Introduction

When discussing anime with a badass main character who destorys all in his path with just guns in world much like ours Trigun, Black Lagoon, and Hellsingare probably what you think of.

 

But theres one anime just like those without the popularity enter Gungrave. It is a real shame to considering that Gungrave’s story, characters, and action justify mentioning it among the other greats in this genre.

 

Gungrave has been on my watchlist for over a year now and I finally got an around to watch it. Let me tell ya this anime does not disappoint. For those who want the quick version; watch this anime it has some the best gunplay in anime.

BackStory

First a Game and now an Anime

Gungrave was created by Directed by Tsuru Toshiyuki who has worked on famous anime including Trigun, Naruo, and Escaflowne.

 

The anime is based on the game of the same name called Gungrave which was released on the PS2 in 2002. The Gungrave anime’s story is based only on the original Gungrave and not overdose. It also adds additional lore with the flashback episodes.

 

There are 26 episodes in total which are divided into two parts. Episodes 2- 16 are flashback episodes which tells the tale of how Brandon and Harry first met and their rise in the organization known as Millennion.

 

1, 17-26 follow the story from the game and take place in the present time. (I am being vague here to avoid spoilers)
From watching gameplay footage of the original Gungrave, I can testify that the anime correctly follows the original story. There are even scenes in the anime which took direct inspiration from actual cutscenes in the game.
The original Gungrave games

The Story So far

Normally a plot summary does not spoil too much. In this case it spoils everything. So, for the reader I am going to be very vague as possible. But when I do have to spoil something I will give a warning so you know it’s coming.

 

Our story involves Harry Macdowell and Brandon Heat who are best friends and members of a gang. After some bad dealings with a rival gang, Harry and Brandon leave their old lives behind to join Millennion. Harry focuses on making a name for himself and rising to the top while Brandon hopes to one day see his close friend and love interest, Maria.
Harry and Brandon Joining Millennion

Spoliers Ahead

 

13 years after Harry Macdowell betrays Brandon Heat, Brandon comes back for revenge now with the name Beyound the Grave. Harry the current head of the organization called Millennion commands an army of Orgman and his elite inner circle of powerful allies called the big four. They now stand in the way between Grave and his revenge.

The Setting

The setting for Gungrave was hard to figure out. It’s obviously a fictional world based on our own. There are little hints that anime gives you.

 

The currency in this series is fictional, in addition there are two scenes showing people racing on animals that look like horses only with two legs. The final clue came from a tombstone that uses the year 19662. I am going to assume that means the anime takes place in Japan in the 1960s to the 1970s and that the calendar system is much different than our own.

The attire and vehicles that mobsters drive also indicate the setting are the 1960s / 70s. It’s a setting very similar to the ones in movies The Godfather and Goodfellas.
A Tombstone which shows the current time period

The Characters

Brandon Heat

Brandon Heat

Brandon Heat is the main protagonist of Gungrave. Eventhough he hates violence and killing he is the top sweeper for Millennion. In many respects he is almost two different people. Despite this Brandon is a kind soft-spoken man who is loyal to his friends.

 

The biggest example of this is when Harry was going to join Millennion and Brandon joined him even though he had no interest in working for Millenniom. He wanted to be with Harry no matter what.

 

His design is awesome and looks like an anime version of John Wick in the flashback episodes. Brandon Heat early on demonstrates that he is a good fighter but after joining Millenniom he becomes a monster and the symbol of their power. You are happy that his own your side and pray to God when he is not.
Harry MacDowell

Harry McDowell

Harry McDowell is the other main protagonist of Gungrave (in myanime list it is spelled MacDowell and everywhere else as McDowell so I am going to with McDowell). To quote someone from the show: ” His nickname is Bloody Harry he is cruel clever and totally merciless and extremely sharp”.

 

Harry is one of the most ambitious anime characters of all time. This of course is not counting your average Shounen protagnist. What Harry does equivalent is the of somebody joining Microsoft and declare that one day they will be in charge.

Throughout Gungrave your opinion about this character is going to change. I still go back in forth about my view on Harry MacDowell which says a lot about his character.

This one character that I could go on about for a long time but it’s best if you experience him for yourself.

Maria Asagi

Maria Asagi

Maria Asagi is a close friend and lover of Brandon Heat. They have known each other since they were teenagers. As a baby, her family was killed by Jester who raised her out of guilt.

Maria excels in her studies in school and continues to leave men speechless with her looks. Despite the passive and naive exterior Maria demonstrates many times that she is more than a pretty face.

She is one of the main sources of inspiration for Brandon to keep on living.

Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Big Daddy is the founder of Millennion. He is a very kind man and loves his organization like his own family. If you ever met Big Daddy inp erson it would never cross your mind that this man runs the biggest crime organization in the world. How could someone this nice run something so evil?

Big Daddy serves as a mentor and father figure to Brandon Heat as Brandon rises through the ranks of Millennion. They both spend time fishing together.

Mika Asagi

Mika Asagi

Mika is Maria’s daughter and ally to Brandon during the present-day part of the anime. She is quite smart for someone her age and is always willing to help.

Mika experiences such loss in this story and it is impressive how she can keep going despite these horrific experiences. She is a tough girl and a survivor.

Bear Walken

Bear Walken

Bear Walken is the top sweeper for Millennion. He commands the overkill which is an elite squad of men. Bear Walken is one of the family’s members which are an exclusive group of men who are work closely with Big Daddy.

Sherry Walken Bear’s daughter is the most important person in his life. He is very protective of her and bases many important decisions on how they impact her.

His look is super badass, he kind of reminds of an Ishvalan mobster. The glasses are a nice touch to the design of this character. This is the man that trained Brandon Heat so you know he is someone not to mess with.

Bob Poundmax

Bob Poundmax

Bob Poundmax runs a top information network in Harry MacDowell’s crew. He has been with Harry from the very beginning. Harry utilizes him to dig up dirt on people to or to rig major events. Bob is always running informational operations to help Harry’s rise to the top.

Besides his intelligence, Bob loves to eat and even during his thin days is always shown eating. As the anime progresses, Bob continues to gain weight. This storyline plays out in a big way (no pun intended) towards the later part of the story.

Do not let his innocent face fool you this man might be more dangerous than any of Millennion’s top sweepers.

Balladbird Lee

Balladbird Lee

Balladbird Lee just like Bob is part of Harry’s crew and was with him since the beginning. Bob is his best friend and Lee is very protective of him.

Lee, as he prefers to be called, is much quieter than Harry but shares the same level of ambition.

Lee is Chinese and wears traditional Chinese clothing. His fighting style involves thin blades. He is quite lethal and according to some has killed over two thousand people.

Bunji Kugashira

Bunji Kugashira

Bunji Kugashira is a legendary hitman who was originally hired to kill both Brandon and Harry. Eventually, he joins them and becomes Brandon’s apprentice.

 

Bunji has a really cool design which is based on Nicholas Wolfwood from the famous anime Trigun. This makes sense since the same artist work on both anime.

 

He seems to only favor those he likes and could even go beyond Millennion’s code of iron to find a reason to kill someone if they mess with his friends.

 

My favorite part about Bunji is that he is crazy. One minute he could be getting drunk at a bar and the next he could kill someone and his family. He is also one hell of a gunman.

The Major Conflicts

Harry MacDowell wants to rise the top ranks of Millennion. These ambitions lead him to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Even if the actions taken are reprehensible. Can Harry reach the top without getting there alone?

Brandon is having a hard time adjusting to the life of a mobster. Due to his kind nature, Brandon is not a natural killer, despite this, he has to balance out his desire to be good with the duties of a hitman. Brandon deeply cares for Maria and must decide to stay or cut ties based on the nature of his work.

The more general conflict is that Millennion is the top crime organization in the world and thus everyone is gunning for them. There are constant wars among organizations.

Harry and his gang

Spoliers Ahead

In the present time, Brandon is constantly fighting Harry’s Orgman and his inner circle. Harry at this point is fighting among his own colleagues as the power struggle continues in Millennion.

Brandon fighting Orgman

Art and Sound

Beyond the Grave

Art

One of the best parts of this series is the art style. While it’s nothing original it still perfectly captures this world. It does not have the typical Anime iconography. Instead, the anime choose a more mature approach to telling this story.

Even though this anime came out in 2003 the art style reminds me of anime that came out in the 90s. Granted there is a small year difference between the 90s and the show.

Oddly enough on my first watch, Escaflowne came to mind. Several characters had similar art styles to those in that anime.

This anime only has the video game as source material and nothing else. The flashback episodes are all original and it’s impressive that the younger versions look like their older counter parts.

Trigun’s main artist Yasuhiro Nightow worked on the art for Gungrave the game and this anime. Some of my favorite designs are for the Superiors.

Harry MacDowell has several goons who can transform to use their Superior power. While wacky and a bizarre all the transformations are well designed.

Much of this anime takes place in darker shades. There are occasional uses of brighter colors. But these are mostly in funeral scenes.

The only bad part of the animation would have to be the Orgman. I understand that they need to have many on-screen but they were unimpressive.

Jolice one of members of Harry's first gang

The Music and Sounds

The sounds are great and add weight to each gunfight. Everything from reloading guns, unloading a whole magazine, bodies hitting the floor, etc sound authentic.

The intro’s song while not terrible was nothing too memorable. I do not think it matches the intensity that the anime brings. There are a couple of songs used in action scenes and important moments. It serves its purpose without overstaying it’s welcome.

Some standout songs include the two in episode five. The first one when Harry meets up with Brandon and the second when they meet Harry’s group. The other great song is the one used during the montage in episode 7.

In terms of Sub vs Dub, both options are available and you cannot go wrong either way. The English Dub has great voices including Steve Blum and Beau Billingslea. If you have ever watched any classic anime from the 90s then these voices will be immediately recognizable.

Whats so Great about Gungrave

Brandon and Bunji first meet

The flashback episodes are great and give you a front-row seat in the world of the mafia.

All shoot outs are exciting to watch and there is enough weight and tension with each one to invest the viewer in the action.

I love all the characters in this anime. Especially the villains, none are one dimensional. It’s hard to watch the anime and not feel bad for them at one point.

It’s refreshing to see this. With Gungrave it’s kind of weird because since everyone is a member of the mob technically none of them are good guys. But the anime does a great job of making you care about these characters despite this.

One of my favorite ways is through the comradery between everyone. You genuinely feel happy when things are going well for them. The reason for this is because everyone in this anime cares for one another. There are so many examples but just watching the first couple of episodes will make this obvious.

This anime is only 26 episodes with no season two, ova, etc, etc.

It is a self-contained story with an amazing ending that won’t disappoint you. Because the anime is only 26 episodes long it doesn’t waste time with filler episodes and everything has a purpose.

I was never bored while watching it and every time an episode ended the next one started up. This anime hooked me from episode 1 all the way to 26.

Whats Not so Great about Gungrave

Despite the awesome parts of Gungrave it does have flaws.

Keeping track of time in this anime is not easy. There are several time skips and only one is ever officailly made clear to the audience. By clear I mean they literally show info text which states how much time has passed.

This makes it difficult to figure out how old everyone is and to get a sense of time in general. There are clues throughout the anime. The biggest is sherry since her age is mentioned throughout the story. But I would like more definitive information on this.

The second part which is the present day is the weakest of the two parts. I found it to be too short and rushed. This anime is only season which is great. But it might have been better had they made each part a seperate season.

There are plot holes in the series but what good anime does not have any. I did not find any of them to be too lore breaking except one but I can’t discuss it without spoling the show.

My biggest gripe with Gungrave is the open and accepted pedophilia. It’s between Harry and Sherry (sorry for the spolilers). There are two problems that I have with the pedophilia beyond that it is the anime.

The first is that no one questions it not even Bear Walken Sherry’s dad. There is one part in the anime where Sherry comes home after a date with Harry. Bear wants to talk to her about Harry.

In this scene I was thinking yes he is going to bring up the age difference. But nope he instead talks about how Harry is a mobster and dating him is dangerous. If other characters had mentioned how weird it was then at least they get a pass but this does not happen. This does make have a low opinion on even the “good guys”.

The other issue I have is why was this even necessary. The author could have made Sherry older and that solves the problem.

This does not hurt the show in anyway but it really bothers me

Harry and Sherry
Time Skips

Recommendations

There are not too many anime like Gungrave so I do not have too many.

  • Some good ones include Baccano because of another mob anime.
  • Trigun because it’s another gunplay anime and has the same artist as Gungrave.
  • Black Lagoon because it shares many similar aspects to Gungrave in both the violence and cool characters.
  • Hellsing because both Brandon Heat and Alucard fight nonhuman creatures with specialized guns. Plus both of them are badass characters.

Final thoughts

Whether Gungrave is a hidden gem or underrated anime does not change my recommendation for it. I do consider this one to be a hidden gem. But it looks like the popularity is going up because of there a trailer for a new Gungrave game for the PS4.

 

If you want a short anime with great characters, simple but deep story, and great action then I cannot recommend Gungrave enough. I was truly impressed by everything that this anime brought to the table and you will be as well.
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Mymediachops is a blog created by a life long anime fan. My goal is to prove that anime is for everyone. I focus on created content to help new fans get into the medium while also discussing anime that made a big impact on my life.