19 CommentsFavourite and Forgotten / By Scamp /

2003 Anime: Gungrave

[AHQ] GunGrave - 18 - Grave.mkv_snapshot_04.00_[2013.09.04_19.21.18]

I saw the first episode of Gungrave a few years ago and thought it was shit. However a number of people told me that the first episode is not representative of the rest of the series at all and that IT GETS BETTER I SWEAR!!! For the most part they were right, you really are better off skipping the first episode altogether. It’s quite similar to the first episode of the Berserk TV series in that it spoils the entire plot with some dumb flash-forward that doesn’t work at all and you’d be better off starting on episode 2. However that first episode is maybe a little more representative of the nonsense that occurs later in Gungrave than people give it credit for.

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Let me back up and start from episode 2. Gungrave is a gritty crime story about two lovers I mean friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel, working their way up to the top of the crime syndicate Millennion (the N at the end is how it’s actually spelt, don’t ask). The story mostly follows Harry and his rise to power, making friends and enemies, tracking his tale from the height and back down again. You may have heard from other places that Brandon is the main character, and this is true only in the fact that the camera spends most of its time on Brandon. It’s not actually his story, because it’s hard to have a story about a person who has all the personality and speaking skills of a tub of lard who can shoot people.

It started to get really silly sometimes how utterly stoic Brandon was. It reminded me of silent video game protagonists. Other people would monologue at Brandon about how great he was and how much he must love Harry, then pause for a few seconds waiting for Brandon to respond before going “don’t talk much do you”. It got particularly bizarre when they started ascribing character traits to Brandon that I never saw him portray. All he does is shoot people and stand still. It felt like I was playing Half-Life 2 again where Gordon Freeman somehow becomes bearded Jesus without ever saying anything, except Brandon didn’t jump on tables while people were talking to him.

The story shares a few more similarities with Berserk with the how the burning ambition drives the two characters until things start to get strained (or at least that’s what drove Harry. Brandon was just dragged along like one of those cans on a string tied to a bumper of a Just Married car). I’m going to keep away from spoiling the big twist, although between the first episode and the fact characters keep going “GOSH I SURE HOPE X DOESN’T HAPPEN”, they did a mighty fine job of spoiling it themselves. There’s a fine line between foreshadowing and spoiling and Gungrave passes that line, then sprints away from that line, jumps inside a harrier jet and then flies several continents away from that line.

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What’s strange is the thing the show doesn’t spoil is the completely ridiculous introduction of zombies. Out of nowhere, the show turns from gritty realistic crime story to nonsense sci-fi action. They are poorly explained, poorly justified, take up approximately half of the show, could have been removed from the show completely without harming anything, and make the whole thing difficult to take seriously when previously serious characters start sprouting helicopter blades out of their back. The entire arc is a nice 101 lesson in bad writing. What infuriates me the most is there was no effort to explain any of the zombie science. If you’re going to crowbar this nonsense plot thread, at least put some effort into it.

The writing in general is not very good. Between the crowbarred in zombies being terribly explained, characters monologuing at Brandon as though he’ll ever respond, a lots of general other clichés thrown in, it feels like a first draft rather than a finished product. My personal favourite font of bad writing was the scientist dude, whose every line was solid gold. What I loved was nobody seemed to pay any attention during his monologues, with even the chattiest characters turning to Brandon-levels of indifference whenever he started spouting his nonsense about how he must atone for his evil and how he’s going to hell. “I DO NOT DESERVE A NAME, CALL ME N FOR THERE ARE NO NAMES IN HELL”, an instruction I believe nobody ever listened to.

Equally bad but less funny was how the show completely rewrote the history of Big Daddy and Millennion towards the end of the show. Big Daddy was the boss of Millennion (I thought Big Daddy was a title, but even his wife called him that so I eventually figured that his name probably was Big Daddy, son of Mr and Mrs Daddy) and was generally all the things you would imagine the boss of a crime syndicate to be. By the end though he became this mythological figure who created Millennion for Good and Righteousness. Bear in mind that Millennion is a crime syndicate. Bribery, robbery, extortion, assassinations, threats, everything was run by Big Daddy. I started to agree with the character who was calling out that bullshit at the time when we were supposed to be the most against him, which undermined the entire story quite a lot.

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At the core of Gungrave there is a fantastic story. At the key moments of Harry and Brandon’s arc…well, OK just Harry’s arc, it does a fantastic job of emphasising their relationship and how Harry got to the position he’s in. The ending in particular is so wonderfully done, far beyond what anything else in the show managed to achieve. A lot of people hold up Gungrave as some sort of beloved classic of the early 00’s, and if it has been over 5 years since you’ve seen it, I can see why you might think that. With enough time all you can remember is the core story of Harry and that ending left nice warm fuzzies. But if those people went back to it today, I can imagine there would be more than a few heartbroken anime fans realising that reality doesn’t live up to their nostalgia.

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19 Comments

  1. fathomlessblue
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I remember mentioning this when you were asking for recommendations, & I think your thoughts exactly mirrored what I wrote back then. Clunky writing, poorly paced, an emotional vacuum of a MC (with too much focus on his equally vapid love interest), and a ridiculous 180 degree shift two-thirds into the show, revealing the show’s video game roots, yet somehow salvaged by the core story between Harry and Brandon. It’s a classic betrayal/redemption story… only with monsters from The Guyver and a half man/half helicopter hybrid called Bob Poundmax. Seriously, the names in Gungrave were sheer gold!

    I thought I was pretty much dead to the show by the time the finale came around, but its impact suddenly brought home the emotional weight of the duo’s journey throughout the years. By the time the ending credits came about, with the supporting cast declaring their individual allegiances, a true sense emerged that the writers both understood the value and wanted to provide a genuine send-off for the characters. As such, I found myself pausing to remember and appreciate their arcs, rather than just moving onto something else.

    Gungrave may have been something of a mess, being unable to escape the pitfalls of its origins, and with neither the writing nor directing that it deserved, but there was genuine warmth to it at times which I’ll always respect. Still, the notion that protecting the ones you love, through illegal deeds and causing suffering to others, is somehow a noble calling, remains grade-A bollocks!

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      The finale was truly great, and did show that the writers did have a story they cared deeply about and understood. Best part of the finale was how their character design changed ages depending on what they were talking about to represent how Harry changed over the years. It was a really cleverly done trick.

  2. gedata
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    To be honest the sci-fi aspect of Gungrave didn’t really throw me off until the dreaded BOSS RUSH episodes, you know, with the Helibobeter and Ballablade Lee (who used to be one of my favorite characters before that. The whole concept of superiorization just was some cheap excuse to hand the villains retarded super-powers. I do agree that the ending was the best part since it used up all the BS sci-fi, killed off much of the supporting cast, and went right back to the core of the story.

    Oh yeah, I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to label Brandon Heat as an emotionless dude, I mean at first he doesn’t say much at all. Not because he’s a stoic dude, I got the feeling that he did care about what was happening around him, but was too damn shy to say much of anything. I guess you grow up to have shit people skills if you have a dude like Harry doing all the talkin’ for you. Also he DOES kinda grow out of it once he and Harry hit the peak of their careers.

    Yeah, this anime would probably be better if it wasn’t an adaptation to a terrible video-game.

    PS: Yasuhiro Nightow really knows how to draw an awesome gun

    PPS: BEYOND THE GRAVE! and BLOOD WAR! are really awesome names in a stupid, cheesy and unexpectedly radnom way,

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      Being connected to the video game is the only explanation I can think of to have the stupid zombie crap. I read some spoilers for the video game and it sounds like the changes they made to the story in the anime were really clever, particularly in regards to the ending. It makes it way more this tragic love story than a revenge story.

      Big Daddy is still my favourite dumb name because of how long it took me to realise that apparently was his real name.

    • Chibimars
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      )

  3. arcanes
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    Scamp, don’t mess with my memories!! Gungrave is Awesome!!! now really, having watched it nearly 8 years ago I don’t think a rewatch is necessary. From what I can remember, it was fun to watch but had a messy plot. Clearly not on my rewatch list. When you were a kid, a lot of things used to be more fun. Flawed anime are one of those things. I will leave it there.

    A question – in my memory, older anime had better atmospheres. Am I right or is it another “false” memory?

    • gedata
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      I wouldn’t say that he’s messing with my nostalgic memories (only watched the show 1 year ago), but yeah to me a series is only as good as how little it makes you care for it’s obvious problems (whilst acknowledging them). This series taught me that.

    • Nagisa33
      Posted September 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

      What do you mean when you say atmosphere? When I think of atmosphere I think of an immersive or worldly setting such as FMA or Mushishi.

      I think it’s fine to keep some older anime in your memory without having to rewatch them. A perfect example would be DBZ on toonami. If you watch that stuff now, it’s really nothing special and it has plenty of flaws. Now that I’m a older and more experienced I can see the flaws but I still appreciate the show for what it gave me.

      This is ridiculously quotable. It’s so bad but it makes me laugh!

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      There are some things that have definitely changed in anime between now and then, but better atmosphere is absolutely not one.

  4. Nagisa33
    Posted September 20, 2013 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I personally enjoyed Gungrave though the first half was better than the second. The last two episodes were solid as well.

    I like your comparison to Berserk. One man is the deadly weapon who gets swept away in the other man’s plan but still is looking for a true purpose. The other half of the duo is more brains than brawn with a passionate dream.

    What I disliked:
    I wish Brandon would have talked a bit more. I’m fine with a man of few words but with him to was to the extreme. The boss battles, while cool, still screamed video game and seemed lazy. The flash forward episode and the reused animation, covering the same part. The shift in the story with zombies. I mean it wasn’t that bad but it just seemed silly.

    What I enjoyed:
    The drive to become free and the irony that the more they strove towards this goal the more shackles they donned. They wanted to get out of that terrible part of town and move up in life but they only dug themselves deeper into the filth. Except this time the filth was masked in slick suits, a code of iron, and business dealings. The duo rising through the ranks was thrilling and you got to see how Harry and Brandon worked together. Both became more dangerous as they got stronger. I have to say that my favorite part of the show was that bromance filled finale. Finally, the flashback to when they were children was a nice touch to show how their relationship began.

    Overall, while ridiculous at parts, I still very much enjoyed Gungrave. Not perfect but still highly entertaining and it had a solid relationship at its core.

    Also, my friend and I like to joke about undead Brandon’s name. How would he sign his name anyway? Grave, Beyond The?

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Beyond the Grave was only a name given to him by that hilariously over-dramatic scientist dude that nobody listened to. What I loved was by the end people had even stopped calling him Beyond The Grave because they too realised what a stupid name that was. “Oh hi there Beyond The Gra-wait no, you’re Brandon”

  5. Posted September 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Jesus didn’t have a beard?! whaaaaaaaaaat

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Jesus was clean shaven, read the bible again.

  6. Aethelwulf
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    Gungrave was one of the first anime I ever watched (back in 2007 or so), and I loved it to bits. I own the DVD set, but I don’t dare watch it again for fear of ruining my memory of it…

    I did actually enjoy the fact that you knew that _(name deleted since it seems you’re not posting spoilers)_ was dead from the first episode on. It took the focus of the story from *what* happened to *why* it happened. The silly zombie gimmick was too weak to hold up the plot on its own, but the question of *why* maintained the focus on the characters enough to keep me involved in what was going on.

    All in all, I think the Gungrave anime was still darn impressive for being based off an extremely mediocre PS2 game.

    • Scamp
      Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      Eh, you could say the same about reading any spoilers for any series in that regard. I could spoil the end of Cowboy Bebop for you now and it wouldn’t have any real impact on your enjoyment. It alters your view slightly so you get interesting clues in the earlier episodes but leaves the actual final episode not having as much impact as it would if you went in blind.

      • Aethelwulf
        Posted September 22, 2013 at 5:37 am | Permalink

        I think it’s still different, though. If I read internet spoilers, that’s just *me* knowing the ending. If the writer tells you what’s coming, then that’s something else. The writer has intentionally structured the series around the audience’s knowledge of what happens. Scenes may be explicitly written to have a different impact, or foreshadowing a different meaning.

        Also, I’ve been watching anime for eight years (119 completed TV series on MAL) and have still somehow never seen Cowboy Bebop. So, please no spoilers here, plz plz plz with a cherry on top. D:

  7. Nadgers
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    The ps2 game is really fun actually, if very simple. It’s kinda like if DMC and doom had a baby that grew up to be a gangster.

    The second game not so much.

  8. gedata
    Posted September 21, 2013 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    It’s a bit weird how drastic Harry aged so drastically compared to everyone else, seriously, the drastic voice change, the wrinkles, and look at everyone else around him. I guess the stress that comes with his job ain’t good for your skin.

  9. DarkEnergy
    Posted September 25, 2013 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    It’s been 2 years, 5 months, and 26 days since I finished Gungrave and I rate it 9/10. To me the first half was chocolate. The second was peanut butter. And together they were oh so good. The twist in the middle is really stupid, but I liked how everything changed afterwards. And the ending is fantastic. I’ve seen far too many shows with a good build-up and a shite ending, so I tend to rate things higher for good endings.

    Good review Scamp. I think your feelings were explained very well here.

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