Review of Gungrave
Over the past few days, I have been watching the anime series Gungrave (dir. Toshiyuki Tsuru 2003). Despite a few issues, Gungrave has been a very good anime.
Based on the video game of the same name, Gungrave follows the life and after life of Brandon Heat. Brandon Heat was a member of Millenion, a mafia like organization run by Big Daddy and later, Harry Macdowell. He is murdered by Harry and resurrected by Dr. Tokioka as Beyond-the-Grave. The series follows two lines: the tale of how Brandon and Harry join Millenion and seek to rise to the top and the downfall of Harry at the hands of Beyond-the-Grave.
The strongest element of the series is the characterization. All of the characters are well round and well realized. Indeed, despite the lack of dialogue on his part, Brandon Heat carries a huge amount of emotional actions in his face and looks. And Harry is equally well done, especially in how the character descents into megalomania and psychopathy as the head of Millenion. The secondary characters are well done as well, especially Bear Walken and Bunji Kugashira. The only problems with characterization are, unfortunately, the female characters.
There are three major female characters: Maria Asagi, her daughter Mika Asagi, and Sherry Walken-Macdowell. Each one is a small variation on the mafia princess trope. My problem with the depiction of the female characters is that they are all weak and exist solely to support, or provide excuses for heroics for, the male characters. There is some glimpses of strength on Sherry’s part in terms of her father, but she acts as the dutiful wife for Harry. At the end, when Harry is reminiscing over those he lost, he states “and of course Sherry” almost as an after thought.
While the strength of the female characters is sad, their role is key. It is for Maria that Brandon does the actions he does (in addition to Millenion). It is for Mika that he defends her and starts the fight against Millenion. And it is for Sherry that Bear Walken continues to serve Millenion.
Beyond that problem, the rest of the series is excellent. Especially the visuals and the action scenes. The fights between Grave and the Big Four (Bob Poundmax, Balladbird Lee, Bear Walken, and Bunji Kugashira) are all amazing. As is the visuals of the city itself.
And there is the final scene in which Harry and Brandon reminisce before their deaths. That was beautiful.
All in all, a highly recommended series.