Review by: Clive Owen
Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
MSRP: Blu-ray: $54.98 US; DVD: $49.98 US
Running Time: 650 minutes
Release Date: Available Now
In this mafia story it’s life, death and Beyond the Grave.
When you think of epic mobster stories, anime isn’t the first thing that pops into your mind but, then again, those who got to see Gungrave a long while back know that it adds its own take on the mafia theme while adding a splash of science fiction to make it stand out. As you can see from this release of The Complete Series of Gungrave, it was good enough to find itself as one of Funimation’s Anime Classics line and with very good reason. This is one series mobster fans should not miss.
Gungrave in its entirety takes up 26-episodes and begins in the most interesting of ways as it introduces us to a man we are told is dead but thanks to some unknown science he walks among the living on a quest for revenge. This dead man had a name once but now he is called Beyond the Grave and there’s a man in particular he wants to eliminate as he leads an old scientist and an attractive young girl against an army of mobsters and pale humanoid monsters. Armed with twin pistols and lugging around a coffin that is actually a weapon, Beyond the Grave begins to remember things about the events that lead to his death.
Rewind several years back, we meet two young men who turn to a life of crime in a poverty-stricken city filled with gangs and mobsters. Having come from the same orphanage, the pair has formed a bond that is unshakable. Harry MacDowel is the handsome go-getter while Brandon Heat is the tall, dark and silent type who rarely says anything even to Maria – the girl he obviously likes. Together with a few other friends, the two form a small gang but one day they cross a rival gang whose leader has a big name gangster for a brother.
When their friends are killed by the big shot named Mad Dog Ladd, both Brandon and Harry look for payback and they get it at a high price that leads to the death of Maria’s uncle. It is then that the lives of all three are changed by an old gentleman who turns out to be the head of the biggest crime organization in the city that is known by the criminal underworld as the Millennion group. Known in the crime circles as Big Daddy, the older man decides to take Maria into his home as a favor to her uncle who was a dear friend to him. Seeing an opportunity to join Millennion, Harry convinces Big Daddy that he and Brandon are capable guys that will do anything for the organization.
As official members of the Millennion mob, both Harry and Brandon slowly climb the organization’s ladder by becoming top earners and making a name for themselves. While Brandon becomes one of the best hitmen the family has ever seen, Harry becomes a brilliant mastermind in carrying out jobs that get him noticed by the organization’s top elite members. The two even manage to put an impressive crew together that includes a talented information broker named Bob Poundmax and a formidable gunman named Bunji Kugashira.
Meanwhile, Brandon finds himself straying away from Maria whose feelings for him are obvious and his reluctance to make her a part of his life leads Maria to turn to somebody else closer to her. The young quiet man decides to do anything in his power to help Harry get to the top and it doesn’t take the two men long to finally become members of the family’s top elite members.
However, a rival family that calls itself Lightning plans to topple Millennion with the help of a war-crazed thug named Blood War and his friend named Cannon Vulcan who has a secret weapon. You see, Vulcan has invested his time and money on an experimental procedure that can reanimate the dead. Unfortunately for Lighting, Harry discovers their plan and puts an end to Lightning with the help of his friend.
Of course, ambitious men like Harry want more and it doesn’t take him long before he sets his sights on Big Daddy’s position. This leads him to do the unthinkable and when Brandon finds it we see just how badly Harry wants to take over Millennion when he turns on his own friend. Harry becomes a vicious leader who earns the nickname “Bloody Harry” who wants all rivals out of his way and that includes anything connected to Big Daddy … like Maria and her daughter, Mika. Using the technology to bring the dead to life, he creates an army of superior undead beings to do his dirty work.
This, however, is not the end of Brandon Heat as the man Harry thought was dead is back and has made it his mission to wipe Harry off the map and cripple the organization the two had spent years of their lives serving. Along with the help of Maria’s daughter, Mika, and the scientist who helped push the necrolyzation procedure into motion, the three out on a path of revenge as Brandon takes on former friends to get to the man who was like a brother to him.
You just have to love a series that starts off like a great mafia story and ends up with a unique science fiction twist that sets the stage up for an exciting confrontation. Gungrave also takes its time setting up the story and the characters to the point that we understand these two men and what motivate them. When Harry realizes what he had done to Brandon, it’s breaks the man’s heart and we can feel it. Add great voice acting and good dialogue and you have a series with a lot to offer especially those who love mob stories.
The Complete Series of Gungrave has the feel of a true mobster classic with a Frankenstein-like twist and believe me when I say that you will love every minute of this unique revenge story. There’s something completely absorbing about this story of the rise and fall of these two men who start off as brothers and end up as enemies. Wonderfully animated and directed, Gungrave deserves to be among your collection if you enjoy a juicy slice of Mafioso good with just the right dash of sci-fi flavor.
BLU-RAY REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel come from the mean streets of a poverty-stricken city when an opportunity comes up to join the most notorious mafia syndicate known as the Millennion group. Just as quickly as they joined, Harry’s ambitious nature takes both men to the top of the organization’s ladder until Harry turns on Brandon. Thought dead, Brandon returns from the grave to exact revenge on Harry for the murder of the organization’s ex-boss and the woman Brandon loved.
VIDEO QUALITY: A+
The series looked good on DVD when it was first released but it does not light a candle to this crisp and clean Blu-ray version that looks amazing on an HD setup. Despite its dated look, this series has some striking visual moments and memorable scenes that go beyond the awesome action scenes.
AUDIO QUALITY: A
The English dub cast does a decent job with the performances but the original Japanese voices pull off some brilliant performances. However, it’s Tsuneo Imahori’s original and eclectic score that will stay with you to the very end and the closing theme song is really lovely as well.
The third disc comes with the original promo videos for the series as well as the textless opening and closing animation. There are no other extras to be found in this Anime Classics releases but, then again, the fact that it’s available on Blu-ray is a nice extra.
The perfect blend of Mafioso drama and science fiction, The Complete Series of Gungrave is a different kind of revenge story and one you will not forget anytime soon. A true mobster classic with an unusual spin that makes it all the more compelling, Gungrave is a Must Have and even more so for those who love an exceptional mafia tale.
Review copy provided by FUNimation Entertainment