Judge Mitchell Hattaway says this anime evokes Django, but you'll probably be wondering if it preceded or followed Spawn and The Crow comics.
Our reviews of Gungrave: The Sweeper (Volume 2) (published November 18th, 2004), Gungrave: Undead War (Volume 3) (published December 9th, 2004), and Gungrave: The Complete Set (published August 7th, 2009) are also available.
For Brandon Heat, death doesn't matter.
Brandon Heat was the best enforcer the mob had ever seen, but when he betrayed his employers, they had him killed. Thirteen years later, Brandon has returned as Beyond the Grave, an undead killing machine seeking revenge on those who did him in. Armed with his twin handguns and an arsenal concealed inside a coffin, Grave cuts a path through the mob's henchmen, with his former best friend, now the head of a major crime organization, his ultimate target.
Facts of the Case
Brandon Heat and Harry McDowell are best friends growing up on the means streets of their urban city. Petty criminals with no concerns for their future, the two seemed destined for a life of small-time larceny and fencing until Harry crosses the wrong people and brings down the wrath of the Carabel brothers, rival crooks with a particularly nasty bent. It seems Harry stole Deed Carabel's girlfriend, and Deed is none too happy. The rivals arrange a fight, and Harry and his friends beat Deed within an inch of his life. Ladd, Deed's brother, has been laying low for quite some time, but he returns just in time to avenge his brother's slight. He kills Harry and Brandon's friends, and is about to take out his last two targets when he himself is killed by Bear Walken, an enforcer for the Millenion, the city's major crime syndicate (seems Ladd did a little outside job and crossed the wrong people). Harry asks to join Walken's organization, and soon both he and Brandon are working their way up the ranks. Their story, however, has only just begun…
There are no real heroes in Gungrave, but it is a compelling tale nonetheless. There are only two possible innocents in this story, but considering that only the first four episodes are presented here, I'm not ready to place any bets. One of these characters is Brandon's girlfriend Maria, and I have a feeling she'll play a major role in creating the rift between Harry and Brandon. I also suspect that Mika, one of Brandon's companions following his rebirth, is more than she appears to be; it is made clear that she wants to see Harry dead because he gave the order for her mother's execution, but I doubt it's that simple. The plotting here is twisty and gnarled, and I quite enjoyed it.
Gungrave seems to draw much of its inspiration from the works of Sergio Leone, with a little bit of Sergio Corbucci's Django (love that coffin!) thrown in for good measure. Much of the storytelling resembles the laconic, operatic nature of Leone's westerns, while the plot of these early episodes brings to mind Once Upon a Time in America. Grave, like many of Leone's antagonists (or protagonists, depending on your point of view), is a man of few words; I think Boba Fett has more dialogue than this guy. The first episode begins in what we can assume is the present, as Grave is reborn and undertakes his mission of revenge; the next three episodes flesh out the back story, as we begin to see how Brandon and Harry started down their particular highway to hell. After sitting through too many anime titles that sacrifice character and incident for the sake of action, it's refreshing to find one that actually gives itself room to breathe. Grave has a long journey ahead of him, and it would become tedious rather quickly if he did nothing but waste a few people every episode. I hope the plotting remains complex, but not to the point that it becomes unwieldy.
The technical presentation here is fantastic. This is my first experience viewing a Geneon release, and I hope the quality here is indicative of the company's standards. The anamorphic picture is beautifully detailed; the source elements were undoubtedly immaculate. The color scheme varies between brightly lit interiors and daytime scenes to rainy, pitch-black nights (imagine Ridley Scott and Michael Bay collaborating), often in the space of just a few moments; the transfer handles these transitions with incredible ease. The sound is just as impressive. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital option is well done, and the dubbing is a cut above what I've come to expect. The sweet DTS track is even better (yes, I'm a DTS disciple); bass is deep and tight, and the surrounds kick during the gunfights. You'll hear gunshots ricocheting, shell casings hitting pavement, and rolling thunder. The nearly omnipresent sound of falling rain in the surrounds made me look out the window a couple of times. Even better is hearing the growling stomach of a character experiencing hunger pangs; it was so realistic I jumped up and made myself a sandwich. The Dolby and DTS are identical in the actual information they convey, but the DTS track wins the race. Extras aren't much; all you get are some conceptual designs, previews, and textless credits sequences. In a way I'm a little glad the extras weren't more extensive; too much information might have accidentally provided some plot spoilers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Gungrave is off to a fine start. We will reserve comment until further volumes have been released.
If you're looking for an example of anime's possible potential, Gungrave looks to be a nice choice. I'm not sure what we're witnessing here is the birth of a classic, but its themes and characters are a notch or two above the norm. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
All charges are dropped. Geneon is commended for such a fine presentation. Creator Yasuhiro Nightow and Madhouse Studios are recognized for their fine work. Let's hope the series lives up to its potential, both technically and artistically. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Textless Opening and Ending
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