesweater

    I feel like this is two series in one, the mafia and then when things turns weirdly supernatural mid-way through. To me the sci-fi elements kinda take quite a bit away from an amazing mafia tragedy story. Overall though it’s a pretty amazing series.

    This is also one of those you can never do a one-episode litmus test. The first episode is just by far the worst in the series!

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