Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Monday, January 14, 2013

To Protect is to Never Betray - My Review of Gungrave (Gangureivu)

Tragedy. That is what I think the finest form of entertainment is. Mostly because that is all I ever seem to end up watching. I love horror too, but I think a good drama with a tragic twist is pure genius. If you read about me lamenting/applauding the end of Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom then you'll hear me echo some of those sentiments here but for slightly different reasons.

I first purchased Gungrave without ever having seen the series, but because it was made by the same guy who made Trigun I figured it would be a no-brainer addition to my collection. Well, I was right and I was wrong.

The back of the Blu-ray case says the following: Death doesn't matter to Brandon Heat. Armed with his twin handguns and a coffin full of heavy weapons, he's back from the grave and bent on crippling Millennion, a massive mafia organization with legions of undead mafia enforcers. Driven by vengeance, Heat won't stop until Millennion's leader - and Brandon's former best friend - "Bloody Harry" MacDowel is destroyed. 

That sounded very intriguing to me, but that summary turned out to be the least intriguing part of the show. That's not really a bad thing either so allow me to explain...

Have you ever seen From Dusk Till Dawn? That movie is a lot like this show in that it begins as one story and then takes a sharp turn and heads out into supernatural territory. We know this will happen from the beginning because that's why we're watching the movie. Of course, that could make the beginning of the movie frustrating because there are no vampires for about the first hour of the film. But, because the characters and the situations are so interesting, the vampires aren't necessarily the main attraction anymore. What becomes really interesting is how the transition from hostage story to vampire story is made in From Dusk Till Dawn and that alone becomes what the movie hinges on. I think it's done well, but that's just my opinion.

Everything I just said applies to Gungrave. The first episode starts out near the end of the story with Brandon Heat already having been brought back to life and hellbent on destroying "Bloody Harry" MacDowel. We see these bizarre monsters that Brandon Heat is fighting, this young and angry girl at his side that we do not know, and this old doctor named Tokioka who is helping Brandon also for reasons we do not know. That's because, despite this being the first episode, we are actually nearing the end of the series.

It is only in the second episode Young Dogs that the story begins in true fashion. We are transported back in time to when Brandon Heat is still living and Harry MacDowel is his best friend. There are no monsters here. Only a bunch of street gangs fighting over territory. Harry and Brandon are in one of these street gangs and the whole thing kind of feels like West Side Story without the music. Just a sort of innocence about the whole thing. This is where the meat of the story starts and I'd almost encourage anyone watching the show to skip over the first episode and go straight to the second if I wasn't so OCD. The bulk of this series is dedicated to explaining the past of Brandon Heat and MacDowel and how their friendship inevitably soured. It really is riveting stuff in its own right. There's almost nothing supernatural going on until the end of this trip into the past. The characters of Heat and MacDowel are just so interesting that we sort of forget that Brandon dies and that MacDowel (as he claimed in the very first episode) is the one who killed him.

The series only gets darker and more tragic because it's supposed to. The buildup to the present day events is so well done and the addition of supernatural entities fits well within the confines of the show. It's a welcome twist. Otherwise this show ending with Harry killing Brandon would have been far too depressing and kind of pointless.

Fast forward thirteen years (or to about episode 18... which is essentially a retelling of the first episode with some views from Brandon's perspective) and Brandon is back as a dead man aptly called "Beyond the Grave." He is aided by a doctor who had spent far too much time aiding Millennion by creating monsters called "orgmen" and chooses to repent by essentially reviving Brandon Heat from the dead by using his technology of "necrolization." And Heat becomes his warrior of justice. More or less. I can't tell you who the angry young girl is because that's one of the few things the show must tell, but she does serve a purpose, too.

But the three of them, as evidenced from the first episode of the show, begin a mission to right the wrongs of the past and to remind MacDowel that "to protect is to never betray."

The conclusion of this show is very fitting and beautiful. Sad, but sort of uplifting. And it certainly fits the qualifications of a tragedy. The fights with the monsters are well worth the wait, but there aren't too many of them because that would have just been overkill. The real story is the relationship between Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowel. Don't forget that.

This show is a no-brainer for my collection, but for different reasons than I thought it would be. It's less of a bad-ass tale of revenge and more of a sad collection of memories. It is bad-ass at times, though.

Bring a box of tissues for the ending. You'll need it.

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