Brandon Heat was once a top mob agent assigned to sweep up messy problems. It took years to climb to the top with his best friend Harry McDowell. Since their childhood at an orphanage, the two always stuck up for one another. Harry's ascension was only made possible by Brandon's absolute enforcement of "the code of iron", and his loyalty to "the family". Which is why Brandon never expected his frend to betray and kill him.
Now years later, Harry pursues the daughter of Brandons former love Maria. Harry controls the city, so there's nowhere for her to run. Then Brandon Heat returns from the grave, more powerful than ever. He's determined to save her, correct the organization he once swore fealty to, and to settle the score with Harry. With an undead army now backing the mob, that's no easy task.
Understanding this anime is based off a Playstation 2 game offers insights into why it ended up so strange. It's a miracle it's as good as it is. There's a strange duality to Gungrave, with a great back story, and seemingly sub par present tense content. The first episode introduces Brandon, now known as *spooky voice*
Gungrave is very different in this respect. Instead of an episode or two of half assed background development, this anime has a solid 15 building up the story and characters. While I was unimpressed at first, Brandon's story grew on me with each episode, and I was thoroughly hooked by episode 16. If there is one triumph of Gungrave, it's fully developing the "strong silent guy" into an amazing character.
It's remarkable because Brandon rarely speaks, yet he's very well developed. Sometimes his expressions or the look in his eye take the place of words, at other times the dialog reflection from other characters say what he does not. Brandon wasn't simply born an astounding badass. In his youth he had potential, but over years his skills were honed to frightening effectiveness. More interesting still is how a guy with a kind heart became such a feared enforcer. So what about about all that "beyond the grave" stuff I dreaded?
After Brandon's death, Gungrave shifts into content typical for action shooter games. It's not terrible, but lacking. I felt crushed seeing an anime capturing the awesomeness of The Godfather fall so far. After a temporary lapse into mindless action, it's Harry's turn to fall. It turns out Harry isn't just the villain. The story was always about Brandon AND Harry, but only seen from Brandon's perspective. When Brandon wants vengeance, I was floored by the last few episodes. I expected a simple "wrap things up" finish. Instead the tale Brandon and Harry concludes in a way that's true to their character.
Gungrave does well capturing the mob style rise to power story. It injects weird sci-fi stuff into it, which is interesting although I wouldn't say a very good fit - particularly around the third quarter where it's a bunch of "anime stuff happens". Not since Gunbuster (yes I just invoked the 'G' word) has a show started so low and ended so high. If you give it time to flesh out the story it, it becomes something pretty damn awesome.
Harry: I've been a punk, a rogue, and a scoundrel for too long to be anything else. And the funny thing is I thought this was the only way I could find the freedom that I wanted.
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