#1 The mafia career
Gungrave opens up on a lot of craziness. A resurrected warrior, shapeshifting monsters, a shadowy organization, it’s a lot to take in. However, before addressing any of it the show cuts into a flashback that takes up pretty much half its runtime.
Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel are hopeless thugs living in a dingy city. They and their friends make a living through petty crimes and get into fistfights with other gangs over silly drama. One day their luck makes a turn for the worst when the brother of a rival goon turns out to be an actual mafioso and murders some of their friends. As their desperation becomes increasingly unbearable, Brandon and Harry eventually get involved with the mafia themselves and begin to climb through the ranks.
Brandon is the silent workhorse, a man of remarkable skill and with a solid work ethic. Harry, meanwhile, is overly ambitious and takes big risks in order to advance quickly and realize his personal dreams. Episode 1 already gives away that, at some point in this long backstory, these two treasured friends will be forced apart and become enemies.
#2 “The technology of Satan”
A big part of the story is a controversial new technology that allows for the resurrection of any corpse subjected to it. People, animals, any dead matter can be brought back to life, but it will also become effectively unkillable by normal means.
As this science develops, the subjects are upgraded from mindless zombies into body-horror abominations. Muscles swell up, limbs elongate, skin turns dead and grayish, they become monsters, for lack of a better term. It lends Gungrave a supernatural twist that suits the mafia genre surprisingly well.
Post-timeskip, the story gets an almost Hellsing-like vibe to it, as Brandon Heat returns as an overpowered gunslinger who battles hordes of these creatures alongside their equally-overpowered officers.
#3 Protecting the next generation
Another novel aspect of Gungrave‘s story is how it handles the romance. As a young gangster, Brandon was in love with a proper girl called Maria. Even though her uncle was against it, these two continued to date and spend time. However, as Brandon’s life of crime became more professional, Maria pursued a normal life and the two drifted apart.
In the present day, Brandon finds himself brought back to life by a professor and a young girl called Mika. Mika, as it turns out, is Maria’s daughter, and she is on the run from an evil organization that has murdered her mother. Maria could not be saved, but Brandon now has a second chance by shielding Mika from those who seek to hunt her down.
Seeing Brandon protect Mika after getting 13 episodes to grow fond of his relationship with her mother brings up a lot of interesting questions. Will she steer him on a path of redemption or will the two cooperate in attaining vengeance? Will Mika become a burden or an ally? Will she be a friend, love interest, or will their relationship be like a father & child. It was tough saying goodbye to the mafia backstory after so long, but it sets up so many questions for what comes after that it won’t be difficult to start on the second leg of this journey.
#4 It is profoundly stupid
If all of the above gave you the idea that Gungrave was some deep, philosophical work, then I am sorry for painting the wrong picture. While the mafia story is well-done and I like ideas like Brandon having to protect the daughter of his former love, the story is very much intended for teenagers and has some ridiculous edgy nonsense worked into it.
Characters end up adopting names like BLOOD WAR and BEYOND THE GRAVE, and the motivations behind most of the villains are absolutely ridiculous. Especially post-timeskip the story goes off-the-rails, as bad guys begin to turn into mad psychopaths and good guys starting blurting the cheesiest drama lines you can imagine. It is B-movie levels of stupid action and, while I do regret not getting a more serious take on the plot, I could still very much enjoy it for the stupid fun it offered.
And hey, even if it is stupid, you still get your great moments. The final showdown, in particular, was great stuff all around and I found myself getting very interested in Harry MacDowel’s character arc towards the end.
#5 Fun videogames
Gungrave ended up getting two games on the Playstation 2. In fact, this anime is an adaptation of them, rather than the other way around. The first game was simply titled Gungrave and made by Red Entertainment, who also handled games like Blood Will Tell (Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo) and Sakura Wars.
A sequel titled Gungrave: Overdose was released 2 years later and a VR game I didn’t get to play released just this year. All of them are stylish third-person shooters with fun mechanics, even if they are kind of short and lack some features you might expect from other shooters. If you like the show, then I’d recommend to check out the games and vice versa.