Gungrave Blu-ray Review
Following his successful run with the optimistic western-like series Trigun mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow tried his hand at a dark and gritty crime drama. The result was Gungrave – a murky tale of two delinquents who make their way up a crime syndicate’s food chain. This is the story of the cunning Harry MackDowell and his masculine simpleminded friend Brandon Heat. The two grew in the slums but when the opportunity to join infamous crime syndicate Mellennion arises they take the plunge and begin a long life of servitude under an iron code of honor. The two men have very different aspirations, but find support in each other throughout the years. Eventually thought one of them is betrayed by the other and the plot takes a dramatic twist. In Gungrave’s second half, which takes place 13 years after that betrayal, Brandon is on a journey for revenge against all his past Millennion comrades. He fights wave after wave of deadly foes sent by Millennion to kill him. His goal – to reach Millenion’s all-powerful boss Harry Mackdowel.
Gungrave begins from the middle, showing us a glimpse of Brandon fighting against his old friends before we are taken back to the roots in which he rose to power alongside them. This first act is mindefully placed to make us ponder what would become. How could such close friends turn against each other?
That question remains a constant incentive to keep watching, always reminding us that there is a payback worth waiting for down the road. Unfortunately that payback arrives in the middle of the show. Once the truth is shown and the first half of the series draws to an end very little assets remain on which to establish Gungrave’s second half.
The series starts as the simple story of two guys which wish to climb the dark stairs of society. One for his own sake, the other for his friend and girlfriend’s sake. As the episodes go by supernatural elements are gradually added to the mix. Human-enhancing experiments, undead soldiers and grandiose monsters gradually rear their ugly heads and what began as a solid crime drama slowly transforms into a cheap action-driven show. Gungrave evolves drastically during its 26 episodes span, shedding its skin again and again until it hardly resembles its past self. At its core it’s a crime drama filled with sorrow, greed and gunshots. But a crime drama is only as relatable as its characters, and the more Gungrave delves into the occult the harder it gets to take it at face length. It doesn’t help that the majority of characters here are simple one-dimensional stereotypes and the scope of the entire series is told from the point of view of only two men.
Time was not kind to Gungrave. The Blu-ray visuals are stretched and extremely pixelated even though FUNimation released this show at its original 4:3 aspect ratio. The production values of the original show were somewhat low to begin with, and on a big screen TV it definitely shows. Only people in the foreground are drawn in details while those in the background are blurry or downright human-like blobs. Characters are often drawn inconsistently (especially their faces). The music is dull and rarely noticeable. The Blu-ray release ostensibly supports a 5.1 English track but I was unable to discern any noticeable surround sounds. The only extras on the disc are textless versions of the opening and ending themes.
One can write off Gungrave’s lackluster visuals and audio as a relic of their time or simply as victims of some budget constraints. The same cannot be said for the series’ degradative plot. The longer you watch Gungrave the less potent and more ridiculous it becomes. Gungrave’s lack of consistency and its weak second half ultimately leads to its undoing.