“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” – Henry Hill. If you can tell me which movie this is from without me having to tell you, then this is the anime that you should be watching.
So this anime is actually based on a game, rather than a manga, which was released by Red Entertainment (Japan)/ Sega (USA)/ Activision (EU) on Playstation 2 and follows a 3rd person shooter format. However, don’t be disheartened friends because the anime, released in 2003, was done by Madhouse and the character designs for both the anime and the game were provided by none other than Yasuhiro Nightow. If you’re not familiar with who Yasuhiro is, perhaps the word “Trigun” will ring a bell? That’s right – he is the mangaka that brought characters like Vash the Stampede and Nicholas D. Wolfwood to life. So while the anime may not have had a traditional start, it has some of the best in the business coming to its aid, including Yosuke Kuroda, who was the writer for not only this show but for others such as Trigun, Hellsing Ultimate, High School of the Dead and more recently, My Hero Academia and Drifters, among others.
Some of the shows that Yosuke Kuroda has lent his writing talents to.
The storyline of this show follows a Goodfellas sort of style where we start part-way in the middle of the story before going back to beginning, coming to the present and then moving forward with the latter part of the story. But this isn’t the only similarity with Goodfellas, because this anime is mainly about life in the mafia. Gungrave tells the story of two friends, Brandon Heat and Harry MacDowell, who were friends from childhood and lived in the shady parts of town where violence was a part of life. This didn’t stop them from making the most of it, gathering friends around them and trying to make ends meet each day. Of course, this sometimes involved getting into a few scuffles but when one of these fights takes a turn for the worse, this is when the two guys decide that it’s either time to leave town or to take a different route in life. It’s Harry that decides on the latter and Brandon follows him because that’s what friends do. The majority of the story covers how Harry and Brandon go from rags to riches and exactly what that entails, complete with illegal business deals, carrying out hits, observing the chain of command and making money all for the syndicate/”family” known as Millennion, which is headed by Big Daddy.
There is an additional focus of the show, especially in the second half which is more about the present and this is where the action comes in. Advances in technology have allowed for the creation of soldiers with superhuman strength and this comes in to play as the boys gradually rise in power. By this stage, Brandon has undergone some changes himself and now there’s a girl that needs his protection, all of which sets the show up for some bad-assery in epic proportions. Of course, if you want to see what happens to Harry and Brandon and the rest of the Millennion family then best get to watching.
A bond forged with bullets: Brandon Heat & Harry MacDowell.
I’ll admit that this anime was unknown to me when I first started watching it, but I figured that if it was in my playlist that there must have been something about it that intrigued me and boy was I glad that I went with my gut on this one! I’m a huge fan of mafia movies and while there are other mafia-like animes out there, such as Gangsta and Baccano!, this was probably the one that most closely resembled traditional mafia movies. The 1st episode will fool you though because you’re plunged in the middle of the story-line and you’ll think you’re watching some sort of Gun X Sword/Trigun-esque anime but the real story only starts from the 2nd episode where the history between the two main characters is brought into focus.
The relationship between the two guys and those that they come into contact with provide a great grounding for the show since this is one of the main components of the show – bonds, betrayal and all the other hazards of mafia life. The idea of “family” is a theme that runs through the whole show and it’s easy to pick up on this because being in this line of business is based heavily on trust and whether you can rely on your people. There is also family in the literal sense too where a few romances are brought into the story so it’s not all guns blazing.
La familia – the many members of the mafia group Millennion.
There is of course the other more “supernatural” – I use this term loosely because the modified soldiers that come into play are actually brought to life through technology than through unearthly means, but when you see these soldiers, you’ll understand why it could give the impression of being supernatural. To be honest, this aspect of the show wasn’t the main draw card for me although it does serve its purpose by making the story a bit more dramatic with more opportunities for the guys to strut their stuff in the fights. It’s also one of the turning points for Brandon and Harry but I’ll leave it to you to see what I mean by that.
If you don’t have a gun in this show, you’re in the wrong anime.
While the first episode gives off the impression that this is going to like a regular good versus bad fight to the finish between and antagonist and the chosen protagonist, there is actually a lot more to this storyline than we’re led to believe. And the bonds between the various characters make the dynamics a bit more complicated and leave you with mixed feelings about how things turn out.
The show has all the elements of proper gangster movie and gives us a little extra with the inclusion of fierce battles between super-humans, but never forgets the human element to the story. It’s an entertaining watch and surpassed my expectations for a show I had never heard of before. If you’re looking for a show that tells a great story and feels like you’re watching one long mafia movie, then this is the anime for you!
Image credits: Red Entertainment
End: Gungrave Anime Review