How much are you willing to give to protect the people you care about? Is there any amount of money, respect, morals, or even humanity that matches the cost?
A rather direct question, and personal one, but it sits in the back of your mind; never answered because it’s never tested. So a little while back I did a review on Zetman and said it had a lot of resemblance to this show. Though if I had to be honest, this one did it better. A story about vengeance for the ones you love is always going to come out more interesting compared to a story about justice for the ones you love. Especially when the story is centered around the mafia, then it’s not even about vengeance all the time…….it only about losing face.
• Episodes: 26
• Aired: OCT 2003 – MAR 2004
• Genres: Action, Drama, Sci-fi
• Studio: Madhouse
This brings me back to the Godfather movies all over again. So a young Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel are a part of a small gang in the slum part of town doing small hustle work to scrape by. It was going alright till a rival group called in some help after a recent thrashing. Now the two are the only ones left and decide to join the local mafia group called Millennia to gain power and get a better life for themselves. At least, that was the plan.
This is definitely a rare treat, even considering how that synopsis looks alone. See, not only is this a good story, but it’s a show whose only purpose was to give more of a backstory to a PS2 game under the same name. That’s right; this show is one of the few whose manga came after the show. But enough about that, you’re probably wondering why else I like this story. Well for starters it starts off in medias res and presents the main goal of our main character; which is to kill Harry MacDowel. Then it flashes back to the past so you see what happened to bring these two to the point of one wanting the other dead. It presents the question, “How did this happen?” in your mind and then took it’s time explaining why. That’s what I like about it. It’s a vengeance narrative where the wronging isn’t clear cut but mesmerizing enough to make you want to find out. It’s like if they started Attack on Titan off with Eren fighting the Colossal Titan and then spent the next five episodes explaining why he hates them so much.
Another thing I like is that the narrative feels more like a play then a set of episodes. I know that sounds weird, so stick with me on this. You know how there are some shows that will tell you what the episode is going to be about in the first three minutes. That is what I mean by a show being a bunch of episodes. Each episode can be shuffled around into any order and the flow would be the same. Whereas this show flows like a play and so each episode progresses off the last. A good example of this is when one episode ends with both Brandon and Harry getting brought into the family and Brandon saving the boss’s life. Then the next episode starts with Harry starting to gather info on other members of the family while Brandon is being trained to be part of the boss’s elite hit-men. You couldn’t reverse the order of these episodes without ruining the narrative. It also comes packed with a very satisfying ending so this narrative is good from begging to end. And now I have over used the word narrative, so let’s move on.
Art and Sound: 8 and 8
I will never get over the art style of older anime with their hard lines and tone downed hues. This is a great match for a show like this. Noire and gritty art styles go together as well as dogs and bones do. An interesting point of interest here is actually Brandon’s costume. It’s weird but stylish all the same. It’s actually interesting to hear that the same guys who worked on Trigun also worked on this piece as well. In fact, they hid a bit of their Trigun style in this show as well. It mainly falls under the character and weapon designs being similar in just enough ways to notice but different in enough places to not say they simply copy pasted it. What really comes through on the visuals is that of the subtle details. The slight wrinkle of a smile shows a lot of emotion with each character so you aren’t simply told how a person feels but more so you see it.
Another perfect match living in this show is the one between the music and the scenery. Normally you would see me talking about how I feel about the opening and ending before talking about ambiance, but here it’s the other way around with the background music nailing the tone that they were trying to create. The opening isn’t actually all that interesting really, just a simple piano piece. The ending, however, is really great switching from piano to violin. The tempo is kicked up a few notches and the piece plays much like an upbeat sunset melody; which actually goes really well with the show. Voice acting was passable enough that it didn’t bug me to listen to any body.
This is hands down the best part of the show. There is simply so much characterization going on that I can hardly fault it. They characterize people so much that I actually come to feel for side characters. You actually grow alongside Brandon as his world is turned upside down and he comes to question his morals over and over and over again. By the end you can see the clear cut differences between him at the beginning and what he has become. Which is funny to think about since he is a man of little to no words. Honest and direct is his policy and he may go about it without even saying a word.
Harry is another character on the front lines that goes through a crazy arc and without spoiling it I would say that it makes him perfectly hate-able. But that’s to show how well they pace people’s arcs. A person will take most of the show to build to what becomes a villain or hero and will only reveal to be so in the end. But like I said, they worked on more than just the front cast, side characters get looked at as well. In fact I would say it was done to the point where the story of this show is the combination of everyone else’s stories coming together. Talk about going above and beyond.
At the end of the day, I find myself liking this show more and more. Between its stories, to the characters, to even the music itself, Gungrave told us a story about betrayal and vengeance that we could very well have heard before but we listened enthralled by the amount of detail and emotion that was contained inside of it. I found myself relating a lot to young Brandon since I am young to the whole world and trying to get my foot in the door of life; not knowing where the future will take you and what it will ask of you in return. At the end of the day, I would recommend everyone to watch this series for the story alone. I know it only gets better the more you get into it. Maybe I should also recommend a flow chart so you can keep up.
Final Score: 9 out of 10